Letter From America cover image

Letter From America

First published on July 4, 2023 by Gilbert West. Context is important.


It’s the 4th o July an it’s dinging doon ootside. Ootside being New York. It’s their big day, but it looks like the traditional barbecues will be a wash out. It’s sair dingin doon, but that hasn’t quelled the 30C temperatures at all. Impossible humidity will follow a break in the thunder and rain. The neighbour’s garden has a freshly fallen tree branch in it ‘resting’ on a skew-whiff trellis. The rain has been accompanied by thunder and lightning and I can’t tell if the branch was cut from the tree as a preventative measure or if it was caused by a lightning strike.

I’m staying indoors and thinking about “The 4th” and what that means to all those millions of Americans out there. I’m thinking about the missing part of this world famous synecdoche, “Independence Day.” So many countries have them. So many countries still mark them. Hell, USA still does after more than 240 odd years.

What I’m thinking about is just how many of those celebrated declarations of independence were made against, Britain. Sixty five. 65 in total. 65 countries that have by now, asserted their right to separate from Britain. I’m being imprecise by using Britain. There’s no such place in the legal sense. You can’t sign a trade agreement with Britain. More accurately, 65 countries gained their independence from the British Empire or the United Kingdom depending of which point in history we’re talking about. But even if I’m technically wrong in my argument, we’re still talking about dozens and dozens and dozens of countries that cut free. One third of all countries in the world.

This point was driven home to me in my last job where the team was drawn from a wide range of countries, including; USA, Kenya, India, Singapore, Israel, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Canada, Gambia. All countries that had at some point shunned Britain. Of the other nationalities in the team, I figured out that if we hadn’t stolen their land, we had been at war with them.

I’m a Scotsman, my home is in Scotland and I want to celebrate an Independence Day for my own country in the very near future. We have numerous slogans in the independence movement, one of which is simply, “Independence is normal.” Not the catchiest of slogans. It doesn’t tug at the heartstrings. But it does state a simple, undeniable truth. Independence is normal. 65 countries made it out and none of them have gone back. It’s a delightfully one way street.

Here's to being en route to number 66.

Photo by Morten Andreassen on Unsplash

“Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.” - Alisdair Gray after Dennis Lee's poem 'Civil Elegies'
"And best of all is finding a place to be in the early days of a better civilization."