By Phil Weir
I was thinking the other day, as I sat down on my home surf-turf of Leven Beach, tuning Shelley, my giant conch, while my pet lobster Klaus painstakingly manicured my toe-nails, what a wonderful and unique thing it is to be a Fifer, and what a peculiar unifying identity it is.
After all, we’re perhaps the only Scottish contingent that labels itself, individually and collectively, with a common name – Fifer – based on the small region we call home.
For those not getting my gist, folk from the Lothians don’t call themselves Lothianers, residents of Perthshire don’t refer to themselves as Perthshire-ites, Grampian dwellers don’t go far and wide introducing themselves as Grampianolas, and the lads and lasses who live in Argyll and Bute, are never heard coming away with such lines as, “I was chatting to a fellow Argyllitino and Buter the other day...”.
Even Taysiders don’t refer to themselves as Taysiders.
So what is it about us Fifers that leads us to set ourselves apart in this respect? Why is our self-perception so coloured by us being born and bred within the boundaries of this tiny portion of the map? Why are we prey to this rampant countyism?
Well, for a start, most other Scottish regions are dominated by a large city or town, which, due to density of population, concentration of labour, etc., tend to monopolise the energies of their environs. As far as their communities of orbit go, they act like black holes with streetlighting. Strathclyde has Glasgow and Glaswegians; Tayside has Dundee and Dundonians; Aberdeenshire, Aberdeen and Aberdonians; and the Lothians, Edinburgh and the Edinbourgeoisie. Even the Hebrides have the metropolis of Stornoway (where the children are known as Stornowains).
Fife has no one such epicentre. Instead it has several large towns which, through population, or prestige past and present, all compete, mostly mannerably, for pre-eminence – the well-populated, post-industrial triumvirate of Kirkcaldy, Glenrothes and Levenmouth; the globally renowned and gowned St Andrews, the old county town of Cupar; and the slightly Edinburgh-facing Dunfermline. No one town bows to another; but nor does any conurbation seek a higher plinth than the next.
Fife seems to me to be a place where we all feel like we’re in it together – whatever that thing we are in together actually is. A billowing-sailed galleon? Or a leaky rowboat.
In fact, there’s more than a whiff of communism about the place – Fife’s political annals boast the UK’s longest-serving Communist MP, Willie Gallacher (1935-50, West Fife) and the nation’s most fervently anti-royalist MP, the man who replaced Gallacher, Willie Hamilton (1950-1987 West Fife, later Central Fife).
But this left-leaning radicalism at the ballot box seems a little strange when you consider Fife’s pet name is ‘The Kingdom’, thanks to resident royal Fifers of yore.
Of course, in actuality, the place no longer feels like either a socialist bulwark or a stamping ground for monarchs on chargers.
For me, Fife has echoes of ancient Greece – a loose federation of town states. All fiercely proud in their own ways, all with separate identities and different traditions. All jostling each other a little now and again and agitating to have self-interests appeased.
But that’s what happens when you spend long centuries standing shoulder to shoulder, in occupation together on cherished ground. You’ve got to live and let live.
And how strong is this collective identity now? I see no evidence of it weakening. In fact, over the last 150 years, non-Fifers have been so eager to join the party that they’ve built four mighty bridges of connection from the north and the south (five counting the one that fell down). And now another is going up. There is something alluring about us lot, and no mistake.
Jings! Have I not gone and got myself all fired up now.
This referendum on September 18? Stuff it being used to vote Yes or No for an indy Scotland.
Let us, fellow Fifers, we few, we happy few, we band of brothers and sisters and neebs, hijack the contraption and try to squeeze something different out if it – a resounding ‘Aye!’ for an independent Fife!