fires-north-scotland-irelandMER_FRS_20110502_753_orKicking off our series of articles in gaelic Mary Ann Kennedy explores how the ability to embrace diversity is a positive sign of national identity. Mary Ann will be performing at Songs for Scotland in September.

Thuirt mi minic is tric thairis air an iomairt seo, nach ann air sàilleabh gur Gàidheal mi, no gu bheil Gàidhlig agam a tha mi am beachd ‘Bu chòir’ a ràdh aig àm an taghaidh – a dh’aindheoin beachdan chuid. Tha sinn cho measgaichte a-thaobh àraich, bheachdan, dhòchasan, làn-bharailean is feallsanachd ’s a tha buidheann sam bith eile san reifreann. Ach lean mi orm a’ smaoineachadh mu dheidhinn, is tha mi air co-dhùnadh gu bheil snàithlean de dh’fhìrinn anns a’ bheachd, ged nach ann air a’ chiad adhbhar is dòcha air an smaoinicheadh daoine.

Dh’èirich mise suas ann an Glaschu, air an Taobh a Deas, ann am Pollokshields. Àite anns na h-ochdadan a bha luma-làn de chaochladh choimhearsnachdan air ùr ruigheachd – Gàidheil, luchd-Gàidhealtachd is eileanaich nam measg. Tha mi air iomradh a thoirt fad bhliadhnaichean – air stìeds’ agus a’ còmhradh – air an àrach ioma-chulturach seo an Glaschu – àite mìorbhaileach a bhi fàs suas le dà chanan air bilean pàiste. Ach thòisich mi an uairsin air ceist a thogail mun chuimhne seo – an robh mi air gleans is loinn macmeanma ro-bheò air, airson cur-seachad is toil-inntinn, airson àite a dhearbhadh dhomh fhìn ’s mo chànan ’s a’ bhaile – agus anns an t-saoghal mhòr?

Do Mhàiri Anna, coig bliadhn’ a dh’ aois, b’ e a bana-ghaisgeach thar chàich Miss McNair ann an Clas a h-Aon – tidsear òg, ùr, agus na sàr bhrosnachadh dhan chlas. B’ e seo an clas a bha beò nam chuimhne – sgioba far an robh dà chanan aig a h-uile dàrnacha pàiste, far an robh ioma cultur a’ suidhe taobh-ri-taobh. Bhiodh mo charaid Sumeera a’ tighinn a dhannsa Gàidhealach còmhla rium, gheibhinn-sa cothrom suidhe staigh air banais thraidiseanta Phakistànach. Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi, Gaelige, Pòlainneach, Mandarin, Gàidhlig – bha iad uile mar phàirt de dh’fhuaim ’s de shaoghal Pollokshields aig an àm. No am b’ e seo dùrachd air a mhealladh le tìm?

An sin, thog Facebook ceann. Nochd an tidsear agam as ùr mar ‘charaid’ FB, ged a b’ ann tro shlighe eile seachd eachdraidh taobh a deas Ghlaschu. Agus a-measg nan cuimhneachain bhon àm sin – a-measg nan ìomhaighean èibhinn, gòrach – bha aon dealbh ann, dhen chlas. Cha b’ e cleas nan dealbhnan oifigeil, cruaidh-aghaidheach ann an talla-spòrs na sgoile, ach cruinneachadh san raon-cluiche, ri taobh rèilichean Bhictòirianach togalach Sràid Melville, roinn òigridh Bun-Sgoil Phollokshields – grad-shealladh làrach nam bonn le Miss McNair. Coig-aghaidh-fichead, toilichte, sona, a’ dearbhadh mo chuimhne air ioma chultur Ghlaschu.

B’ ann a seo a chaidh ar oideachadh gabhail ri togail, cultur, cànain is dualchasan chàch a’ chèile – a’ tuigsinn, ag ionnsachadh, a’ ceasnachadh, a’ sgrùdadh , a’ dèanamh luaidh – chaidh ar brosnachadh le na tidsearan, le na mamaidhean, le muinntir nan coimhearsnachdan a thuig cho cumhachdadh ’s a bha a leithid. Buaidh air leth, buaidh a dh’aithnich a’ Ghàidhlig co-ionnan ri càch, far an robh a bhi mar phàirt de chultur tùsanach ga fhàgail na b’ fhasa suim a thoirt do chuid chàich, far an robh e tur-riatanach gabhail ri cuid chàich.

Tha mise airson a bhi mar phàirt de dh’ Alba aig nach eil eagal ro iomaidheachd, a nì gàirdeachas ri caochladh, agus far a bheil fèin-misneachd mar nàisean agus nar cultuir fhìn a’ fosgladh dhorsan agus a’ leagail bhacaidhean. ’S e mo bheachd-sa gur ann a-mhàin le toil is misneachd annainn fhìn mar Albanaich as urrainn gabhail ri gach nì eile a dh’fhaotadh cur ri dùthaich is nàisean ùr a’ tighinn fo bhlàth.

Thig toradh aobhneis tron fhèin-mhisneachd seo – ge bith a bhlas a bhi Gàidhlig, Doric, Weigie, Glaschu na h-Èireann, Gallach, Sealltainneach – toradh ealain gu cinnteach mar a tha buailteach tachairt ann an dùthaich ùr (!) a’ tighinn gu bith agus a’ dearbhadh àite san t-saoghal mhòr a-muigh. Ach bheir e cuideachd cothrom dhuinn fàilte a chur air ioma fear is tè bho iomadh dhùthaich agus cultur a chuireas ri saoibhreas is soirbheachas Alba nuadh, iadsan aig am bi na sgilean is na beusan air an cuir sin feum a’ cheart cho cinnteach ri gach neach dha bheil Alba cheana mar dhachaigh.

Dearbhaidh e cuideachd nach dùthaich seo a tha an crochadh air eagal, aineolas, sgaradh, gràinn-creidimh is cinnidh, an fheallsanachd a tha a’ fàgail dhaoine a’ coimhead as dèidh an cuid fhèin a-mhàin.

Mar sin, ge bith dè an rathad a roghnaicheas iad air an 18mh dhen t-Sultainn – taing dhuibh Sumeera, Maggie, Mumtaz, Andrew, Alistair, Vijay, Armin, Naseem agus a h-uile duin’ agaibh a bha mar phàirt de linn Sràid Melville. Agus taing dhuit-sa Miss McNair airson cuimhne a dhusgadh a tha ceadachadh dhomh coimhead air adhart dhan naoidheamh latha deug, agus dhan t-saoghal ùr romhainn – mar Ghàidheal, agus mar bhall de dh’Alba ioma-aghaidheach agus lan dòchais.

I’ve said several times during this campaign that just because I’m a Gael, or a Gaelic-speaker, it’s not a given that I’m a Yes voter, despite some other people’s notions to the contrary. We are of course as diverse in our backgrounds, passions, convictions and opinions as any other group of voters in the referendum. But this thought has stayed with me a good while now, and I have come to the conclusion that there is some truth in the idea, albeit by a rather unusual path.

I grew up in Glasgow, on the South Side, in Pollokshields. A place in the 70s that was full of distinct and distinctive arrival communities – the Gaels, Highlanders and islanders among them. For years, I’ve often talked on stage or in conversation about being part of this multi-cultural Glasgwegian community – a fabulous place to grow up in as a bilingual kid. And then I began to question my own recollection of this time and place – I wondered if this was just a rather enhanced memory, embellished to make it relevant and entertaining, to give Gaelic, and me, our place in the big city and the big wide world.

For five-year-old Mary Ann, one of her greatest idols was Miss McNair in Primary 1 – new to the teaching game, and an inspiration to her class. It was this class that I had in my memory – a cohort where every second child spoke a different mother tongue, and where many cultures sat side-by-side. My pal Sumeera would come to Highland dancing with me, I got to sit in on the traditional celebrations for a Pakistani wedding. Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi , Irish, Polish, Mandarin, Gaelic – all of them were part of the soundscape of Pollokshields. Was it all wishful thinking on my part?

And then Facebook came out to play. My primary school teacher re-emerged as an FB friend via a completely different route to that of southside Glasgow. And in amongst the contributions to the ‘Oh no, is that really me?’ photies from another time, appeared a class picture. Not the ‘sit still and fold your arms’ type in the school gym, but gathered in the playground, against the Victorian cast iron railings looking out onto Melville Street from the infant department of Pollokshields Primary School – a snap on the hoof by Miss McNair. Twenty-five faces, smiling, happy – and affirming completely my memory of multi-culti Glasgow.

In this setting I and the other kids were brought up to appreciate, tolerate, understand, embrace, celebrate, investigate each others’ cultures and languages – by the teachers, by the mammies, by community energies and movements. Theirs was an overwhelmingly powerful influence, one that allowed Gaelic its place alongside all the others, where a belonging to an indigenous culture made it easier to appreciate others, and made it all the more important to accept others.

I want to be a part of a Scotland that does not fear diversity, that celebrates difference, and where a self-confidence in national identity and culture opens doors and brings down barriers. I believe it is only through that self-acceptance of all the things we are as Scots that then allows us to accept all the other possibilities for a new and flourishing nation state.

This assurance of Scottish self – Gaelic, Doric, Weigie, Glasgow-Irish, Caitness (sic), Shetlander – will surely lead to the artistic expression of joy in a world of new possibility, as happens so often when new (!) countries assert their place in the world. But it will allow us also to welcome in the people of different nationalities and backgrounds who will contribute to the success of this new Scotland, on whose skills and talents we will depend as much as on those who have already made Scotland their home.

It will also assert that this is no country that plays on fear, ignorance, fragmentation, religious intolerance, bigotry, the politics of ‘not in my back yard’.

So, whatever way they choose to vote on September 18th, thank you Sumeera, Mumtaz, Andrew, Alistair, Maggie, Vijay, Armin, Naseem and all the rest of you who were part of those Melville Street years. And thank you Miss McNair for retrieving an archive memory that allows me to look forward to September 19th and beyond as a Gael and a citizen of a multi-faceted and optimistic Scotland.