I have spent a considerable portion of my life studying and teaching the histories of the British Isles and I believe there are truly compelling political, economical, historical, social, and cultural arguments why Scotland should vote for independence tomorrow. I believe there are also completely legitimate counter-arguments as to why Scotland should remain part of the United Kingdom. In my mind, however, these counter-arguments, though legitimate, are not, in fact, compelling.
Might independence have a somewhat complicated impact on Scotland vis-a-vis NATO, the European Union, the NHS, the use of the Pound, etc.? Yes, it might. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that it is a virtual certainty that there will problems both foreseen and unforeseen that will crop up as a result of a “yes” vote tomorrow. That is how countries are made. Problems are encountered and then overcome. To do this successfully requires hard work, intelligence, creativity, and faith- all things found in abundance among the “canny” population of Scotland.
Tomorrow Scotland also has a chance to both rid itself of it’s most prominent flaw of national character and to unleash its potential. A “yes” vote will erase that willingness to accept less than the best because, “it could be worse,” something Scots have made a national and historic pastime out of- allowing their cynicism (often justified, it must be said) to trump their pride (often justified, it must also be said). By simply ticking a box tomorrow that past is over and the future begins. One in which a well-educated, hard-working, creative, loyal, and entrepreneurial people will make their own way through their own toil and reap their just rewards.
All of that being said, if I could vote tomorrow, none of these things would even factor into my decision to vote “yes.” No, my decision was made decades ago, as very young man. I may be an historian by trade, but I am a Romantic by temperament, and as such, it is not politics or finance that inform my decision, it is people- my people.
These are my people…
Duncan Livingston (1), Ballachulish, Argyll: A slate dresser and union organizer who was fired from the quarry and run out of town by the owners for his labour-related activities. He found similar work in the quarries of Easdale, near Oban. He was my great-great grandfather.
There he met and married Jane MacDonald, my great-great grandmother. Their son (also Duncan), my great-grandfather, was born in Easdale. When he was 10 when the family was forced to move again due to his father’s union organizing activities. The family lived briefly in Aberfoyle, Perthshire, before settling in Bonnybridge, Stirlingshire, where some of the family still reside.
In Bonnybridge Duncan Livingston (1) found work at James Dougall’s Bonnyside Brick Works- at least one member of the family worked their for 87 consecutive years. Duncan (2), my great-grandfather, was also employed at the brickworks before moving on to work as a coal miner in the open-cast mines of East Ayshire.
It was in Patna, Ayrshire that Duncan (2) met my great-grandmother, Elizabeth “Lizzie” McIlwraith (above), daughter of Robert McIlwraith, a coal miner, and Jane Carmichael (my grandmother’s namesake).
The family photo (above) was taken around the time of the Great War. In 1923 Duncan and Lizzie’s first child- a boy named Jamie, who was my great-uncle) passed away, and a year later in April of 1924 Robert, Tom (“Tam”), and Elizabeth and Duncan Livingston (2) sailed to Boston for the purpose of making connections and finding a place to live should they choose to emigrate in the future.
They returned to Scotland for another seven years, during which time my grandmother, Jane Carmichael Livingston, was born in Bellshill, Lanarkshire.
In 1931, despite the fact- or perhaps because of it- that the Great Depression was in full swing, the entire family save Jeanie, moved to America, to the aptly-named Melrose, Massachusetts. This was not a happy occasion, emigration rarely is.
If you’ve made it this far the very least I can do is to link this back up to the cause of Scottish independence. As implausible as it may seem, I knew a lot of these people.
My great-grandmother, Lizzie McIlwraith (Livingston) died during my first semester in college. Lizzie was as “hard” a woman as I have ever met. She had a broad accent, a fiery temper- and she never wanted to leave Scotland in the first place. In fact, she never went back. She never let go of her bitterness over having to emigrate, to the point that for many years she took to drink. And yet…as hard as she was, she wasn’t. My great-grandmother’s “home” (actually just a converted camp) before and during my time was a place that anyone down on their luck could go for a meal and a roof over their head- no questions asked. One such man came over for dinner one Sunday afternoon and didn’t leave for twenty years.
I also knew Sarah McIlwraith, who married John Livingston (Duncan 1’s brother). She was known as “Cissie,” or to me, “Auntie Cissie.” I also knew all five of her children- they grew up with my mother- and all known to me as “aunts” and “uncles.” Duncan (yes, number 3!), Lee, Betty, Sheena, and James. My “Uncle Jimmy” is exactly who you’d want if you were casting a part for a “wee, bandy-legged Scotsman.” Everyone of these people that I knew, or that I learned of from those that I knew, was hard-working, honest, charitable, smart, loyal- all those same traits I’ve used above to describe the people of Scotland.
More than any of these people, though, I knew Jane Carmichael Livingston (Mitchell), my Gram (the tiny woman in the middle of the picture). She was the one who sat me down as a boy and told me why it was important to know where I came from, to know who my people were. She is the reason I cry when I hear bagpipes, she is the reason I studied and taught history. To me, she was- and is- everything that was and is Scotland, I cannot separate the two. I loved her in a way I couldn’t possibly describe. She was fierce, funny, loving, generous, industrious, brave, supportive, and need I even say it?