A Scot Abroad and a Nation with No Name


By Angus Baird
Like most I received news of the ‘royal baby’ by checking the international news websites when I awoke on the morning of the 23rd of July. 
The gaggle of sycophants triumphantly declaring the new royal heir to the throne led immediately to feelings of frustration, anger and disappointment.  The more I read and watched the more it increased.

The sadist in me devouring the reports whilst finishing off my morning coffee.  Glancing at the comments sections I was swept up in the ebbing and flowing of public opinion tapping the ‘likes’ and ‘dislikes’ where appropriate.

I suspect you had a similar experience.  The difference with myself however is that; I was slurping my coffee and reading the news whilst sitting in my living room in a small city, by Chinese standards, of just over 1 million about an hour away from Shanghai.  A world away from the fanaticism I was witnessing in London. 

You see I now have been away from my home, Scotland, for the last three years.  I am, what would be deemed by many, an economic migrant.  The recession and financial crisis upon my graduation in 2009 left myself and thousands of other young Scots with little option than to head off abroad in the hope of securing a decent form of employment and an escape from the crippling student loans and rising house prices that have left many of my generation in a perpetual cycle of debt. 

Of course some would say I’m being melodramatic sticking to the old adage; if you work hard and persist there is always hope and reward.  I would not disagree with that.  I would however disagree that reward and fulfillment are possible for many young people in today’s Scotland. 

After completing a TEFL course, thanks to ILA funding, a journey into overseas teaching was in order.  Like many, employment in English language teaching has provided me with the essential escape to avoid the benefit trap of my homeland.  I welcome and indeed embrace this opportunity.  My salary is reasonable and my adult students are enthusiastic.  You may then be asking; why the long face?

For the last year I have been trying softly to convince the Chinese students of the many benefits of international integration, the rule of law and a sound working, and above all, accountable democracy.  This for obvious reasons has not been without its challenges due to their present indoctrination.  Reminders have had to be made about the influence of media and the forces that control the information that is being presented. 

Although I have stressed that democracy is an imperfect system and not without its challenges, it is well worth the effort and rewards.  My focus, when discussing such matters, has been to set out the principles I deem to be best for a prosperous nation; the retaining of socialist elements such as free education and healthcare whilst allowing free open elections to ensure that those that have a position of power and influence are always accountable.

This however was all blown out the water by the recent images that have been beamed across the globe.  It has led to a confusion and distrust in what I tentatively call ‘my’ students.  Questions have been raised as to how and when the Royal Family were elected and how this fits in with a modern democracy. 

Many are fans of British fantasy, shows such as Merlin that conjure up a mystical ancient land but they realise that the practice of unelected kings is anarchic and not a system that should be in place today.  “How does this fit into a democratic system?”, one enquiring mind asked me yesterday. 

As a committed republican I know of course it doesn’t and shouldn’t.  My attempts at answering were largely pathetic and easily stripped bare by the 30 plus adults eagerly waiting my response.  I half-heartedly tried to wax lyrical about how the power of the monarchy was dormant.  None-the-less I felt like a fraud, a charlatan and a hypocrite.  The notions that I had been attempting to convey now seemed like a deliberate attempt to mislead and obfuscate.  As I’m sure you are aware China has its fair share of individuals with these characteristics already and I felt no better than any other of these low grade proselytisers.

My saviour, as pathetic as that term may sound, was what may happen next year.  I fell back on what I hoped we would achieve with an independent Scotland.  I stressed that the notion of a free and fare Scotland was not yet accomplished and was a far from a completed process that would hopefully take another vital step over the next fourteen months.  I think I just about won the students over.

As a Scot living abroad is seems obvious that independence, from first the outdated stagnant Westminster parliament then the logical next step of becoming a fully fledged republic, is the only way we can have any credibility in the eyes of others abroad.  I am tired of explaining on an almost daily basis that I am not English and that Scotland does not belong to England. 

In China, and no doubt other countries around the world, there is no clear definition of Scotland.  It is simply known as a region of England.  In fact whilst every other country in Europe is recognised as simply that, Scotland is not. 

There is not a word for Scotland’s people in the Chinese language in the way that we would understand.   The suffix that is added to most country names simply does not apply in describing oneself as Scottish.  I have been informed it would be far easier if I said I was English from Scotland. 

This indignity goes further when applying for any legal documents.  My work permit for example labels me as English, not British and certainly not Scottish.  To the average Chinese person there is no real nation of Scotland apart from the little they have seen in Hollywood films. 

It exists in part as a fantasy as much as the Loch Ness monster, bigfoot or King Arthur.  My hope is that when I come back next year for the referendum we together can put this sad state of affairs to an end and give Scotland its proper place in the minds of other peoples. 

It would also allow the thousands of others like me working abroad to have a far more positive dignified experience.