Home > Politics > Why I have no option

Why I have no option

I was born in Motherwell, Lanarkshire, somewhere between VE-Day and VJ-Day, at the drawn-out end of WWII. My home town made steel; it was sustained by the mills, even before the establishment of the Ravenscraig plant that dominated it for decades. It was a sectarian society, make no mistake about it; the religious divide was strictly observed, with us in our schools and them in theirs, and my parents while not bigoted in any way, had been raised within that framework and were part of it. I was nine years old before I met and played with a Roman Catholic child. His name was Phil McKeown; he joined our gang during the sumer holidays and was welcomed because he was a nice kid. It was only in August when we were all returning to school that he told us that he went to Park Street. Looking back, Phil was probably the first Liberal I ever met.

Sectarianism didn’t end in the schools either. In those days we had our own burgh police force; I cannot say for sure that there were no Catholic cops, but if there was one, he must have been lonely. Their job wasn’t that hard. Motherwell was not a rough place; there was a post-war period of twenty years when there was not a single homicide in the town, although the serial murderer Peter Manuel did live not too far away, until he died, suddenly, in Glasgow.

We weren’t rich then, as a community, but we were self-assured, and on either side of the invisible divide, we had the strong sense of identity that is part of my genetic makeup. We were Scottish, and we were proud of it.

However, we were also aware that we did not have power over our own lives. When I was very young, I remember my mother warning me that if I didn’t behave, ‘Mr Gaitskell will get you’. He was only Chancellor then so God knows what wold have happened if I’d done something bad enough for Mr Attlee to come for me.

Then Mr Churchill was Prime Minister again, and for a while all seemed well with the world . . . apart from the fact that our government was very far away, and the coal mines were still dark, dangerous places where lives could be ended by a single act of carelessness, or were taken aware more slowly in retirements limited by the inevitable lung disease, which the Coal Board did little or nothing to prevent. As for the steel works, in those men invented new ways of getting themselves killed.

July meant Elie,  and a month in a rented house, with a new set of temporary friends, mornings spent pulling my dad’s trolley round the golf course, afternoons spent on the beach, more often than not huddled behind a windbreak, staring across the Forth of Forth at the Bass Rock, and unknown to me, at Gullane, where I would spend the bulk of my life.  The saying was, ‘If you can see the other side, it mean it’s going to rain. If you can’t seen it, it’s raining.’

When I was eleven I was sent to Glasgow High School. I hated the daily journey, and I hated (as do my entire class, to this day) my prep year teacher, a frenzied belter whose like were abolished long ago, but I loved the city. I loved its size and its grandeur, and the proud assertiveness of its people. I loved the richness of its shops and the size of its buildings, architectural beauties that were taken for granted. My Grandma Bell called it simply ‘The Town’. And that’s how I think of it still. Yes, Edinburgh was the capital . . . a relatively meaningless status back then . . . but Glasgow was the heart of my Scotland.

I was almost sixteen before I crossed the border. My parents decided that we should have an Easter Holiday, so we squeezed into the A35 and headed South, for London. For a reason I have never come close to guessing, my old man took us into England over Carter Bar. It was snowing significantly at the time; I do not blame the English for that, incidentally. In those pre-motorway days the drive took two days, with an overnight stop in Tadcaster, a brewery town. We arrived at my mother’s aunt’s place in Corby, dumped the car and did the rest by train. (Why didn’t we train it all the way? Dunno, and I never did ask my father that one either.)

My earliest memories of the City on the Thames are mixed. We did the usual stuff, the Tower, Buck House, etc, and Madame Tussauds, but that’s all a blur. Only three things stick in my mind: an overwhelmed, uniformed Scoutmaster failing to control a pack of cubs at the tube station in the Tower, a meal in The Volunteer, a pub in Baker Street which had a  parrot and claimed to have served kidney soup every day since the Napoleonic Wars, and arriving at my folks’ friends flat in South Ken, to find that they had a genuine debutante staying with them, a girl not much older than I was, on the way to being presented at court. Her name was Caroline, and she was sitting in front of the fire drying her hair, which was in curlers. She bolted for the bathroom and I never saw her again. Funny, I can remember the Crown Jewels only vaguely, but that deb is still fresh in my mind.

The other thing that never left me was the sense of being an alien. The staff in our B&B spoke what might have been another language and were of another culture with a quaint view of ours. For example, the breakfast waitress assumed that we would have ‘porridges’, and was visibly disappointed when we declined and had Corn Flakes instead. I suspect that an Indian family would have been offered curry as standard.

These days, things have changed; my imaginary Indian family may even own that hotel. But one thing has not; I still feel like an alien every time I set a foot on English ground.

I am Scottish. The nation in which I was raised has gone, although some of the prejudices still remain. The town in which I was raised is unrecognisable to me. The city I loved has been devastated, and turned into little more than a theme park. And yet they are still mine, my pride, my joy.

The referendum has given me the opportunity to declare my love for my country and my faith in its ability to restore and renew itself. Our society was not perfect then, it is not perfect now, and it will not be perfect on Friday whatever happens. But if we seize the chance we have been offered we can pursue perfection unhindered, as every nation has the right to do.

I have voted Yes because I am me, and there is nothing else that I could do.

Categories: Politics
  1. Phil Hull
    September 14, 2014 at 10:05 am

    Well said! Irrespective of people’s views on the issue of Scottish independence your arguments cary conviction and pride. I make no secret of the fact that I am a right-wing tory. I believe passionately in free enterprise etc. However, when it comes to political figures I have far more respect for the likes of Tony Benn, Dennis Skinner, Margaret Thatcher, Ken Livingstone etc than I could ever have for Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ted Heath, Neil Kinnock etc. My premise being that if you have strong beliefs and don’t change them to seek popular approval then I admire you – even if I don’t agree.

  2. September 14, 2014 at 11:09 am

    Reblogged this on writerlywitterings and commented:
    The thoughts of a friend of mine, and a man with a deep love for, and understanding of, his people and country.
    I admire Quintin hugely, and respect his views, but I disagree with his conclusion.
    I firmly believe that Scotland breaking away will have a negative effect on the British Isles. It will, like all divorces, be rancorous and lead to resentment on both sides of the border.
    Worst of all, it is a decision being taken by people who assume in good faith that their own leaders will in some way be better than those in Westminster.
    However, the people leading Scotland will be exactly the same as those in Westminster today. Malcolm Rifkind, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and all the others are Westminster politicians. They all also went through the Scottish education system, as did so many others.
    Divorce from the UK won’t bring about radical political improvements. It’ll be run by the same incompetents and charlatans as Westminster.
    I still remember the first vote taken by the new Scottish Parliament. It was: to increase the income of the Members of the Scottish Parliament.

  3. September 14, 2014 at 11:13 am

    I respect your views, Quintin, but I have to disagree. At the end of the day, the guys who’ll run Scotland have had the same education, the same political training, the same backgrounds as those who work in Westminster: Menzies Campbell, Malcolm Rifkind, Blair, Brown, and all the rest. By ditching Westminster, you’ll get the same guys in charge, with the added bonus of resentment both sides of the border. I still remember the first vote pushed through the Scottish parliament: voting the MSPs a salary increase!

  4. September 14, 2014 at 2:14 pm

    I’m keeping my fingers crossed that you and your countrymen and women get your wish for independance after next thursday Quintin. 🙂

  5. Thea E Hollingsworth
    September 15, 2014 at 2:27 am

    I am the daughter of a Scottish woman who came to the U.S. at the end of WWII. While she lived in the states for thirty-six years she never became an American citizen, as she would not swear allegiance in the event the U.S. ever declared.war.against Scotland. You may think that the likelihood of that happening were not high, however my.mother did not feel comfortable with any chance she would be asked to.bear arms against Scotland or her citizens. Her own people. The people of Scotland. We’re she alive today she would be leading the parade for Yes! She infused her American family with a great love for our people and our country. While we still have family in the U.K., almost all have left Scotland for work across the border. I am hoping for an independent Scotland so that I may someday come home.

  6. Montaltoman
    September 15, 2014 at 8:54 am

    I was also born in Motherwell, in Alma Place opposite the Empire Theatre, but just before the bombs fell on Clydebank and remember many of the things you recall. My elder brothers both went to Knowetop School, overlooking the hallowed turf of Fir Park. On the site that was to become Ravenscraig stood a film set style mock up steel plant lit at night to divert enemy bombers away from Dalzell Works. My father was a proud steelmaker, driving a soakers crane (an occupation no doubt devised to shorten life expectancy). My eldest brother was politically active and became a young (possibly youngest) Councillor for Wishaw, when Bernard Brogan was Mayor. My elder brother joined the Royal Navy and stood proudly on duty at the Coronation. I became a steelmaker (City & Guilds from Clydesdale College, Mossend) and later was involved, on the fringes, of the building of Ravenscraig. I courted a Catholic lass much to the chagrin of both our families. Although her mother always referred to me as ‘her daughters intended’ ! The relationship was inevitably doomed. Some years later I moved South to briefly become a ‘plane maker. I married my Airdrieonian wife and have enjoyed over half a century of marital union. During this life, like yourself, I have witnessed much ethnic and sectarian prejudice but ,happily, have been blessed with a circle of aquaintances of various colour, creed and social persuasion. Although disagreeing with your stand on the current dispute, I utterly respect your opinion. With regards, Anither o’ Jock Tamson’s Bairns.

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