A double centre page article by Angus Cochrane this morning in the Scottish newspaper, The National and also on the front page of their internet site (article here) , brings Barga once more into focus concerning the recent Brexit result in the UK.
Profile: Barga, the most Scottish city in Italy
“The most Scottish city in Italy” has pledged its support to the SNP’s bid to keep Scotland in the European Union.
Umberto Sereni, the former mayor of Barga in northern-Tuscany, has written to Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon with “a message of solidarity and encouragement for the decision to pursue Scotland remaining a member of the EU following the vote on Brexit and its consequences”.
Barga has a long-standing affiliation with Scotland, a result of the unusually high number of emigrants to Scotland, dating back to the 19th century. It currently has a twinning agreement with Glasgow and the communities of East Lothian.
Political discourse between Scotland and the city has been maintained for decades. Mayors of Edinburgh, Glasgow and East Lothian have been hosted in Italy while Barghese officials have been entertained in Scotland.
Visitors to Tuscany often express their surprise at hearing the unmistakable sound of English spoken in a Scots-Italian dialect upon visiting the city, which is a popular holiday destination for descendants of first-generation Barghese immigrants to Scotland.
The recent Brexit result has therefore been observed with great interest in Tuscany. Sereni explained: “For the rapport that the town of Barga entertains with Scotland, a relationship which is so intense that we are known as the most Scottish of Italian Municipalities, the vote from Scotland to remain was evaluated by us with great satisfaction and equally great admiration.”
He added: “The fact that the overwhelming majority of Scots have voted to confirm the membership of Europe was further proof of their political maturity and another index of the high degree of civilization that characterises your people to whom we are bound by deep ties of friendship.”
Alex Salmond was alerted to the letter’s existence by his office manager Isobel Zambonini, whose husband’s great grandfather was of Barghigiane origin.
In a reply to Sereni, the former first minister explained that the message of support could not have come at a better time following the “deeply disappointing” EU referendum result.
“The distinct priority for the Scottish Government, and for SNP MPs, is to reassure European citizens living in Scotland that they are welcome and valued in our communities, and to seek to ensure that Scotland continues to be part of the European Union. It is therefore very heartening to receive your kind words of encouragement and support from Italy,” he wrote.
What’s the History?
LARGE scale Barghese immigration to Scotland began in the late 19th century.
The region’s declining silk industry forced many families to emigrate, as was common in Italy during a period of feudal exploitation. Although thousands of Italians headed for America or Argentina, numerous families from Barga opted for a slightly chillier climate. By 1918, there were some 4,000 Italians in Scotland.
Others also attribute Italian immigration to the Duke of Argyll. During a holiday to Tuscany in the 1890s, he is reported to have hired local forestry workers to his estates at home. Once they had settled in Scotland with their families, others soon followed.
Many arrived as humble street-traders. Before long, however, Italian-owned cafes, restaurants and ice-cream parlours had opened across Scotland, perpetuating the movement of people from Barga.
Today, it is estimated that as many as 30,000 Italian descendants live in Scotland, with a sizeable proportion originating from Tuscany. Perhaps the most famous example of the trend is singer-songwriter Paolo Nutini, whose family’s fish and chip shop in Paisley was established by his Barghese great-grandfather.
Best Friends Forever?
THE continued discourse between Scotland and Barga has created a “climate of brotherhood and friendship”, according to the former mayor.
He told Alex Salmond that the First Minister of Scotland is “in a sense”, also the “first minister of our commune Barga, ‘the most Scottish city in Italy’”.
“Words and thoughts now turn to Scotland with the encouragement to proceed in action in order to avert Brexit and to maintain her place in Europe. Barga is ready to celebrate,” Sereni added.
Although the former mayor of Barga may not hold much sway on the issue of Scotland’s EU membership, any endorsements of Scotland’s position in Europe are most welcome by Scottish Government officials.
At the very least, Salmond should bag himself a holiday. In his letter, Sereni wrote that upon meeting the former first minister previously, he had made clear “he would be most welcome at any time” to visit his city. Salmond responded, explaining that looking beyond “some very challenging times ahead of us”, he “may even be able to accept your offer to visit your beautiful city of Barga ‘the most Scottish city in Italy’”.
Worth a Visit?
SCOTTISH tourists looking for a home away from home should look no further than Barga.
Upon entering restaurants, bars or ice-cream parlours, greetings delivered in broad-Glaswegian accents are not uncommon. There is even a Celtic supporters club.
Aside from having the feel of a sunny-Paisley, Italy’s smallest cathedral city of 10,000 inhabitants, has plenty to offer. The beautiful walled complex can have its origins traced as far back as 900 AD. Visitors also have the opportunity to explore the stunning surrounding scenery.
The influence of Scottish culture is never far from view. Next month is set for the latest celebration of the city’s Scottish connection – the annual “Sagra del pesce e Patate” – a fish and chips festival.