Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin touched down in Easterhouse on the evening of 20th July 1969. In the final moments they had to avoid a boulder field, not unusual for the scheme, but they made it with 30 seconds of fuel remaining.
It certainly looked like an alien world to me. I was brought up in Dennistoun and these were not the streets of home. Sometime in 1968 I had landed here. It was my 12th year to heaven, as Dylan Thomas might say, and the rather dysfunctional family I was born into had ceased to function altogether.
So about a year before Armstrong and Aldrin arrived, I found myself living with an older sister and her family in a small flat in this remote part of Greater Glasgow. Personal space became the couch in the living room. This was the beginning of years of ‘sofa surfing’.
Late 1960s Easterhouse was not a sea of tranquility, despite the best efforts of Frankie Vaughan. Apparently, I didn’t go to school during that period. After all, it was no longer a walk along Roselea Drive. Instead it was a good 30 minutes away on the smoky, standing-room-only 41 bus. There are actually six months completely missing from my life at this time that I do not remember at all.
This traumatic childhood period came back to me as I recorded Annemarie Ward and James Docherty for a recent IndyScotNews #Midweek. They were very candid about their own early experiences. The images they painted of a dysfunctional family past sounded familiar to me. The common thread running through it all, was poverty.
It was now the early hours of the 21st of July, and James Burke told us that the Men on the Moon were due to go outside earlier than planned. And so, as we waited up for that historic moment, we too looked back at our distant home. You see, from the highest part of Easterhouse we had a spectacular view of Glasgow. At this time of night it always looked incredibly benign.
NASA was never entirely sure about how astronauts would cope with isolation, confined space, extreme distance from Earth, and a new hostile environment. As a 12-year-old lad I could have given them a few pointers. Being wrenched out of your home surroundings is one of life’s great traumas. It can lead to anxiety and depression. I’m not sure if the NASA scientists considered sending an ice cream van on Friday evenings, but that was the solution to sensory deprivation on the scheme.
I was far too young to be wistful and melancholy. I suppose that was the result of upheaval and emotional trauma. ‘He’s an auld heid oan young shoulders,’ was the phrase I used to hear. But as I looked back down on Glasgow, I was aware that somewhere among those flickering, yellow sodium lights was ma faither with his friends Haig and Woodbine. Doon thare was the entire store of life’s memories up until that moment. Ma maw was further over the horizon. Much further.
I really wished I could have aborted the landing in Easterhouse and returned to Dennistoun, but being the youngest of four, I was powerless and penniless. That was probably the first experience of exile.
Rumour has it that Armstrong carried a small patch of his clan tartan with him on his voyage to the Moon. It’s a claim that has never been verified, but whether he did or not, he became the representative of the Scottish diaspora who’d travelled furthest fae oor ain shores. What is known, though, is that astronaut Al Bean, who followed Armstrong on Apollo 12, was also aware of his Scottish heritage and took a ‘large swatch of MacBean tartan’ with him to that alien world.
From recollection, it was just before 4am that Armstrong became the first human and the first man of Scottish heritage to set foot on the Moon. Soon it was Aldrin’s turn to climb down the ladder. As he stared at the lunar landscape in Easterhouse he described the scene as ‘magnificent desolation’. He never knew how right he was.
The concrete scheme with its endless, poorly built flats had nothing of the character and familiarity of old Glasgow. I was used to bustling Duke Street, but this bleak scheme had one row of shops, if you can call them that. If memory serves me correct, they were on Conisborough Road, and were mostly boarded up due to vandalism. Desolation Row indeed.
A few responses to recent blogs have mentioned that ‘you live in another country’, the implication being that if you leave Scotland you become less Scottish, and you definitely don’t have any right to an opinion on the country of your birth. While that may be outwardly true, no one can change their DNA. We are what we were born. But there is a kind of resentment, expressed by some, towards those of us who belong to the Scottish diaspora. I’m never quite sure if its bitterness, jealousy, or some latter-day Calvinist misère. But what these folk never appear to question is why so many of we Scots end up as exiles in the first place. Perhaps the common thread running through it all is poverty?
Around the same time as my forced displacement to Easterhouse, Scottish Television was broadcasting Clearance ’68, a documentary discussing modern emigration from Scotland. It looked at the “hopes and ambitions of the émigrés”.
Watching this again, it brought back the sense of national resignation to Scotland being no place for Scots, and that if you were a Scot with any sense of drive and ambition you may as well just leave. As shown in the documentary, you even got a sentimental send off, to the plaintive sound of bagpipes, along with all the others leaving their native country.
“The Scottish diaspora has to move abroad because the opportunities don’t exist in Scotland.” So said, Dr Eliot Bulmer during the recent #SSRG Conference.
Another source mentions that after the First World War, many Scots were able to “gain passage to Canada under the ‘Empire Settlement Act’ ”. Immigration from Scotland to Canada continued in large numbers throughout the entire 20th century. Between 1945 and 1993 alone, it’s reckoned that 260,000 Scots settled in Canada. This has resulted in approximately four million Canadians of Scottish heritage. It’s probably a similar story for Australia and New Zealand.
The leaving of Glasgow was a recurring theme throughout my formative years in the 1960s. From watching wee Heather McDonald greetin on her last day with us, as we sang the Scottish songs taught us by Miss Graham in Primary 2, to my Uncle Peter from Corsock Street, best teenage pals on Dunchatten Street, through to geography lecturer Mr McKivor of Langside College – it was all about leaving. Before that of course, I had watched and older sister leave Glasgow for the US on a rainy night in 1961.
We still communicate between Denmark and North Carolina over Messenger. She’s the only sibling I still have any kind of regular contact with, probably because she’s tech savvy even in her late seventies. She often asks me for old photos from her childhood on Reidvale Street and from Thomson Street School. Now and again I manage to sleuth out something for her. After 60 years, she’s still very Scottish and treasures the memories she has.
The tiresome ‘you don’t even live here’ phrase we exiles hear is typical of the Tory-loving, monarchy adoring, flute playing, Catholic hating, tub thumping crowd that frequents the Bristol Bar – that appalling, hideous eyesore on my native Duke Street.
What its staunch patrons probably aren’t aware of, is that in the 1960s it was the site of the ‘raggie’. A place where you could take auld claithes, have them weighed, and get a few coppers for them. I actually thought I may have been imagining the ‘raggie’ had existed near Gateside Street. So I texted my US sister, and without prompting, she described my exact recollection. Aye, the ‘quintessentially British’ Bristol Bar lies near the site of what used to be a symbol of Union-induced, third-world poverty in the heart of Glasgow. Staunch indeed. Manky tee-shirt man must be proud.
You do wonder what kind of nation Scotland would have become had we kept our brightest and best. According to Clearance ’68, the nation had lost 2 million people in the past 100 years. If there had been the opportunities Dr. Bulmer referred to, in our resource rich country, we could have perhaps been on a par with our Nordic neighbours today.
No matter which way you look at it, it all comes down to independence, the ability to run our own affairs, to benefit from our own resources, to fish our own seas, to export our own energy, to allow our people to prosper from our treasure.
Scotland’s southern neighbour is in a state of undeclared war on our legitimate national aspirations. The current Tory government is using every trick in the book – its security services, propaganda departments, state broadcaster, and not least its agents of influence, to subvert our democracy and ignore our historic constitutional rights. And why? In order to plunder our riches of energy, fresh water, foodstuffs and anything else it can benefit from, to the national and collective detriment of Scotland and Scots. Viewed from afar, Westminster has its death grip on Scotland. Keeping us poor, neglecting our infrastructure, infiltrating our liberation movements, channelling ‘Scotland is shite’ – in the hope that more Scots will leave – is how it’s worked until now.
A spirit of rebellion is needed. First and foremost within the SNP. There’s a growing realisation that the cynical and devious Nicola Sturgeon, together with her perjurer husband, are leading us nowhere. As ‘the party of independence’ it’s perhaps beyond saving. The damage and division created by the chaos crew who are Sturgeon’s inner clique, is perhaps irreparable.
Several years after the Apollo missions ended, my exile had taken me to Dublin. In September 1979, I saw that Apollo 15 astronaut Jim Irwin was in the city to give a public lecture about his experiences. A fascinating talk, with an unusual spiritual dimension. I was simply awestruck by being in the presence of someone who had walked on another world.
Many years later, one of the most inspiring moments of recent times took place in that same city – the commemoration of the 1916 proclamation. Read out on the steps of the GPO in 2016, it made a huge impression. The document mentions the, “dead generations” from which Ireland receives her old “tradition of nationhood”. It goes on to state that “The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Irish people.”
And of course the exiles of the Irish diaspora were referenced on that day, too: “Having resolutely waited for the right moment to reveal itself, she ⌈Ireland ⌉ now seizes that moment, and supported by her exiled children in America and by gallant allies in Europe… she strikes in full confidence of victory.”
No one in Scotland is calling for violent uprising, but we need people of boldness like the signatories to the proclamation, to announce the revocation of the Treaty of Union. Majorities exist at both Westminster and Holyrood to get this done. If the SNP won’t do it, they must be swept aside en masse at GE 2024 in favour of candidates who will withdraw from Westminster, revoke the Union, and restore the full powers of independence to the Scottish Parliament.
Back in 1969, President Nixon had prepared a speech in the event that Armstrong and Aldrin became stranded on the Moon. Their journey home from this temporary cosmic exile hinged on the small rocket motor on the upper stage of the Lunar Module. It had been a challenging construction, but it was a pretty basic motor. There were even jump leads on board to help start it if something failed. Nixon’s unused speech contained the following lines:
“Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.
“They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation…”
How many generations of Scots have left their home never to return? How many will continue to leave? How long must we mourn their loss? Some of us reached the exit door by chance others of necessity, but most of us will never return to live in a colony of our southern neighbour. Once you taste small nation independence and freedom, anything else is regression. We ourselves opted not to return to Scotland in the late 1990s when oor bairns were still pre-school age. I so wanted ma wee yins to grow up in Scotland amang their ain kith and kin. But it wasn’t to be.
To be fair, though, our adopted home in Denmark has treated both my family and myself far better than I was ever treated by Scottish authorities at any point in my life. This was never more apparent than during the long Brexit process. While the hopelessly useless Ian Blackford was blustering about Scotland not being dragged out of the EU, the Danish Government was making sure I would not lose my rights. Yes, it took a foreign power, a gallant ally in Europe, to act on my behalf. As for the Joanna Cherry back-stabbing Blackford, words fail me.
The opportunities this wee independent country has given my children is far beyond anything they could have realised in a Scotland in Union. But it shouldn’t be like that, should it? Scotland’s resources as a nation are, at the very least, on a par with Denmark, if not far exceeding, and yet the social differences in our two parallel societies are huge.
As mentioned already, we need a spirit of rebellion. If the ruling party will not end the status quo, it must be swept aside at the ballot box as the Irish did in December 1918 with the Irish Parliamentary Party. GE 2024 is a chance to change history. We could vote for all candidates, of whichever party, who will sign a pledge to the sovereign people that they will abandon Westminster and proclaim the restoration of our national independence to the world community. This was the ‘Manifesto for Indy’ proposal from the Scottish Sovereignty Research Group for Holyrood 2021. It was based on our historic Claim of Right.
In closing, I recommend a listen to the 1916 proclamation as read on the steps of the old GPO in 2021 (link below). As you listen, try replacing the words ‘Irishmen, Irishwomen, Irish and Ireland’ with ‘Scotsmen, Scotswomen, Scottish and Scotland’, and be inspired. Something like this:
“We declare the right of the people of Scotland to the ownership of Scotland, and to the unfettered control of Scottish destinies, to be sovereign and indefeasible. The long usurpation of that right by a foreign people and government has not extinguished the right, nor can it ever be extinguished except by the destruction of the Scottish people…”
The Proclamation link: https://youtu.be/GHRTws-hlAQ
Clearance ’68 link: https://scotlandonscreen.org.uk/browse-films/007-000-002-561-c