WEEKLY columnist Ruth Wishart discusses the often complex issue of identity and what it means to different people.


IT’S an odd thing, identity. Polls now routinely ask whether folks feel more European than British, or more Scottish than British.

But drill deeper down and you find a fascinating set of sometimes conflicting loyalties to place of birth, and residence of adoption.

I’m just back from visiting a pal in Shetland who has bought a home there, renovated it, and thrown herself into the local community to the extent of taking up a full time university art course as part of her “retirement”. (Jean doesn’t really do retirement.)

But the thing is that for most of her married life she lived in Wester Ross, where she ran a business, brought up a family, and became wholly immersed in the local culture and politics, to the extent of learning Gaelic and the accordion.

Before that she lived and worked in Glasgow – where our paths first crossed – and before that in London.

Yet she was born and brought up in Bathgate. So she is a woman with many loyalties, but also someone who has a facility to put down new roots as circumstances and the fancy take her.

It’s a trait both enviable and daunting, depending on your personality and the ties that bind you to particular localities. And some of these ties continue to bind throughout myriad life changes.

I have a friend in Edinburgh whose husband slavishly follows the fortunes of Sheffield United, though I doubt he’s lived in Yorkshire for decades. And some in Glasgow who still plight their troth to Dundee United. (A more admirable attachment, in my book, than boarding buses from your native patch to follow the Old Firm, when the geography of your birth might have propelled you into more local fandom.)

The blessed Val McDermid sponsored the shirts, and then a stand, at Raith Rovers as a sign of her lifelong attachment to her home town football club, whilst journalist and meenister Ron Ferguson bows to nobody in his lifelong attachment to ‘The Blue Brazil’ – more familiarly known as Cowdenbeath. Yet Ron has lived for many years in Orkney, where he was once the pulpitmeister at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall.

So, as I say, it’s a complex and many layered business, this identity stuff. It’s taken me a decade or three to stop saying Glasgow to the query about where I’m from. Now I’ll more usually say Argyll, where I’ve lived for half my adult life.

Yet underneath there still beats a Weegie heart. You can take the girl out of Glasgow, etc etc…

As for my pal Jean? Well there’s a lovely number sung most famously by Paul Young and written by Norman Whitfield, which is particularly appropriate. Maybe he wrote ‘Wherever I Lay My Hat, That’s My Home’ just for her!