I had to laugh when I read Michael Sissons article in Saturday’s Times as he recounted some anti English bigotry north of the border. This bit in particular resonated with yours truly."A YOUNG Englishman whom I know joined a Scottish arts organisation last year. He was the only Englishman there. He found the atmosphere of hostility poisonous. Worse, his wife, a doctor, took a job nearby at a large NHS hospital. On her first day at work, she was met by a large white card on her desk with the greeting: "F*** off, English bitch." Outraged letters to the Leader of the Scottish Assembly and to NHS management produced no reply. The couple packed it in and returned to England……" It’s an all too familiar tale of parochial bigotry, and I too have been on the end of such bitter McVitriol.
I used to go to Glasgow quite often on business. One of my main contacts up there was an English girl – whenever I saw her in her big-shot corporate office it was like she was under siege. She used to whisper in hushed tones to me that her Scottish office colleagues hated her guts and were doing their utmost to get rid of her.
At the time I thought she had a real problem, a sort of persecution complex – but over the months, I realised she was right. In the end she was given the boot, all part of a supposed slimming down exercise. The department was top heavy by the factor of 3. One guy was retiring anyway, another transferred to nearby department, and that just left my English contact who was obviously made redundant……
And that was a bit rich really, no sooner had she been given the big E, when her Scottish replacement was wheeled through the door to do the exact same job. I worked for a short while with the new replacement. It was obvious she knew jack about the job – and that was why I was being kept on. But inevitably, I felt the cold wind of bigotry wafting around my invoices. I was sending them less frequently, as every month went by, the phone calls and emails got less frequent.
One of the last jobs we did, was a large brochure for the whole Group, and it was instigated via the London office. It was a bloody great project involving a large amount of photography. I duly engaged an English photographer and we went up to do the shoot.
Now I was used to the "why isn’t a Scottish company doing this work?’ questions by the Scottish workforce I came into contact with. My strategy was to act dumb, sort of apologise and then bung another 100 quid on the job – as a sort of fine for racial harassment. But my photographer pal was a different proposition altogether. The shoot lasted a week and as the days went by, the snapper began to pick up on the little snide remarks from the people we met on our travels.
The final act was on the Thursday, Peter, our gofer and client rep’ had organised for one of his colleagues to be snapped as a sort of ‘typical company employee at work station’ picture. This shot was intended to go right at the beginning of the brochure – it was a sort of visual keynote statement for modernity, vibrancy and efficiency.
We were introduced to Morag.
Our hearts sank.
Morag looked like she’d stepped right out of the set of Briga-bleeding-doon. It was Harris tweed meets tartan army overload. She was wearing miles of it. Not only that, she was sporting a flowing mane of red hair with a complementary flock of freckles spread right across her ruddy cheeks….
She should have been sat next to a spinning wheel or a harp rather than a computer.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Moira Stewart was in the building…
The snapper went ballistic. It was so clichéd, so small town, so parochial. I wouldn’t have minded but the company we were doing the job for was bloody massive, huge, mega-rich, mega-multinational offices in all the main cities in the financial centres of the world.
Not only that, just behind Morag was one of the most fantastic looking women I’ve ever seen. Young, modern, efficient, fashionable and totally bereft of tartan, she was truly international, empowered…. And her name was Sophie….
The snapper wanted to shoot her. What’s more she was really up for it. But there was a problem, Morag was getting impatient. Morag was Scottish, Sophie was an Aussie. We were fed up.
Peter the gofer was losing his rag. He insisted that we took Morag’s picture, because "she had got dressed up especially"…. The snapper was furious, there she was, dressed from head to toe in a virtual National dress of braveheartyness…
The snapper hissed at me, "I’ll take her fucking picture but I’m dumping the digitals as soon as we leave the building". So there we were, snapping away with tartan-clad Morag when she said ‘it’. A true ‘red rag to a snapping bull moment’ if ever there was one….
"Och, are there noo Scottish photographers who can do this job?"….
The snapper decamped in a fist of fury. Tripods were triped, lenses lobbed, cameras chucked into bags. We were outta there faster than you could say ‘I’m gonna kill a cliché’
We drove down the M8 like bats out of hell, a white knuckled drive of hysteria through the Glasgow rush hour traffic. He only calmed down after we passed Carlisle, after that, I had a hundred miles of mutterings…"That fucking Scottish cow, what a fucking bigot!!!"….
I reckoned playing ‘The Proclaimers on the cd might not have been the wisest thing to do…..