Like all good love stories, my involvement with Scotland started slowly. It wasn’t love at first sight but when has that ever been the most enduring kind?
My first visit to Scotland was in 1999. I was looking for a university for postgraduate study and visited several in Britain – among them Dundee. And while the place had a great reputation for forensic science, it didn’t grab me the way others did, and I ended up down in Sheffield instead.
But even as a student there was still a pull; I visited Scotland several times in the next three years for holidays and with rowing competitions. So when the time came for me to write up my thesis and I needed some clear headspace and a place I could really stretch my legs, I moved to Glenmore by Aviemore.
It was the balm I needed: no internet, no phone signal, dozens of mountain routes, a part-time job at the local hostel. I communicated with my supervisors back in Sheffield by post and never before or since got so much writing done. My work was submitted miraculously on time; I can only credit Scotland for that and the hostel wardens got a prominent acknowledgement in the thesis.
And if I’d thought it through, I probably should have stayed. Unfortunately I heeded the relentless media pressure that said anyone with aspirations of a good job and a secure future should move down to London. So I did.
And was I ever in for a shock. Sure, there were plenty of job adverts, but could I get a look in to any of them? Could I bollocks. The laws regarding working migrants meant I couldn’t be hired unless literally no other minimally qualified people applied. At the few interviews I did have, “we’d love to hire you but you’re from overseas” was the disappointing result. And I watched the money I’d saved in Glenmore fly out of my account… for what, exactly?
So as a lot of people probably already know, I took up escorting (and wrote about it). I also did eventually settle into a 9-to-5 job as well, but doing the same kind of work I was doing before I moved to the UK. I was basically running to stand still.
Things happen, life goes on. I moved all over England, met a man, got married. He loves the mountains and I love water, and he was the first person to introduce me to the rugged West Coast of Scotland where he had been coming to for years. Kayaking and mountaineering on the same day? It was a revelation. We came up every time we had a holiday, snuggled in B&Bs and bothies and tents and plotted how someday, when we retired, we would move up here for good.
Then my identity as an anonymous writer got splashed all over the press. Suddenly living in the south of England, where everyone is on your doorstep and few of them are friends, was a worse fate than ever. And a year later when my husband quit his job in disgust at the terrible conditions and pay, we thought… why wait for retirement to make the move?
We’re lucky, there’s no two ways around that. We are still young and healthy; he doesn’t mind giving up the rat race grind for odd jobs and part-time work. I can bring my writing anywhere. But what mattered to us just as much was moving to a place where there was real community. In London, Sheffield, Newcastle and Bristol, I’d hardly known who my neighbours were, wouldn’t even have recognised them in some cases.
That just isn’t the way life is supposed to be, is it?
So we packed up everything from our flat into a van and drove north. We live in Lochaber now, about an hour away from Fort William. It’s only been since 2010 but I can hand on heart say I feel more at home here than I have anywhere else in Britain. My husband joined the fire brigade, I joined the agricultural show committee. No one really minds where you’re from as long as you want to be part of this community. And when the ugly English tabloids have come knocking, my neighbours surprised me by refusing to comment and closing their doors. That would never happen in London. I know, because it seemed like everyone down there was tripping over their own feet in the rush to sell me out.
In England, I felt like I could work hard, earn loads, and still never be respected or seen as a person. Every time I proved myself by the letter of their laws (income, time of residence, taking pointless tests), they moved the goal posts and my life became precarious all over again. Up here I feel the people will respect you because of who you are – not what you do.
My heart breaks every time I read about another family torn apart by the new restrictions on immigration, and doubly so when it happens in Scotland, in areas where new residents are so badly needed. We can change this. We can take back control from Westminster laws that rip mothers form children, teachers from schools, and graduates from work in the name of appeasing the insularity of the tabloid press.
I only became a citizen last year. So in spite of living and paying taxes to the UK for a decade and a half, I can only now vote and have a say in my own future. The independence referendum is going to be my first vote here and, I think, the most significant thing I’ve ever voted in during my entire life. This really is a vote that is down to the people, every last one of us.
When people ask me why I think Scotland should be its own country, I say, because it so obviously already is. Maybe I’m biased, born as I was in the US where we celebrate our revolution, where children in school learn about the Enlightenment values that shaped our independence. Values that were, let’s not forget, very heavily influenced by Scottish thinkers. Yes, they are values we don’t always live up to, but they are there spelled out for anyone to read. We argue and debate about the legacy of those 18th century documents because they matter so much to us. We know who we are and who we want to be. We strive for better.
I have experienced firsthand how the policies of Westminster are tailored to suit the reactionary politics of English tabloids. They don’t respond to the different needs in the rest of their own country, much less up here. They don’t care.
Instead they bring up all kinds of distractions in the debate. Who cares what colour the currency is, or whose head is on it? Did you know the US didn’t have a single unified currency until seventy years after independence, by the way? We did just fine (and won a second war against England in the meantime to boot.)
Then they try to tell us that an independent Scotland wouldn’t be in the EU… saying this out of one side of their mouths, while the other side is promising an in/out vote on Europe south of the border. Then they claim the Highlands and Islands would be given more of a voice in Westminster. Funnily enough, this doesn’t actually extend to more elected representatives, and only mentions oil, leaving the west of Scotland out in the cold. Business as usual, then. Keep that money, talent, and power flowing down to London, and hang anyone who thinks we all deserve better than that.
I want to live in a country where migrants who have so much to give are encouraged to stay, not packed into detainment centres or barred at the border. I want to live in a place where people say hello to you in the village shop, and no matter how recently you moved here, come round and ask you to join in things.
I want to live in a country that bases its policies on hope for the future, not fear of it.
That’s why I’m voting Yes.
Image by Paul Clarke