05 Jul Simply Scottish in Seattle
You can hear “Simply Scottish” four times a week on the award winning radio
station Celtic Radio Network www.celticradio.net
1) Where did you grow up and when did you leave Scotland?
I grew up in Gilmerton on the outskirts of Edinburgh. I remember spending lots of time outside playing football, sometimes until we couldn’t see the ball any more. I was a frequent customer of the ice cream vans that would come round, and it always seemed more convenient to me to yell up to my Mum and Dad to throw money down than for me to climb the 4 or 5 flights of stairs. A rather selfish and demanding thing to do, but what did I know?
Actually, a good portion of my childhood was spent in other countries. I lived in Germany, New Zealand, and Australia and we frequently visited Spain, England, and the US on holiday.
We left Scotland for good in the summer of 1990, a dozen suitcases in tow, bound for Texas. I was 11, and I could not fathom the bigness of the adventure on which I was embarking.
2) What is your job/sector?
Right now, I’m a media relations specialist at the Discovery Institute, a public policy organization in Seattle. I work specifically in the Center for Science & Culture, headquarters for the intelligent design movement, a scientific theory that holds that certain features of the universe and of living things are best explained by an intelligent cause, not an undirected process like natural selection. It’s an exciting place to work! Because it’s our job to challenge long-held scientific beliefs in evolution, we have lots of enemies.
But as a Scotsman, I’m used to opposition, so that doesn’t bother me! Before the Discovery Institute, I taught middle school English at a large Christian school. That was challenging but a lot of fun! There’s so much work involved in being a teacher. Unless you’ve done it, you really don’t know how much goes into it. I miss being around the kids on a daily basis, but I appreciate my current job and look for ways to use my teaching credentials and experience every day.
3) Do you sometimes visit bonny Scotland?
I visited Scotland for the first time in a decade in 2010, introducing my homeland to my wife Amy. A year before, we named our daughter Caledonia, after the ancient Roman name for Scotland, and it turned out to be the perfect name. The name derives from the Caledonii, a dominant Pictish tribe living in Scotland, and means “great” and “hard/rugged”, qualities my daughter more than lives up to! I really enjoyed reconnecting with family and with the land during my 2010 trip.
I was preparing to rekindle my Scottish radio program as a podcast at that point, so I partnered with Historic Scotland, who gave my wife and I private tours and interviews with staff at several historic properties, including Edinburgh and Stirling Castles and Melrose Abbey.
4) What do people in the United States think of Scots and Scotland?
From 1990 to 2001, we lived in the Rio Grande Valley on the southern tip of Texas. What an interesting place to live! A unique blend of cultures with gorgeous beaches at nearby South Padre Island and sunny weather practically all the time! A strange place for a family of Scots, you might think, but even there, Scottish heritage was all around.
I attended college in a town called Edinburg, and we lived in Cameron County. It turns out a good number of Scots have been involved in the history of Mexico and Texas, from statesman Sam Houston and the Scots who fought at the Alamo to Aberdeen Angus cattle imports.
What do Texans and Americans in general think of Scots and Scotland? Well, it really depends on their experience with Scotland. Some people confuse it with Ireland or don’t even know where it is on the map. Others know a thing or two, like bagpipes and whisky. And still others, because of their personal family connections to Scotland, know a good deal.
My dad and I tried to educate people about all things Scottish through a radio show we co-hosted between 1999-2001 called Simply Scottish. The show was a mix of music and features. I presented the modern Scotland and my dad the Scotland of his day. The show aired on the local NPR station and eventually spread to stations in other states and in Ontario, Canada. It was very well received. Listeners enjoyed the father-son presentation and enjoyed the music and information we shared. It was sponsored by the local newspaper, which did a full-page spread on the show at one point.
The area is a magnet for culture, so I think the show resonated with a lot of people living there.
5) Should haggis be a protected species?
I’ve been trying to convince people of the merits of haggis for as long as I can remember. The list of ingredients doesn’t make it easy! My daughter Caledonia loves it, and we turned a phrase she’d say with us – “eat your haggis!” – into a bumper sticker that attracts quite a bit of attention! We used to bring tins of it back on our trips back to Scotland, but we can actually buy it locally in the Seattle area.
As to protected status, I think the number of Scots abroad who enjoy it will take care of protecting it for generations to come!
6) Has living abroad changed the way you think about Scotland?
I think it most certainly has. They say you don’t truly appreciate something until you don’t have it any more. Leaving Scotland was the beginning of a life-long love affair with my country that I may not have had if I had stayed within her borders. I was always a proud young Scot, but a fire really ignited in me when Braveheart came to movie theaters in 1995. There, Scotland’s history came to life on the big screen in a way I’d never known it before. I decided then to become an ambassador for my country, and the passion has grown ever since.
It’s hard to stay connected to your homeland when you live in another country, but I read the Scottish headlines every day via the internet and I keep up with what’s happening in Scotland. I recently re-launched my Scottish radio show as a podcast, so I’m busy building a community around that right now.
7) What do you miss most and least about the auld country?
I miss the food quite a bit! Freshly made mince pies, black pudding, fish suppers, tablet, and all the sweeties I grew up on. And of course, IRN-BRU! I can get black pudding and IRN-BRU near where I work in Seattle, and most of the sweets are available here too. My mother made shortbread from a family recipe that became quite well-known in the area. She would sell it at Thanksgiving and Christmas, and people loved the taste, the texture, and the wee square bites!
What do I miss the least? Well, the hooliganism, bad language, and violence that used to permeate the urban areas of Edinburgh and on public buses. I think they’ve managed to clean things up quite a bit since the late 1980s, but to a certain extent, it will always be there.
8) What about the independence referendum coming up? How will it affect you and Scotland’s international image?
For years now, I’ve been a supporter of Scottish independence, even before devolution. It has always made sense to me that Scots should rule Scotland and that the parliament should be in Edinburgh, not London or Brussels. When I was younger, I was a lot more forceful about things. I’d hit out at any organization that listed the UK as a country. I denounced the BBC for unbalanced programming. I undermined anything British. I’ve matured over the years, and have learned to recognize the proper fronts in the battle for sovereignty.
Scotland can be independent AND have a great working relationship with England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. It’s possible, if we can get past the doubts and scaremongering. I was ecstatic when the SNP formed a majority government in 2011. I’m very excited about the referendum that’s coming.
I think we are entering a great period in Scotland’s history and I’m honored to be a part of it.
9) When are you coming home for good and do you have a message for Scots back home?
Yes, the thing about being an immigrant is that there’s always that idea in the back of your mind that you’ll return to your homeland one day. I still have that. I’m happy where I am right now, but I can’t rule out a move back to Scotland in the future. Honestly, it’s wherever God wants me. If He has plans for me in Scotland, I’m all for it. Our lives are short. If it’s left up to us, we’d wander and possibly never use our time and talents effectively. God has a powerful, purposeful plan for each one of us, and if we tap into that, we can’t go wrong.
A message for the Scots back home? Don’t discount us immigrants! We left Scotland, yes. But we are still Scotland where we are now, loving, promoting, and defending our homeland as ambassadors. We still care, we still follow and we still have an opinion on Scottish affairs. Include us and don’t forget us!
Andrew McDiarmid is host of Simply Scottish, a weekly podcast of music and features. Ranked #1 in Travel/Places on Podomatic, the world’s largest community of independent podcasters and featured on iTunes as What’s Hot in podcasts. Tune in at www.simplyscottish.com and join the conversation at www.facebook.com/simplyscottish.