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Help! I’ve immigrated to Scotland by mistake

May 11, 2010

I can’t believe I have been in this freezing hell for five years. Pour me another whisky – my thumbs have gone numb.

It all started in 2004, when my girlfriend decided she wanted to go travelling, and up and left to London. After mulling it over for a while, and raising money, I dragged myself off Danger Beach and joined her. I arrived at Gatwick on 29 March 2005, another bastard son of Empire come crawling home.

I am not sure what I was thinking.

I didn’t really have any plans. I think I imagined I’d do a bit of part time work and a bit of travelling, and head back to South Africa after a year or so. I never expected to be here this long, and I had no intention of leaving home for a long period of time.

So what happened?

She met me at the airport, but I didn’t want to live in London, so we went up to Scotland, and really liked it. We arrived in Edinburgh a couple of days before the Beltane Fire Festival, had a great summer, and then walked the West Highland Way, entered some deep rabbit holes and lucked out: I got a good, full time job in my field for the first time in my life.

As it turns out, I like Scotland, and particularly Glasgow. There’s a lot about Glasgow that’s great: charming natives, cheap whisky and a brilliant contemporary art scene, but the thing I like most is its egalitarianism.

Cape Town is paradise, but it’s also one of the most unequal cities in the world. Glasgow is working class, socialist and egalitarian. There are still big differences between rich and poor, but no one gets to pretend they are better than anyone else – they will swiftly get taken down a peg.

Glaswegian drunks like putting traffic cones on the heads of statues. I think that says all you need to know about their attitude to the great and the good.

And there’s a great radical history too, from the almost-revolution of 1919 to Red Clydeside and the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in.

I miss Cape Town, but I love this rain-lashed, consumptive, combative city too.

But the thought of imminent Torygeddon makes me think it might be time to head home.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Anique permalink
    May 12, 2010 6:10 am

    “Cape Town is paradise, but it’s also one of the most unequal cities in the world”, quite a statement! What on earth do you mean by that? Maybe I see things differently but where we are living right now there is a huge acceptance of differences. The differences are there. The unequal part? Do you mean rich vs. poor – that is true of Cape Town definitely. But I thought it was a global problem really. Glasgow I would imagine the same but I can’t say for sure. Maybe I am wrong? Or, do you mean something completely different?

  2. May 12, 2010 9:49 am

    There’s a fundamental difference, Anique. I know there is a huge ‘bohemian’ (for want of a better word) population in Cape Town, and that these people are great and don’t see differences – this is where I come from. I’d like the whole city to be like that.

    However, the difference between rich and poor is massive in Cape Town. It isn’t really in Glasgow. Glasgow is a working class city – even the people with money are often from working class backgrounds. It’s also a city with a history of well paid, skilled work, so working class people with money is not rare. There is very little Old Money in Glasgow, and the difference between richest and poorest is much smaller than in Cape Town.

    That’s not what I meant, though. Look at the physical structure of Cape Town: it is, for the most part, constructed to keep the poor out of the nice bits (except as servants). The upmarket, mostly white, paradise suburbs cling to the side of the mountain while the mostly black and brown poor are many miles away on the dusty Cape Flats. Then there is Jo’burg mark 2 in the Northern Suburbs for white refugees from the north.

    In Glasgow, you get a genuine sense that the city belongs to the people – they live in it, and have a sense of ownership when they walk the streets. This is why I prefer it to Edinburgh, where once again the poor are pushed to the margins, and the city seems to belong to tourists and the wealthy – many of them English.

    The result is that Glasgow is scrappy and scruffy, but also genuinely friendly and humane. People talk to you at the bus stop and make eye contact on public transport. If you go out alone, you will end up with friends by the end of the night. Cape Town, by contrast and for all its beauty, is elitist and cliquey.

  3. Anique permalink
    May 12, 2010 10:30 am

    I hear what you are saying, that is great! It sounds more like Glasgow is unique, Cape Town is like the majority of unequal cities of the world. I see small changes in Cape Townbut, overall you are right!

  4. May 12, 2010 9:16 pm

    Hey Leischa!

    As a fellow immigrant from the southern hemisphere (New Zealand) just wanted to say how spot-on you are. I’m from Auckland- a paradise kinda place in many ways- but I love Glasgow for all you say and more.

    Sadly, this UK election has left me afraid and with thoughts of going back to New Zealand (if CSbungo will come too!) for the first time in a couple of years. Yes New Zealand has turned to the right as well, and inequalities are growing there but at least there is a bedrock of equality in the culture there that will make me feel less unsafe (I don’t trust either ConDem or the Scottish electorate with my LGBT human rights frankly). And I can imagine being able to live off the land in NZ if the economy really goes kaput.

    On the other hand- wouldn’t it be a major bummer if we trucked off home, and then Scotland had a revolution without us and became independent and we had a genuine radical leftwing party to vote for and that party got in, and and and… How sad would that be, if we weren’t there? My ancestors would never forgive me!

    So, I’m keeping my options open.

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