An undiscovered country

What kind of country is Scotland?

It is a fair question.

In November 2011 I spoke at the ChangeIn Scotland conference in Ullapool.

The talk was entitled: Being second generation Irish in modern Scotland – an existential challenge.

I asked the audience: “What kind of Scotland do you want to live in?”

I believe the question is timely because Scotland is at a historical juncture.

An epochal, altering choice must be made.

Next year, the people of Scotland could decide to join the community of free nations and it is their choice to make.

The people, not just The People, are sovereign and it is their choice to make.

Jean-Jacques Rousseau would have approved.

If Scotland can become a separate nation and decide her own future then what does it mean to be a Scot?

Moreover, what type of social contract will the newly independent country have with all of its people?

This is particularly important if a citizen’s birthplace or heritage belongs to a country other than Scotland.

I am in the latter camp, but my country of affiliation seemed the present a peculiar problem to the host community.

I told the audience at Ullapool that if I substituted ‘Italy’ for ‘Ireland’ and ‘Italian’ for ‘Irish’ in my personal story then my experience of growing up in in the west of Scotland in the 1950s would probably have been very different.

We have been through this process in the north-east of Ireland in the last 20 years of the Peace Process whereby competing nationalities have had to learn to accommodate each other.

It is a difficult transition for the ‘Ulster Scots’ who had been born to expect a statelet celebrating a British monoculture as their birth right.

As the Fleadh Cheoil na hÉireann bounced on the Foyle last week, any attempt to call Derry ‘as British as Finchley’ would have sounded a bit lame.

Yet the Apprentice Boys also took part in this quintessentially Irish festival.

Perhaps it is because I live in post Good Friday Agreement Ireland that I can see hope and well as danger for Scotland.

The insane hostility to Downfall last year wasn’t around the subject matter per se, but mainly because of the author.


There was a determined attempt to bully the book out of the shops and thankfully people stood firm against the klan.

Since the book was published a year ago there hasn’t been a single complaint, lawyer’s letter or writ about the content.

It is just the truth.

Moreover, dignified chaps conceded on Twitter to Alex Thomson of Channel 4 News that ‘there wasn’t anything in the book’ – i.e. anything that they could take issue with.

Why the furore then?

Because in their worldview, a ‘Fenian’ was rather gleefully writing about how Rangers self-destructed.

When I started to write about the impending financial implosion at Ibrox back in January 2009, Rangers were the top team in Scotland and playing in the Champions League.

That they were liquidated last summer and the body parts reconstituted in an ‘I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-Rangers’ tribute act in the bottom tier of Scottish football was indeed a downfall.

Moreover, there isn’t anyone that can argue that this collapse wasn’t entirely endogenous.

The pathogens that killed Rangers were as authentically part of the Ibrox ecosystem as brown brogues and British imperialism.

They did this to themselves, yet th klan yearns to construct a narrative of Rangers being assailed by outside malevolent forces.

I am reminded of the words of American philosopher Will Durant:

“A great civilisation is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself within.”

More than 20 years after his death those words were used to introduce Mel Gibson’s magisterial work on a collapsing empire, Apocalypto.

Rangers had their own Mayan moment in 2012 and it was joyous to report on the collapse.

Mr Braveheart sought to analogise the demise of Meso-American culture with the impending decline of the USA’s imperium.

However, the moral of the story also applies to the dead club that played at Ibrox in that they self-destructed and couldn’t face the truth.

A central feature of the demise of Rangers was the implicit censorship around any story that was not to the club’s liking.

The term ‘succulent lamb’ is, of course, very well known on Planet Fitba, but it has now arrived in the lexicon of the London media village.

That Alex Thomson took a very different view on telling the Rangers story to that of the Glasgow hacks is significant.

Firstly his journalistic credentials are not in doubt and he is not a sports hack; his day and daily is usually to report on far weightier matters than Scottish football.

That he agreed to write the foreword for Downfall and went on to defend the book stoutly in the face of hysterical trolling on social media is something that the succulent lamb crew still find hard to digest.

Alex was clear that he supported my work, but didn’t share my schadenfreude over the carnage at Ibrox.

I was and remain utterly thrilled at what happened to Rangers Football Club in 2012.

All of my life they have been a gathering point for the most toxic elements in Scottish society.

As a Catholic and an Irish citizen, Rangers (1872-2012) would have had no place for me even if I had been a mixture of Bobby Murdoch and Jimmy Johnstone.

They both had European Cup winner’s medals – something in short supply at Ibrox – yet they too would never have been considered for the light blues.

When I pointed out that Republic of Ireland players were also in short supply at Ibrox, the klan reacted in horror like great aunt Maude hearing industrial language from her favourite five-year-old niece.

Now that Sevco have crossed the Republic of Ireland Rubicon it only remains to be seen if the new club remains alive long enough to start to tackle the anti-Irish racism among some of their fans.

It isn’t just the Irish who can be targets of racists in Scotland; BBC journalist Andrew Marr is concerned about the vicious smugness of the best small country in the world.

His warning that the terminology of racism is slipping into the IndyRef debate should be taken on board.

I have long approved of the SNP’s civic nationalism; when it would have been easier to play to the tartan gallery, they eschewed a blood and soil narrative.


However, with any secessionist movement xenophobia is always a danger.

Anytime anyone anywhere says ‘we have no problems with racism here’, then it should serve as a health warning.

Anti-Irish racism is modern Scotland’s birth defect yet it is not even recognised as racism and that makes it more difficult to tackle.

How many of these racist incidents would be recorded as such if the abuse being hurled was focused on the victim’s Irishness?

Probably very few, if any; they would instead be characterised ‘sectarian’.

The arrival of the Irish in Scotland in large numbers as her greatest city was industrialising at an explosive rate implanted anti-Irish racism into the DNA of the ‘second city of the Empire’.

Ingesting a large group of immigrants at a time of great economic and social upheaval seems to gestate xenophobia.

It is what the progressive elements in the host community do to combat that nativist hostility that is a gauge of the decency levels in that society.

Thankfully, the age of widespread socio-economic disadvantage has gone for those of Irish descent in Glasgow, but it only departed the scene recently.

Although occupational parity was achieved in 2001, what remains extant in Scotland is attitudinal discrimination towards the settled Irish community.

That is the only explanation for something like the Famine Song.

This summer, I had reason to revisit that racist ditty and my journalistic campaign against it in 2008 and 2009.

It pleased me that what started with fighting the Famine Song is now a conversation about a Famine memorial and this is explored in Minority Reporter: Modern Scotland’s bad attitude towards her own Irish.

This isn’t a book for my community in Scotland rather I hope it engages anyone who wants the country to be better.

Although the Irish have been the undoubted victims of racism in Scotland we are not immune to being perpetrators of it here in Ireland.

The Celtic Tiger years now feel like they happened in another country and I see racism growing on an almost daily basis towards people who arrived to seek a better life in this Republic.

Thankfully, no one has been able to mobilise racist politics amid the chaos of IMF-imposed austerity. There is no Irish equivalent of Greece’s Golden Dawn and that gives me hope for the future and pride in my people.

Yes, we have racists among us, but thankfully there aren’t enough of them to define the national narrative.

Racism has to be fought by all of us wherever we live and wherever we come from.

I was recently treated to a taxi driver’s racist foam flecked rant in Dublin about “fucking Nigerians”.

The ‘send them home’ script was formulaic, but the casting for this old story had a modern twist as my driver was from Ghana.

When I gently pointed out that everyone was welcome in this country and that we had been losing people to emigration for generations largely because of colonial history at the hands of the British he changed the subject.

Had he not steered the conversation in another direction I would have shared my father’s experience in 1950s England of being an unwelcome but needed economic migrant.

Like his Nigerian neighbours my driver is very welcome here and it shames me that too many of the new Irish experience a frosty fáilte from the natives.

Fighting racism is a job for all of us all of the time and sadly there will be no final victory just eternal vigilance.

Anti-Irish racism is the template for all other manifestations of intolerance in modern Scotland.

Make any mention of this stealth racism in Scotland and the first response from the host community is the outright denial that the problem exists.

Then there is the banter defence and finally there is the personal hostility towards the complainant.

Any out group giving voice would soon learn that their seat is still at the back of the bus.

Moreover, it is clear that when one type of racism is authorised the other varieties can flow quite freely.

Sadly, what Andrew Marr is suggesting isn’t so fanciful.

The country of my birth has a choice to make and it’s not just whether or not it becomes independent, but whether it is a place where people can be respected for who they are.

However, they must first examine the unspoken racism that was laid down with the foundation stones of North Britain.

Then the questions will be:

What kind of country can Scotland become?


Minority Reporter: Scotland’s bad attitude towards her own Irish is available from Amazon and all good bookshops.

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