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’.