Scotland had an historic referendum yesterday on the question whether it should leave the United Kingdom: the voters said no, in a ratio of 55:45, and a turnout of about 85 percent.
On the face of it, one of last places you may think would have an interest in the result may have more than some trickles of sentiment.
Scots began coming to Jamaica during the 17th century, either as banished people (Oliver’s Cromwell’s prisoners of war) or later as volunteers (after the 1707 Act of Union gave access to England’s colonies). They have many places in the island’s history, through culture, religion, and politics. The great poet, Robert Burns, reportedly planned to migrate to Jamaica, but changed his plans at the last minute.
Scots were part of Jamaica’s slave history, as owners, and overseers, and were painfully reminded of that a few years ago. Notably, of Henry Dundas, the first Viscount Melville, who, as Lord Advocate in 1807, helped to persuade the British Parliament to retain the system of slavery beyond the abolition of the slave trade.
A few countries, and several geographical regions carry the saltire cross in their flags: Scotland and Jamaica share that honour. Scotland’s patron saint, Andrew, was allegedly crucified on such a cross.
Jamaica has many people whose ancestors hail directly from Scotland, or carry Scotland in their heritage, mainly through names.
A friend gladly noted, yesterday, on what would have been her father’s 85th birthday, that ‘The family name Rattray emerged as a Scottish Clan or family…It is said that two Rattray brothers landed in Jamaica during this time, and that all the Rattrays in Jamaica are descended from these two brothers.’
My father told me that his father, whom I never met, was a Campbell (again, Gaelic in origin, from the words “Cam” and “Béal” meaning “crooked mouth” or “wry-mouthed”, originally a nickname which over time became used as a surname).
My first wife’s family hailed from Scotland, on her father’s side, and the name Scott, is clear in its origins.
My current wife’s family (Bahamian) has a penchant for Scottish names, and Anderson and Selkirk feature, prominently.
One lasting image from this summer’s Commonwealth Games in Glasgow (which voted for Independence, by the way) was of the Jamaican 4×100 metres men’s relay team after their win, standing (awkwardly?) in tam-o-shanters and tartan scarves.
We have Fergusons (son of Fergus, which is derived from the Gaelic elements fear (“man”) and gus (“vigour”, “force”, or “choice”)), and our somewhat beleaguered Health Minister may be wishing he was in the Outer Hebrides.
We’ve had our Sangster (singer). The list is long.
Jamaica also has its places with Scottish names: Aberdeen, Berwick Castle, Clydesdale, Culloden (two places), Dundee, Glasgow, Inverness, Dunrobin, Roxborough, to name some.
So, Jamaicans have plenty of reason to feel proud of Scotland.
I don’t know if many Jamaicans really followed the referendum developments, until perhaps the last days. We already have independence, though obtained in different circumstances–and certainly not through a popular vote. I got the impression that people hoped for independence, perhaps, feeling that self-government is better in all situations. That’s not a given.