Monday, 25 August 2014

A Swift Journey To Yes, But A Long Wait

I said to someone recently that I had wanted independence for Scotland since I was an eleven year old. He was bemused to say the least. Let me explain.

Perhaps I was being over-dramatic saying I ‘wanted independence’ but I definitely became aware of the imbalance of the Union from a child’s point of view. Sometimes the simple perspective of a child can help even an adult see the wood from the trees.

I was a wee Hearts fan (I liked the name) in 1976 and for the first time in, like forever ‘my’ team were to contest a Cup Final.
So, after counting the days down to the 1st May 1976 I was like a kid in a sweet shop. My team was to be the star of the day; I discounted the fact we were up against Rangers; being in the Final and getting mentioned on the News was enough for me.

So, I sat with my football-hating mum to see and hear about my team getting to the Final. However, the BBC News that day featured Manchester United v Southampton in the FA Cup Final. The Scottish Cup Final didn’t get a mention (Why is it the FA Cup & not the English FA Cup anyway? I guess because the tournament in England is two years older.)

I was distraught. My mum assured me that Hearts would get mentioned on the local News after the national News. ‘But this is the “B” BC News. We’re part of Britain just as much as England,’ I said. I could see my mum (who was English) struggle with the simplistic view. ‘Why should the Scottish Cup Final be on local news? The English Cup Final will be on their local news too so how come our Final isn’t on the national news?’

‘Ok,’ my mum relented, ‘you have a point. So why don’t you write to the BBC and tell them…and you can offer to be their Scottish Football reporter.’ I don’t know if she said it tongue in cheek or not but write to the BBC I did. I got no response.

 Later that year something else struck me. ‘How come when we’re on our school summer holidays we don’t get good telly programmes but when they (I called English schoolkids they – perhaps the first recognition of a ‘difference’) are on holiday and we’re still at school they get all the good cartoons and stuff all day?


Then in 1979 there was a devolution referendum and a majority of Scots voted ‘Yes’ to devolution. But, Westminster imposed a 40% rule which meant 40% of the registered electorate had to be achieved by Yes for it to count; this meant that anyone on the voters roll who did not vote or had even died but was still on the roll would be counted as a ‘No’. Thus, the majority ‘Yes’ vote was defeated.

Thatcher; need I say more?

Jobs became scarce in Scotland and I moved to England for work. 

The ‘differences’ became more pronounced. I had Scottish Pound notes refused in shops in England and questioned or refused abroad. 

I lived in England and could not read in the ‘national’ newspapers about Celtic or Rangers competing in Europe. I could tell you who the English cricket team captain was but not the Scotland football team captain. I rarely saw Scotland games on television.

At work I was allowed time off to watch England World Cup or European Championship games but not any time off to watch Scotland games (that’s even if I could find anywhere that was showing them – I drove from Oxfordshire and the West Midlands to Moffat on a few occasions to watch games). 

I watched the national news interview David Cameron when Tony Blair stepped down and the conversation veer into ‘too many Scots in Government already’ as Gordon Brown was mooted as next Prime Minister. I imagined the furore if ‘Scots’ was substituted with ‘Asians’, ‘Blacks’, or ‘Pakistanis’.

I could buy a French newspaper in WH Smith: a German one, Polish, Asian Eye, newspapers for Africans, Caribbeans, Americans, Canadians, various Italian newspapers and even papers in Urdhu or Hindi. I couldn’t buy a Scottish one and The Sun, Telegraph, Daily Mail never reported any Scottish related news (well apart from a swan in Anstruther that was suspected of having bird flu); they regularly ran ‘whinging Scots’ and ‘Let them eat haggis’-type stories. 

'National Newspaper Cartoon'

My Black Country-born English wife started out claiming I had a huge chip on my shoulder but eventually became more infuriated about my ‘perceived injustices’ than I did. She even joined me on a trip to see Scotland play France in Paris (we lost 5-0) and loved the atmosphere. She didn’t like the anti-English chants however. But not long after we went to a pub in High Wycombe to watch an England/Scotland rugby game on the big screen; she begged me to leave such was the anti-Scottish venom. All that proves is there are good people and bad everywhere.

I would sometimes, in a haze of drink and kilted up, head to the Lozells Inn on Lozells Road (scene of the famous riots of Lozells/Handsworth in 1985 where two men were left dead and a police officer shot and wounded) in Birmingham and laugh and joke with the Jamaicans that I was more foreign than them. They agreed. However, I could play ‘their’ style of dominoes and not the local ‘five and threes’ style. I was constantly warned not to go to such a dangerous place at night but I was only ever welcomed with big smiles; perhaps I was looked at as a novelty?

My point is that I have never seen the ‘Union’ as being an equal partnership and I have never seen my desire for Scottish independence as Anti-English. On the contrary, I always felt that many Scots used the power of Westminster as a convenient excuse to blame England for all our woes. 

Now we can say YES and start taking responsibility for ourselves.



Tuesday, 29 July 2014

The Gaming Kid

I’ll be 50 years auld this year and some people find it weird that I still love playing ‘video games’. Hooked on Space Invaders* and Defender*, to name but two, as a kid I was barely out of the amusement arcades in my home town of Burntisland in Fife. I remember a fantastic KISS* pinball machine from those days too. I never pumped my pocket money or wages (from paper round or being the delivery boy for the local butchers) into slot machines. No, it was the video games I loved. And there were a few I was bloody good at too!

Many years later I got a SEGA Megadrive* & continued gaming; although admittedly alcohol (& to a lesser extent, drugs) were taking more prominence in my life.

Eventually, after coming out of a decades-long haze of alcohol and drug abuse I met someone who had a Playstation* who showed me a game called Call of Duty* – World At War. That was it. I was hooked again. I had never seen anything like it; the graphics, the gameplay. Everything about it was ‘awesome’ as the kids used to say. I got an X Box* and now have an X Box One*. I’ve been through different gamertags too incl. scotsgeoff and Dr Jekyll before finally settling on Auld Scotsman.

I love being able to run around online pwning (gaming speak for ‘owning’) other players (admittedly that doesn’t happen very often unless it’s Titanfall*) but you get the point.

For me it is fun; a game. I want to ‘socialise’ with people from other countries – the USA, Canada, Germany, France, Brazil. Wherever. And I certainly can’t afford to go there so it’s the next best thing in some ways. How cool is it to be sitting playing a game live online and be chatting to someone from Texas at the same time! It’s no Space Invaders*!


I was blown away by the graphics too, the ‘gaming community’ and camaraderie, shocked at how serious some people take it all and how they can lose their temper and end up cussing to high heaven; but most of all I love the competitive aspect. And now, as you’ve seen you can publish your own clips.

I’m not really one for Campaign modes; I never finished any of the COD* ones and didn’t even start some of them. It’s multiplayer for me!

My favourite titles/franchises are (currently, lol) Read Dead Redemption* (still no new one announced for X Box One* – Hurry up Rockstar Games*!), Titanfall* and Sniper Elite III*

Rebellion* that make Sniper Elite III* are based in England (in Oxfordshire) so all the more reason to be supporting them but there is no extra reason needed as the game is excellent. And believe me I ‘hate’ snipers in games; generally I’m rubbish at it too. This game is different. It, for me, is a ‘must buy’ which I never thought I would say. I didn’t like Sniper Elite II* or whatever it was called. Played about 5 minutes or so and I just didn’t like it. So I wasn’t even interested or keeping an eye out for Sniper Elite III*. 

I just happened upon some YouTube* clips of it; trailers, campaign gameplay and multiplayer gameplay and became quite impressed. So after trading some stuff in I got it. And I haven’t stopped playing since.

My name is Auld Scotsman and I’m a big kid and proud gamer.

All names marked * are Copyright or Trademarks of the respective owners

Thursday, 15 May 2014

Does Scotland Exist?

On the 18th September 2014 there is a referendum in Scotland where people will be asked to tick a box (Yes or No) to the question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’

Currently, however, the media has become obsessed with the European Union, the Euro, the Pound, being ‘British’, passport controls and borders, immigration, businesses leaving en-masse, the SNP and Alex Salmond.

One question that hasn’t been discussed and one that really should be posed before asking if Scotland should be independent is ‘Is Scotland a country?’ Yes or No.

I ask this because the way one thinks about Scotland itself is integral to how one might vote.

Do you think Scotland is just a region of the UK in the same way Yorkshire is?

Do you think Scotland is a country in the same way France is?

According to the UK Government’s own legal advice (published 11th Feb 2013) Scotland doesn’t exist anyway so perhaps it’s all moot. What? I hear you say. Doesn’t exist?

Point 35 of the document says ‘as a matter of international law England continued, albeit under a new name and regardless of the position in domestic law, and was simply enlarged to incorporate Scotland.

Point 37: it is not necessary to decide between these two views of the union of 1707. Whether or not England was also extinguished by the union, Scotland certainly was extinguished as a matter of international law, by merger either into an enlarged and renamed England or into an entirely new state.

Now, I’m sure many people will be shocked to read this and may even struggle to believe that it is actually true. After all they never saw it on TV News reports or splashed across all the newspapers at the time. Well, they would be right; it was neither reported on television nor featured in newspapers. But why? Perhaps it is because the mainstream media are almost exclusively pro-Union and this is the type of revelation that needs hiding (not in the McCrone Report sense; that was the Government that secreted it away) but in a way that the public just don’t know about it.

How many people would just accept being told that their country no longer existed in international law?

So back to my question. Is Scotland a country? If you think it is not and it is therefore just a ‘region’ of Britain or the UK (or indeed England) then the box you would tick would be No.

If you think it is a country then the box to tick on this question would be Yes.

This makes the independence question on the 18th September 2014 a little easier; if you think Scotland is not a country then ‘No’ it shouldn’t be an independent one should it?

However, if you think Scotland IS a country (and hasn’t been extinguished as per the UK Government legal advice) then the answer should be easier to answer. Should.

However, some people will say it is a country, that they are Proud Scots, but they believe another country (i.e. England, or Britain if you prefer) should remain the source of decision making (Westminster). What other country on the planet has a people that believes that they themselves are not capable of running their own affairs? Can you imagine France voting to have all their decisions made for them by Germany? And their parliament moved to Berlin?

Would Norway happily have all their decisions made for them in Stockholm, Sweden’s capital?

Indeed, can you imagine people in England agreeing to have government moved to Holyrood in Edinburgh and all decisions made there?

Because, surely if you think your country is a country then the default system is sovereign independence. Sovereignty: the authority of a state to govern itself; a self-governing state.

But then again perhaps you agree that Scotland really was extinguished by the Act of Union.

- - - 

Tuesday, 6 May 2014

A Caledonian Texas

I had the immense pleasure of visiting Texas in 2009. I stayed in Round Rock near Austin the State Capital and had a couple of weeks exploring the area taking in Georgetown, Waco (in particular the excellent wee Zoo there) and had a wee jaunt down to San Antonio which is famed for The Alamo.

What I found was incredibly friendly people proud of their Texan heritage and streets that seemed impervious to litter. I have always experienced a warm welcome when visiting the USA but one thing I didn’t expect on this trip was the wealth and depth of Scottish influence within the State.

The Lone Star State

I will only be able to scrape the surface here but some of the main facts I found had me surprised I never knew about it; perhaps schools in Scotland should be looking at informing pupils of more of the Scottish influences and contributions worldwide.

Austin is the State Capital, named after Steven F Austin (1793 – 1836) who on receiving a grant, originally given to his father, was able to bring 300 colonists to Texas. Over 40% of those original colonists were Scots.

The State Capitol building in Austin was financed by ten men from Scotland. Incidentally, I love the fact that given ‘everything in Texas is bigger and better’ the State Capitol building was built to be bigger than the national one in Washington DC.

Sam Houston

Sam Houston (1793 – 1886) an Ulster Scot led the call for Texan autonomy from Mexico and set about recruiting a force to support it.

His ancestry is said to go back to Houston, Renfrewshire.

 In December 1835 a group of Houston’s volunteers took the Southern Texas town of San Antonio. They set up at a former mission called the Alamo. When in March 1836 Texas declared independence Houston was commander of the armed forces.

The Mexican response was to send an army to besiege the Alamo. We know that there were 189 defenders and that almost one-third of those were Scots or of Scots heritage including Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie (of the Bowie knife fame), Richard W Ballantyne, Isaac Robertson, David L Wilson, and John McGregor (who played the bagpipes during the attack). Reports on the strength of the Mexican army can vary but is generally believed it was around 3,000 strong; after 4 days with the defenders wiped out 1,400 Mexicans were left.

Gratuitous pic of me at the Alamo - it was too busy to get in so 
at least I have an excuse to go back (as if I would ever need one)

Further Scottish/Texan connections include:

  • The oldest signatory of the Texas Declaration of Independence was Collin McKinney of Scottish descent. The county of Collin and town of McKinney are named after him.

  • There are 254 counties in Texas – more than 100 have Scottish connections with almost 40 towns having an affinity with Scotland including Dallas, Elgin, Edinburg, Highlands, Houston and Gordon.

  • Aberdeen Angus cattle were first exported to Texas in 1883.

  • The Texas Land & Cattle Company has its origins in Dundee.

  • The famous Chisholm Trail is attributed to Jesse Chisholm (part Scot/Cherokee). His grandfather, John Chisholm, arrived in Texas from Scotland in 1777; his son married the daughter of a Cherokee chief.

  • The Scottish Society of Texas was formed in 1963 representing 50 clans in Texas.

  • Texas Bluebonnet Tartan was recognized as the official State Tartan in 1989 – the bluebonnet is the State flower.

  • The Texan colloquialism Y’all is said to evolve from Scots Gaelic ‘sibh vile’ (se’vall) which means ‘you all’

This blog post can simply not do justice to the connections between Texas and Scotland but there are a surprising amount of websites to visit for much more information. Better yet, go visit!