From our roots in the Pollok Free State, a group who opposed the construction of the M77 motorway through public woodlands in Pollok in the early nineties, we have cultivated a reconnection between our folk and the land. It is only when we are alienated from our land that we can brutalise and abuse it. When we reconnect with what it means to live with and of the land and seasons, we tend to place, each other and ourselves in healthier ways. ‘Our folk’ are a broad church. The name GalGael comes from the ethnically diverse mix of peoples living in Scotland in the early Medieval Period, who by the 9th century had become so settled they became known as the Gal Gaidheal. The Gal being the foreigner, and the Gael being the heartland people. So today we continue that tradition as a means to explore what it means to belong to a place and to connect to culture in ways that are ethnically diverse and inclusive.

In late 2021, in the midst of our Govan Free State X COP26 protest/celebration, an American visitor remarked (tongue in cheek), “Y’all are pretty indigenous for white people”. We try to bring about a recovering—a re-membering even—of our own indigenous ways. In Scotland particularly, these ways are often almost in living memory, certainly in cultural memory; in our songs, place names and traditions. In the tradition of the Gal Gaidheal, our belief is that folk belong just where they are; that our indigeneity runs through the milk of fostership, not in blood; that it will be revealed through living lightly and carefully with the earth, not fighting, attempting to dominate, or “Rule the Waves”.  In our recovery of Scottish indigenous ways, we acknowledge our privilege as contemporary westerners. Within our community, we often discuss the dual nature of the Scot as the coloniser and the colonised. We do this with an ear to realising the vision in Hamish Henderson’s poem, The Freedom Come-All-Ye, “Broken faimlies in launds we’ve herriet, will curse Scotland the Brave nae mair”. 

Since GalGael’s beginnings 25 years ago, an urban-rural vision has sat at the heart of our work. Central to our praxis is “working together on demanding common tasks that demonstrate ways of living with more humanity in our times”. At different times, these demanding common tasks have ranged from the construction of our birlinn, Orcuan, to running a café in the Saltmarket for the Commonwealth Games in 2014, to refurbishing the Barmaddy Farmhouse in Argyll.

Dig where we stand

Over the last couple of years, we have been laying the ground for another demanding common task: a growing space at our former timber yard on Ibrox Terrace. It felt like this would broaden the scope of our current offer beyond traditional crafts and enable us to engage with more of our local community. Alongside this, growing space allows us to facilitate conversations around land rights and food sovereignty, which over the coming years will become increasingly pressing in the face of climate collapse and brutal increases in the cost of living driven by corporate greed.

The pandemic crystalised the need for outdoor space for us to safely regather, so it was fortuitous timing to be approached by Dandelion, a creative programme supporting collective action, with the offer of funding to create and programme one of thirteen Unexpected Gardens for Scotland.

The old timber yard is being transformed into a ceremonial deliberative space for GalGael to use as our ‘back garden’. Alongside this, we are facilitating a community growing space on part of an unloved football pitch. We are calling this space Ibrox Commons—a resource around which folk living locally can experience common stewardship. It is also an attempt to ‘dig where we stand’.

In the context of climate collapse and mindless economic growth, The People of the Govan Free State in their Declaration of Independence, Interdependence, and Radical Dependency state that:

“We no longer find it reasonable to put our faith elsewhere. There is no one coming. There is only us. And for us that means each other in Greater Govan on Glasgow’s South Side… We mutually pledge to each other, our lives, our fortunes and our honour...”

The declaration is at once playful and perfectly serious: it prefigures and conjures a mode of reimagining the ways in which we interact with our communities, and invites a countercultural collective response to an individualistic neoliberal over-culture of symptom control and consumerism.

This is the hard work: summoning the strength of those who have gone before us—so that we might stand on their shoulders and see further. One of the ways we are doing this is by creating gathering spaces within the gardens. The Govan Dozen sit at the heart of the space: a timber henge of 13 posts, painted to represent 13 native and significant plants to Scotland. This is intended as a site of gentle permission—the invitation is simple; sit and eat around the fire, talk face to face, and sing together. It is a mechanism for challenging the identity politics that resonate in the virtual echo chamber. It is a ceremonial space held by the enormity of nature, and our shared cultural traditions: Summed up perfectly (again) by Henderson’s words, “In your hoose a’ the bairns o’ Adam can find breid, barley bree and pentit room”.

If we understand what it is to be radical as to ‘grasp at the root of things’, then building a garden in the council ward of Ibrox and Cessnock East is a radical act. The ward is in the lowest five per cent of “most deprived” data zones in Scotland. Many who live here have been cleared and cleared again from land; historically, from the Highlands and Islands to Govan, and more recently refugees and asylum seekers are housed in the area. Facilitating a space to reconnect with land and what it means to belong to a place feels important. It is also an exercise in mutual trust building: The Ibrox Commons are a completely open space—we have not fenced them off in any way. We want them to remain open because we trust that when folk are central to creating a space, and reappointed with its stewardship, they will look after it. Not just because it is theirs, but because it is ours.