There’s none more Scots….

My parents migrated from England to Scotland. If you swap ‘England’ for the name of almost any other country, I would be more easily labelled: a ‘second generation immigrant’; an ‘ethnic return migrant’; an ‘economic migrant’; or my story told in terms of ‘marriage-related migration’. England and Scotland are separate nations, but not legally separate enough to trigger official (or academic) labels for those who move between them. And of course there are differences – I don’t need visas to travel between my countries of origin and residence, nobody is calling for migration between them to be restricted, and no tough decisions had to be made about passports or citizenship. Nonetheless, all these terms have relevance for my family’s story.

My mother grew up in Yorkshire, but considered herself Scottish. Her father grew up in Scotland, the family holidayed up the West Coast, celebrated Halloween, and rolled back the carpet to dance the night away on Hogmanay. So when her new husband got a job in Glasgow, she was moving home as much as moving away.

For some children at school, my parents’ accents, and my own ambiguous one, marked me as foreign – as ‘English’ (the term often laden with enmity in Thatcher’s 1980s). In Primary School years my friends tended to be girls whose parents were also born elsewhere – England, France, Germany, India. But in the car on the way home from Christmas ‘down South’, my brother and I sang ‘Flower of Scotland’ at the top of our voices as soon as we crossed the border.

In my 20s I moved to England for work, and after a few years of splitting my time between the two countries, stayed for love. My son was born in Bristol but relishes an (invisible to others) Scottish tinge to his identity – practicing a Scottish accent, and proudly declaiming a poem in broad Glaswegian that I also memorised as a child. There’s an irony in this considering the way in which accent has been a marker of difference in my own life. I remember a sense of catharsis when I published an article based on research with English graduates in Scotland as an ‘audible minority’. When I go back to Glasgow now, decades down South audible in my never-quite-fully-local-to-start-with accent, people ask me where I am from.

In England, Scottishness has generally seemed to be a valued identity (unlike some other nationalities, or Englishness in my childhood). And there have been occasions in pubs in Cornwall and Wales where it has granted me an exemption from the teasing doled out to English friends. Living here has allowed me to embrace a Scottish identity in a far more straightforward way than I did before I left. As the band ‘Spirit of the West’ sang of the Scottish diaspora in Canada: ‘there’s none more Scots as the Scots abroad’.

Katharine Charsley


Caught between cultures?

I am a migrant, although as a white Irish person, I don’t often get asked the question ‘where are you from?’ much or any more. As I came to England at the age of 2 (from Malaysia, via Ireland), and grew up here, I also have an English accent, and so that enables me to pass. Do I feel English though? Not really. I grew up in Irish enclaves in Yorkshire during the 1970s and 1980s, during ‘the troubles’ in northern Ireland, when an Irish name, accent or being associated with Irish places (the local Catholic church, the Irish Centre, a Catholic school) could identify you as other, alien or threatening. I did experience hostility, harassment, or wariness from white British people during that time.

There were though much longer standing perceptions of Irish people, less to do with the particular aspects of ‘the troubles’ at that time, and more to do with historical relations between England and Ireland that affected how I felt about being part of England. Casual, everyday portrayals of the Irish as backward, hot-tempered, drunken, ‘thick paddies’ were very common when I was growing up. Reading about politics, and later sociology, gave me a way to understand those portrayals as related to the very unequal relations between England and Ireland, and the lack of space for Irish people to portray themselves in ways that had any impact on mainstream discourses.

Migrant communities are also sources of identity and social ties too. I felt ambivalent about that though. I enjoyed the solidarity of Irish community life in England, and the rhythm of life around the church, the Irish club, the GAA All-Ireland finals, Irish dancing and the frequent trips ‘home’ (Ireland was always ‘home’ and England always ‘yonder’). But, that cultural community was often frozen in time – based on an affinity to an Ireland of the time of departure, and not the changing, liberalising, secularising country that Ireland was becoming. That version of rural Irishness didn’t connect to my own experiences of growing up in urban, industrial England either.

When I started to read sociological texts about ‘hybrid’ identities among 2nd generation migrants – identities that are not fixed by either there or here (home or yonder) but rooted in both, and something new, that made so much sense to me. It started to make me feel relaxed about not being either ‘authentically’ Irish or assimilated to Englishness. I am not a ‘plastic Paddy’ – claiming an Irishness that does not belong to me. I am not caught between cultures. I am not half of this and half of that. My identity is rooted in the experience of growing up Irish in England, in a certain time and place, and it is an experience I share with other 2nd generation Irish here. It’s not plastic, but elastic…