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Homecoming 2014: A Love Letter to Scots Abroad.


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.


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  1. hektorsmum says:

    Katie, I applaud your decision. I have said for ages now that Scotland is about to be reborn, her birth is no longer doubted, she will come into her own and her children will no longer leave. I read somewhere that there are something like 45 million people of whom are of Scottish descent on this globe of ours, whilst not wanting them all to give up the life they have surely they do not all think we are as the Unionists say. So I am pleased you are back and will be voting YES.

  2. Big Jock says:

    Was the comment about Salmond being ironic. I am a flag waiving cultural Scot but also agree with diversity. You can be patriotic without being bigoted you know! P.S of Irish descent so cannot be a Scottish bigot by my very origin. I get fed up with the idea that you can’t be patriotic Scot without being bigoted. A flag is a symbol of identity and at the end of the day nationhood is about what country you identify yourself with.

  3. yerkitbreeks says:

    Katie, You’ll be returning to one of the most exciting places on the planet. Take this from an ex – pat who spent 30 years away, and now can’t believe the ramifications of what seems to be an unstoppable movement.

    From outside the country the Indy thing is seen as a single issue, all tied up in money ( the pound, pensions, access to various markets etc – it’s how the London centric establishment have characterised it ) but from inside it’s about social values, relationships, land ownership, empowerment of local politics, and so much more as endorsed by the massive grassroots campaign(s). Have a read of Lesley Riddoch’s book Blossom if you’ve time.

    You’re spot on with the getting out and therefore getting on thingy – if someone tells you something often enough it becomes your new truth unless you’re very strong. I now realise “dreich” is one of the most descriptive words we have – how dare a teacher all those years ago tell me not to use ” that slang “.

    And yes, climatically there will be dreich days but more than made up for by what’s going to happen to your country.

  4. Rab757 says:

    Great article Katie, the only point I’d like to add is that not all ex pats are abroad strictly through choice: I cannot return home to Scotland to live with my wife as since she is from outside the EEA, Tory immigration policies introduced in 2012 dictate that I must first secure a job paying 18,600 pounds per annum, or failing that, have savings of 62,500 pounds. Very frustrating considering there is only one Tory MP in Scotland!

  5. I have to admit I too am wanting to come home. Scotland feels very different to England nowadays. England, one feels, is wrapping herself with an inwardly looking blanket. My wife and children are up for a move back to Scotland. If anyone is recruiting adult literacy/numeracy teachers, please get in touch.

  6. Dave Coull says:

    I left Scotland when I was seventeen. Back a couple of times for short periods, but I only definitively moved back, with the intention of staying, when I was exactly twice your age, Katie. I was forty six. And yes, I did have responsibilities. And my kids did stick out a bit in Scottish schools because of their accents. And yes, there were problems. But – no regrets. To any ex-pat who feels they really want to be involved in Scotland now, and who feels that making their voice heard through the internet etc can only go so far, if you want greater involvement than that, both Katie and somebody twice her age have shown the way.

  7. JGedd says:

    Thank you for that, Katie – an endorsement from someone who did get out but has the confidence to return. Your dilemma has been the dilemma of young, educated Scots in every generation and it is the main reason that I have for voting for independence – that Scotland should be able to retain the vibrancy and enterprise of its youth.

    Scotland’s population has stagnated around the 5 million mark for all of my life because we have lost so many of our young to emigration and it has been an expensive drain in so many ways, that we have lost so many of that part of the population which should be able to contribute much in energy and ideas.

    So, welcome back Katie, we are pleased to have you and let’s hope that we will soon have an independent Scotland in which the you and other hopeful young people can flourish.

  8. I appreciate this article. My wife and son and I left for the USA so I do a graduate degree, and then we moved to Canada so I could continue my studies. I’ve came forward (not back, one can’t come back) to Scotland or a number or reasons. I grew up on social assistance, went to University on an Educational grant, and then was funded to study in the USA. We intended to be away about 9 years, but the vicissitudes of life kept us away.

    I joined the SNP while living in Korea. I’ve come forward because I owe Scotland for my upbringing, and for my education. I’ve come forward to contribute, because I have not contributed, after having received so much. One reason I came forward is to help in the referendum campaign, and to vote YES. To contribute to the spiritual life of my nation is a big motivation. To help my nation and our people gain the Sovereignty that was guaranteed to us in the Treaty and Act of Union, but which has been constantly violated by the UK Governments, is another big part of my motivation.

    I just can’t imagine the people of a nation giving their sovereignty to a neighbour that conquered it 300 years ago.

    1. Fordie says:

      Wonderful response 🙂

  9. An Duine Gruamach says:

    Welcome back, Katie! I’m just a year older than you – isn’t this an amazing time to be young and Scottish? Looking forward to building a new Scotland with you and so many more committed people.

    (My father also left Coatbridge to work abroad, and my siblings and I grew up far from Scotland. We moved here when I was 13, and my accent still sticks out in an awkward way.)

  10. Brian Nicholson says:

    Not all Scots left due to a conscious decision, Many were forced into emigration by the lack of opportunity not just for themselves but for their children. My father and mother left our home town of Dumfries in June of 1965 not because they did not love Scotland, but because they saw no future then. My Dad often tells the story of flying across the sea with two suitcases and three weans. I was 5, a brother was 3 and another brother was an infant. My father was a master electrician, a highly skilled tradesman and a veteran of the Desert Rats (7th Armoured Brigade) in Germany. He was never afraid of work but work seemed afraid of him.

    We moved to Canada and within weeks, he was working in his trade and never missed worked until the day he retired. Each of 4 sons, one born in Canada, all of us become professionals in our field and have fine families here in Canada. Yet, we often return hame, yes, we still call it hame, even after 50 years and we are greeted no as strangers but as family back from away.

    Each visit made me more confused. Seeing the energy, talent, compassion and creativity of Scots, I could never understand why Scotland was not thriving. Each episode of the cringe brought me to the verge of tears and then to red hot anger. I watched people of all ages, often with not much to call their own, still look after each other and still lift each other up. I was appalled when I read the Scots newspapers, and watch the BBC, and listen to those trusted with running the country. Each day the message was the same. Scots are not good enough, are just a pack of scroungers and they should know their place. Constantly, I heard the refrain, Scots should be happy that the UK is here to bail them out of any problem.

    Any resident of Canada, a country of then 25 million, living next to the collusus of the USA with 300 milion people, being told that they were not good enough and that they should be happy that the Yanks were nearby to bail us out, would have met that statement with scornful laughter at best and smack to the face at worst. We never let size slow us down and I could not understand why so many were so comfortable accepting so little and then being told to be grateful for the crumbs.

    I can tell you that I almost gave in to the cringe. I started to tell myself that I was glad that my Dad had left and had taken us all away from this. Almost…. but not quite.

    You see, a strange thing happened to my journey. After hundreds of years of cringe and acceptance, something strange broke forth. No longer willing to accept less, no longer willing to be second class, no longer will to eat the crumbs that fell from the table, I saw a Scottish nation start to rise.

    Not a nation wedded to tales of woe from the past, or the distortions of Brigadoon or Braveheart, but a nation that finally understood that to thrive means standing on your own two feet, willing to take on any challenge and facing a future not with fear but with hope. I saw a nation that did not care what school you went to, or who was your father, or whether you were in Scotland or came to her by choice. I saw a nation that was ready to take its place in the family of nations.

    And in response to Katy, I also saw Canadians, Americans, Europeans start to notice Scotland. No longer did they look at Scotland as that poor, wee lump of soil north of England populated by those with strange accents and a penchant for whisky. They now saw Scotland as a beacon of hope. They saw Scotland as a nation that was willing to look after its people regardless of the cost.

    They also Scotland, probably for the first time in their lives, as not a part of England. They saw that our values were different, not better, just different. Finally Scotland was on the map.

    When I talk to my neighbours here in Canada, where referendums are not unknown to us, they marvel at the debate and they wonder why anyone would vote not to have their own country. The very concept is so foreign to them that they just shake their heads at the thought. In Quebec, they use the term “maitre chez nous” (masters of our own house) to argue for their identity, and not a few for their own separate nation.

    To me, that phrase, is the real message of this debate, whether it is YES or NO.

    Masters in our House…. it means exactly what it says. Whether in the UK or Independent, Scotland will never again accept servitude. Scotland will never again accept less than her share. Scotland is willing to manage its own affairs, and that includes not just the benefits but the challenges as well. That is what the Better Togethers refuse to accept, It is not about the money, or the oil, or the pensions, or the pound, it is about a simple idea, that Scots just like every nation on earth would prefer to take the risks of being masters in their own house as opposed to being kept servile in the home of another.

    Not all of us will be able to return HAME to vote, but we are watching and we are talking and we are texting and we are not willing to see Scotland bullied and barracked into voting NO.

    When Cameron talks of love bombing Scotland, let me remind him that 45 million expat Scots and their descendents are doing a little love bombing of our own.

    As a five year old, I left Scotland. Now as a fifty-five year old, I am proud to say Scotland never left me and September 18, 2014 will not just be a day of rejoicing in Scotland but around this world, as a new nation joins with others to build a better future on this tiny planet.

    1. setondene says:

      A great contribution from Katie and also a fantastic response from yourself, Brian. I came back here for the 1979 referendum and have suffered under lousy Brit governments ever since, but to be alive today makes it all worthwhile. Scots are actually getting up off their knees…! The Brits are starting to shit themselves and I’m loving every minute of it. In many ways I wish this could go on for ever, but there’s a referendum to be won.

  11. wanvote says:

    Well done, Katie and the others who commented above. This is the kind of ‘love-bombing’ that we need here at this, THE most important, time in our lives. 🙂

  12. Tony says:

    You made your choice , when the going gets tough some get going . Good luck wherever you are “newaustrocanamerica”. You made your choice ,so leave us to make ours !!!!!

  13. Drew Sword says:

    Too old and tired to come hame. I did vote in 2007 election for the SNP however while in Scotland for medical reasons.Sent here because Scotland I was told was at the forefront in the treatment of the type of cancer I have. Scotland I discovered is at the forefront in so many ways in medicine and renewable energy. I came back to Oz in remission. Following the Independence debate with interest. Great to read A love Letter to Scots Abroad. I spread the YES message to all the Expats I meet. Not because they will rush hame to vote but so that they can tell their relatives in Scotland not to trust the BBC or the print media. And not to trust the Australian Broadcasting Corporation or the print media here who just parrot whatever line they are fed by the Brit establishment.
    Finally a word of warning. At the lead up to the last federal election here the Murdoch press kept up a litany of half truths, lies and doomsday warnings against the Labor Govt. Had the desired effect in the polls, Landslide for the neo Liberal monarchists.

  14. Jim says:

    Welcome home Katie.

    To those ex-pats that would like to do something for the Yes cause but can’t, I can only ask them not only to get involved in the debate via sites such as this, and there are many good ones, but also consider making a donation to the Yes campaign and/or sites like this. A few pounds/dollars etc a month from a few adds up to much more campaigning and information dissemination on the streets here.

  15. Perhaps groups of ex-pats abroad might consider staging Yes events outside British Embassies around the world? No matter how small these would certainly catch attention and show support to the home nation. They would also help to counter some of the misleading briefings given to foreign diplomats by the British government.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      That’s a brilliant suggestion. As you say, no matter how small the group staging such an event might be, the fact that it is happening at all would attract attention, particularly if they have large placards saying YES

  16. Have been in contact with Yes campaign just in case such groups abroad already exist! If not only to keen to help.

  17. malkieighto says:

    A reply to Katie, for we are one in the same.

    I have been toiling for some time about what to do with myself. Where should I really be? How can I not come home when I feel so strongly about something? How can I give up a great job, friends and home in New Zealand, where I have lived for over 4 years?

    I am 33 years old. I moved from Scotland just before the 2010 general election. The writing was on the wall. Already disillusioned by Blairite politics and the fiasco (robbery) that was the financial crisis I resolved to leave Scotland and the rest of the UK behind and get as far away as I could. And I managed. 11,500 miles away to Wellington NZ. Here I have made my home and here I would probably stay. Residency in the bag, citizenship a few short years away and a great job in this wonderfully beautiful country. I will always count myself extraordinarily lucky to have had the opportunities that I have had. However, there is a greater opportunity waiting for me and my nation.

    Last weekend after much soul searching and u-turning I finally made the decision that was inevitable from the start. This September I am moving home to Scotland to vote Yes in the referendum and help to free my country so it can be all it can be. I cannot sit on the sidelines and watch anymore. I have to be there, be involved and cast what may be the only consequential vote I have ever or will ever cast.

    This move is not without its fears. I will be moving back to a country that I have not worked in for some time. I have will have to build a reputation and work my way up to where I am here. In short, I will have to start again. Am I nervous? Of course. I am excited? Unbelievably. What a chance, what an opportunity. If you are feeling anything like what I have described and you have the ability to uproot and move home then my advice is to do it. After all, wouldn’t you like to look back in life and say that you were there? You were part of this? This is a huge moment in politics, one that will reverberate around the globe. Would be great to be able to cause that by ticking one little box.

    Malcolm Stephen
    Wellington, NZ

  18. Gary McIlkenny says:

    Hello folks,

    I too am an ex-pat returning home soon and am very pleased to be able to vote yes in the referendum.

    I moved to France alone in 2003 for a summer job but ended up meeting a French woman, staying here and starting a family. To be honest, it’s been a disaster in many ways, but that’s not really the point.

    The point is that I have had my interest in Scotland and politics rekindled. As a 41 year old, I can remember the unfairness of the the Thatcher years and the disappointment of ‘New Labour’. It’s scarcely believable to me now that half the population could vote No and so be lumbered with the same old Tory/Labour UK system (even more so since the success of Devolution).

    My career is non-existent, so I will have to become an entrepreneur in Scotland. While there is some anxiety, I am also heartened by the creativity, energy and confidence that is evident in Scotland. I’m full of hope for how an invigorated independent Scotland will evolve.

    But please folks. Don’t be negative towards ex-pats, they have a right to their opinions. I have been a victim of small minded jibes of “you don’t live here so don’t lecture us” (despite having spent 3/4 of my life in Scotland). Scots abroad can do a whole lot for Scotland too.

    Gary McIlkenny (currently in SW France, soon to be resident of Paisley!)

  19. Gordon says:

    Well Katie, I’m glad that you have returned to Scotland in time to give some of your talents and skills towards the economy of your native land. Too many of us have had to leave in order to maintain a decent standard of living for our families. Unfortunately it is the enterprising, the highly qualified and the talented that leave, denying this country the spark that is needed to kindle and maintain a roaring economy.
    The brain drain transfers economic advantage from Scotland to other populations, but not only for a single generation; their children are likely to have similar intelligence, energy and education and they will continue contributing to those countries.
    My brother and I ran a successful small business in Glasgow which survived for 7 years making a reasonable living for us both and employing 8 to 15 people during its existence. Interest rates rose due to an overheating London economy and it snuffed out demand in a moderate Scottish economy. We survived the 3-day week, but the dive in sales put us out of business. My brother, a mechanical engineer with a degree from Glasgow and myself an industrial chemist could not find work in Scotland that would pay a mortgage and maintain a decent standard of living. My brother left for Kuwait and I found a job in the Midlands, eventually starting up my own successful small business employing 6-10 people. Both my daughters are highly qualified and resident in England. I only returned to Scotland after retirement, having contributed nothing to the Scottish economy in 23 years.
    This morning on GMS I heard that Tories in Perth and Kinross from the Better Together lot were trying to persuade voters to vote NO ‘to give young people in Scotland better life chances.’ Westminster has had 60 years to do this. Are we mug enough to believe them still?
    We need control of our own economy to stop our highly qualified youth from leaving.

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