Northern Roots: “The Troubles may have been the backdrop to many of our childhoods; it certainly didn’t define them”

In the latest of our Northern Roots series, where we speak to people originally from Northern Ireland but currently living elsewhere, our interviewee is Dave Scott. You can follow Dave on Twitter @DaveScott1977.

 

1. Tell us about yourself. When did you leave Northern Ireland, and where did you go? What do you do now?

I grew up in Lisburn and lived there until 1998 when I first moved to London and then on to university in Scotland. After graduating I worked for the best part of a decade as a researcher in the Scottish Parliament and in 2011 was appointed Director of Nil by Mouth, the campaign to challenge sectarianism in Scotland.

Nil by Mouth was set up by a Glasgow teenager in response to the brutal sectarian murder of her school friend in 1995. Over the years we have achieved much securing changes in the law, the support of successive Scottish Governments for our education programmes and running numerous high profile campaigns to highlight the damage caused by sectarian attitudes.

We operate in schools, workplaces, sports clubs, colleges, universities and communities across Scotland. Football often crops up a lot in our work with the passion, pantomime and poison that swirls around Old Firm and whilst its certainly the case that the rivalry doesn’t always bring out the best in people the vast majority of fans I meet from both clubs are first class and get along well.

I now live with my wife and son in the Scottish Borders, which is a more rural part of the country. So I suppose I might have become a ‘cultchie’, I’ve even been learning how to drive a tractor.

 

2. What do you think when you see the Northern Ireland of today, in the news and on social media?

News from home has slipped off the somewhat over the last few years in Scotland as the Independence debate has dominated public discourse over here. So you do have to rely more on the internet. There was a surge of stories about the Tory/DUP deal after the election. I’m always a little sceptical about what I read and see on social media. More often than not it’s an idiot’s lantern.

There are some good people I follow on Twitter whose opinions and analysis are always worth reading. I get my real information on what’s going on at home from my family and friends. My brother is usually the best barometer of what’s happening and he pings me over stories, tweets and texts several times a week.

I get the sense that we are not going to see a restoration of the Executive anytime soon and that does depress me a little. In Scotland I’ve seen how devolution can be hugely effective and I’d like to think that our politicians at home can see the bigger picture.

I’m a big boxing fan so have been following the careers of Carl Frampton, Paddy Barnes, Michael and Jamie Conlan, Ryan Burnett and Michela Walsh closely and it’s good to see them all doing so well.

 

3. Are you hopeful for Northern Ireland’s future? Will Brexit make a difference?

When considering the future, I have to be mindful that I view home from a certain distance. And the further back we are from a situation the more certain we tend to be about the rights and wrongs and the direction it’s all heading. Probably because we will be fairly sheltered from any consequences. But I am optimistic. If I compare the place my nieces and nephews are growing up in today with the 80s and 90s when I was their age the difference is day and night.

I’m old enough to remember security gates in Royal Avenue, newsflashes asking ‘keyholders to check their premises’ and the faces of victims of the troubles staring out at you from a photograph on the front of the Belfast Telegraph. We are in a different place now and when I get over home it’s amazing how vibrant the place looks and feels.  I think many more young people feel they can live happy, contended, successful lives at home than they did when I was in my teens.

I voted to remain in the EU referendum and will be sad to leave. Brexit throws up a multitude of challenges for cross border movement, institutions and employment.  I actually have more faith in the EU negotiators securing some sort of workable settlement for people on both sides of the border than I do the UK Government, which has completely ran out of steam and is limping along without any sense of direction. The EU did a lot of good for home and I feel we will all be lesser outside of it.

4. Do you think you will return to Northern Ireland? What could convince you to come back?

I’m far from a stranger to home. All my family still live there and I go back several times a year. But I couldn’t see myself going back there to live. Simply because I’ve built a life and career in Scotland, my wife is Scottish and my wee boy was born here. Otherwise I wouldn’t have any problems going back over home to live. It’s where I’m from and I had a great upbringing there.

I think it’s important to remember amidst all the anger and noise there was playing football in the park, drinking carry outs in a field with your mates, discos, failed attempts at wooing girls you fancied, music and laughter. The Troubles may have been the backdrop to many of our childhoods and adolescence but it certainly didn’t define it.

 

5. What can Northern Ireland learn from the place you live now?

Scotland and Northern Ireland have always been closely linked in terms of history, attitudes, language and culture and sometimes I don’t feel I have moved very far away from all – like a child running away from home but only getting as far as the telephone box at the end of the street.

The big lesson I’d take from Scotland is just how good devolution can be if used properly. I can honestly say that even parties I’ve never voted for have pushed through some good ideas which have benefited the country and political engagement with unions, business, charities and wider society is excellent. The Scottish Parliament has been excellent for Scotland and I’d hope that Stormont can be rebooted and start to deliver similar results for people.

6. If Northern Ireland had a president with sweeping powers, and it was you, what would you do?

Resign! No one individual should have such powers – it seldom ends well. Also, fewer places are less suited to that type of rule than home.

However, if we are talking about what changes I’d like to see first and foremost I’d want huge investment in social housing.  Affordable homes need to be built to give people a sense of security and hope for the future.

Socially, like many exiles I would like to see Northern Ireland accept gay people have the same right to marry as heterosexuals and I feel that abortion law should be brought into line with the rest of the UK. Women have traditionally been outsiders in what has passed for policy processes at home and its well beyond time to recognise their right to choose what happens to their bodies.

 

7. What would you like to see more of on Northern Slant?

Northern Slant is an excellent platform and will continue to evolve naturally. Perhaps a ‘black market’ page listing ‘suppliers’ (both official and unofficial) of high value, low availability, products such as Club Orange, Tayto Crisps, Veda and proper soda and wheaten bread which can be tricky to get a regular supply of across the Irish Sea. When my mum worked in the post office in the ‘90s she said they did a roaring trade in such foodstuffs being sent to starving, homesick exiles.

 

8. If you could ask three Northern Ireland politicians (past or present) to dinner, who would they be? And why?

May Blood, Gerry Fitt and Naomi Long. Three authentic working class Belfast people who throughout their careers consistently tried to build bridges higher than walls. They also saw their ‘community’ as something wider than simply their religious or cultural backgrounds, and despite all the progress that’s been made I think too few of us try to do this.

Over the past twenty years politics has become quite managerial. For better or worse the success of people like Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump has been a reaction to this. This trio are instinctive ‘gut’ politicians, who know their own mind and don’t need to clear things with a press office. The fact the three of them can laugh at themselves would also be make the time go quickly.

9. Do you have a favourite quote, or mantra?

I once got the chance to spend the day with Tony Benn and some of the lines he came out with were tremendous. The one that stuck with me was when I asked him how he dealt with opponents who specialised in personal abuse rather than reasoned argument. “Never wrestle with a chimney sweep,” he said, “because you’ll get dirty too.”

 

10. What’s your message for people back home?

Politically, I’d suggest we stop seeking America’s approval all the time. I cringe when I see our politicians fall over themselves to get into the White House, or our brightest young minds thinking the West Wing is the only show in town. We haven’t had a US politician make a significant contribution to the political situation at home since [Bill] Clinton & [Senator George] Mitchell.

I’m not sure we should be setting our moral compass by any country that fights harder for the right to shoot guns than for its citizens to enjoy free health care. Sadly, without what I’ve always seen as the more positive counterweight of the EU we may be in danger of becoming more reliant on the US.

To young people I’d say don’t let people tell you who you are, what your culture is, who you vote for, where you belong or who you can fall in love with. Find these things out for yourself.

Finally, give Carl Frampton a statue. A total legend.

 

For more information on the work of Nil by Mouth visit www.nilbymouth.org or follow them on twitter @NBMScotland

About Connor Daly

Connor is Editor of Northern Slant. His interests include politics, human rights, current affairs and communications.


Also published on Medium.