FOR an iconic lyricist that penned classics for The Clash such as English Civil War (1978), Something about England (1980), and This is England (1985), Joe Strummer had a strange but somewhat late and close relationship with Scotland.

His father was born in India of Armenian heritage and Strummer himself was born – as John Graham Mellor – in Ankara in Turkey. But it was through his mother’s side of his family that he came to appreciate and embody many of the central values – such as equality and fairness – embedded in Scottish society. His mother, Anna Mackenzie, was born and raised in Bonar Bridge in Sutherland, being the daughter of a crofter.

Just three weeks before he died on 22 December 2002, at a family wedding in Bonar Bridge, Strummer told his cousin: ‘I’ve been a terrible Scotsman, but I’m going to be better’. He was alluding to the neglect of his past, his rediscovery of it and attempting to quickly rectify this. As his biographer, Chris Salewicz, commented, Strummer’s Scottishness ‘in later life came to mean much more to him’. This was about his sense of identity and what it represented politically for him.

READ MORE: A New Scotland - Building an Equal, Fair and Sustainable Society. Edited by Gregor Gall. Review

For the duration of The Clash from 1976 to 1986, Strummer consistently paraded his English identity. "If I am English and if I don’t mean anything to English fans then it makes me feel sick to my stomach" and "I come from England. That’s where I am and where I must always go back to" were just a few examples of such statements.

Other than England’s Irie (1996), English Civil War, Something about England and This is England were angry laments for a better society and about the dangers of patriotism. Writing England’s Irie for Black Grape for the 1996 European football championship was an exception. It saw Strummer twice break his boycott of Top of the Pops to appear on it, singing and wearing England football T-shirts. It came after his infamous comment in 1989 about England football fans: "I get a strange swell of pride when I hear of our football hooligans causing trouble abroad".

But from the mid-1990s onwards, he more frequently mentioned his Scottishness. This was because he came to believe his Scottishness imbued him with hardy resilience to speak out and fight for the underdog.

In the early 2000s, he explained: "My mother's from the north of the north of the north of Scotland. … The Romans built two walls all the way across England … just to keep my people out … I feel proud when I see Hadrian's Wall [be]cause that wall was built to keep my forefathers out and it shows what motherf*****s we are’.


And when asked "What forces played a role in shaping your sense of morality?", he responded: "My mother was Scottish, and a no-nonsense kind of woman, and maybe I got some vibes from her". He attributed his, "The way you get a better world is, you don't put up with substandard anything" belief to his Scottish ancestry: "I’m from the north of the north of Scotland. We don’t put up with any shabby treatment".

So why did Strummer come to reject England and Englishness as reactionary? One side of this was the racism and prejudice that often accompany patriotism. Indeed, he told the Clash documentary, Westway to the World: "We weren’t parochial, we weren’t narrow-minded, we weren’t ‘little Englanders'’’.

The rise of the British National Party from the early 1990s onwards reinvigorated Strummer’s earlier anti-fascism so that he could not see the space for the kind of English ‘progressive patriotism’ espoused by Billy Bragg.

But the most important side was his rejection of Tony Blair and ‘New’ Labour which he saw as not only a betrayal of the long, hard fight against Thatcherism but also as the actual embracing of Thatcherism.

Indeed, when Margaret Thatcher was asked in 2002 what her greatest achievement was, she said: "Tony Blair and New Labour. We forced our opponents to change their minds".

Then in 2013, Blair himself said: "I always thought my job was to build on some of the things she had done rather than reverse them." Blair’s embrace of authoritarianism and neo-liberalism were the death knells for Strummer seeing Labour as a progressive force.

Strummer was looking for a credible counter-balance to this and saw in Scottish society the strong values of humanitarianism, egalitarianism and social compassion, summed up in the phrase, "We’re all Jock Tamson’s bairns."

It was the sense of social ease, compassion and respectfulness in the family and community on his mother’s side that Strummer became so endeared to. It was this basis that we can make sense of his new found philosophy of humanism, embodied in his motto of 2001: "Without people, you’re nothing".

Blair courted Cool Britannia to build support for ‘New’ Labour amongst musicians and the youth and to promote Britain abroad. Suddenly, the Union flag was ‘cool’ and ubiquitous. Its most important constituent part was the St George’s flag of England. There was no Cool Caledonia.

Strummer felt such betrayal at the hands of ‘New’ Labour that he saw there was no point voting any more, advocating a kind of decentralised, ethical capitalism so that people could take control of their own lives. Strummer mockingly set up the TLF – the Tony Liberation Front – in late 1999, saying, "We gotta get rid of Tony Baloney."

Though he never lived in Scotland, had he not died, he intended to act on his wish to buy a home near Bonar Bridge to make good on his rekindled connection. From his home in Broomfield in Somerset, he talked in 1999 of setting up a rebel Wessex state, drawing upon inspiration from the struggle for Scottish devolution as a form of protection from the effects of Thatcherism and ‘New’ Labour.

"If Wales can do it and Scotland can do it, why can't the West Country? We're gonna secede from the union and say 'F*** off, Tony Blair. You're a Victorian in the cyber age."

Professor Gregor Gall is an Affiliate Research Associate at the University of Glasgow and author of The Punk Rock Politics of Joe Strummer: Radicalism, Resistance and Rebellion, which is published by Manchester University Press on June 28, price £16.99,