May 8, 2011 § 26 Comments
Ok, I’ll say it, The W Word.
A term now so bigoted, racist and offensive that broaching this touchy topic will likely lead to a mass (I flatter myself) exodus of readers from this blog and the labelling of my normally mild-mannered self as the Robert Mugabe of the Isles.
But here goes..
There I’ve said it. Oooooooh!
It’s usually a pair of words whispered in hushed Highland and Island tones, behind closed doors, perhaps after one too many drams. Sometimes it’s substituted by the more acceptable word “incomer” and on rare occasions, perhaps between friends in a local hostelry, the phrase “fu*@ing En@!*sh c@*ts!” might be heard.
It’s hard in this day and age, this era of tolerance and globalisation, to understand why such heinous terms are still spoken. Why, in this world of open borders and freedom of movement does the arrival of “The English” in remote Scottish communities raise such ire? And why in this age of free speech and open political discourse, is discussing the issue so taboo? Does expressing an opinion on the subject instantly render one a bigot on the same level as an Oldham BNP leader? Does it mark you out as the parochial village idiot?
In this hard-hitting investigation The Croft tackles the subject head on, pulling no punches and cutting right to the heart of the issue…
For the sake of ratings, let’s have a ramble. And note, what follows is just a blog post, not an academic journalistic endeavor. If easily offended, perhaps walk away now…
For my own sins, the blame for holding any denizens from south of the border in low regard lies squarely at the door of the S.F.A. and access to bumper piles of comic books as a boy. Unfortunately in pre-PC times us young Scottish lads were brought up believing that the English (See Jimmy Hill) were the enemy, particularly on the football pitch and, thanks to the mass propaganda of D.C. Thomson, all English folk were deemed “toffee-nosed” snobs. One only had to look at Dennis The Menace’s nemesis, Walter the Softy to know he was English (though more than likely he was from Edinburgh) while in The Dandy, it came down to outright warfare between The Jocks and The Geordies. Then there was a mediocre schooling in Scottish history that tended to omit our own nation’s hand in some of the nastier parts of our past. From Culloden to The Clearances it was the evil English that bore the blame. And don’t even mention the Braveheart movie. Or the south of the border skewed media.
But as you get older, you get wiser and realise that Mel Gibson is actually an Aussie anti-semite and that while cross-border rivalry in a sporting setting is quite good fun, hanging onto hatred for past events is a little less so. Despite yesterday’s resounding endorsement of the SNP, I think the vast majority of Scottish folk don’t give two hoots about where you come from. Or indeed where they come from themselves.
I can’t say I particular define myself as Scottish other than geographically. I certainly don’t feel any passion or stirring upon spying a St Andrew’s Saltire flutter or hearing Flower of Scotland ring out. I know a lot of people that do though. Kilts, marching pipe bands, haggis, Burns, North Sea Oil, it all just smacks of Edinburgh politics and tourism and after 15 years as a weegie I am obliged to hate Edinburgh by default. To seal the deal The Croft clan’s thoroughbred DNA has even intermingled with the blood of the Sassenach in recent years, my sister marrying a card-carrying Chelsea fan. How can you hate a nation that is home to my fine wee nephew, not only born south of the border but the proud wearer of three lions on his chest (although every Xmas we try and slip a Scotland strip into the mix).
So I’m not big on nationalism, I struggle to identify with the passion. Self-determination is fair enough and if it’s what the majority wants so be it. But getting all angsty and anglophobic over it all, nah, I’ll pass. I’m a Gael, not a Scot, if push came to shove.
But what about in-migration, in particular with regard to rural communities in the Western Isles? I recently listened to someone bemoaning their kids coming home from an island school with an English twang to their maw accent, so many English classmates had they. Another ranted about planning permission for a barn being scuppered due to an incomer’s complaint it would ruin their view. Another just simply commenting resignedly that there were no locals left in her village. And it’s not just daft maws and barflys who express concerns, the white-settler has been attacked by poets and writers alike from Kevin MacNeil’s R.Stornoway to Derrick Thomson and parodied without mercy by comedians (though some might question the label) like Billy Matheson’s MacAnoonoo. And so it goes on.
Although rarely publicly expressed, there is an obvious feeling among some that they’re witnessing a culture and indigenous community in decline. Witnessing young people leaving as soon as they pass their exams to study. Young people leaving to find work as there is so little on the island. And young people unable or unwilling to return home again, seeking to fulfil their potential elswhere. And in their place, new people with little or no connection to the place. Unfamiliar with customs and culture, language and music, no roots or family or sense of place. Older and often with enough money to pursue creative pursuits rather than work as part of the island society. And with new people comes new points of view and new opinions and an ability to influence the future of the island by simply owning property on it. If these new people are not to blame, the thinking goes, then they’re certainly part of the problem.
But for better or worse, that is the way of things. Much of it is our own fault as much as any incomer.
And for what it’s worth (and that’s not much really) I think it’s a necessary “evil”. Without the White Settler, schools would be emptier than they are, the economy far worse, the population older and smaller by each passing year. The islands are not a museum, they have to live and breathe and move forward. And if the baton cannot be picked up by a new generation of young people then perhaps it is best to have new, if not indigenous, hands to help cling on. I don’t say that lightly, I’m well aware of the related issues surrounding house prices, schooling, an aging population, survival of the gaelic language.
But, against all odds and statistics I believe that it won’t always be this way. A huge part of this blog was finding relevance in the culture of the Isle of Lewis and Harris in the 21st century. And I found it in droves. Music, art, poetry, design, textiles, weaving, food, whisky, nature, architecture, language, tradition. It’s the most vibrant and fascinating place and I believe that as the world shrinks young people will be more disinclined to leave and more inclined to return. There is a wealth of potential and inspiration for our creative souls. A crucial part of this revival will be the provision of broadband and establishing a working economy. Easier said than done however and that’s a whole other blog. And should a green economy take hold (despite designation difficulties and objection obstacles) the more technically minded of school-leavers can start getting the hands dirty with clean energy right here. I have great faith and belief in the place and people to reverse the decline in the coming decade. Naive? Possibly.
So why do I get a kick out of winding up English folk when they stray north and set up camp in the Outer Hebrides? And it’s just English folk. My friend over on Earshader Croft will confirm I’ve never exhibited any anti-American bias in my dealings with him. Nope, it’s just the English.
And I do enjoy it. I admit it. I used to while away many an enjoyable hour on any fresh-off-the-ferry new arrival’s blog puncturing their island idyll with tongue-in-cheek jibes, the odd very pointed question, correcting some misapprehension or just poking fun at their inability to raise ducks. Whatever, I did it again tonight with a lovely Christian couple planning to move to Lewis this year. Their blog had highlighted their chosen design of huge kit-home with additional multiple extensions, gables and windows. Now all they had to do was pick a site for their monstrosity. So I humbly suggested, with impeccable good manners obviously, *ahem*, doing it the other way around, find their site and build to compliment the locale. Orientation, size, materials, relationship to the land, wind and other neighbours. Architecture 101 basically. And if this means perhaps looking at a less ostentatious build so be it. Oh, and I may also have inferred that it was more suitable for an Essex WAG. And that perhaps a fountain would be a suitable addition. I actually pointed out to the aforementioned blogger that some of the worst culprits for real fugly builds on the island were the locals themselves and not to worry. But the damage was done. The poor lass, she hadn’t even set foot on God’s own island (like ever!) or met a Leodhasach and already her dreams had been dashed. I was branded a cad and their blog went private. So I retreated to the naughty step with my laptop to consider what I had done. And then blog about it!
I think the fun is found in the fact that the best of them are so dashed deferential and defensive. So fleeking earnest in their intentions, so keen to fit in, living in perpetual fear of a faux pas at the fank. Fact is though it’s impossible to expect someone who has lived in a leafy Surrey suburb to fully align themselves with those shaped by decades of life on a small island and the shared knowledge that everyone knows you, the skeletons in your closet and the guilty secrets of generations of your family since time immemorial. Life on Lewis was lived under a religious microscope, where who you are related to often defines who you are. Upbringings under long dark winters and horizontal rain create a sense of fatalism and humour that is the antithesis to any overtly chippy, can-do, seize the day attitudes formed in more southerly, mainland petri dishes. Not here are the travel guide, smiling, ruddy cheeked natives. It’s a far more complicated psyche that lurks. It’s a psyche that, despite generations of their own emigration, struggles to understand why anyone would leave their home and strike out to start a new life in amongst their alien culture and community. And moreso, often seek to change it fundamentally when they do.
I find the relentless experience of reading new blogs about new people starting new lives on the island very bemusing. It’s as cliched as watching Monty Hall’s Hebridean Escape and hearing no local accents for the duration. Personally I blame Bob Larbey and John Esmonde for bringing The Good Life to the TV. And then Monty Don, Hugh Fearnley, River Cottage, Jamie At Home, Escape To The Country and all those other TV shows selling the rural idyll and a retreat from the rat-race. It blew my mind that the aforementioned English Incomers had picked out Lewis despite having never visited the place, not even for a holiday. It just simply looked good. And they’re not alone. There are ducks to keep, tweed knick-knacks to craft, communities to join, Gaelic to learn, windfarms to campaign against…who can blame anyone from England wanting to escape their smelly traffic fumes, lah-de-dah snobbish lifestyles and fellow countrymen (KIDDING!) to grab themselves a piece of the action. Or at least grab a massive house on a cheaply decrofted house site with incredible views.
Begrudgingly, I certainly don’t.
Hell, I want to do it myself.
Perhaps that’s where my online badness comes from. I can’t get there, despite being from there. It’s not enough to retire there at 65, I want to be there now, playing some small part in keeping the things that matter to me and my heritage alive. Jealousy, bitterness, envy, lust…the deadly sins of a Stornoway cove stuck in a city far from home.
To sign off on this rather long missive I’d like to remind my southern readers that this is a blog written in Glasgow by a Leodhasach who was born but not living there. Don’t take it too seriously and don’t mistake my opinions for those of the locals. They’re not representative in any way. I promise *cough*. A community rises and falls on it’s ability to work together and in recent issues such as Sunday Sailing and windfarms the divide did not fall along local / incomer lines. Both groups fell into both camps. So like much of the world’s bigger divisive issues, life isn’t black and white, them and us. It’s better to get along to get on and up there they do just that. But on here I reserve the right wholeheartedly to take the mickey and poke fun at any opportunity. If you really want to blend in, be a part of the community and integrate with the natives then you’d better grow a thick skin. Consider it a right of passage, once you take a slagging and can give back as good as you get then you might be a little closer to fitting in.
” God, in whom this island’s population largely trust and some devoutly so, may have sent us incomers purely to amuse the native Gaels “
- Professor Feb. S. Burns
P.S. Not the most academic of analysis or blogs on the subject I know, but fleek the damn thing is free, just like my opinions and yours. Hey you get what you pay for!
Just for kicks.
It’s important to know your White Settler!
Type I: The Common Or Garden Settler: The classic. English, usually from Home Counties or Yorkshire. Saw Monty Hall on the telly and decided to upsticks in search of the idyllic island life. Has never visited island previously. At least not in Winter. Fascinated by idea of Community and Contributing / Playing Their Part in It. Fails to realise community simply means knowing everyone’s bloodlines and closet skeletons and raising these at every opportunity ideally through the medium of gossip and nicknames. Likely to spend time on commitees fighting windfarms, supporting sunday sailing, working for historical societies, complaining about village streetlamps being on at night and so on. Apparently knows what’s best, in all situations. Frequently writes to local press expressing opinions. Has own blog analysing peccadilloes of island life.
Type IB: The Silver Settler: A sub-division of Type I. Post-retirement age, Gore-tex wearing, sensible shoes, likes walking and birdwatching. Usually found having coffee at An Lanntair or talking loudly in the Co-Op.
Type II: The Exotic Settler: Once upon a time it was the Italians and the Pakistanis, more recently it was the Eastern Europeans. Now it’s Americans, Candians and Australians. Reverse emigration!
Type IIIA: The Good Life Settler: A down sizer who has escaped the rat-race but only after making a killing on the property market on the mainland. Enough money to buy or build a house, keep ducks and goats, hens, anything but sheep (unless it’s a cute, endangered rare-breed) Likely to self support via a creative career (photographer, designer, artist, writer). Learns gaelic at the college, drives a 4×4, appears on TV and radio anytime a genuine local crofter is required.
Type IIIB: The Crafty Settler: A sub divisionof the good life settler. Usually his wife. Or an overweight spinster. With dreadlocks. Paints badly, makes things out of Harris Tweed scraps, sets up a business using name Hebridean. Likes reiki, buddhism, homeopathy. Hangs around craft fairs & Callanish. Hangs washing out on a Sunday just out of principle or deference to Wicca Moon God. Starts llama trekking or other irrelevant business.
Type IV: The Part-time settler: Visited the island on holiday, loved it so much they bought a croft to renovate and spend two weeks in the summer. Rents it out 50 weeks of the year for £1000 per week.
Type V: The Ned Settler: Relocated via social housing scheme from various industrial cities of the north. Usually with a dozen kids in tow. Usually found in the Cearns or fighting on South beach street at weekends.
Type VIA: The Outcast Settler. Misguidedly running away from something in their past. BNP members, child molesters, manic depressives, alcoholic transgendered cult leaders. Usually found suing local council for breach of Human Rights and bemoaning lack of open-mindedness and social acceptance shown by confused old boadachs in their village or local schoolkids on the bus compared to their previous home in large, anonymous, multicultural, metropolitan city,
Type VIB: The Temporary Outcast Settler. Tory party candidate. Similar to type A but only around for duration of campaign before leaving again. Recognisable by look of confusion and lack of geographical awareness.
Type VII: The Essential Settler: A professional who brings something to the community. Doctors, nurses, dentists, accountants. Has kids, spends money. Traditionally exempt from White Settler moniker due to general awesomeness and contribution to living standards.
Type VIII: The Prodigal Settler: A local who has lived away from home so long when they return they have no island accent, have adopted strange customs and beliefs. Spends most of time with locals only, dropping pidgin Gaelic in to conversation, wearing blue boiler suits and arnish boots and railing against settlers type I-VII.
Which one are you? I know which one I’ll be.