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Desperate times called for grand adventures

IT must have been desperate but also grand.

Desperate in the sense that you had to do it but grand in the sense that it was an adventure, and one no longer open to us. I'm talking about emigration to the dominions or colonies, where a young man could make a name for himself and a bit of cash to boot.

The world must have seemed so open then, so rich in possibility and economic salvation.

Now we're pretty much stuck. I don't mind living in a land of grey skies, psychic gloom and cringing dependence. Apart from all the bigots, folk here are pretty decent, and there are pies to suit all budgets.

However, sometimes one feels trapped and, realistically, there isn't anywhere to go. There are neither assisted fares nor welcome signs out there now.

For a while, I thought of emigrating to Norway, the country that Scotland might have been. But I couldn't afford the beer (I'm teetotal now, but at the time it was a major consideration), and I've doubts about the teutonic psyche (not helped by all that horrific crime literature they bung out by the boatload).

Canada is another country that appeals. It seems sensible, quiet and decent, just like me - whatever everybody says - and it has prospered without conquering or getting into too many fights.

But I don't suppose Canada would have me either. You have to be quite good at something in order to get into places these days. The only thing I could offer Canada is a fine collection of checked shirts. But their embassy told me they already had plenty of these.

So, while I accept I may not be looking hard enough, and that my get up and go has got up and gone, I fear I've little choice but to see it out here and to thole the international embarrassment that looks like descending upon us come September.

When James A Macdonald got up and went to Canada, he'd little choice in the matter. He was only five. But he went on to become Canada's national hero and her first prime minister.

If you've read your Herald as assiduously as good sense demands, you'll have learned or been reminded this week that Macdonald was born in Glasgow and that his bicentenary is next year.

This has led to a feeling that he isn't known or recognised enough here. A few articles in the Canadian press or webosphere have visited his birthplace at what is now Brunswick Lane and have come away dispirited. Who can blame them?

The supposed place of his birth is a site of dereliction or potential development, depending on the quantity of meths in your glass. Indeed, there's an abandoned pub called the Fox and Hounds, an inspired name for an establishment in the centre of a city that has hee-haw to do with tally-ho.

An article in Toronto-based magazine Maclean's notes that Glasgow is "a little different from tourist-friendly portrayals of the country's wild Highland or elegant streets of the Enlightenment".

The sense of gloom deepens when the authors interview a South Lanarkshire Labour cooncillor, who seems as interested in making the case for the Union as anything else.

His sinuous deduction that Macdonald would have been pro-Union is arguable: Macdonald was a Conservative and a member of the Orange Order, and did actually say: "A British subject I was born; a British subject I will die."

On the other hand, he upheld passionately Canada's independence from her large neighbour to the south. But there's little point in getting into one of those "which was he?" arguments about dead figures. It's already been done to death with Burns and Stevenson. The latter were both intelligent men, so clearly they'd have been pro-independence, and we should just leave it at that.

But we can't leave Macdonald's birthplace as it is. Already, Glasgow is powdering its hooter for the Commonwealth Games this year. And, while she's at it, a little more than lippie-service wouldn't go amiss for the wee boy who went forth with his family and made something big of himself.

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