Sometimes Scotland Is Too Much Like Home
The movie is never as good as the book. The cover is never as good as the original. When I tell people from home that I live in Glasgow now, or tell people from Glasgow that I’m from Belfast I always hear the same thing: Belfast/Glasgow is quite like Glasgow/Belfast isn’t it?”
And it’s true. There’s a lot of similarities between my place of my birth and the place I live. It’s mostly those hard to pin down features. The humour is similar (although not quite as good here), the city has the same kind of rough vibe with pockets of intense creativity. There’s good food, good bars and the people are some of the friendliest you’ll ever meet. Glasgow, and Scotland, remind me very much of Belfast, and Ireland.
On my very first day in Glasgow I wandered around the University campus and an American man in a kilt gave me a leaflet about Scottish Independence. At the time this was still a relatively fringe point of view, a referendum on independence was not yet confirmed and not even really in serious consideration. Even those who voted SNP would tell me they didn’t necessarily support independence.
At first I would’ve said that I had no view on Scottish independence. As far as I was concerned it was a matter for the people of Scotland and no-one else to decide. As I lived in Scotland longer and ultimately decided to stay I released that I was one of the people of Scotland and I was of course entitled to vote in the referendum.
During the independence referendum campaign I was happy to see how Yes Scotland handled it. They created a sense of civic nationalism that was based on living in Scotland not on some arbitrary sense of “Scottishness”. If you were entitled to vote in regular Scottish elections you were entitled to vote in the referendum. Those who did not live in Scotland - even if they had been born there - were not. Compare this to the EU referendum which was based solely around the idea of Britishness and refused to allow EU nationals to vote - no matter how long they’d lived in the UK.
I voted Yes and I was disappointed when the No vote won. I was even more disappointed however by the immediate aftermath and the shift in political culture. With reports of violence in Glasgow City Centre a friend jokingly asked me “Is what it’s like in Belfast all the time?”
Since then Scotland has seen a strong Ulsterisation of politics.
The battle cry of the Scottish Tories has become “No to a second independence referendum”. During the 2017 Scottish Local Council elections the Tories delivered leaflets that didn’t say the name of the candidate and focused exclusively on the issue of independence. An issue that is not within the remit of local councils. A similar tactic saw the Tories become the second largest party in the Scottish Parliament for the first time in living memory. The message the Tories sent was clear - to vote unionist was to vote tory. Similarly a recent piece of misinformation reported that Nicola Sturgeon had ordered the Union Jack no longer be flown on the UK Queen's birthday. This was patently untrue and although we didn’t see violence like the infamous flag ‘protests’ in Belfast there were many confused Unionists who were deeply angered by this false story.
The Scottish Tories have successful turned the Scottish political scene into an ‘us-vs-them’ - ‘unionists-vs-nationalists’ debate. I am legitimately worried that this trend will continue and as the quality of discussion declines so too will the quality of politics, policy and life in Scotland.
I’d be lying if I said I never thought about going home. I have family, friends and obvious social and cultural connections to Belfast. In a weird way the angry yelling about flags, about independence and about the nationality one identifies as reminds me: there’s no place like home.