Suzy Houston: Why A Yes Vote Is Not A Betrayal Of My English Roots

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Sixteen years ago this month my dad drove me and a small car load of my worldly possessions (including a floral ironing board recently purchased especially for the occasion from Woolworth’s) three hundred miles from Stamford in Lincolnshire to Murano Street halls of residence in Glasgow. I was just starting out on an undergraduate degree and, as it turned out, the beginning of a new life in Scotland which would span the next decade and beyond. Why on earth I felt that an ironing board was necessary for my transition to student life, I can no longer recall. Needless to say, it was never used for its intended function, but instead was hastily up-cycled as an innovative drinks-table-cum-dirty-ashtray-storage-facility and was finally abandoned completely some weeks later when a drunken individual attempted to further repurpose it as a kind of ironic day-bed, causing it to collapse spectacularly amidst a filthy mushroom cloud of grey fag ash.

Back in 1998 I was completely unfamiliar with Glasgow’s geography, and, after my dad had disappeared back down the M8, I went out for a walk to get my bearings and mistakenly walked in the opposite direction to the University and into the middle of a Maryhill housing estate. Had I set out to find a place which was a polar opposite to the chocolate box English town I had just left behind, Maryhill, with its ageing high rises and shabby shop-fronts would probably be near the top of the list. Although it isn’t the poorest district in Glasgow by far, the contrast with the beautiful stone English town I had left behind was striking and unnerving.

That first day in Glasgow, for the first time in my life I got a glimpse of a level of social deprivation and poverty that I had not previously encountered. The blinkered, middle-class, public school-educated, naive person I was at the time didn’t particularly care about the weathered Scottish community across which I had mistakenly stumbled, beyond a kind of touristic schadenfreude. After all, wasn’t Taggart set here? Fearing there might soon be a murder, I turned back hastily (remember I had ironing to do) and spent the next few years sheltering in the more affluent parts of the city. Had I returned to England after graduation, I would probably have retained my simplistic and inaccurate view of poverty in Scotland: that it happens to distant others who can be easily avoided, and it is probably their own fault anyway. I’m not saying that everyone from the south of England has that attitude. But how can someone so far removed ever begin to understand or empathise with the people of Maryhill, or indeed of anywhere else in Scotland?

If the referendum had taken place sixteen years ago I would have voted no. The idea of voting yes then would have appalled me because I, like many English people, felt very strongly that being English is pretty much the same as being British, and I would have felt a rejection of Britishness and the Union to be a rejection of Englishness and the English too. But then I was fresh up the A1: new to Glasgow; an interloper and a tourist. Now, I know better. My children live here. I have grown roots. I belong.

It’s not about being Scottish or English, or British, about Alex Salmond or David Cameron, about nationalism or patriotism. It’s about what is best for the people who live in Scotland: nothing more, nothing less. It is about being daily resident; being local; what it means to live and work here, day in, day out; what people here want and need to make their lives happy, productive and healthy. History has shown time and time again that the UK government, especially a Tory one, consistently gets it wrong for Scotland. People here are scarred by the past, by callous decisions made hundreds of miles away by strangers who talk and think differently. Frankly, Westminster making decisions about Scotland is about as appropriate and useful as an ironing board in a student flat.

By voting yes I haven’t abandoned my love of England or my Englishness. Far from it. Perhaps living here for so long has eroded my English edge but my core is still red and white. I still sound like Janet Street-Porter attempting Norwegian when I try to sing along with Scots nursery rhymes at playgroup. People here often point and laugh at me when I say ‘tomato’ or ‘banana’ or ‘snooker’. I love the Royal family, especially Prince Phillip. I eat fish and chips, not a fish supper. I defend Morris dancers from anyone who dares question their masculinity, especially if said person is wearing a kilt. I know every single word to ‘my old man’s a dustman’ and I silently weep with joy at the delectable thought of a Melton Mowbray pork pie and a pickled onion on a warm summer’s day. But beyond minor shibboleths and cultural idiosyncrasies I am no longer a tourist in Scotland. I am a fully paid up, fully subscribed, fully resident member of the nation. I’ll always be English, but Scotland is my home.

Over the last few months, as the day of the referendum has crept slowly closer, my friends and colleagues who live in Scotland have become energised, passionate, and politicised about the future of Scotland. People who never spoke up before, who maybe never felt they had a voice or a chance to make a difference have suddenly found the impetus and the courage to get involved and to educate themselves about the economy and politics and history. Something wonderful is happening here in Scotland because there is a glimmer of hope that what people here think will actually count for once. English people shouldn’t be offended by this, they should be inspired.

Sixteen enlightening years have passed since I first crossed the border. Am I still English and fond of England? Yes Is ironing a huge waste of time and effort? Yes. Do I think Scotland should be an independent country? Yes. The answer to all of these questions is a resounding and unashamed yes.

Suzy Houston
National Collective

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About Suzy Houston

Suzy Houston was born and brought up in Lincolnshire in England until 1998, and has lived in Glasgow ever since. She holds a PhD from the University of Glasgow and is currently employed by the School of Law in the same institution. She is an Associate Lecturer for the Open University and a writer for the Daily Mash.

There are 10 comments

  1. Becca

    Thank you for articulating my very reasons for voting #Yes.

    I grew up in London and was wily regarded as a little odd for leaving there to study at the (almost unheard of) Strathclyde Uni 9 years ago – since then I have made my home in this great city and am a much more rounded, politically engaged and interested person than I believe I would have been had I remained / returned to The Big Smoke down south.

    I am also proud of my Englishness, my Britishness but I too believe that an independent Scotland will be better for the people who have made Scotland their home, regardless of where they were born.

  2. rublew

    Yes, i can’t wait for our living costs to rise, our difficulty in entering the EU, our top academics taking flight, or businesses scratching their heads at the prospect of wanting to move here for some still unknown reason (maybe it’s the ‘day of reckoning’ promised if they don’t support nationalism). Our local council elections have chronically low turnouts and just 50% voted in the last Scottish parliament elections where they had a direct say in health, education, law, environment, housing, social services etc. I’m guessing they didn’t vote because they were either disinterested, or felt just politicians in Edinburgh were just as elitist as politicians in Westminster.

    P.S take a trip north to Shetland soon. I look forward to your campaign for their independence too.

    1. DMMMMMMMMMMMMM

      According to a poll in the press and Journal 82% of People in Shetland wanted to stay with Scotland, 10% didn’t know and only 8% thought independence might be a good idea so good luck with that.

      The rest is just rehashed scare stories. The low turnout however is a worry. Local democracy needs to be developed no matter what the outcome of this vote. Local democracy was eroded by Thatcher the greatest centraliser out (though she said she hated big government). We need to get local democracy back to the people. I personally think this will be far easier in Scotland than within the UK. The UK is going down the US style of politics. Has been for some time. They have bad turnouts too unlike our European neighbours.

      1. rublew

        If you go back to the start of polling in regard to this referendum there was a significant swing to NO and look where we are now. Maybe giving Shetland an actual choice would change some minds. But that wasn’t my point (which was tongue in cheek anyway). My point was that this author has based her argument in geographical terms and Shetland will remain distant from decisions made in Edinburgh.

        Not quite sure how what i said is just rehashed scare stories. Well, i do know, because the YES campaign have been great at framing every realistic negative as scaremongering. They’re all scare stories because the YES campaign see zero difficulty in resolving issues, purely because everyone will agree with them, every time. There’s no point rehashing the debate that is happening elsewhere 24/7 here because we won’t get anywhere. But to paint the worry over currency, which would underpin so much of our new country if we vote yes, as just a scare story is embarrassing as it is worrying. Every currency option in an independent Scotland has risks, possibly catastrophic risks, for us as a new country. Without a stable and viable currency businesses with not only think twice about staying here, but those elsewhere will paint ‘avoid’ over us on a map. Yesterday Salmond was crying from the rooftops about how Scotland is the home of Adam Smith (did someone just push a copy of Wealth of Nations in front of him?) and somehow that gives us the ability to prepare our own sound economic policy… i wonder why it is then, he decides to not listen to our very own Adam Smith chair of political economy at the University of Glasgow, who has come out and said that both a formal currency union and ‘sterlingisation’ present too many risks, uncertainties and additional costs for an independent Scotland. But naw, he’s just part of the scare stories.

        And it’s the same with our academics. Today we’ve learned of the bullying and intimidation toward the principal of St Andrews University after she expressed her worry about funding in an independent Scotland. Phone calls and emails trying to get her to publicly ‘clarify’ (see: change) her points from an article in The Times. But if that’s not enough, we’ve had the principle of life sciences at Dundee come out clearly and strongly against independence, terrified of the consequences for funding, and also talking about how several high profile academic staff have said they will move elsewhere in the event of a yes. We’ve also heard similar stories from Edinburgh and Glasgow. But naw, they’re all part of the scare stories too. Just like the Glasgow law professor that recently raised large question marks over legal issues in a newly independence Scotland.

        Everyone loves ‘change’. It’s great because it’s so ambiguous. YES and the nationalists just need to win once. That’s it. Alex and his cronies are promising the world and more to make it happen.

        1. DMMMMMMMMMMMMM

          Yeah they said the world would end at the last devolution referendum. All the busineesses were going to leave etc. Guess what they didn’t. I even remember a lecturer at Edinburgh University told me we would end up like N. Ireland and that there would be blood on the streets. There wasn’t.

          All thses points you have made can be argued against. Yes there are legitimate concerns but when everything is seemingly going to lead to diisaster it is scaremongering plain and simple. Scotland is a very rich nation. All of the research funding that comes in over and above what Scotland pays is only 300 million. Not a massive amount in the scheme of things. So even if what you say is true about funding it is some thing thta could be afforded, The main point here though is that though we deservedly do very well out of competitive funding (money tends to go where it will be well used) we don’t do well at all with funding for development of research carried out. That is something we can fix.

          It is funny how absolutely nothing will work for Scotland even though the rest of the world manages with far less resources and human capital. They are sacre stories and this is how the UK government deals with referendums. Didn’t you notice the last one for devolution, or the one for devolution in North England or the AV referendum. They thought it would work this time as well because they expect3ed the press to again do their bidding. They did but they hadn’t accounted for people getting their information from other sourtces and being able to share it widely. This is a fight between mainstream media and this new grass roots style.

          Name me anything where they have said oh well yeah that would work you would be okay with that one. There are none. Everything it seems would fail. It is just not believable.

          The problem is your own guys keep giving the game away. The unamed cabinet minister “of course there will be a currency union”, your most senior Labour MEP saying that of course Scotland would get in to the EU and there would be no problems with Shengen and the euro and your own expert saying the 18 months wouldn’t be a problem. They have been lying for years about oil just ask Sir Dennis Healey.

          You just list a load of people that said one thing. You must know there are equally eminent people that will disagree.

          If you really don’t think there has been a lot of scaremongering going on you are either dishonest or blinkered. The fact is the UK Government deliberately refused any kind of prenegotiation with the Yes side. They did this despite the Electoral Commission’s strong recommendations. They did this so they could fill everything with doubt and fear and endlessly bring up scare stories. The one thing they did decode a wee bit of prenegotiation with was on the currency union. Why? So they could follow the Electorla Commissions guidelines and set out for the epeople of Scotland the likely consequences of the different options allowing us an informed democratic d3eecision? Nah they just wated to spread a load of worse case scenarios,. In fact they are even willing to cause nervousness in the markets because of this.
          The UK Gov was the only party with the authority to ask the EU for their official advice. They didn’t. Why? So they could come out with a load of scare stories that even the most senior Labour MEP thinks is nonsense.

          Scare stories happen at every referendum but we are expected that this time (despite the UK Govs refusal at any prenegotiation) it isn’t scare stories but proper concerns. There will be real concerns yes but it is hard to know what is real and what is not. Whose fault is that?? The boy who called wolf comes to mind.

          This is over and I don’t care anymore. I am not going to change your mind and you are not going to change mine.

  3. Thomas Mills

    I was with you right up until Morris dancers. Really lovely article Suzy and one I hope that truly gets across what civic nationalism is all about.

  4. Matt Thomas

    Generally full of good points. However you do initially suggest (probably unintentionally) that only Scotland suffers from poverty and social deprivation, and in turn infer that England is a society of small middle class country towns. The needs of the poor in Manchester and Birmingham are exactly the same as those in Glasgow or Dundee.

  5. Jason Harrison

    Very well put.
    I am English, but of a different sort to Suzy, being a working class Geordie, but also want what’s best for Scotland. I’ve voted Yes!

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