Once upon a time – and it wasn’t all that long ago - being a Scot abroad was the dream ticket.
Fair enough, it wasn’t an open invitation to do as you pleased; innkeepers and publicans in exotic locales didn’t actually invite you to marry their daughters and covet their oxen, but we were certainly better regarded than some other nationalities I could mention.
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Like, for instance, off the top of my head, the English, who, in my experience at any rate, were often regarded as haughty, pompous and self-regarding.
What’s more, we were definitely further up the acceptability scale than Americans who were often about as welcome in your average overseas backpackers hostel as bedbugs, pubic lice and lights out before 9pm.
Harsh though this assessment might have been, it was usually as a result of a perceived notion as to their over-bearing, arrogant mien and apparent inbuilt propensity toward pretty much anything which didn’t originate from the home of the brave and the land of the free.
(And it didn’t help that the word ‘Yank’ rhymed with another term which often seemed to perfectly sum up the personality of many of its citizens.)
Scots, on the other hand, were good fun. Easy going, and sociable. Welcome. Hail fellow, well met. Good for a laugh, a drink and, well, whatever else that was going, really.
Crucial to this assessment was the assumption that we were not even junior partners in the conglomeration that was UK PLC, but hired hands, the artisans, the ones who did the graft, bolshie and uppity and more than capable of giving those arrogant English toffs their come uppance should the occasion demand, which naturally enough, it regularly did.
But in a week where a TV audience fell about (an English audience admittedly) at the suggestion that an independent Scotland would be a suitable spot for some nuclear dumping and – more to the point - I was personally told to **** off back to Scotland (twice) could it be we’re losing our touch? Are we becoming less lovable?
Personally, I think the independence debate is to blame. When we were, rightly or wrongly, seen as oppressed, subjugated and downtrodden by our southern neighbors, it gave us a certain credibility. The reality of our history is, of course, as tainted with tyrannical cruelty as the English, we – the Scots – were willing, maybe even enthusiastic proponents of the British Empire; slave traders, plantation owners and the like, but somehow we always seemed to escape the charge.
It helped that we had some fantastic, almost universally popular role models in the likes of Sean Connery and Billy Connolly. Fact is, pretty much everywhere I’ve been in the English speaking world, Billy and Big Tam reign supreme.
(Ironically, the only place they’re not thought of as great guys is Scotland itself; Sean for having the cheek to live in Spain and Billy for quite simply being way too successful for his own good.)
Everybody likes the underdog. I think it’s possible our popularity had its origins in the notion of us being mere serfs controlled by the English gentry; we were almost an occupied nation, repressed and dominated, a situation we could only resolve through anarchic acts of defiance on the football pitch, in pubs at closing time or at Run Rig concerts.
To be honest, it was quite pleasant. And if it led to a couple of chips emerging on each shoulder, so much the better. It became a must have fashion accessory and went particularly well with the claymore, dirk and kilt with no knickers.
I’m a bit worried we might lose this, if – and from what I’ve seen and heard, it’s quite a big if – independence goes ahead. I mean, is this really what we want?
Wasn’t it better having a ready made entity we can blame? If we go it alone, will we have to face up to our past as well as our future? Will we become free and independent, but, at the same time, be not as likeable, gladly received and welcome in pubs worldwide?
It’s worth thinking about.
Oh and why was I told to **** off back to Scotland?
Well, it’s a long story.
But it happened in a pub. At closing time.