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

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.

My Journey To Yes

The title of the video above is quite self-explanatory. My “Journey To Yes” is part of a series of videos by the brilliantly talented Phantom Power, detailing the various paths taken by different people to support Scottish independence. I was honoured to be invited to collaborate on one of these videos, and share with you a bit more of how I ended up as a passionate believer in Scotland.

This is part of a personally gratifying week, as I also had the pleasure of being invited to attend an SNP event in Leith, focusing on EU Scots living in Scotland in the context of tomorrow’s European Parliamentary elections. It was an opportunity to meet a few others EU Scots, get to know our MEP hopeful (and super charming and warm) Christian Allard a wee bit more, and also meet Alyn Smith. There was also a certain someone there.

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First Minister Nicola Sturgeon next to a wee silly bampot with too many opinions

Not going to lie, meeting Nicola Sturgeon was quite a moment. The complete madness of it all was compounded by the fact that, when I introduced myself to her, she immediately reciprocated with a “Oh, hi – it’s always a bit strange to meet someone you only follow on Twitter.” Yes, I obviously screamed inside – a silly Portuguese-born guy on Twitter, pretty much spouting nonsense on a regular basis, made enough of a blip for the First Minister to notice, so I’ll dine on that one for a bit. She’s followed me for a while, but I didn’t know *she followed me* like she meant to, I always thought it had been a misclick or something. Apparently not.

Had a chance to exchange a few words with Nicola, including about Portugal, and take that endearing photo which left my parents in happy tears, as they saw how happy I was.

I also changed my SNP branch this week and hope to attend my new branch’s meeting next month, in order to get more involved at local level. It’s been a challenge tackling my anxiety, but the rewards have meant that I have accrued some incredible experiences under my belt. May many more be forthcoming.

So, I’m happy. Life is good, my partner and I are healthy and as in love as ever, and things are going well at a manageable rhythm. I’m also grateful – don’t know exactly to whom, as an atheist – and appreciate these things with measured optimism.

By the way, don’t forget to vote tomorrow. Don’t ever take your right to vote for granted. Your vote *always* matters.

SNP Spring Conference 2019

 

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I first joined the Scottish National Party back in early 2016 (as the Brexit rhetoric was ramping up towards the referendum, and it became increasingly clear that the SNP was one of the few parties ready to reject the scapegoating of immigration for the damages of Tory austerity). However, I’ve never been a party-politically engaged member. No branch meetings or anything of that sort – I’ve always been a lone-wolf, sometimes to my detriment, often against my best instincts of wanting to do more. Unfortunately, it’s a case of allowing stupid social anxiety to get in the way of the stuff I want to do, although I’m working on that.

However, with this year’s Spring Conference taking place in my home turf of Edinburgh, and my political engagement at its most energetic, it proved itself to be a great opportunity to take a step outside my comfort zone and see for myself how these things work. And so I did.

The highlights

Now, I don’t want to bore with you all the details, so I’ll try to be succinct.

The greatest pleasure of it all was meeting so many familiar names that I only knew from social media. And boy, did I realise the power of this medium – I was so overwhelmed with people popping up wanting to say hi, full of complimentary words about my social media antics or my blog. Some people brought up my first ever article for this blog, my love letter to Scotland, or even some of my non-political ramblings that resonated with them. Seriously, it was just lovely to be stopped every once in a while by someone starting a phrase with “Mr. Saraband, I just want to say hi…” (still feeling very pretentious about being addressed by a pseudonym, but hey).

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Me (left), my fiancé Roger (centre), and Steven Campell (right) – also, that’s Ian Blackford behind us

A big shout out to the lovely Steven Campell, recently elected Vice-Convener of YSI Lothian, who was an absolute star during the karaoke party on Saturday night (excellently hosted by the MP Hannah Bardell) and made sure I met loads of the people involved. On top of it all, I had one of our front-bench MSPs actually tapping me on my shoulder because he wanted to say he loved my tweets (I screamed inside, whilst trying to remain very cool), and had the honour of witnessing a rendition of “Sunshine on Leith” by the one and only, Mr. Ian Blackford MP.

Witnessing the motions being put before Conference was also an obvious highlight, particularly the discussion around the Growth Commission. Even with fundamental disagreements between some of the participants, it was delightful to see debate conducted with mutual respect (notable exception for the guy who threw a tantrum on the second day, because he was the only person in the room against a Citizens’ Assembly, misreading the atmosphere to such a degree that he thought it wise to denigrate Joanna Cherry, who had minutes before rightfully received a standing ovation. It was a pleasure to boo him).

Needless to say, though, that Nicola Sturgeon’s speech was the perfect finale. Some stuff in there that I wasn’t expecting, like further help with a deposit for first-time buyers, which is much welcome. The reiteration that every Scot, new and old, should know that Scotland is our home and that we don’t need to leave, ever. The declaration of state of ecological emergency was interesting, but I’m curious to see how that’s followed up with some practical action before I say much more about it. And it was, of course, a joyful political punching session for both Tories and Labour, with Nicola delivering some much needed uppercuts to the empty rhetoric of the two biggest parties at Westminster.

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FM Nicola Sturgeon’s closing speech

On top of it all, I heard an overwhelming amount of inclusive speeches, the contribution to Scottish society by European citizens like myself was regularly celebrated, and almost everyone seemed to be absolutely buzzing at the prospect of our second, and finally successful, Indyref. The two fringe events I attended – one on EU Citizens’ rights, where I intervened at the Q&A, and another on Euthanasia – compounded the experience of a phenomenal event. There was also none of the gender debate hysteria that seems to engulf social media – everyone I spoke to about this, including women with perfectly valid questions, was perfectly reasonable and humane when talking about Trans issues. I’m so glad that extremism around this question is much less prevalent in real people, rather than the often two-dimensional characters of social media that peddle profoundly ignorant rhetoric against one group or another.

The lows – what lows?

The coffee was terrible. Seriously, that’s my biggest complaint about the whole event. I even mentioned it to one of the lovely venue workers’ on the second day, who nodded to me apologetically and simply whispered “We know.”

Of course, I was also really excited to put in a card on the motion for a Citizens’ Assembly, as I wanted to speak for it whilst making a passionate case that it should represent all sections of Scottish society, including immigrants. Alas, it’s always frustrating to not have a chance to say something you think it’s important, but others ended up conveying similar sentiments and I will look forward to other opportunities to make that case. Nonetheless, a big thank you goes out to the SNP European Parliamentary candidate, Christian Allard, who was the one who came up to me on the first day and convinced me that I should put in a speaking card, going through the trouble of explaining how it was done to a complete newbie like myself. A charming gentleman who will represent Scotland, and its values of openness and European solidarity, with utmost excellence, when he gets elected next month.

Finally, after getting a reply from Nicola Sturgeon on Friday, that resulted in my most popular tweet ever, I’m sad to say that I wasn’t able to get a picture with her. My mother would certainly have appreciated it – but we will have to wait for another opportunity.

I have a lot more I could say. For a political junkie like myself, a passionate believer in Scottish independence and in building a fairer society that is big enough for everyone, I was the happiest fish in the sea. I’m filled with hope and optimism, and, above all, a desperate desire to grab my coat and start doing the work on the ground needed to get a Yes result as big as we can. I will also be looking at participating in my local SNP & YES groups due to the encouragement of some of the folks at Conference.

And, Aberdeen, get ready – because I don’t think I can miss the October Conference now.

The first step towards IndyRef2

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Since the morning of the Brexit result, I’ve been feart of two things above all others: to imagine my life in a post-Brexit United Kingdom, as an immigrant, and to conceive of the idea that Scotland would never see itself unfettered from the asphyxiating grip of this Union. Since June 2016, I’ve had very few uplifting moments that did anything to assuage these two overwhelming fears.

Today, however, was the day that changed.

Building Independence, one block at a time

Brexit has brought a lot of flamboyance to these islands’ politics. It has ushered in an era of cheap rhetoric, malignant scapegoating of minorities, and the worst cutthroat politics imaginable, perhaps second only to something seen on Game of Thrones.

Nicola Sturgeon’s statement to the Scottish Parliament, today, was entirely different. In a calm, measured, and well-reasoned way, the First Minister and leader of the SNP presented a series of successive steps that will be taken in order to set the ground for a new referendum on Scottish independence. She outlined the sovereignty of the Scottish people, and emphasised their right to choose a better future than what the current status quo is delivering.

The first meaty announcement was that of setting up a Citizens’ Assembly, a body that can help reach consensus across society on dividing issues. The second, was the announcement that primary legislation will now be moving forward to ensure a second independence referendum, to take place between now and 2021, so that such legislation is in place by the time the Scottish Government negotiates a Section 30 order with the UK Government.

A lot of people in the Indy movement are taking issue with the latter part, rightly pointing out that sovereignty on this issue already lies with the Scottish people, and therefore our Holyrood Parliament, thus excluding any need “to ask permission” for IndyRef2.

In many regards, I would agree with the sentiment of this. But I think the SNP’s leadership is going for a politically astute plan that plays well in the eyes of the international community. We certainly don’t want things to reach a point like Catalonia, where local and central governments are severely at odds, and peaceful democrats are facing imprisonment. By acting in this way, Nicola Sturgeon is also showing the Scottish electorate that she is trying to reach a consensus on every step of the way, so no one can’t say she hasn’t tried.

She has also forced the Unionist parties to come up with better alternatives to independence, or to defend the current Brexit status quo, both of them nearly impossible tasks. At best, they will come up with b-rate plans that fail to deliver the full benefits of independence – at worst, they will fall on their own federalist/status quo swords. I can only imagine the myriad of ways in which Tories, Labour and Lib Dems will leave me absolutely scunnered by their arguments, but then again, I’ve come to expect very little else from them since I first moved to Scotland.

Independence isn’t guaranteed – there’s much work to do

Although Brexit Britain looks like a nightmarish scenario to most reasonable people, the facts remain that no significant shift has yet happened towards Scottish independence. There’s much work to be done on the ground, and rather than a firing gun, today’s announcement feels like a nod from the SNP to the grassroots movement, a way of saying “get ready folks – start planning”.

As I said at the beginning, today has been the first time I’ve felt truly hopeful about Scotland’s future since the 2016 Brexit result. It is a small, fleeting light, but at least I can see something now, something I can look forward to. That has been enough to ignite my energy and ensure that I will do everything I can to help Nicola Sturgeon succeed, to see that Scotland normalises its status as an independent nation, as it was for most of her history.

The future has been politically bleak, but I’m an optimist, and I can finally see something that looks braw.

I was destined to become Scottish

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Me with a few of my own paintings

Okay, I must come clean – the title of this post may not be entirely honest, because I don’t believe in destiny. However, I can’t find any another word that quite captures what I want to tell you, so forgive me on this one occasion. I promise that everything else you’ll read here to be written with the utmost honesty.

Following the massively positive response my love letter to Scotland received, with hundreds upon hundreds of tweets, comments and messages that I got both here and over at Wings Over Scotland, where I was invited to share that blog post, I thought I’d expand a bit more about my relationship with Scotland, and how it started very early in my life, when I was just a wean back in Portugal.

My first novel was Scottish

I have an older brother, Tiago, who was born six years before me, in 1985. As a child of the mid-80’s, he started collecting comics from a very early age, and from as long as I can remember, I would take his comics into bed with me and look at the pictures, because I couldn’t yet read. I’m sure I made my own stories about what went on, as most children would’ve done. But the habit of going to bed at night, with a book, something which my I saw my dad doing every single day of his life, is a habit that has never abandoned me.

Transitioning from short comics to my first novel, however, was a huge deal. So huge, in fact, that I will forever remember the moment I first saw that novel, where I was, what I felt, and the excitement of wanting to get home so I could get started. I was around 9 or 10 years old, and I was with my dad at this shop in Vilamoura’s marina, where he used to get the newspapers, cigarettes and stuff. The shop also had a few books, and although I usually went to look at the magazines and comics, on this occasion, I went to the literature section, where I saw a bright blue spine sticking out. I pulled the book and looked at the most awesome cover I’d ever seen: two knights jousting, mounted on their horses, with a medieval castle standing in the background. That book was Ivanhoe, by Walter Scott.

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The old Portuguese edition of Ivanhoe that I first read

I remember my dad asking if I was really going to read it, and me promising to do so. So he bought me the book without any resistance at all. I had no idea what it would be about, or who Walter Scott was. In fact, I read Ivanhoe and liked it so much, that I got my dad to buy me Rob Roy afterward. When I tried reading that one, I hated it. It took me until I was a teen to pick it up again and actually enjoy the book. And it was only then, when the internet was already thing, that I googled who Walter Scott was and learned more about this Scottish author who would forever be the person behind my first novel.

Ivanhoe may also be the seed for my love of history, and why I later graduated in this area at University. So this is a story whose ripples have far extended into my life.

I grew up with a “borrowed” Scottish auntie

One of my best friends while growing up was a boy named Luís, a year younger than me. His father is Portuguese, but his mother, Carol, is a Scottish lass born and raised in Edinburgh, who later moved to Portugal. In fact, Luís’s parents became best friends with my own parents, and so we were together all the time. I called him cousin, and his parents were like an aunt and an uncle.

As a young kid, you don’t think too much about these things, so I never took any notice of Carol’s peculiar accent in Portuguese, how she constantly messed up with the gender of the words, or paid any attention to what her being Scottish actually meant. But there were a few things which I markedly remember about her, aside from being a genuinely loving person and to this day and someone I regard very dearly as a family member. It was the way in which she pronounced the name of a brand of cereals: Golden Grahams. I had never quite heard anyone pronounce the name in that manner, with such music. Me and her son loved asking her to say it repeatedly, I assume, much to her despair – but she always indulged us.

Another thing about Carol is that she used to cook Shepherd’s Pie a lot when my parents went over for dinner, especially because my dad loved it. Again, I couldn’t imagine that a part of Scotland’s culture and heritage was literally nourishing me as I grew up. It was something I only realised later, looking back all these years, and which doesn’t fail to amaze me.

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My partner Roger, auntie Carol and I in Edinburgh, last year

A love of Celtic music, myth and history

Another weird thing about me growing up, was that I have always been drawn to Celtic music, for no reason in particular. It’s not something that my parents ever heard, it wasn’t something that I was introduced to. I don’t remember exactly how it started, but it was probably with something like Enya, moved on to Celtic Woman, and later Loreena McKennitt. These were mostly Irish songs that I heard, but then, as I matured and also grew out of Enya and Celtic Woman, which I no longer enjoy much. I discovered traditional bagpipes songs from Scotland, and the Runrig songs sung in Scottish Gaelic – An Toll Dubh being my favourite to this day. Braveheart’s soundtrack was also one of those that I went on listening to throughout the years.

Thank goodness for the internet, and how it allowed a young teenager in the south of Portugal to grow up with access to all of this. There were so many songs in Gaelic that I listened to, both Irish and Scottish, some of their lyrics imprinted eternally in my mind, even though I don’t speak the languages.

I guess this love of Celtic culture was borne out of my initial fascination of things like Neo-paganism and Wicca, which I discovered in my teens. As an atheist growing up in an atheist household, I’ve always been fascinated by the mythological and lore-rich aspects of certain religions, and I was deeply fascinanted by these New Age movements that drew influence from Celtic mythology. Alas, I never managed to actually become a believer – the concept of god, even if female, remained utterly bizarre and irrational to me – but I read a lot of books on Irish & Scottish mythology, which perhaps helped me better understand part of the Scottish soul which I now experience on a daily basis.

We must not forget, also, that the Celts migrated through the Iberian Peninsula, and indeed there is some heritage from that culture within Portuguese traditions, particularly in the North. Could that help explain any of this? Who knows.

Life has a way of being constantly fascinating

There are two things in my life, two loves, that grip my soul in profound ways. One, is the love I have for my partner, a love whose flame was ignited on the moment I first laid my eyes upon him, and which hasn’t flickered in the slightest in these almost seven years. I can never rationally explain how I feel like we were meant to be together, because I don’t believe in those things – but, all I can say is that Plato’s theory of the souls being divided by the gods, and us spending a life looking for our other half, is the one that best captures how I feel about Roger, my best friend and love of my life. The one who makes me whole.

The other thing I cannot rationally explain is why I felt like I had finally come home, almost in the same moment I first breathed Scotland’s air after arriving here. I don’t believe in a soul or anything of the sort, but the only way I can describe that feeling, is that it felt like my soul, who had never felt at home in Portugal, could finally breath, for it was now where it belonged. And since that first moment, back in November of 2015, that feeling has remained unchanged.

In fact, when I fly back to Portugal once a year, and although I love to visit the folks back there, I feel sad. Because I am going away from where I want to be, away from the one place where truly feel like myself.

Perhaps it is best that I cannot rationalise these feelings. That they are so deeply emotional may explain their overwhelming power. But the fact is that, in a way, something of Scotland’s spirit grabbed me from a very young age, thousands of kilometers away, and in my hear of hearts I know that this will never cease to be. I may have a Portuguese complexion, and my accent may never be like a native, but I have no doubts that these elements don’t make my soul any less Celtic. Any less Scottish.

Nativism has no place in civic nationalism

Jock Tamson's Bairns

We’re aw Jock Tamson’s Bairns

Following a recent interview by the leader of the Labour branch office in Scotland, Richard ‘Dick’ Leonard, where he said he would oppose any movement towards a second referendum on Scottish Independence, there’s been some angry furore on the Yes social media circles.

Some of it raises quite reasonable and valid questions. Who is Dick Leonard to oppose a second Indyref, when the Scottish electorate put a pro-Indy majority in Holyrood at the last election? Why is Scottish Labour (which isn’t even a registered party), with only 7 MPs, standing in the way of 35 out of the 59 Scottish MPs in Westminster? There are also those simply asking: who the fuck is Dick Leonard? Believe me, I wish I was as blissfully ignorant, too. Just know that he’s a fully animated bobble-head doll with a *SNP BAD* voice message played on repeat. Oh, and that he’s the type of Labour “Socialist” who shafted the pay for women in Glasgow’s city council.

What concerns me, however, aren’t the above questions, but those who have chosen to focus on the fact that Dick Leonard was born in Yorkshire, and therefore has no right oppose Scottish independence. I wholeheartedly reject this, because I believe that anyone who lives & works in Scotland should have a say in our collective future. What kind of hypocrite would I be, were I to believe otherwise? After all, fate decreed that I was born elsewhere, but Scotland is my home, and I have a right to express any opinions about it – and everyone else has the right to reject any such opinions, without resorting to nativist arguments about my place of birth. Same should apply to Dick Leonard.

The poison we must suck out of the pro-Indy movement

I’ve picked three tweets that were born out of the this Dick Leonard miasma. None of these accounts is a bot / troll with a few dozen followers, but all have above a thousand people following them.

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What these three Tweets share in common, is the priority of nativism in order to establish a voting franchise. Much of the poison feeding into this idea seems to come from the fact that non-Native voters in 2014 opted for ‘No’, contributing to the loss of the first Indyref.

That is one way of looking at it. You can pick apart any demographic and try to ascribe different levels of guilt. If you’re going to pick up on foreigners, you might just be a xenophobe. I mean, if you want to get down to the numbers, a BBC study shows that 56.8% of people born outside of UK voted No. The exact same percentage of women also voted No. So why are you a xenophobe and not a misogynist? Well, my guess is that these people will probably be a bit (or a lot) of both.

If you want to be even more ridiculous, you can look at the religious breakdown. 60% of no voters were Protestant. Will we be burning them at the stake, now? It’s so stupid that I can’t even go on with these examples, even though there are many to choose from.

Nativism makes sense in very specific contexts – it justifies, for example, the fact that the vast majority of countries require their heads of state to have been born there, so that, theoretically, an agent of a different country doesn’t take over (Didn’t turn out so well with the Russian puppet in the White House, though, did it? And funnily enough the same guy behind the racist campaign chasing after Obama’s birth certificate).

But nativism is nasty. It’s often used against me by Unionists, who tell me that I have no right, as an immigrant, to hold an opinion on Scottish independence. Some tell me that I should be grateful for being in the UK. That I’m a guest. My answer remains the same, to all of these: fuck off. I’ve paid my due taxes from my work – I’m not your guest, I’m contributing to the financing of British society, you dumb numpties.

Such bigotry should hold no sway over the arguments made by pro-Indy folk. Not least because, given the Brexit clusterbourach, it’s very likely that the non-Native demographic will shift massively towards a Yes vote come the next Indyref. It is our job to win over 2014’s No voters, not antagonise and hold a grudge for the way they might’ve voted before.

I want an Indy Scotland built on hope and compassion, not grievances

During the Brexit referendum, Westminster excluded EU citizens from the voting franchise. Had we been included, the vote would’ve been a crushing victory for Remain instead. But that was a morally objectionable choice by David Cameron’s Government – like all choices of that clown’s tenure as PM, to be frank.

Scotland shouldn’t resort to dirty tricks to return to independence. We can expect those from Westminster and their propaganda mouthpieces, like the appalling bias demonstrated by the BBC in the run up to 2014. But rather than getting down in the dirt and ending up covered in the same shite, we should fight for independence while holding the moral high ground, making loud and clear that Scots, English, Europeans or people from anywhere else in the world, if they’re living in Scotland, they are Scottish.

We’re aw Jock Tamson’s Bairns. Harbouring grievances based on our differences would be the end of us.

Nicola Sturgeon on immigration: defending the unpopular truth

Nicola Sturgeon drawing

On the morning of the Brexit referendum result, there were immediate political reactions. David Cameron resigned, even though he said he wouldn’t when asked what would happen if Brexit won, and Jeremy Corbyn called for Article 50 “to be invoked immediately”, because that’s how sensible a leader he is (read this bit sarcastically, please).

Unlike those two, Nicola Sturgeon had a different message on that morning. She made it her top priority to offer some solace to EU nationals living in the UK and Scotland in particular, to reassure us that we were still valued, and to repeat that Scotland had rejected the Brexit rhetoric and remained an open and welcoming nation for all who chose to call her home.

Of course, these were just words, but for any EU national waking up to the realisation that the UK had, somehow, rejected us as a valuable part of society, these words were more than welcoming. They gave us a pause to gather ourselves, and be firm in the conviction that not everyone was a xenophobe – there are people who see immigrants as the three-dimensional human beings that they are, and it’s very crucial that some of those people are our elected leaders themselves.

Labour and Conservatives play with immigrants’ lives

The only minority that the Conservative Party will ever truly care about are its millionaire donors and their big business friends. I have come to expect no sympathy or respect from them in this country, and I wouldn’t want it – the Tories have destroyed the lives of thousands of people with disabilities, forced people to become homeless, and implemented profoundly homophobic laws only a few decades ago.

But I always expected Labour to be better than this – to be fair, it isn’t a high bar to surpass, after all. Especially with someone like Corbyn, I expected their supposedly Socialist values to extend beyond the people native to these islands, for Socialist solidarity should know no bounds.

Alas, Labour too left me only disappointed, as they increasingly tried to appease the xenophobic sentiments present in some of their demographic by playing with their antagonism towards immigration – something perfectly encapsulated in their “Controls on immigration” mug. (You can read my thoughts on Corbyn’s betrayal of the Left in another recent post on this blog – click here)

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No, you’re not the only one cringing at this…

Scotland is not perfect, but she’s so much better than her neighbours

Scotland has a very particular relationship with bigotry, reflected in its problems with sectarianism, whose tendrils spread to things as supposedly benign as football. However, there have been significant improvements in the last two decades, not only regarding sectarian hatred, but also the rights of LGBTQ+ individuals, racism, and the treatment of immigrants who have made Scotland their home.

I have only read and heard about the old Scotland – which I know still exists, if you know where to look. But I have lived in this open Scotland, where we have a Parliament in Holyrood with lots of women and openly LGBTQ+ politicians, some of them leading their respective parties.

I have also witnessed the Scottish Government’s repeated support of immigrants living in this country, claiming that immigration is positive for the country, and not the other way around. And that is not an easy message to put out there – you just have to see how the pro-immigration video below, put out by the Scottish Government in the summer, accrued more dislikes than likes on YouTube.

It takes a great amount of courage for a politician to say the uncomfortable truths, rather than the things voters want to hear. Labour, Tories and Lib Dems have shown themselves for what they are and done very little to make a positive case for immigrants, the majority of which contribute massively to the UK’s economy. Only parties like the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens have done something in that regard, and EU citizens in the UK should be well aware of that.

Time and time again, when I tweet about immigration, I receive much more support from fellow Indy supporters than the hatred spread by trolls. The events and marches I have attended have been filled with flags from all nationalities – no one needs to be born in Scotland to have the same love for it running in their veins. I know this all too well, how this wee country and its people resonate with my heart more than any other place on earth.

Fighting the bigoted media

Glorified toilet paper like the Daily Mail and other rags have poisoned this country’s discourse on immigration. They ensured that immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers, benefit scroungers, homeless people, prostitutes and drug dealers all got blended into this immigration concoction, the source of all problems in the UK, rather than the actual truth: the inept management of this country by New Labour and Austerity-Max Tories.

However, times like these also allow for more assertive shows of courage in the face of adversity, and that was the case with The National newspaper last edition of 2018: a magnificent pro-immigration front page. Such shows of empathy for immigrants are so rare in our public discourse that this made me very emotional when I first saw it.

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31st of December 2018’s edition of The National – Scotland’s only daily pro-indy newspaper

It’s not just trash like the Daily Mail that is to blame for all the negative rhetoric surrounding immigration – look no further than the BBC to see how they have different words for the same things. A foreigner here is always and always an immigrant, whereas a Brit abroad is always an expat – a euphemism that somehow tries to expunge British citizens from the stereotypes manufactured for and applied to everyone else.

Immigrants are as good and bad as everyone else

If we are able to bring the immigration debate to basic facts, than there are only a couple of points to be made that bear any relevance. The first is that, as studies show, immigration is financially positive to the UK, contributing more than it costs. Secondly, immigrants are not more or less prone to criminality or any other vices – they are people, just like everyone else, who took the very big decision of moving to a different country for a myriad of reasons. Some of us may indeed be rotten, but don’t judge such a diverse group of people on a few bad a apples.

There’s so much to be gained from immigration, not only from EU, but from everywhere else. And in Scotland, skin colour, ethnicity, religion or nationality should have no bearing on one’s Scottishness. As I never tire of repeating, we’re all Jock Tamson’s Bairns. And if you treat immigrants with the dignity and respect we deserve, you will be pressed to find more loyal citizens and neighbours than us.

Some people are also seemingly unaware of the anxiety clouding the lives of all EU citizens living in the UK (as well as UK citizens abroad), as my recent phone in to BBC Radio Scotland made clear:

Thank you, Nicola Sturgeon, the SNP, and the other few politicians and parties standing by what is right. I will gladly return your support when the time comes for #IndyRef 2.