Things Are Not As Cloudy As They May Seem

Earlier this year, I returned to Scotland after a 45-year absence having studied at the University of Edinburgh at New College in 1968-69. I lived at Ramsey Garden and parked on the Edinburgh Castle's esplanade just down a bit from where the Haig statue once stood but now is in a secluded spot in the castle. I loved hearing the cannon go off every day at 1 pm. I also remember putting shillings in the space heaters in the flat to stay warm during the winter. I enjoyed the two-minute walk to class on the Mound.

Ramsey Garden   Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig
Ramsey Garden   Field Marshall Sir Douglas Haig

I recall the excitement of getting a leg of lamb at Campbell the Butcher on the left side going down the Royal Mile. As you enter the shop you would find on the left side of the entrance a half a dozen legs of lamb hanging...and dripping blood to a little white trough on the floor of white tile that matched the white tile on the walls of the shop. The drainage trough removed the blood from the lambs if the occasional dog that wandered in did not lick it up from the trough. I recall paying $1.50 for a leg of lamb a half century ago. Though, I do not recall what the conversion rate was to British pounds back then.

However, time flies as does one's memory of things when you return after nearly a half century. Campbell the Butcher is gone while Greyfriars Bobby is still there. I loved Greyfriars Bobby and ate there several times back then and again most recently. But, the little statue of Bobby shrank in size from what I remembered. His master's gravesite marker seems to have been replaced also.

Greyfriars Bobby

Arthurs Seat has more than doubled in size during those nearly 5-decades that have lapsed since I first climbed it. However, 45-years ago, I did not meet and talk with Arthur, which I did this time. That was a moment of enrichment.

Arthurs Seat

Back in those days long ago, I drove a 1968 VW Bug that I bought in Salzburg, Austria equipped to American requirements so that I could bring it home with me to the States. I drove that green VW all over Scotland. The steering wheel was on the left side of the car while I drove on the left side of the road. Talk about confusion.

In addition, I recall having to stop my VW on the roads in the Highlands many times during the day for several dozen sheep sharing the road with cars. This meant either that I stopped and waited often for 15-minutes for the sheep to pass or the shepherd got the sheep off the road so I could pass. However, the sheep seemed to have found other roads in the years between my going to school decades ago and my return to study the Scottish devolution movement.

This change from what once was and is today is happening to many of you who have lived in Alba all your lives. In just over a year, you will be voting on devolution. The date is September 18, 2014. Having informally interviewed nearly everyone that I met during this most recent trip to Scotland, it is abundantly clear that the vote will be an arduous and emotionally taxing one for many of you. A third of you are for it, which will not be a problem. Nevertheless, a third of you are against it, and another third of you really have not given it much thought.

One of the anomalies of a third of Scots not wanting independence is based in part upon what Scots call the cringe...the Scottish cringe. The cringe is founded upon a sense that many have that Scotland cannot govern or do most anything else without help from Westminster. The Scottish cringe is an amazing mindset. It is hard for me to wrap my mind around why many Scots do not think that they are not capable of functioning on their own. Those of you suffering from the cringe, think about how I view it as someone whose forbears came from Scotland many generations ago. I do not get the cringe.

When the American founding fathers wrote the Declaration of Independence 238 years before your vote next year, 9 of the 56 signers were Scottish. The best known Scottish signer was John Witherspoon who interestingly went to Edinburgh for his education and became the President of the College of New Jersey, which is now called Princeton University.

During the debate on the Declaration of Independence, John Dickinson from Pennsylvania said in a speech that America was not ripe for being independent. Witherspoon was so outraged at Dickinson that he interrupted him with this terse reply: "Not ripe, Sir! In my judgment, we are not only ripe but rotting. Almost every colony has dropped from its parent stem and your own province needs no more sunshine to mature it." It sounds like there are many of John Dickinson's relatives still living in Scotland today.

Of the 44-presidents of the US, 75% have some Scottish ancestry. Starting with Thomas Jefferson down to Barack Obama, an overwhelming majority of American presidents have family ties to Scotland. Interestingly, the Declaration of Independence, written by Jefferson, has many parallels with the Arbroath Declaration, which was written in 1320 over 450 years prior to 1776.

If politics is not your forte, think about the American writers that had Scottish lineage: Washington Irving, James Fenimore Cooper, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, William Faulkner, Robert Frost, Alex Haley, Richard McCulloch, Norman Maclean, Archibald MacLeish, J.D. Salinger, Upton Sinclair, Mark Twain, Thomas Wolfe, and the list goes on. So Scots can write well. I am at least attempting to write a convincing open letter to you, which you will understand and act accordingly.

Space exploration is filled with Americans with Scottish forbearers: Alan Shepard, John Glenn, Bruce McCandless, Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, David Scott, and James Irwin to name ones that come to mind quickly.

As an American with Scottish roots, I hope that you are seeing a rather obvious point — Scots are fully functional people. Therefore, the Scottish cringe issue is in reality a belief without evidence of it being true. Having said the obvious, fear still fills many Scots about their ability and causes negative fears about facing the future. If independence fills you with fear, what fills me with even more fear is that you, your children, and their offspring will live as second-class people for years to come. However, the choice is yours; choose wisely.

On my recent trip to Scotland, it was in the early spring. And like many days in Scotland, much of the time was spent between clear skies and rainy weather. When the weather is not sure of which it will be, it was cloudy. I remember the weather 45-years ago being much as it is today.

However, I learned something when I was there the first time, and it was reinforced on this last visit. Do not wait around for clear, bright, and sunny days to do things. See what you want regardless of the forecasts. So it was when I went to the Wallace Monument near the Stirling Bridge.

Stirling Bridge

Plaque about the Battle of Stirling Bridge

It was the cloudy and not a great day to take pictures...especially since it was in early spring.

William Wallace Monument

Nonetheless, I wanted to climb the monument that the Scots built long ago in honor of the great fighter for Scottish independence and freedom, William Wallace. It lies outside of Sterling without much around the large hill other than farmland, woods, and a small town. In spite of the overcast day and not much green foliage, off I went to the top of the monument constructed of sandstone. There is a spiral staircase with 246 steps to the top. While it was not a Herculean task, it was cloudy and quite windy...

However, once I braved the inclement weather, the view from the top is both amazing and well worth the effort.

View from the top of William Wallace Monument

View from William Wallace Monument

In addition, it seems to this Scottish-American that the climb to the top of the Wallace Monument is more than merely a lovely monument dedicated to a great Scot. It is a metaphor for all Scots who will next year vote on the issue of Scottish independence. Some of you wish that it was clearer that Scots can run their own land as an independent nation. You are not certain about your ability. However, centuries ago, William Wallace was certain. Remember Wallace's announcement at the conclusion of the Battle of Stirling Bridge on September 11, 1297, which the Scots won.

William Wallace

To the English army that was not killed during the battle, he said: "I'm William Wallace, and the rest of you will be spared. Go back to England and tell them...Scotland is free!" I cannot fathom that Wallace would not say the same thing today.

While this Scottish-American is quoting Wallace, there is one additional comment that you who are living in Scotland need to heed also. All Scots need to adhere to this, but especially those that are fearful of independence and standing on your own two feet as a nation: "Every man dies. Not every man really lives." Sometimes, fear is a killer that stops Scots from really living.

I am proud to be of Scottish ancestors. I am also proud of the Scots who are willing to address freedom for their people and their country. I would love again to return to Scotland...a free Scotland.

Al with Jack and Owen

These stones were Arthur's gifts to my two grandsons, Jack and Owen. I hope that all of us can return to an independent and free Scotland.

Scotland The Brave
John McDermott

Let Italy boast of her gay gilded waters,
Her vines and her bowers and her soft sunny skies,
Her sons drinking love from the eyes of her daughters,
Where freedom expires amid softness and sighs.

Scotland's blue mountains wild where hoary cliffs are piled,
Towering in grandeur are dearer tae me,
Land of the misty cloud land of the tempest loud,
Land of the brave and proud land of the free.

Enthroned on the peak of her own highland mountains,
The spirit of Scotia reigns fearless and free,
Her green tartan waving o'er blue rock and fountain,
And proudly she sings looking over the sea.

Here among my mountains wild I have serenely smiled,
When armies and empires against me were hurled,
Firm as my native rock I have withstood the shock,
Of England, of Denmark, of Rome and the world.

But see how proudly her war steeds are prancing,
Deep groves of steel trodden down in their path,
The eyes of my sons like their bright swords are glancing,
Triumphantly riding through ruin and death.

Bold hearts and nodding plumes wave o'er their bloody tombs,
Deep eyed in gore is the green tartan's wave,
Shivering are the ranks of steel dire is the horseman's wheel,
Victorious in battlefield Scotland the brave.

Bold hearts and nodding plumes wave o'er their bloody tombs,
Deep eyed in gore is the green tartan's wave,
Shivering are the ranks of steel dire is the horseman's wheel,
Victorious in battlefield Scotland the brave,
Victorious in battlefield Scotland the brave


Scottish independence: Yes campaign

Scottish independence flag

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