At home I’m English. Abroad I’m Scottish. On my passport I’m British.
Let me explain. The diasporic nature of my heritage leaves me in a kind of cultural no-man’s-land. My parents are English and Scottish respectively, with traces of French, French-Canadian and Irish in there somewhere. My family history goes back to about 1735, and maybe before. One of my great-great-great-whatevers claimed to be descended from Rob Roy MacGregor, the semi-mythical hero of Scott’s book, a figure in Scottish history who has attained a permanence despite the fact he was the 17th-Century equivalent of a shoplifter. I don’t actually believe this – even if it was true, it hardly matters as it was so long ago. The only figure from my history I claim any real affinity with was the source of my surname,Le Faucheur Rayneau, a mysterious French-Canadian who was definitely up to no good. All of this is interesting in a quiet sort of way, but it doesn’t explain, or justify, or vindicate my precarious cross-cultural straddling. I am a stranger in a strange land wherever I go. I belong everywhere and nowhere.
Part of this explains why I am so distrustful of people who proclaim they are “100% __nationality__”. I’ve seen a fair few bumper stickers recently that proclaim, against a St Andrew’s Cross, the slogan “100% Scottish”. Fair enough, maybe. But what is the owner of this bumper sticker really trying to say? That’s what troubles me. Does being “100% Scottish” mean you have primacy over somebody who’s only “90% Scottish”? Substitute another adjective for “Scottish”. How does “100% Aryan” fit? Does that suit you? Are you okay with that?
Part of what disturbs me is the historical simplification going on. The Scots were a part-Irish, part-English, part-Scandinavian, part-Celtic homogenization of peoples. There isn’t a pure bloodline to belong to. If you go back far enough, we’re all “100% African”, having a shared heritage beginning in the Leakey Valley in Kenya. But this is beside the point – what evidence are we using to support this claim? DNA? Heritage? I don’t know.
The other thing that disturbs is that the banner “100% Scottish” is used as a sort of a validation of purpose, a kind of “I belong here”. In a sense I’m envious that you belong here. This isn’t my country, I’m a nowhere person; well done to you for achieving a permanence in the soil. But being a naughty intellectual, I’m prone to suspicion at your validation. Does that mean you have more right to be here than anywhere else? Does that mean you have more right to be here than me? Will you throw me out because I prefer the Union Flag to the St Andrews?
I think some people are planning that very thing. When the revolution/referendum comes around and you decide to throw out the boobs in Westminster and replace them with some boobs in Holyrood, I guess you’ll want it to be a country of pure Scots. Will you drive us to the border in armored vans? Or will you put us into camps first?
I’m being facetious, of course. The referendum will come and go. Whether this country is ruled by the English-dominated London or the almost-posh-enough-to-be-English Edinburgh, it will make no difference. Things will be much of a muchness, the same homogenous mess they’ve always been. In Scotland a lot of people like to (often jokingly) refer to the English as a kind of enemy; the rules, the elite, the “effete arseholes” of this clip from Transpotting, one of the best Scottish movies ever (and there are a few).
Which is ironic because the English aren’t a people any more than the Scottish are. We’re a big mix, a melting pot, a mongrel race. We’re the same people. There’s no real regional dividing line but the one in our heads. We can make jokes and say that the English eat beef and drink beer, whereas the Scots eat lamb and drink whiskey, but that’s a big fib we tell ourselves. And this is a fact that we, and the world, seem unaware of – we are all nowhere people.
The reason I mentioned above that abroad I identify as Scottish is convoluted, but belongs in this part of the essay. People across the world tend to regard the Scots as an oppressed race and the English as the oppressors. About a year or so ago I was in Croatia and fell into a conversation with a guy who identified me as English, until I corrected him and his demeanor changed. Suddenly we were best friends. The Scottish and the Croats have a lot in common, he said, and started talking about the Bosnian war, in which thousands of Croat people were killed by Milosevic’s troops. The analogy was clear, he seemed to be saying – the Scots and the Croats, the underdogs, against the English and the Serbs, the big bad neighbour. I would have corrected him but I was pretty drunk on Karlovaco, the best beer in the world. The Serbian war was fought on largely ethnic grounds, and was one of the worst regional conflicts on the 20th Century. In contrast, Scotland and England stopped fighting nearly five hundred years ago and the Union was a financial measure, initiated by canny Scots who realised they’d be richer if they joined (and notice I didn’t say SUBMITTED) the rest of the island. The fact that Scots are seen across the world as a similarly-embittered and oppressed people by countries that are actually submitting to warlords and tyrants is weird, weird, beyond weird. I hate to think that my English heritage is something to atone for. Somebody once described Britain as “an island in the North Atlantic ruled by Scots”. Eventually that island became a symbol of overwhelming power and oppression across the globe. Was it the English that masterminded this tyranny? Maybe. Was the empire administered, run, governed and ruled by Scots? Yep.
I think a lot of people in Scotland like to pretend that the histories of Scotland and England are separate, but they’re not – we’re one people, bound together by history. And that’s what lends the lie to being “100% Anything” on this perfidious isle – we’re a big mix. We, the Scots, drink American beer and drive Japanese cars, speak English and count in Arabic. Our patron saint, he of the flag, was from Israel and his flag is used as far away as Russia. We wear clothes made in China and eat battered fish caught off the Australian coast. Our line of kings descends from Ireland and our myths mostly come from Persia. Is “100% Scottish” any more of a thing than “100% Aryan?” In a pig’s arse it is.
I don’t think there’s really a moral here; thanks for reading anyway. What I’m trying to say, gentle reader, if I’m saying anything at all is that labels are bad. Nationalities should be done away with. If you’re “100% Scottish”, “100% English”, Aryan And Proud, whatever, I hope it gives you a feeling of belonging. I’m envious. I really am. As a nowhere person and a doubter inclined to reject all labels, I envy your simple-mindedness. I envy your belonging to somewhere, a being somebody. Better people and wiser people have said much the same. I think it was HL Mencken who said it was a poor soul indeed that was ruled by geography. I think if there were more nowhere people there might be fewer people dying over land.
But who knows? I’m from a town called nowhere.
Enough, already, have some boobs. Yayyy Olivia Wilde!