Mercury Retrograde has wrought such havoc with my communications this time around that I have been forced to do some serious soul-searching. It all began when a friend of very long standing (since my first days at High School, so 50-odd years ago) completely missed the point of a FaceBook post I shared and – with the fuel of a little alcohol – proceeded to “chew me a new one” about my views, my politics and my way of expressing same. She later apologised for the misperception but not for her character assassination, by which, she said, she stood firm. So much so that she ‘unfriended’ me.
I was more hurt and saddened than I would have believed possible, so I decided to take a long, hard look at who I am and the way in which I project myself through my presence on FaceBook, the things I post or share and the comments I make or add to them. The following is the result – call it an ‘Apologia’, if you will – and I hope it will define what, for me, is the vast gulf between ‘patriotism’ and ‘politics’.
I was born and brought up in London and Yorkshire in the 1950s and 1960s, so I am English by birth. I was a child of the times, in that I believed then – and still believe today – that there should be a way of living one’s life to the full, both as an individual and as a society, without hurting or oppressing anyone else. I started to be politically aware under Harold Wilson and Ted Heath although to my eternal shame, when Margaret Thatcher was first elected I bought into her narrative for a couple of years.
But having a life-long love of history, I began to read about the Industrial Revolution and its aftermath, and the subsequent struggles of working class people like myself. I also listened to the life stories of both sets of my Grandparents – Dad’s family who were servants to wealthy families in London and Mum’s who worked in the heavy woollen mills in West Yorkshire. Many members on both sides of my family served their Country in both World Wars – some survived and some did not. Both my parents served in the Royal Air Force after WW2 and my Dad’s younger sister and her husband served in the Royal Naval Reserve most of their adult lives. My husband, Farquhar, who is a Scot from the West Highlands, served nine years in the Royal Navy and saw active service in Borneo in the early 1960s. From all of them I learned a form of patriotism which was about deeds rather than words. I loved – and still love – the Country of my birth, its landscapes and traditions, and above all its ordinary people from whom I sprang.
Life took me to Scotland in my thirties, where I met and married Farquhar and where we lived for more than 20 years. I was there during the most of the reign of Margaret Thatcher and it was there that I first grew to know the results of her policies ‘up close and personal’. It was also during this time that I started to study Scotland’s history and found that my English education was sadly lacking in this regard. There is just so much that the English history curriculum either completely ignores or presents from a somewhat skewed perspective, to say the very least. I experienced for myself the sometimes visceral hatred of many Scots for the Westminster government – which occasionally spilled over into a dislike and distrust of the English in general – and I found that, as hurtful as this was, I didn’t blame them. My husband was a member of the SNP and as I learned more and more about Scottish history and politics, I became a member myself. I believed then – as I believe now – that in 1707 Scotland was sold out by a group of wealthy noblemen with an eye to the main chance and that the political Act of Union was forced upon the vast majority of Scotland’s population willy-nilly. I also found as time went by that I identified much more closely with Scotland’s political and world view than I did with that of England, especially after the devolution of the Scottish Parliament.
In what is still, for the foreseeable future, the United Kingdom, there have now been over three decades of elitist, divisive and self-serving Right-Wing government from Westminster (and I include the Blair years in this). As someone who has suffered almost all of my life from mental ill-health and was unable to work from 2004 onwards, following a major breakdown, I have learned at first hand some pretty unpleasant lessons about what happens to a country when it’s government decides that those who cannot work – ‘net non-contributors’ is, I believe, the Government euphemism – are no longer worthy of, or entitled to, any kind of normal life. I have lived in West Yorkshire and, when we left Scotland in order to be nearer to my elderly parents, in East Lancashire where there are huge immigrant populations and I have seen at first hand the result of divisive and xenophobic government language and spin which very soon translates into vitriol and hatred between races and religions in these areas.
Under Margaret Thatcher I watched as the Trades Unions were crushed and members of the Police “Service” (of which my father was a serving Officer throughout his civilian working life) waved wads of cash under the noses of starving, striking miners. I saw the waste-lands where the Industrial North of England and the Central Belt of Scotland once thrived and prospered and experienced at first hand the attendant poverty, isolation and deprivation of the people there. I lived in rural Scotland where there simply was no work to be had and listened to Norman Tebbit tell me to “Get on my bike”. I heard Maggie tell the nations of the United Kingdom that “Greed is good” while she vilified and demonised teachers, doctors, nurses and fire-fighters in order that the general public would not support them when they protested against the steady erosion of their salaries, pensions and working conditions.
I deeply mourned the untimely death of John Smith MP and I hoped against hope that when Tony Blair’s ‘New Labour’ were elected there would be a meaningful change of political ethos, only to find that it was business as usual, except that their maladministration was somewhat less expertly conducted than under the more experienced Conservatives! I subsequently watched in disgust as the Liberal Democrats sold out to their Conservative ‘partners’ and ultimately became the authors of their own destruction.
And all the while I was hearing a very different political narrative, based on Social Justice, from the devolved Scottish Parliament and seeing its effects in practise. I don’t think it should come as a surprise to anyone that I ceased to identify in any meaningful way with the Westminster narrative of “blame the victim, shop thy neighbour, ‘wogs’ begin at Calais” and all the other elitist and divisive language and policy which it has spewed forth for the last thirty years.
But all this is politics – it has nothing to do with patriotism (although even Winston Churchill described the latter as the last resort of the scoundrel)!
I still love the Country where I was born and grew up – but I loathe, despise and abhor the politics of its Government. As I have said before, I feel myself now to be more Scottish than English, partly by virtue of my marriage but also because I find it easier to identify with Scotland’s political ethos – which is bred in the bone of almost all ordinary Scots. Social Justice is a concept that has its roots in the old Clan System in Scotland and it is completely indivisible from Scottish people and from Scottish politics. It is for these reasons that I wholeheartedly support the cause of Scottish Independence and will continue to do so.
I eventually decided to live outside the UK for a number of reasons, some very personal but most political. I returned to England to live when my parents became elderly and needed me to be nearby – I would otherwise have remained in Scotland. When they died, they made it possible for me to follow my oldest and best friend out to Canada. Farquhar was already a Canadian citizen, having served in the Ontario police when he left the Royal Navy. We had a number of holidays here over the years and I fell under the spell of the warm, friendly, outgoing population as much as of their hopeful and ultimately pretty wholesome brand of politics. I don’t believe that Canada is perfect – far from it – but there is a totally different way of approaching politics here which I find refreshing and a cause for optimism.
After the aforementioned brief flirtation with the Right-Wing in the very early Thatcher years, I am now indisputably on the far Left of the political spectrum and deeply passionate about politics – particularly about health and disability matters and about environmental issues. I can’t understand those who say they “don’t do politics”, everything we do and say as adults is political and every aspect of our lives from the cradle to the grave is affected by politics. I take it very seriously and I cannot be other than vehement in my dislike and criticism of those politicians who, in my view, are destroying the Country of my birth with their lies, spin, greed and selfish lust for power. By the same token, I cannot help but be equally vehement in my support for, and championship of, true Socialism and its few remaining proponents.
I love my Country and I will always care about what happens there – but living under the prevailing ideology undoubtedly contributed to my continuing mental ill-health and I could see no probability of change in the foreseeable future. I firmly believe that in the UK, there is no life for me that is worth living as long as Right-Wing politics prevail. So as much as it hurts me when friends whom I love denigrate my political views and deplore my “lack of patriotism” in having shaken the dust of England off my shoes, I cannot consider a life in which I cease to express and share my views about the Country of my birth, purely in order to ‘curry favour’ with some of those who still live there – to do so would be pure hypocrisy and “that way madness lies”!