The Stories of Secession

In 2014, there was a referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country, in which 55% of the voters wanted to remain part of the UK. Over the last week, the issue has again raised its head.

Image of Scotland in the UK
Image of Scotland in the UK (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At almost every literary event I attended ahead of the poll, I found the issue raised again and again in prose and poetry. Some of what I heard was heavy-handed polemic, while others crafted nuanced satires of the situation.

Regardless of quality, though, it encouraged all sorts of people to express their views through the spoken word and to believe that others might be influenced by their writings.

In my experience, much of the creative work was pro-independence. Such was the mood in the country that the National Collective sprung up, bringing together different types of artist to campaign for a Yes vote under one umbrella.

So the prose and poetry that stems from a potential second referendum will likely be even more passionate: from Yes voters who’ve been granted a second chance and from No supporters who believe the question was settled in 2014.

And further to my last entry, the 18-to-22 age group was considered to be the most apathetic generation when I first attended university in 2002. Maybe it was because we had a Labour government back then; maybe it was because George W Bush hadn’t yet invaded Iraq.

Whatever the reason, the situation today couldn’t be more different. Some of the most active campaigners are those of college age, and I barely go a week without seeing a university literary event responding to current affairs.

Let’s see what happens next.

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No Thanks, No Translation.

Last week, Scotland’s voters chose to keep the country as part of the United Kingdom. Rather than make a political post, I’ve decided to take advantage of this country’s moment in the world spotlight to present a few uniquely Scottish words to you. So unique, in fact, that there is no direct English equivalent.

I have a strange relationship with the Scots tongue. I don’t naturally speak the dialect, just standard English. Yet if I’m reading a poem written in Scots, I can understand it slowly, and if someone drops a word here or there in a conversation, I’ll be able to recognise it first time.

Of the three words below, the top two are in common usage, but I’ve yet to hear the third in the wild.

  • Dreich, adjective. A one-syllable word to describe damp and drizzly weather. The first four letters are pronounced dree, while the last two take the slightly guttural sound found in the name Bach. The closest single-word English equivalents would be dull or miserable, but these could easily be applied to a person or an event, whereas dreich is exclusively for weather. The word sometimes makes it into local BBC weather reports.
  • Skite, verb. Related to skating but nothing to do with that online phone service. To skite is to skim or slide along a surface, usually by accident. It can be applied to a person or an object. In English, you could say slip, but that implies the person or object has fallen over, whereas someone who skites might remain standing.
  • Tartle, noun. This is where a person hesitates while introducing someone because they’ve forgotten the other party’s name. Most sources have this down as a verb, yet the example sentence usually given is, “Pardon my tartle.” In that context, it appears it be used as a noun, although I welcome any corrections.