It’s early January and the airport ‘Departures’ sign above my head is still framed by Christmas lights. It looks almost festive – almost, but not quite. Once again, I’m preparing to see my son off to catch his plane. The other part of the Auld Alliance is his current destination.
Ever since he completed his business degree in Copenhagen, the years have just telescoped together into a blur of arrivals and departures: Berlin, Calgary, Paris, Singapore, Tokyo. So much travelling for one so young.
These days each departure results in a longer absence and greater distance. I suppose as parents we all feel this sense of sadness on seeing our young leave the nest. But the world is his, and fortunately, he loves returning to our secure base in this land of his birth.
The earliest significant departure stored on the film reel of my mind is a scene at the old Glasgow Airport in 1961. On a dreich Lowland evening an aircraft disappeared into low cloud. ‘Wave now,’ my mother said. It was farewell to one of my older teenage sisters. Off to a new life in the States. My unasked question was: Why did she leave?
I’ve seen her only infrequently since.
Next time the idea of ‘departing Scotland’ registered was a couple of years later, at primary school. One day, our teacher – the notoriously volatile native of Skye – ‘Miss Graham’, revealed a different side to her austere personality. Out of the blue, she veered off from her usual teaching and wanted us to sing some of the Scottish songs she’d taught us.
Young ‘Heather’, one of the lassies in our huge class, was leaving our school, and not just school, but leaving Scotland. She and her family were emigrating.
Scottish outbound emigration was a common theme in the 1960s. It was mainly to Australia or Canada. An exile that usually became permanent due to the sheer distance.
On Heather’s last day we sang ‘For These Are My Mountains’ and, if memory serves me right, the ‘Skye Boat Song’. She left with tears in her eyes to plaintive tunes of exile. Her family were Canada bound. Heather was not the first and wouldn’t be the last to depart.
As the Sixties rolled on, you’d hear about a son or daughter of so and so who were now doing well in the ‘former colonies’. The way people talked the sense was that those who’d left had made a lucky escape.
The parents of two best friends, who lived off Dunchatten Street, took up the offer of those cheap maritime voyages to Australia. They’d had enough tenement deriliction and ootside lavvies, so they became, what Aussies called, ‘£10 Pommies’. Both entire familes up and gone, lock stock and barrel.
On a September day in 1974, it was my turn. I carried a borrowed suitcase into Central Station. There wasn’t much in it by way of belongings. I’d been more or less homeless for a few years since my parents went their separate ways. Just one of many unhappy East End marriages. My fate was to be shunted off to Easterhouse to sleep on my sister’s sofa.
With hindsight, it’s easy to see how poverty and social deprivation lead to distress, despair, family break ups, and worse. Poverty is a poison that seeps into every part of life. For some of we Scots, it was injected into our veins at birth. And worst of all, we appeared powerless to stop it or find an antidote.
Our nation voted ‘socialist’ time and again, only to be betrayed by London-centric Unionists in red rosettes. If not that, our representatives were overruled by far more numerous English MPs.
With no minority veto for Scotland or Wales, Westminster was, and is, the de facto English imperial parliament. Its last colonies are the Celtic nations. Passive resistance and whinging in the chamber is futile, as the Irish Parliamentary Party found to its cost in December 1918.
Today there is only one Scottish red rosette at Westminster – Ian ‘Union Jack’ Murray, the sorry rump of Labour’s betrayal of their fellow Scots. He and a few Scottish Tories are all that’s left to support the British occupation of Scotland. Colonial flunkies enriching themselves at the expense of their own countrymen and women. British state collaborators, complicit in the ongoing plunder of Scotland’s fantastic wealth and resources. (If you’re in any doubt about that plunder listen to the discussion between Phil Boswell, Roddy and Iain on the Sunday Scottish Prism of 6 February 2022.)
If you stood beneath the huge clock at Central Station in 1974, you could look up to the right and see arrival and departure boards change. In those days this was still done by hand. Leaving the country and city of your birth is always tinged with sadness. And it was for me. But the stark reality was that Glasgow had very little to offer its youth. In fact, on my last day at secondary school in Dennistoun, a few years earlier, our final class was instruction on how to sign on for unemployment benefit! What a start in life. But how much worse must it have been for our forebears who were forced into exile? Driven from their own land, and from their ain fowk, by forces loyal to our bullying southern neighbour?
It was only with the help and charity of friends that I went off to study. But I’d always imagined returning to my native land. A few years earlier I’d run off to London. A misadventure. However, this departure was to prove final.
Fast forward to late 1979. A Norwegian student acquaintance had a car he wanted dropped off in Denmark. So, having a licence but no car, I jumped at the offer.
After an overnight crossing the ship arrived in the west of Jutland. So there I was driving off the Harwich-Esbjerg ferry on a sunny September day. Another arrival after yet another departure. My destination, though, was just north of Copenhagen on the east coast. A friend had helped arrange a job there.
A series of bridges and domestic ferries lay ahead. The geography of East Anglia near Harwich and that of Denmark is almost identical. The same gentle hills, similar crops in the fields. It’s an easy transition. No real sense of culture shock. Departure and arrival merge into one.
My plan was to stay and work for six months and perhaps continue my education with a Masters. I’d already spent a couple of summers working in Jutland. Those long 14-hour days meant I finished my degree with zero student debt.
In the event, I did save up to continue my education, but life happened. Several decades later, I’m still a resident of Denmark. A parallel Scotland, but with independence.
I’d never dreamed of Canada or Australia. Europe and Scandinavia always fascinated. In our school atlas, Norway, Denmark and Sweden looked like Scotland, just bigger and even more sparsely populated. Of course, ECC membership meant easy cross-border travel and work. And what a world it opened up for young people of my generation. I’ve lived, worked and travelled in all of the Scandinavian countries.
The cruelty of Brexit on young people is inestimable. For all of Iain Blackford’s promises and Nicola’s absurd ‘Stop Brexit’ bus, it happened. Neither Blackford nor Sturgeon could fight their way out of a wet paper bag. We put our entire trust in them and they abused that trust. ‘Oh, but circumstances! She has a secret plan’ the ‘Team Nicola’ faithful protest. No, sorry, the best opportunity in 300 years to exit the British Union is slipping through careless SNP fingers. It’s been wilful and woeful. Their last throw of the dice is #indyref2023 a promise that has several caveats attached.
Since 2015, 56, then 35, and another 48 pro-indy MPs were elected for one purpose only, to end the Union and restore Scotland’s freedom. Yet with each passing day those still representing the SNP become more deeply embedded within the British establishment. Many of the people we supported and put our trust in now mock and openly sneer at Yes supporters. Not only that, they’ve turned on some of the leading pro-indy voices still extant within the SNP.
Back in the world of free nations, each Scandinavian country has showed me first-hand what Scotland should be, but isn’t. I’m pretty much convinced that if the newly ‘devolved’ Scottish Parliament had created a programme of student exchanges and class trips targeted on Scandinavia, there would be far more people fighting for Scotland to embrace its own Nordic potential – of prosperity through independence.
On my travels back to Scotland over the years, there’s one thing I’ve found deeply sad above all others –the resigned pessimism of close family. ‘Just you stay there,’ they’d say referring to Denmark, ‘there’s nothing for you here.’ Once again, the sense was conveyed to me that leaving Scotland had somehow been a lucky escape. The state of defeated, colonised Scottish minds would make you weep.
Over the years it’s been hard not to notice that as Denmark renewed itself and modernised, many of the places I was familiar with in Glasgow still looked like urban scenes from early Taggart episodes.
As long as our nation is forced to live on half of its revenues while London spends the rest, the country is destined to see more of its sons and daughters emigrate.
The Danes have a saying, ‘ude er godt men hjemme er bedst’ – what they mean is, ‘there’s no place like home’. The phrase is also used about foreign travel. Generally, Danes love to go abroad but they have a deep love of their own country and are proud of what it represents. A small, prosperous nation, that politically and socially, focuses on the common weal. The comforting oasis of social care and warmth they grew up with. Of course, social issues exist but time and resources are spent on fixing them.
Ironically, Copenhagen is the latest carrot dangle by the SNP. A new EU hub is to open in the Danish capital. We’re told it will open “ahead of the council elections in May” – the pre-election timing is entirely coincidental, obviously.
Of course, this is not a pro-indy Scottish ‘hub’. Just like the much vaunted hub in Berlin, it’s a room at the huge British Embassy complex. Yes, the place where you see the Union flag fluttering in the breeze. Well hooray for that and remember to vote #BritishSNP in May.
Office space in Copenhagen is not that expensive. If the Scottish Government was serious about this it would find its own accommodation or demand eight percent of the current embassy complex and grounds. However, pigs do not fly, even in the land of tasty bacon.
Worst of all, the latest ‘hub wheeze’ comes hot on the heels of the three stooges in Kiev – Doogan, McDonald and Smith. Perhaps it was a new front on their war on cybernats? On the other hand, who better to bolster the international legitimacy of the 2014 regime change leadership in Ukraine? A regime with disturbing links to the nation’s pro-Nazi past. Still, Stewart McDonald has undoubtedly read some Ian Fleming novels and has international experience, as a holiday rep. He’s also stated his penchant for men in smart uniforms. Scottish foreign policy in capable hands then.
On the way out of Copenhagen Airport we passed through the arrival hall. Families, friends and lovers stood waiting for their near and dear. Some of those gathered were holding small Danish flags to wave as they welcomed those returning home from afar. This type of flag waving is a common sight. It’s got nothing to do with jingoism. People do it almost without thinking. The nation’s flag ‘Dannebrog’ is many things, but perhaps its most important function is its use in celebration.
One day, in an independent future, we Scots may welcome our returning kith and kin in similar fashion. And as we build a better more prosperous nation after centuries of colonial occupation, perhaps we can cast off our cringe and create a Scotland in which our young people can build a prosperous future – and a nation our exiled sons and daughters long to return to.
Miss Graham would be proud to know that I can still recite the words she insisted we commit to memory, almost 60 years ago. Aye, the sound of those childhood voices, singing their farewell to Heather in unison, drift back over the years.
“For these are my mountains,
And this is my glen,
The braes of my childhood,
Will know me again.
No land’s ever claimed me,
Though far I did roam,
For these are my mountains,
And I’m going home.”