Why A Portuguese Guy Is Learning Gaelic

Culloden

On the 16th of April, 1746, the Battle of Culloden was fought, the final clash that marked the ending of the Jacobite Rising that started the year before. It resulted in a complete and total victory of the British Army over the Jacobites, bringing with it decades of persecution, prohibition and the unrelenting attempts to destroy the Gaelic culture of the Highlands of Scotland, in order to strengthen the grip of the British union over Scotland. This period saw the expropriation of lands belonging to Scottish clans, the banning of traditional forms of Highland dress, and the start of a decline in the use of the Gaelic language that would continue to this day.

Culloden, and its legacy, have been a shadow hanging over Highland culture. But, despite the worst attempts by the British state, Highland culture suffered, but it was never fully cleansed. Its lands were emptied of its people, many of its customs and traditions lost, but the Gaelic language survived – not only in but also outwith Scotland, travelling in the hearts and minds of the folk forced to go away as a consequence of the Clearances, another dark period of Scottish history.

There’s a future for Gaelic

Despite its many challenges and tribulations, Gaelic (or Gàidhlig, as it is known in its native tongue) has survived all the way to the 21st century. Yes, it is not in a place where we are allowed to be relaxed about it – the language is still facing an existential threat, as many of the older generations who still have it die out, with fewer younger people carrying on that legacy. But there are also immensely successful stories happening recently, not least the launch of a Scottish Gaelic course, for free, on the famous Duolingo app, which occurred in November of last year (and no, Duolingo has never paid me for promoting it, I just think it’s a brilliant tool).

There’s been a shared sense of excitement and wonder all over social media, as Duolingo has provided an easy, free and fun-to-use platform on which to learn the Gaelic. People coming together in hilarious exchanges, as we all discover that gorm, the Gaelic for blue, is also the word for that deep green found in nature. Or the joys of finding out that a Coo is a cow in Scots, but a is a dog in Gaelic (and, as a bonus point, the Portuguese for arse is , and is pronounced in the exact same way as the other two words).

One question that never seems to go away, however, particularly from sections of society that remain incredibly averse to Gaelic and, unfathomably, see it as a threat, is this: What’s the point of learning Gaelic?

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What’s the point of learning Gaelic?

I should start by making something clear, something which I personally hold as an incredibly important view, as a lover and speaker of a few languages: the point of learning any language is the point of learning the language itself. You don’t need to have an economic, professional, religious or academic reason. If you feel drawn to any particular language, there should be nothing stopping you but the time & effort required to learn it. No language is a waste of time, no language is a lost cause, and no language is beneath or above you. In the United Kingdom, languages like Cornish, Manx, Scots, Gaelic and Welsh are continuously derided and disproportionately criticised for being “a waste of time and resources”, but that’s just one of the manifestations of English exceptionalism and how it perceives everything slightly different as an immediate threat to it hegemony.

The fact is that learning Gaelic or any other language doesn’t harm English in any way, to the contrary – polyglotism is often an academic and professional strength in young people and the opportunities that are opened to them.

I’ve been a lover of languages ever since I can remember. I taught myself English as a young child through playing videogames, and later on found a passion for reading books by English-speaking authors in their original language rather than Portuguese translations. This passion resulted in me knowing how to read four different alphabets & writing systems (including Middle Kingdom Hieroglyphs), and having between moderate fluency and some basic conversational skills of around nine different languages.

But Gaelic has always had a special place in my heart, long before I ever dreamt of one day calling Scotland my beloved home.

My journey to learning Gaelic

In my early teens, and thanks to the boundless universalism of the internet, I found an interest in what’s often called “Celtic” music. This involved a lot of Irish, Scottish but also Breton singing (personally, Welsh and other Celtic languages never struck as much of a cord with me, for no reason whatsoever – you can’t choose what resonates with you, some things just do more than others).

But from all of these, I was always particularly drawn to Scottish Gaelic. I found it the most beautiful, emotional, even eerie of them all. I always felt like Gaelic carried a lot of sorrow with it, fascinatingly, in ways not dissimilar to my native country’s most well-known musical genre, Fado. I was drawn to the stories as I googled what the lyrics meant, and found an increasingly rich – and often times, dark – history behind these songs.

From then on, learning Gaelic had been on my bucket list. Since then, I found myself moving to and happily settling in Scotland, and as it happened, last year I found out a beginners course being provided by the Edinburgh Council that was very affordable and also conveniently located, and I grabbed the opportunity wholeheartedly.

Perhaps with a touch of serendipity, Gaelic also happened to launch on the aforementioned Duolingo app just a couple of months after I started my lessons, and it complemented those lessons perfectly. With the two resources, as well as a couple of books (I’ve previously done a Twitter thread with loads of resources for learning Gaelic, you can read it here: see Twitter thread), I’ve been able to start this journey that I’d been longing for.

Learning Gaelic has been challenging (we all know how daunting those long words look, especially when you realise that some letters are pronounced very differently from English), but lots of fun and, above all, immensely rewarding.

Not only does having the Gaelic open up a new window into the culture of the Highlands & Islands, and what is a crucial part of Scotland, it opens whole new worlds of music, poetry and literature. It opens a new perspective, a new look at the world, a greater depth to the human experience. It opens a link to Scotland’s past, but has also given me a new tool with which to help shape Scotland’s future.

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Learn Gaelic as an act of defiance

It’s very easy to romanticise Gaelic, as often happens with all things related to Highland culture. I’m a writer and artist, I know a thing or two about erring on the side of being a bit too romantic at times. The fact of the matter is that Gaelic has been, since the 18th century, in a continued state of decline, thanks to a myriad of political, religious and socio-economical circumstances. Only around 57,000 Scots are reported to be fluent in Gaelic (2011 data), with 87,000 declaring some knowledge of it (2011 data).

The Scottish Government has made efforts to protect and incentivise its use, efforts which are often faced by an inevitable barrage of armchair critics who make money out of writing controversial opinion pieces for newspapers that aren’t editorially sympathetic to Gaelic to begin with. And this is not just a unionist / pro-independence divide – you’ll find Gaelophobes on both sides of the debate, as well as speakers and lovers of the language.

Languages are political, and Gaelic is no exception. If you’re taught that your language is not proper or worthy, your culture inevitably becomes a source of embarrassment for you. In Portugal, I’ve never experienced this due to it being a monoglot block, but this debate was one of the first things I encountered when moving to Scotland, and it doesn’t affect only Gaelic, but the Scots leid too.

Gaelic is not my language more than anyone else’s, but I’m passionate about its protection because I see it at risk, and it would be a monumental loss to human civilisation to have this wee thread bleached out of its colour and tone. Gaelic is adding something to our great cultural tapestry, and by learning and using it, we’re ensuring its colour remains vibrant enough for future generations to be able to appreciate the greater beauty of this whole tapestry.

Learn Gaelic. Pay no heed to the naysayers who feel threatened because they never managed to learn anything more than English, and have caged themselves in a monoglot prison of their own making. It’s difficult, frustratingly hard at times even, but once the pieces start falling into place, you’ll become immeasurably enriched. And remember, if it wasn’t for the historical wrongs inflicted upon Scotland, and the institutionalised way in which people have been brought up to think that only British Received Pronunciation is a legitimate way of expression, who knows how many people in Scotland would speak this tongue right now.

We can’t change the past. No one can. What we can, is to learn from it, and to prevent its disasters from ever being repeated again. And losing the Gaelic tongue would be just that.

Declaration of Arbroath – 700th Anniversary

Today marks the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath, one of the most important documents in Scottish History. Between 2009 and 2014, I completed both my degree in History and my MA in Medieval Islamic History, at Lisbon’s university, and I happened to have studied this document throughout the course of those years. It’s not only important to Scotland, but also as part of European history, and it really is an exceptional text of its time for numerous reasons.

As such, today I carefully wrote a thread, on Twitter, in which I poured all my past experience as a Medievalist, and as much knowledge as I could muster, about the crucial importance of this document, as well as its larger context in Medieval European History. I have decided to collate those tweets together into a single text and post it here too – so, bear in mind the media that it was written for (original thread here, if you care to like / retweet it: https://twitter.com/wgsaraband/status/1247099903781875713

Remember that if we are to make sense of our present and prepare ourselves for the challenges of our future, we must never forget the lessons of our past. History is a discipline that we all ought to pay attention to, read about and cherish.

Declaration of Arbroath

The only remaining copy of the Declaration of Arbroath, part of the National Archives of Scotland

Declaration of Arbroath – context

Today, 6th of April 2020, marks the 700th anniversary of the Declaration of Arbroath (1320), one of the most important documents in Scottish history.

Here’s a wee thread, from someone who had to study this document at university, in Lisbon, as part of my degree in History:

The Declaration of Arbroath is a letter, written in Latin, and signed by almost 40 Scottish barons & earls, addressed to Pope John XXII.

The Pope was a major political figure throughout most of the Middle Ages, and this was a bit like sending a letter to the United Nations.

Calling it a Declaration of Independence isn’t exactly correct – to be precise, the Declaration of Arbroath makes it clear that Scotland had been a sovereign kingdom for many centuries, ruled by a succession of Scottish kings, and that no one else could claim sovereignty over it.
Hence, the document isn’t asserting Scotland’s newfound independence – it is making it clear, to the Pope and Europe, that it had long been an independent nation and that the English throne had no rightful claim to it. Fascinatingly, it tells the tale of how the Scots came to be.
The letter says that the Scotii were a people originally from Scythia, a place outwith the limits of the Roman Empire, who travelled across Europe, all the way to the Iberian Peninsula before journeying to the British Isles and settling in this lovely cold place we call home.
The most fascinating part of this tale of migration and survival is that it is corroborated by evidence of Celtic peoples travelling, indeed, from Anatolia and across Europe. Many went by my own native Portugal, leaving remnants of Celtic culture there, before heading North.

Whilst many countries have a foundational story based on biblical myths, Scotland presents here a uniquely realistic tale that shows how some elements of oral history from this time survived in the collective memory for long.

The Scotii were migrants who fought their way here.

The other fascinating part of the Declaration of Arbroath, and why Medieval academics across the world study it, is its assertion of sovereignty. It states that it lies with the people, rather than the King of Scots.

But who, exactly, are the “people”?

Well, it doesn’t have the same meaning as today. In the context of its time, the Declaration of Arbroath makes clear that the King of Scots must be supported by the nobility – the barons & earls who signed the letter. That’s who the people are – not the whole population.
This is not a new concept in Europe – after the fall of the Roman Empire, many elements of law from Germanic peoples became popular amongst many of the kingdoms that were born. For the sovereignty of the king to be decided by noblemen is one of these aspects, seen across Europe.
By asserting their sovereignty, these 39 noblemen write in the letter that they reject the rule of the English king, accusing him of committing atrocities against the Scots, and that Robert the Bruce is the legitimate Scottish king who has put a stop to said atrocities.
There are inevitable Biblical allusions in the text – impossible not to, in a document of this nature, in Medieval Europe. They include the comparison between Robert the Bruce and Judas Maccabeus, who led the Maccabean Revolt against the Seleucids.

In simple terms, what did the Declaration of Arbroath seek to achieve?

To recognise Robert the Bruce’s military victories and his rightful claim to Scotland, to reject Edward II’s claim to overlordship of Scotland, and for Scotland’s sovereignty to be legitimised by the Pope.

“Because, while a hundred of us remain alive, we will not submit in the slightest measure, to the domination of the English. We do not fight for honour, riches, or glory, but solely for freedom which no true man gives up but with his life.”
Many people know the above paragraph and a few other quotes, but the Declaration of Arbroath is a remarkable Medieval document in the context of great social and economic changes sweeping across Europe, in regards to the old Feudal structures, and the assertion of sovereignty.
More than once, the letter says that Scots merely want to be left alone, in peace, and unbothered by the armies of the English king. It claims that the Scots have survived many other invaders, like the Danes, breaking free from any attempts to enslave them.
The concept of “Nation”, as we know it, only begins to be formed a few centuries later, after the Renaissance. The Declaration of Arbroath represents a transition from what the old concepts of “Kingdom” and “People” meant, to what they will mean later on in our History.

Declaration of Arbroath today

Finally, it’s not the prerogative of Scottish Independence supporters, today, to be interested in this document. Every Scottish person should read it and study it. It’s one of the most important pillars of Scottish history and a key piece of our shared European history.
I’ve been disheartened by people who, because of their constitutional politics, make ill-informed remarks about the Declaration of Arbroath. This is not a political football. This is, no matter your views on the United Kingdom, part of the very DNA of Scottish identity & history.
Arbroath Abbey

Grounds of Arbroath Abbey, which I first visited in May, 2018

I was fascinated to have studied this letter, as part of my degree in History, which led me to my MA in Medieval Islamic History. I never imagined, at the time, that I’d later be living in Scotland – but, moving here, has been one of the greatest joys in my life.

Don’t let your ignorance become a blindfold. Don’t let your cringe stop you from valuing a fascinating piece of your own history.

If people from outwith Scotland can see the worth of your people, culture and history, then please ask yourself: what’s stopping you?

Scotland’s history is not exceptional or superior to anyone else’s, but, like the history of any other country, it is unique. And if we are to find our way into the future, we must never forget the paths in our past that we have trodden.

Read your history. #DeclarationofArbroath

Scotland needs independence

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(This article was originally written for the official website of the Yes campaign. Plenty of others there for you to read, have a look here: https://www.yes.scot/scotland-can-thrive-as-an-independent-nation/)


Since 2014, it’s safe to say that the world has taken a significant turn. The reality in which Scotland opted to stay in the United Kingdom no longer exists, ripped apart by the cold shock Brexit, a political project that is being forced upon Scotland against our expressed will. In 2014, we were asked to lead the UK, not leave it. That choice resulted in broken promises and, now, Scotland being led down a destructive path. But we can change this course, yet.

Together with my partner, I arrived in Scotland in November 2015. Two Portuguese guys trying to find our own way in the world. We chose to come to Scotland, specifically, because of the many Scots we were lucky to meet in our native country, who told us that Scotland needed young people like us. It was that unbridled joy and that fiery warmth that drew us here, and it was the best decision we ever took.

In Scotland, we found a sense of home. We found a rich and vibrant culture, we found an openness, we found a people very politically aware. And we found a prosperous, smart and perfectly capable country, that suffers from a huge democratic deficit within the United Kingdom. If that deficit was already uncomfortable to look at in 2015, then it became excruciatingly painful after Brexit.

Scotland has a population not dissimilar to most Scandinavian countries, it has a booming tech sector growing rapidly in our cities, and it has a quarter of the European Union’s potential for renewable energies. Our country has a history and a tradition of innovation, and thanks to our world class universities, it has the intellectual capacity to reach even further. This country is also one of the world’s top tourist destinations, and our food and drink exports are hitting new records. Scotland doesn’t simply have the resources to survive – Scotland has everything that it needs to thrive as an open, outward looking, internationalist, independent nation at the heart of Europe.

Scottish independence doesn’t stand against anyone. It is an ambitious dream, one full of positivity and hope, one that seeks to include rather than exclude. Independence is about putting all the tools in our hands in order to lay the best possible foundations for the next generations. Boris Johnson’s Brexit will impoverish Scotland, will push young Scots to emigrate towards places with better opportunities, and it will see the likes of Donald Trump getting his hands onto our NHS, our food and drinks sector, and our natural resources.

I was born in Portugal, but in Scotland I came alive. I see a country that deserves better than an endless cycle of governments that it rejects again and again. We deserve our place at the heart of Europe, we deserve to see that the prosperity created by Scotland’s natural resources is more fairly distributed, and our children deserve a future where every door and window of opportunity is open to them.

I was born in an independent country. It’s by no means a panacea that fixes every problem, but it’s the only way to have every possible tool in our hands, to shape the future we believe in. Independence is not the destination, but the means to bring about our better days, for all Scots, old and new, born here or not.

To be an immigrant in Scotland

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(disclaimer: this is my personal experience, and doesn’t reflect the lived reality of every immigrant, especially non-white people. if people disagree with anything here, it doesn’t mean either of us is wrong or right, just that we have different perspectives.)

When I moved to Scotland, back in November 2015, I never expected a great many things to happen. I didn’t come here with the aim of joining the political fight for Scottish independence. I didn’t come here thinking that Brexit would ever come to pass. I didn’t come here expecting this country and its people to grip my heart with such force that I now can’t imagine ever living anywhere else. And yet, all of these things happened, and they all shaped the way in which I look at Scotland.

I suppose one of the greatest advantages of being a newcomer, no matter what country, is that you are able to have a much more impartial look upon a country. An outsider’s gaze, a bit like a scientist on the other side of the glass who is looking at the chimps inside, because you didn’t grow up in the midst of it all. In Portugal I am that chimp, unable to grasp what being Portuguese means to me, and why I’ve always felt so uncomfortable with the idea of being one, even before I moved abroad.

This doesn’t mean that you instantly get a gift for clairvoyance, of course. There’s still a lot of emotion seeping into your thoughts, even when trying to comprehend a country from that outsider’s gaze. I will certainly spend the rest of my days, if I am so lucky as to live them in Scotland, trying to make sense of the many wonderful things about this country, as well as the not-so-wonderful ones too. And that journey is part of the joy.

To be an immigrant amidst the Brexit madness

Despite all its madness, and the incredible anxiety that Brexit has caused my partner and I, the ongoing political stooshie has also allowed me to appreciate Scotland and its people in a whole new way that I perhaps wouldn’t have been able to witness if not for these exceptional circumstances. Yes, Brexit has exposed the worst of the United Kingdom, and yes, far too many Scots have happily joined in that chorus. This is not a country of innocent angels, after all. But Brexit has also shown the moral fibre of swathes of people who have stood their ground against the rampant xenophobia, against the lies and the deceit, against the snake oil salesmen trying to fool us all.

Being an immigrant is difficult – most, if not all, of your family and friends will be left behind, thousands of miles away. At times, it can feel depressingly lonely, or you can feel alienated when you fail to grasp certain specificities of the new country that you now call home. And yet, it is also an incredibly enriching personal experience, not least because of all these challenges, but also because of how it forces you to grow and value things in a different way, like the privilege of having a loving family that cries every time you go back to visit and have to leave. Maybe I would have taken it all for granted before. Not any more. I appreciate and count my blessings, as faithfully and as thankfully as I find atheistically possible.

Would I want to be an immigrant anywhere else other than Scotland, though? Hell no. I couldn’t count on a finer folk to have at my side. Yes, some idiots are just as idiotic as the idiots of any other country – but they are easily counterbalanced by the positivity of the guid folk, and that’s on what I focus. Brexit Britain is a mess. It has made me cry, it has made me scream, and it has made me laugh too, although often in despair. But Brexit Britain has shown that, against this backdrop of loud xenophobia and imperialistically nostalgic anglocentrism, of seeing democracy under siege, Scotland stands taller than any of these things, and the country has extended its hand to me and assured me that it won’t let go.

A few days ago, I learned through social media of yet another Scottish family who felt forced to leave, because they judged it better for the future of their children to take them somewhere where the consequences of No Deal Brexit would be diminished. No one can judge them, for only we know what each of us would do for our own bairns and weans. I am deeply regretful of their departure, of the loss that they are to Scotland, but rather than feeling like giving up, these stories actually strengthen my purpose. There is a fight worth fighting for, and that is to prevent any such stories of multiplying.

I came to Scotland as a young 24-year old guy. I had my dreams, dreams I’ve had since I was young, about becoming a published author and an artist. But by virtue of coming to Scotland, I’ve added to those dreams, and those dreams have actually become more tangible because of it all. I now have other dreams that I never thought I would have; namely, getting to see the day in which Scotland becomes an independent country.

Scotland is, and will always be, my home

In Scotland, I’ve felt at home since the day I stepped off the plane that brought us from Faro to Edinburgh. In Scotland, I found a country far richer than I ever imagined (and I’m not talking of material goods), a people far warmer than they credit themselves for, a culture far more familiar than that in which I grew up. This may not be the experience of all immigrants, but I’ve been lucky to meet fellow immigrants who speak of the same kind of experiences. That is the phenomenal magic of this country, and it goes beyond the awe-inspiring sights and the rest of it; it comes down to the most basic stuff, and that is our shared humanity. No immigrant would feel so at home in Scotland if they hadn’t been welcomed by the people who were here before, many of whom descended from fellow immigrants and emigrants (which may help explain why xenophobia is less loud here).

I just spent the first week of September back in Portugal, and the more time I’ve spend in Scotland, the more alien I feel each time I go back to where I was born. Because I may have been born there, but that means very little. In Portugal I was only a lethargic caterpillar, crawling, living from day to day with ever diminishing hope – whereas in Scotland I feel like a butterfly, liberated from its cocoon and ready to savour the brief moments that constitute our existence as people.

Does any of this make sense? Maybe not. I’ve found it very hard to come up with rational explanations for this sense of belonging in Scotland, and since I’m not really the kind of guy to fall into irrational explanations, I’ll simply rejoice in the mystery of it all, ever thankful that I found myself towards this wee corner of the world. I hope that, in the years to come, I am able to give back to Scotland some of what it has given me – although I doubt that I will ever fully match that, for Scotland and its people have given me a joy that I would never have had otherwise, and there’s no way to quantify the importance of that.

Thank you, Scotland, for being a beacon of sanity during these Brexit times. From your adoptive son and brother, I will say this: you may not be the most perfect country in the world, but you are the least imperfect, and I love you deeply, warts and all.

Chatting About The Politics of Scottish Indy

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It’s a great pleasure to share the hour-long chat I recorded with influential Scottish blogger Barrhead Boy, which is out today.

We’d planned on chatting about loads of things, but there’s only so much you can talk about in such a short amount of time. The hour went flying by due to Barrhead Boy’s excellent experience in guiding us through it all.

Hope you enjoy it, and share it with others too. Listen to it here: https://www.barrheadboy.com/barrheadboy-scottish-prism-saraband-14th-july-2019/.

How the Scottish Highlands Changed Me

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The first time I visited Glencoe

Throughout the centuries, much has been written about the natural beauty of the Scottish Highlands. Just thinking about them, and what they mean to me, conjures up such overwhelming feelings that I don’t think I could ever properly put it all into coherent words. But July marks three years since I first did a trip around this part of Scotland, and I want to write about how this landscape monumentally impacted upon my own soul.

This is not a travel log, but an attempt at making sense of these complicated feelings I experienced when I first visited the Highlands.

A landscape full of contrasts

I’m an atheist, but I’ve always been a romantic, finding great spiritual fulfillment in the sight of a crescent moon, throwing skipping stones on the calm waters of a loch, or hiking up a hill and basking in the extraordinary landscapes around me. The thing about the Highlands of Scotland is that you end up experiencing all of these awe-inspiring emotions on an perpetual basis, soaking your brain in some special soup of endorphins that are not quite like anything else.

The Highlands are a landscape of vivid contrasts, all packed with a punch. You can lose yourself in the Black Wood of Rannoch, one of the largest areas of the ancient pine forest that covered much of Scotland, but you can also be presented with barren stretches of land that have been spoiled of all trees, and yet they are not dead at all if you look close enough, and have a beauty of their own.

Worst of all is to gaze upon the old remnants of cleared Straths, places where families and whole communities once thrived in their own unique and rich culture, but which now bear only the scars of what was nothing short of ethnic cleansing. These landscapes are haunted by the injustices inflicted on humans by those of their own kind, for the sake of some twisted notion of progress. I have no Scottish family that I know of, and yet my throat clenched at the sight of cleared Straths in Sutherland. My blood boiled when I first set my eyes upon the Mannie on the Hill and picked up my phone to read about what it represented. No adjective other than scunnered can quite describe that feeling.

Where there is dark, there is light

And yet, despite the darkness that makes up an undeniable part of the Highlands’ history, it is also a land that inspires good. Standing in Glencoe and looking upon the Three Sisters, it was a relief to feel so meaningless in this world, for how does our fleeting human life matter when you gaze upon the natural beauty that has stood eternally?

The Highlands humble you. They teach you that where there is beauty, there is hardship. They epitomise the fact that nature can be perfectly balanced in how generous and cruel it is, how it can be bountiful and merciless, how its breathtaking allure can be the end of you.

The Highlands allow you to revel in the enjoyment of seeing wild deer, but also contemplate the fact that these majestic animals must be culled, for all their natural predators have long been driven extinct. They let you marvel in the sight of beautifully fat salmons making their way up the rivers, whilst appreciating that these fishes have brought incredible sustenance to many communities. They show you your place in the world, as but a link in a great chain, and remind you of the threats that we face if we don’t fight back against the impending ecological catastrophe.

Finding our place in the world

As individuals, we’re all living a life where we try to figure our place in the world. Some of us like to inflate that place and imagine it to be much bigger than it is. Others don’t value themselves highly enough, living a life under the shadow of the Cù Sìth, the Black Dog.

In the Highlands, I’m reminded of the things that matter in life. We can let ourselves get lost in so many things that, once we’re gone, won’t matter in the slightest. I’m not immune to that, particularly with my issues around anxiety. But I look upon the white sands and crystalline blue waters of Achmelvich beach, the streams of water running down from the hills of Bealach na Bà, the ruins of once-mighty castles littered across the landscape, and I feel nothing but a tidal wave of serenity.

I don’t know exactly what magical means, but would I use it to describe the Scottish Highlands? Probably. When I’m there, I feel something reaching deeper into my soul, something I’ve never felt anywhere else, and it feels like I am finally in tune with the rhythm of life. More importantly, I feel like I’m exactly where I belong. It feels like home, feels like love. It feels all of this and so much more, and I know that many of the people reading this will know exactly what I mean.

I will never know why a Portuguese-born lad feels so incredibly comforted in a place as remote to him as the Highlands of Scotland. Some people have told me that I may simply have a Scottish soul, although I don’t know what that means. What I know is that Scotland is a country with incredible landscapes, and that these landscapes have shaped her people for centuries.

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Glencoe

Scotland is every wean born in the most deprived parts of Glasgow, Scotland is every song and poem written here, Scotland is the water of every stream and every stream is Scotland. Scotland is the blood-soaked memory of those cleared Straths and Glens, and Scotland is the promise of what we can do with our future in our hands. No matter where life ends up taking me, no matter what is to come, I may not have been born in Scotland, but that doesn’t mean Scotland hasn’t taken root in me. I feel just as connected to this country and its people as those born here, and I will always consider myself the luckiest man in the world to have found this fulfillment, which many spend a lifetime searching for without success.

Thank you, Scotland, for being so uniquely, profoundly, and beautifully Scottish. Thank you for the lessons you’ve taught me, and for those yet to come. Thank you allowing me to be myself, for the first time in my life, and to know what contentment means. I will never wish to be anywhere else, with no other people, other than in Scotland with my fellow Scots, auld and new.

Announcing My Art Website

Thought I’d write a wee post here to announce that today I have launched a website for myself as a professional artist, at wgsaraband.com.

I have been building up a wide and varied catalogue of my own original art for some time, and finally feel ready to share it in a more professional capacity, since I’ve started making a few sales.

As for BrawBlether, don’t worry – all my political rants will still find their way here!

Make sure you check out wgsaraband.com if you’re interested, or are just curious to have a look! You can also follow all the updates on my instagram.com/wgsaraband!

My Coming Out Story

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June is Pride month, and to break from the usual political shenanigans, I thought I’d share the story of when I first came out as a gay man.

The first thing you should realise is that there isn’t a single coming out for queer people. It usually involves first doing so to a sibling or best friend, before expanding that circle: coming out to your family, work colleagues, and every new acquaintance you make throughout your life. Whenever small talk gets rolling, and one is asked about wives/husbands/partners/etc, we usually have to offer a quick clarification. The most seminal moment for most people, however, remains the moment we tell our parents who we really are.

My parents are extremely liberal. We’re an atheistic household, my Mum was born in Angola, my Dad’s father was a political prisoner during the Fascist dictatorship of Salazar in Portugal. I grew up seeing loads of different people as their friends, including gay men (which I had no idea about, by the way). This might make you think that I had the easiest coming out in the world, no?

Well, not entirely. I was very gender-conforming growing up, and whilst I always knew that I liked other boys, I made an effort not to fall into any stereotypes that could give me away. Girl colleagues of mine would hang out during breaks, rehearsing some Britney Spears’s choreography, and although I’d want to be with them, I just went away to do something else with the boys. Not sports, though, I never went that far – I was always severely overweight and vastly uninterested in anything physically demanding.

Mum and Dad had no suspicions (my Mum likes to say that she always knew, but I’m not too sure; she only started saying it after I came out, so we’ll never know). Forward to a few years later, when I finally go to university, and move from the small fishing village of Santa Luzia in the South of Portugal, to Lisbon.  As I became increasingly comfortable with the idea of who I was, during my first year of uni (having loads of gay people as friends helped immensely), not even my friends suspected a thing. I genuinely believe that this was to do with me being so overweight and apparently thoughtless when it came to my image, not conforming to anyone’s prejudices of what a gay guy was. Zero interest in fashion, zero interest in talking about pop music (I listened to it secretly), zero mannerisms that could be perceived as effeminate. I went under everyone’s radar, including my gay friends.

I should also point out that I was living in a fraternity, with about a dozen other guys, and homophobia and misogyny were rampant. Their conversations were disgusting. And I knew that I couldn’t dare to come out there, because I’d face a lot of crap.

I first ended up coming out to one of my gay friends. I’d arranged coffee with him, saying that I needed to tell him something, and only then did it first click in his head. He was brilliant about it, and incredibly excited for me to tell everyone else. I’d also painted my hair blonde, by the way, and I think he was more excited about them seeing it than the fact that I was coming out. Anyway, I did, the following morning, before a uni lecture. Most of them thought it was a prank, and some didn’t believe me until months later, that was how entrenched their prejudices were (none of them were ill-meaning, by the way). Yet, as the months went by, I grew in confidence, even if I never came out in my fraternity.

Before we start the following year of uni, something finally clicked in me and I started addressing my obesity. I lost weight at an incredible rate, as I was inhumanely determined to fix myself, after I’d reached a point of loneliness and unhappiness I couldn’t bear any longer. I was an out gay man, and I wanted to have my first boyfriend, I wanted to dress in the clothes that I liked and not those that fitted me. I wanted to feel attractive.

As my weight almost evaporated, through a discipline and strength of purpose that I haven’t been able to recapture since, I started becoming a little vain for the first time in my life. I stopped hating the person I saw in the mirror, and started seeing the potential of who I could become if I kept at it. And so I did, and I started changing my style, and then I got my ear pierced. And then I got my second one, and this is when my Dad had a strange reaction that forced me to come out.

You see, as liberal as my parents were (and are), my Dad has some weird fixations about the body. He hates any adornments, because he thinks a healthy body doesn’t need anything; tattoos, piercings, even necklaces and bracelets. They’re unnecessary. So when I pierced my left ear, it was kind of alright, but when he saw the first picture of both my ears pierced, as he was having dinner with my Mum and brother, he called me. He wanted to know what the hell I was thinking, and if I was unaware that having both ears pierced could leave people thinking “that I belonged to certain groups”. This was a weirdly judgemental sentence for my Dad, I never heard him saying anything remotely close to that before or since. But that was the prompt I needed.

“Maybe I do belong to certain groups,” I replied. “In fact, I’m gay.” Slight pause. “You’re what?” he asks. “I’m a homosexual. Now pass the phone to Mum.” He hesitated slightly, and then I heard him tell her “Zézinha, it’s better that you’re sitting down for this.” My Mum picked up the phone, slightly anxious by the introduction that my Dad gave her, and I told her: “I’m gay.” She paused for a bit. “You’re what? What does that mean?” This was so weird, because of course my Mum knew what gay meant, but I guess it was her brain telling her that maybe she misheard something. “I’m a homosexual,” clarified, knowing how unambiguous that word was.

To be honest, I don’t remember exactly how that phone call ended. I had left the fraternity by that time, and was renting an apartment with three other friends, and they were all next to me then. I knew I was shaking, I could feel my face burning, and then we just celebrated as I felt a huge wave of relief.

My Dad called me the next day, and we didn’t talk about what had happened last night at all. It was all normal. It took me a couple of weeks to visit them, as I went back to the Algarve one weekend every two months or so. I went to have dinner with my Mum on the night I arrived, at the shopping centre of the nearby town, and she talked to me about HIV, how I should just make sure that I was safe, and then we weirdly talked about how she had cried so much when Freddie Mercury died. She also told me that she’d always known, but had waited for me to tell her. I’m sure that’s partly true.

Everything was normal. My Mum told my Granny and the rest of the family (it’s a small family), no one made a fuss whatsoever. Nothing changed between me and my parents, at least not negatively – if anything it just allowed me own my breath with confidence, when I was next to them. I was no longer playing any character.

I continued on my journey to lose weight, and it would actually take me a few more months before I even started looking for someone to date. It was okay, I took as long as I needed to feel comfortable enough so that I was ready to share it with someone else. I was 21 years old when this finally happened. My first sexual encounter turned out, unfortunately, to be one where I participated without consent, although that didn’t scar me at all, I was simply freaked out and ran out of his flat as quickly as I could. Took me a couple more months to find another man that I felt like I could date, and it turned out to be the love of my life, the man I’m still with, since the 20th of May, 2012.

As I said in the beginning, you spend your life coming out, if you’re part of the LGBTQ+ community. It’s okay, we get used and better at it. And each coming out is very different. Overall, my experience was nothing but an immensely positive one. My partner, on the other hand, is still almost entirely estranged from his family since coming out. But that’s his story to tell.

Love your kids for who they are. Sometimes, they don’t grow up according to your expectations. It’s not their fault, they never asked for those expectations. The only thing you should expect is that they live a long, healthy and happy life, and that you do everything in your capacity to guarantee that you’re a positive part of it all.

And if you’re reading this because you don’t know how to come out, because you’re afraid of being thrown out of your house or being beaten: I will not lie, and tell you that everything will be alright. Maybe it won’t. Maybe your parents have been drinking from a poisoned cup for years and years, and they will react badly. But they can also surprise you. Never be too certain. The most important thing is that you are honest with yourself, and that you have someone who you can count on, come what may. If the storm gets rough, you’ll need help navigating it. But you’ll survive, and as you lighten your burden, you’ll become stronger than you’ve ever known. And you’ll never be alone – the LGBTQ+ community is a family, and we’ve all been there. We will always understand you.

The world can be a very dark place. I still experience homophobia on a more regular basis than it should be accepted. But how we react to that darkness is by making sure that we shine brightly. There’s no power like owning your body and who you are.

Love is love. Happy Pride month.

Boris, or Brexit Anthropomorphised

Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is the coward’s coward, a man currently leading the contest for leader of the Conservative Party – and, therefore, Prime Minister of the UK – but extracting himself from any media coverage, presumably under strict instructions from his handlers, who know full well that this contest is his to lose.

But despite BoJo’s notable absence from our newspapers and TV screens, the UK’s journalistic apparatus could still be running extensive pieces and reports on the many controversies, past and not so past, that have always tinged this clown’s career. And yet, as if struck by a collective bout of amnesia, British journalism seems to have set aside its duty to properly scrutinise potential Prime Ministers, barely delving into the fetid cesspool that is Bojo’s career.

Now, are we getting the media we deserve, or is this simply Britain on a its downward slide into a dystopian reality, and the media is just as much of a victim as we all are? My opinion is that media outlets like the BBC may not be the sperm donors behind our current predicaments, but they certainly are happy to serve as handmaids to the deliverance of newspeak and PR-managed fascists ramming their twisted world views down our throats.

I don’t think Boris is a fascist. That would demand that he at least had some principles, even if the entirely wrong ones, but no. Boris is a self-serving sponge of incompetence, scraping away at the edges of decency for the sake of his own ascension. He is the man that will sell fire to pyromaniacs and water to firefighters, all in the same day, while his wranglers extract from him what they require, like tax cuts for the better off in society.

Boris is Brexit anthropomorphised, an impossible and contradictory creature that wants to be all the things at the same time, but is constantly smashing its face against the brick wall of common decency. And now, a man who looks like he couldn’t prepare a microwaved mac n’ cheese, is about to crawl under the radar of democratic scrutiny and get seated at the top job of the UK, inflicting whatever cruelties are necessary for his own gain. And, worst of all, many people in England will be cheering through all of it.

I wouldn’t let Boris arrange the funeral of my worst enemy. Even though my heart craves for Scottish independence, and I hope that we will grasp it sooner rather than later, it pains me to think that our friends in England would be stuck with someone like BoJo, because he was never truly burnt by the fires he himself set. I hope my Sassenach friends down south come to their senses, and if the ultra-minority of the Tory membership chooses this man as their champion, I hope the reasonable people of England do whatever is needed to see him out of No 10 as soon as possible.

Ciao, Theresa

Theresa May

Theresa May resigns (photo credit: PA)

Theresa May’s resignation has been a very difficult labour to go through, but the baby has finally arrived. It is only poetic that her political death was celebrated on the altar of the European Parliamentary elections, less than 24 hours after we started listening to the thousands of EU Citizens in the UK seeing their right to vote denied.

I am well aware that the real storm lies ahead of us, and it’s very likely that it will be a Boris tornado coming our way. But this is my central concern: however much we go to the polls, Scotland has for decades rejected the Tories, whilst England has embraced them more often than not. As a consequence, and because this is not a Union of equals by any reasonable measure, Scotland gets shafted with Tory governments against our will.

For how long will I, and every other Scot, have to live under the shadow cast by the choices of England’s electorate? If England continuously votes for the Tories, it would be outrageous for me to interfere with that, as a Scot. And if that Tory party deems people like Theresa May and Boris Johnson the best to serve as Prime Minister, that is their rightful choice. But Scotland need not suffer it.

David Cameron did not reflect Scotland’s interests. Theresa May doesn’t reflect Scotland’s interests. Boris Johnson will not reflect Scotland’s interests.

Rather than telling the English electorate that they are wrong, and continue inhabiting the same house, building up the grudges, it’s best that Scotland goes for the door and says goodbye. England has chosen a path, but there are others. We need not follow them, much less so in chains. We can carve a better path, one that reflects the Scotland we want to build.

I can draw so many parallels between Scotland/England and my parents when they were married. Nothing worked, because there was too much history between them. So when they finally separated and created some healthy space between them, they became friends, and their relationship has remained at its best since then. Both England and Scotland will thrive out of Scottish independence.

Theresa May’s premiership has been a symptom of the ongoing problems. So will be any of her successors. Remember, we can follow a different path.