June 30, 2007
MANY nations have a strand of defiance woven into the DNA of their people.
In Scotland, it’s tinged with just a little more aggression than most.
Our “Blitz spirit” would have been embodied by a wee man constructing a giant trampoline and shouting: “Come ahead” in a high-bouncing attempt to “stick the heid” on a passing Messerschmitt.
His wife, all four foot nine of her, would be jabbing a finger skywards, shouting: “Get tore right intae thum, Boaby”.
On a summer’s day, the horror of terrorism on a globally significant scale visited Glasgow Airport.
Few, eight years later, could name the men who drove a car loaded with propane cylinders through the doors of the airport.
But everyone remembers John Smeaton.
Smeato was the baggage handler on a cigarette break, who “piled in”.
One attacker was on fire and the jeep looked set to explode. But Smeato, as he was later reported as saying, thought to himself: “You’re no hitting the polis mate, there’s nae chance.”
He hurtled into the fight.
Bystanders reported he shouted “Mon then” as he attempted to kick one terrorist in the groin.
Most famously, in a TV interview, his message to any other prospective terrorist was: “This is Glasgow, we’ll set aboot ye”.
The wider account of that Saturday afternoon includes heroic acts by airport staff, police and members of the public. John has been at pains to point out, over the years, that more deserve recognition for their bravery.
What sets John apart, however, is that phrase: “This is Glasgow, we’ll set aboot ye”. In seven words, it captures the Scottish fighting spirit better than any wordsmith or poet has managed before or since.
Our national persona is of a people ready to fight. Indeed, of a people who enjoy a fight.
But that description has to have qualifications. We’re not bullies, we’re not cruel. We fight, but only if there is reason to fight (although, to be honest, sometimes the “reasons” might not seem overly clever if examined in the cold and sober light of day).
The reputation of our kilted fighting forces as “devils in skirts” is deserved. We’re bonny fighters. Our soldiers are a general’s dream – they’ll get in, bayonettes fixed. No retreat, no hesitation when going over the top.
John Smeaton was given the Queen’s Gallantry Medal. But that medal could be awarded to countless wee Scottish boys in countless school playgrounds who have taken as much as they can before gritting their teeth, facing the bigger laddie and, with defiance for defiance’s sake, said, like Smeato, “Mon then”.
We’re all Smeato.