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Nicky Marr: Other people’s opinions of us occupy far too much of our time

By Nicky Marr

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Nicky Marr's train journey was an eye-opener
Nicky Marr's train journey was an eye-opener

These few words of Burns’ poetry really resonate: O wad some Pow’r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us!

They capture one of life’s frustrating truths; that we can never fully understand what others think of us. It might be a ‘giftie’ to have that power, more likely a curse. But other people’s opinions of us occupy far too much of our time.

What will the neighbours think? Is my work good enough? Do my friends really like me? Other people’s opinions really shouldn’t matter and we’d probably all sleep better if we really did care less.

Last Friday I was on a train from London to Edinburgh. Between King’s Cross and Durham, I got a wee insight. Not of how I myself might be perceived, but of how Scotland and our politics are viewed south of Hadrian’s Wall. What an eye-opener.

Let me be clear, this wasn’t a scientific survey. The seven who surrounded me were a confident, well-educated group of 29-year-olds, working in The City, and heading north to celebrate an engagement. They had met at university just over a decade ago. Life stories? I heard a few.

I could tell you about David’s Botox, dating disasters, and recent trips to see the musical ‘& Juliet’ (‘five times!’), Hugo’s recent trip to Argentina (‘awesome’), or Ella’s dilemma about her mortgage (‘to fix or not to fix’), but that wasn’t the meaty stuff. The meaty stuff started once they heard my Scottish accent.

As they unpacked bottles of fizz, worked out who was picking up the beef fillet for Saturday’s dinner, and compared the expensive bottles they’d brought for the wine tasting, we got talking. They produced an extra champagne flute for me (‘so sorry it’s plastic’) and started pouring. I slid my £3 can of warm wine back into my handbag and settled in for the ride.

‘So who replaced Nicola Sturgeon?’ soon-to-be-married Alex asked, four days before the leadership vote closed. ‘Were the candidates all members of the Scottish Nationalists? And isn’t she Alex Salmond’s niece?’

There was a bit of unpicking to do there, so I unpicked. This was all news.

Finn wondered why we still have an SNP, when it was a ‘once in a lifetime vote’ – ‘why hadn’t the party just disbanded for 25 years?’ (More unpicking.)

Hugo was more clued up; ‘it’s because of Brexit that the ‘Scotch’ want another referendum, isn’t it?’

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Well, yes, that is partly it for some people, I admitted. But some SNP support might be as a reaction to Westminster, I suggested… ‘Oh we hate Westminster too!’ he jumped in. ‘And if Scotland get to leave because they didn’t vote for Brexit, London should get to leave too!’

The impossibility of London seeking independence from Westminster didn’t seem to occur. I’m rarely speechless. But Hugo jumped back into the silence. ‘Anyway, you can’t leave,’ he said, ‘I like coming to Scotland’.

‘Oh, you could still come,’ I soothed. ‘It would just be the same as going to Argentina, except not so far away. We won’t be moving.’

Hugo seemed placated, but the nameless supplier of the fizz jumped in. ‘Why is Scotland always complaining?’, he asked. ‘You never hear Welsh people talking about independence!’

My two-word answer, ‘Plaid Cymru’, fell on deaf ears. Only one of the seven had heard of the Welsh nationalists. There was a lot of Googling, and several raised eyebrows.

The company of these seven bright, intelligent young economists(!) made my journey fly. There was lots of laughter and good-natured banter. But their level of misunderstanding about Scotland and Scottish politics, and the claim ‘but you’re the other half of England’, was remarkable.

So, how did these ‘others’ see Scotland? As a beautiful country, which they all claimed to love, but which needed to get back in its box. If anything is ever going to sway my thoughts back towards self-determination, Friday’s experience might be it.

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