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Meet Some Of The Poles Who Will Help Decide Scotland's Future

  • Kathleen Moore

PERTH, Scotland -- As he sips a pint of beer at an outdoor cafe, Bartosz Maroszek lapses into a Scottish accent as broad as the nearby River Tay.

The 26-year-old Dabrowa Gornicza native came to Scotland seven years ago to take up a job as a coffin varnisher in a place he'd never heard of.

After being picked up at the bus station by Maroszek's new employer, "We thought we were going to stay in Edinburgh," he says. But the car kept driving north. "'Where are we going?' I asked. They said, 'Perth.' I said, 'Oo! Where is that?'"

Nowadays Maroszek calls Scotland his second home, one he shares with his partner, Gosia, and their 2-year-old son, Michal, whom he calls his "wee terror." Still with the same coffin maker, Maroszek has been given added responsibilities by his boss. And on September 18 he'll be doing the same as millions of others living in Scotland -- voting in a referendum on whether Scotland should be an independent country.

Maroszek wears his views on his sleeve, almost; along with a couple of varnish stains, his left forearm sports a blue "Yes 2014" wristband.

"Poland fought so many times to be independent and now we manage to be independent," he says. "Scots don't have to die to be independent, they just can simply go and put a 'yes' vote."

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond delivers a speech during an international press conference in Edinburgh on September 11.

Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond delivers a speech during an international press conference in Edinburgh on September 11.

Maroszek is one of an estimated 61,000 Polish nationals who make up Scotland's largest national minority group. As European Union citizens, they get a vote in the independence referendum. And with the polls saying the result is too close to call, it's just possible that the votes of EU nationals like Maroszek could hold the key to the result.

Leading pro-independence figures -- including Scotland's first minister, Alex Salmond, and his deputy, Nicola Sturgeon -- have made campaign appearances with Poles and other EU nationals in the run-up to the vote.

'Inclusive' Nationalism

By his own estimate, Maciej Wiczynski has traveled more than 11,000 kilometers criss-crossing Scotland campaigning for independence. He's also paying out of his own pocket, although he declines to say exactly how much as his wife "would probably kill me."

EXPLAINER on the Scottish referendum

The ebullient 31-year-old father of two set up the "Poles for an independent Scotland" Facebook page some 19 months ago and has held Polish-language meetings across the country and printed campaign materials in Polish in a bid to win over his compatriots.

Wiczynski, a health-care support worker, says If Scotland becomes independent, he will be one of the first to apply for a Scottish passport "with the tartan and bottle of whisky on the front."

Bartosz Maroszek, 26, is one of an estimated 61,000 Polish nationals who make up Scotland's largest national minority group.

Bartosz Maroszek, 26, is one of an estimated 61,000 Polish nationals who make up Scotland's largest national minority group.

Wiczynski says the Scots' brand of nationalism is inclusive and poles apart from what he sees as a growing anti-EU and anti-immigration mood south of the border, as evidenced there by a recent rise in support for the Euroskeptic U.K. Independence Party (UKIP).

"Down south they are calling us foreigners and here in Scotland they are calling us new Scots. That's a huge difference," Wiczynski says. "In the debate about the future of Scotland we are talking about 'the people of Scotland,' not about Scots. Nationality doesn't matter. You live here, you work here, you pay taxes here, you have got a mortgage here, you are a Scot. End of story. Full stop. And that's beautiful."

'It's Only Human'

The northeastern oil city of Aberdeen has one of Scotland's biggest Polish communities.

Outside the city's St. Mary's Cathedral on the last Sunday before voting day, Michael Watt, a young independence activist, hands out "Poles for independence" leaflets to worshipers leaving the Polish Mass.

Mark Pradela, 32, who works in the health service, says he's still making up his mind but is "80 percent 'no.'" "I think it's better if it's one country, if we are together," given the uncertainties of independence, he says.

One red-haired young woman, who declines to give her name, says for a long time she was a "yes" but has since changed her mind.

"I think it's better for us to stay in the union. I think financial risks are the main things. You can't rely on oil completely," she says. "It was still a difficult decision but I'm not convinced entirely for 'yes,' so 'no' is the other option."

Wlodimierz Szydlowski, carrying a guitar and lighting a cigarette as he leaves the church, says he's a "no," too. "In my opinion it is too small a country to be independent," the 50-year-old joiner says.

But his cheerful friend Tonny Borowski, a stocky 51-year-old bricklayer and "happy grandfather" to four grandchildren -- three of them born in Scotland -- asks why shouldn't Scotland go its own way? "It's human to want [independence]," he says.

Back in Perth, Maroszek says there are still some unanswered questions for him, such as what currency an independent Scotland would use.

But, he adds, that's not enough to be a big worry for him. And if Scotland does leave the United Kingdom, he, too, will try for Scottish citizenship.

"I grew up in Poland, I'm Polish.... I will always be Polish and if I have to go fight for my country, I will," he says. "But I have been living here and so I want to be part of the community. I would like to become -- I won't be a Scot, but a Polish-Scot."

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