Rachel McCrum: Sometimes Things Look Different From The Inside


This is a transcript of the speech Rachel gave at the National Collective Edinburgh Session, Circus Café, on Weds 18 June

My parents live beside a body of water in County Down, Northern Ireland. It’s one of the largest tidal loughs in what is currently known as the British Isles, and it is beautiful. From the beach near their cottage, you can see where the water meets the Irish Sea.

The lough has two names. It is more commonly known as Strangford Lough, from the Old Norse strang-fjoror, or ‘strong sea inlet’ – describing the strong and often violent waters found at the Narrows at the mouth of the Lough. Viking raids were a constant presence during the Middle Ages. Any boats coming in from outside must have knowledge of the strong tidal streams to gain access to the inner waters, or face a vicious battle against the currents.

Once inside, the water flattens out, serene and sheltered. The landscape is rounded and fertile, with distinctive eggshaped hills called drumlins . There are monastery sites dating to the 5th Century, and it’s at the Slaney River that St Patrick is said to have landed.

The Irish name for the water is ‘Loch Cuan’ or ‘Loch of the Bays, or Havens’.

Sometimes things look different from the inside.


So from that story, and from my accent, you will understand that I am not Scottish. I have lived in Edinburgh since January 2010, before that three years in Manchester, before that a year back in Edinburgh, before that nine months in Belfast, before that a year in New Zealand and before that, three years in the South of England. But if you ask me where I’m from – if you ask me what I am – I will usually reply ‘Northern Irish’.

Northern Ireland, of course, has its own problems in the area of self determination. When the talk started to fly of ideas of Scottish Independence, when an actual referendum date was set when this question would be voted on in a properly legal political type way, when people started actually talking about ideas of self determination and independence in newspapers and online and in cafes and bars and in the pub, and putting their own names beside their own opinions – publicly! – I was incredibly shy of it.

I felt that I had no right to contribute to this debate – that I was not Scottish – that if I had the right to contribute to this debate anywhere, never mind hold power to make a decision on it, then it would be Northern Ireland.

But I don’t live in Northern Ireland anymore. Although I still call it ‘home’, I have not lived there for nearly 14 years. I do not contribute to the Northern Irish economy, I do not contribute to culture or society or community in Northern Ireland. I have not exercised my right to vote in Northern Ireland, and I am pretty damn uninformed of exactly what’s happening in Northern Irish politics right now.

But the majority of my family is still there, and there some things I do know about current Northern Irish politics. That although the violence has mostly abated, there is still fear. That debates among citizens on politics, on issues of self determination, on nationalism or unionism, republicanism or loyalism, are not held in public. That there is still a choking bitterness (amongst the older generation, including that of my parents) or an eye rolling apathy (amongst the younger generation, including my brother).

That standing up, in a bar, to declare my political intentions is not something that I would ever do at home. And also that, if I am honest with myself, I don’t really understand how the political system in Northern Ireland works. I don’t really understand what power is held by Stormont, and what power is held by Westminister. I don’t understand how ‘my’ country works.

What I know about the independence debate is that Scotland is debating the question of how a country works, and I feel that it is doing this without fear. And that is wonderful.

And because these questions are being discussed without fear, I have found myself, slowly (pretty damn slowly) bracing myself to understand them more. To understand what goes into running a country, and whether or not that is something that should be done from a centralised remote parliament somewhere else, or whether or not Scotland, with its NHS and its education system, and its economy and resources, and its history and its culture and its politics and its ethics, and all the things that make up a country should be given to the people who live there, who really, actually do live there.

And I believe that they should, and I understand, or am on my way to understanding, that now. And being on my way to understanding those very basic questions, I am excited about being part of a movement that could shape the answers to them in the future.

For me, the incredible thing about this referendum is that the questions being asked, for the most part, are not those of ethnicity or nationality. I have now spent over four years living in Scotland, and I have contributed in more ways to the economy, society, culture and community here than I have ever contributed those of any country in my adult life before.

I understand that I would like to stay here, and that while I will never be Scottish (in my own eyes as much as anyone else’s) that I am equipped to be a Scottish citizen, and that I will be welcome.

I understand that the openness of this debate – even with the uncertainties, the mudslinging, the lack of concrete political promises, all the unknowns – has taught me more about being a citizen of a country than ever before.

I understand that Westminster politics is corrupt and increasingly alien to anything that I consider important in how a country functions, and that there is a chance for a real, positive change to move away from that. And that I would like to be a part of that change.

That’s why I am voting ‘Yes’.

Rachel McCrum
National Collective

Rachel McCrum is a poet and performer who lives and works in Edinburgh. She is the ‘Broad’ half of literary duo ‘Rally & Broad‘ and was the 2013 winner of the Callum MacDonald award for her debut pamphlet, ‘The Glassblower Dances.’