Reversing the brain-drain with Katie L Gallogly-Swan. Can you imagine the response and the energy when we vote Yes?
Since leaving high school in 2008, Scotland has been my (rainy) holiday home. Returning only for summer and Christmas, I have been watching the referendum debate unfold from afar, like the hundreds of thousands of other Scottish expats around the globe. When first I heard that my residency affected my right to a vote in the referendum, like many others, I struggled to reconcile this political decision with my own energetic support for a Yes in 2014. I was to be a spectator, on the sidelines of what is surely to be the country’s most crucial moment in my lifetime.
But this got me thinking. If I’m so committed to this referendum, why am I an expat?
Now, this is not to say that both identifications are mutually exclusive, and in fact I am certain (and hope!) that a sizable population of expats will find themselves ticking these same two boxes. Further, this is not an article arguing against the migration of people to broaden the mind or to seek new opportunities, pursuits I support wholeheartedly. Still, isn’t it a funny contradiction that I should be bleating about independence, 3000 miles away from a former home I was so quick to leave?
I came to the conclusion that this seemingly paradoxical reality boiled down to a fundamental contradiction in my Scottish psyche. Somehow, while growing up in Coatbridge, I came to equate success with ‘getting out’ – that is, of Scotland – and decided from a startlingly young age that this is exactly what I would do. I ascribed to the myth that our Scotland could not contain the talent or possibilities that other places produced and developed. Maybe our soil wasn’t fertile enough, or our sun not bright enough to nourish young minds with what they needed to reach greatness. We could not realise the highest of our dreams in this totiest and most insignificant of countries. When it finally developed that I’d be leaving Scotland to attend uni elsewhere, my peers commended me for doing it, for, ‘getting out’.
Now seems a good time to mention the two sides of an old Scottish coin: the cringe and the swagger. The cringe, having had enough media airtime, needs little explanation, and is basically the inferiority complex of a wee nation with a big chip on its shoulder. The swagger, deftly described in Niall Ferguson’s equally ridiculous and offensive article in 2006 on his hopes for the ‘liquidation of Scotland’, is our propensity to consider ourselves better than all other nations – we’ve all heard it, ‘Scotland invented x, y and z and is a committed protector of the people through policies such as a, b and c. And by the way did you know Mr MacX has Scots ancestry?’ While I would argue that all countries have similar complexes and myths justifying their identity (see Herzfeld 1997 on Cultural Intimacy), I believe this nationality schizophrenia has manifested itself in my current quandary: to return is to make a stake in protecting my beloved nation from further generations of undemocratic governments, but to downgrade my hopes and dreams. Right?
Wrong. In my ripe old age of 23 I’ve come to realise that my adolescent vision of a broken nation with poverty in excess and a crime rate to match just doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Scotland is vibrant. Scotland is forward-thinking. Scotland is stretching its legs, trying on new faces and distinguishing a vision for the future from a past steeped in the bickerings of identity politics. While the rate of poverty is indeed a disgrace and all levels of government need transformation in order to have any of the impact independence voters are envisioning, the people residing in this arbitrary little patch of green have revealed themselves to be a force of renewal and progress. And this revelation begs the question, was it ever such an unpalatable place? Was my adolescent distaste for my home truly a reflection of the country, or an assertion consumed and reproduced from a relentless media rendering of our nation as wee, meaningless, alcoholic, pathetic, stupid, aggressive – and so on?
Expats will not be voting in the referendum because Scotland is taking a step away from the caricature of a flag-waving, chubby, nationalist aggressor (insert Salmond-Murray joke) who holds ethnicity as most sacred, and moving towards aspirations for a multicultural, cosmopolitan and modern state – albeit with a long road ahead. I, however, will be voting on 18 September, 2014, because for my 23rd birthday I gifted myself a one-way ticket home. From where I’m standing, there is no better place to be living, growing and learning. It’s time to reverse the brain drain and to see Scotland as the best possible place for us to cement a future, make our mark and develop the society of our dreams. In 2014, we have the opportunity to do it.
Those of you abroad, reading this and thinking: ‘Wait, I’m not 23! I can’t just pack up my life and move back home, it’s not as simple as that!’, you’re right. I have the privilege of no responsibilities; a free schedule, from here on out in life. But that doesn’t mean you just writhe in front of your computer at every stupidity uttered by Britain’s fine leaders. It means you use your creativity and that wonderful thing called the internet to get your voice heard and do your part in campaigning for your vision of a future Scotland, independent or not. You won’t be talking to people on the ground, and you won’t be voting, but you have the capability to inform and influence others and now is the time to engage.
So, while I am not from our neighbouring nations, and I am not addressing the residents of Scotland, I am answering Cameron’s call with this belated love letter to Scottish expats. You do not have the right to vote, but you do have the right to carve out your own part in this debate. You already have the required tools, all that is needed is your voice.