Reading the newspapers today it would seem that 28% of those of us born in England will vote yes in the forthcoming independence referendum. As an Englishwoman in a foreign land I think that the yes vote reflects a desire for a different future and because we want to further distance ourselves from a failing Westminster system.
For me it’s not about nationalism as I am, essentially, stateless. I’m from Liverpool and have never identified myself as English. The industrial north west, I was actually born in Widnes of chemical fame, was still, if not quite dark satanic mills, very industrial when I was growing up. My background is socialist and working class and so I never identified with either the green and pleasant lands of the picture postcard England of the shires or the pinstripe suit and fast buck city state that was and is London. I have lived in Scotland for getting on half my life, certainly the majority of my adult life, but I am not Scottish. Certainly I could play for Scotland by virtue of residency, but then, looking at the Scottish rugby team of the past decades, so could most of the southern hemisphere. My son was born, brought up and now studies in Scotland and is determinedly Scottish. There was something unnerving about standing next to him before a rugby international while he sang Flower Of Scotland at the top of his voice. While we both have dual nationality in theory, in practice there is no doubt where his loyalties lie. But for me it isn’t that simple, nor would I want it to be.
And I’m classless. When I was a student I spent two weeks with a group of other researchers counting and measuring limpets on a freezing cold shoreline in Aberystwyth. Each evening we would sit in the pub and chat amongst ourselves and with the leaders of the research teams. I remember one evening in particular as one such leader, a Dr Len Hill, made a really compelling argument suggesting that by the time we were his age, sometime during the 1990’s, there would be no such thing as class. He argued that, with the advance of science and technology we scientists would become classless technocrats. The wealth and security that the advancements would usher in would raise the working class from poverty and, with wealth creation taken out of their hands, bring down the ruling classes. Would that he had been proved right. While society has not become classless in the way he imagined, I do, nonetheless, feel classless. My grandparents; foundry workers, factory workers and railworkers living in two up two down back to back council houses with back yards not back gardens qualify by any definition as working class. Access to free and excellent state education allowed my parents to get qualifications, decent jobs, become home owners and so by the time I was born they were well on the road to being middle class. During my own working life I have had assets measured in the millions but wealth in Britain, unlike America, has never been a key to the upper class. While I feel working class, as I still espouse the socialist principles of my working class ancestry, I cannot claim to be working class.
I do, however, identify myself as a Liverpool supporter, probably the only thing that I haven’t wavered from since being about 8 years old. I remember 15th April 1989 very clearly. I was standing doing a pile of ironing and watching the BBC Saturday afternoon sports programme. In those days you would get score updates sprinkled amongst horse racing, rugby league and athletics and I was keen to hear the score from the FA Cup semi-final as soon as I could. I watched in disbelief as the events of that dreadful day unfolded. 25 years later I watched the remembrance service for the 96 men, women and children who died at Hillsborough. The families and friends of those people have, throughout those 25 years, been defined by that event. While I have moved to Scotland, had a son, been through several relationships, built businesses and changed in all sorts of ways all of those people have been unable to live their lives with the freedom I’ve lived mine. They have been insulted, abused and lied to but there perseverance in pursuit of justice for those that died may soon be rewarded and some semblance of peace may return to their own lives. When I started supporting Liverpool there wasn’t a lot of money around. I’d seen photographs of people on The Kop with scarves that had the word Liverpool written on them. There was no way I could buy one, and my mum would not have thought a Liverpool scarf a suitable Christmas present for an 8 year old girl, so I sewed the word Liverpool, in my very best chain stitch, onto my red and white stripe knitted scarf. That scarf has been with me ever since. I waved it on The Kop when Liverpool played on one of the amazing European nights at Anfield. It has been to Old Trafford when Bobby Charlton and George Best were in the United team and Emlyn Hughes was my hero, it’s even been to Hillsborough as I was a student in Sheffield in the early 80’s. It was with me at a friends house when we saw Liverpool comeback from 3-0 down to win the European Cup. When I’m not watching matches it sits around the neck of my teddy bear. Well, it did. It is now part of the scarf collection made at Anfield in support of the Hillsborough families. It is the least I could do.
The other side of being defined by an event, to have shared identity for that long, is with all those who know what really happened on that April afternoon, who have always known but who have been content to say nothing or to lie outright about events and their part in them. As part of the remembrance day the Liverpool FC website showed a montage of all those who died. Very simple. A photograph with name and age. These photographs show men, women and mainly youngsters and children. Those who have lied should be made to watch that again and again until the reality of the wasted and ruined lives, and the injustice that they have allowed to persist, finally sinks in.