"Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant." – They ravage, they slaughter, they plunder, and they falsely name it "empire"; they make a wilderness, and call it "peace."
Everybody has opinions: I have them, you have them. And we are all told from the moment we open our eyes, that everyone is entitled to his or her opinion. Well, that’s horsepuckey, of course. We are not entitled to our opinions; we are entitled to our informed opinions. Without research, without background, without understanding, it’s nothing.
– Harlan Ellison
As the Nicola Sturgeon period of Scotland’s history come to a close, I look to the future with terror and hope. There’s little point in me talking about the SNP leadership race because too many people simply don’t know the full story. Even the fraction I know is enough for me to be at odds with a huge section of the population. Any comments I could make would be incomplete because the truth – the whole truth – is being kept from the public sphere. For the majority of folk, it’s like the Elephant and the Blind Men, an ancient Indian parable used as an allegory for the relationship of experience to truth. Broadly speaking: several blind individuals are introduced to an elephant, and are tasked to describe it using their hands. The problem, of course, is each individual only feels a small part of the elephant, & this causes… problems.
There’s a remarkable scene in 1976 revisionist westernThe Outlaw Josey Wales. It is, at least on the surface, a Southern Romance in the typical Lost Cause motif: a humble Missouri farmer joins a troop of confederate guerillas after his family is murdered, part of a series of violent conflicts in the Missouri-Kansas area; when the war ends, all except Wales surrender to Union forces – and all except Wales are massacred; so he becomes an outlaw and rides on to infamy.
Wales makes his way to Comanche territory, where he encounters the Ketahto leader Ten Bears:
Josie Wales: You be Ten Bears?
Ten Bears: I am Ten Bears.
JW: I’m Josey Wales.
TB: I have heard. You are the Gray Rider. You would not make peace with the Bluecoats. You may go in peace.
JW: I reckon not. I got no place else to go.
TB: Then you will die.
JW : I came here to die with you. Or to live with you. Dying ain’t so hard for men like you and me. It’s living that’s hard when all you’ve ever cared about has been butchered or raped. Governments don’t live together – people live together. With governments, you don’t always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well, I’ve come here to give you either one or get either one from you. I came here like this so you’ll know my word of death is true, and my word of life is then true. The bear lives here, the wolf, the antelope, the Comanche. And so will we. Now we’ll only hunt what we need to live on, same as the Comanche does. And every spring, when the grass turns green, and the Comanche moves north, you can rest here in peace, butcher some of our cattle, and jerk beef for the journey. The sign of the Comanche, that will be on our lodge. That’s my word of life.
TB: And your word of death?
JW: It’s here in my pistols and there in your rifles. I’m here for either one.
TB: These things you say we will have, we already have.
JW: That’s true. I ain’t promising you nothing extra. I’m just giving you life and you’re giving me life. And I’m saying that men can live together without butchering one another.
TB: It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life… or death. It shall be life.
– Josey Wales & Ten Bears, The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)
The fact that such a nuanced depiction of Native Americans & the brutality of war came from the pen of one of the most infamous segregationists of the Civil Rights era is a surprising paradox (even if it’s easy to say how small government libertarians would light up). The United States has been wrestling with the legacy of its past for centuries – but it is words I think of today.
There is iron in your words. Iron = meaning, conviction, commitment. To say something with the intention of carrying it out. To promise, to swear. To vow.
We Scottish Independence supporters are all too used to the double tongues on the opposite side of the constitutional divide. The one which claimed a vote for No was a vote for “better, faster, stronger change” only to then say it was in fact “a vote for the status quo” – and then deny both: who terrorised Scots about being forced out of the European Union, then dragged out because a tiny majority in their larger neighbour was more important than the near two-thirds majority of their own: who, on today’s, ruling, now deny they ever said anything about this being a Union of Equals, that we are in fact One United Kingdom.
The facade of the Phoney Union has fallen at long last. There is no Union of Equals, no Family of Nations. There is only One United Kingdom. There is no Nation of Scotland – and that’s what you all voted for 8 years ago, even when the anti-independence brigade hotly denied it. The only justification you have in maintaining the people of Scotland cannot seek independence without Westminster consent is if you believe that Scotland is not a country. In their glee, many anti-independence mouths are speaking when perhaps it would be strategically impertinent.
But it’s to be expected from them, & they can be ignored. What cannot be expected, or ignored, is the failure of our supposed champions. We had 8 years to sort this out, yet only now we are learning the contempt of the UK Supreme Court for Scotland’s democratic wishes. And the reaction? To talk about it. Sometime next year.
8 years of this. 8 years of fine talk – about how Scotland will not be taken out of the EU against our will, about how Scotland’s voice will be heard, about how Scotland will not be taken for granted. Yet when all those things happened, it is incumbent on those who claim to champion Scotland’s democracy to prove the iron in their words. Now, when Ian Blackford or Angus Robertson or even Nicola Sturgeon make great announcements & proclamations, the response is laughter – because there is no iron in their words. They won’t do anything. They’ll complain, they’ll stamp their feet, they’ll gurn at the electorate apologetically – but deeds will not be forthcoming. Deeds I once believed were inevitable. In times past, when Scottish National Party politicians made bold statements, they followed through. For all the Westminster parties’ sins, even they could perceive the iron in their words.
And they would know – because all the UK have ever promised was devoid of iron. Promises of Devomax, Home Rule, Federalism? No iron. Vows to respect the Scottish Parliament? Ironless. Oaths to respect the will of the Scottish electorate? Completely devoid of ferrous content. So when someone comes to them with iron in their words, they recognise the (to them) alien substance – and know that bluffing won’t work.
The Wallace Tower in Ayr will remain lit up in red, white and blue up to and including Monday 19 September to commemorate the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
– South Ayrshire Council
The insult to the memory of William Wallace, who refused to recognise the primacy of the English monarch, is obvious, and irrefutable – not that it stops some people from debasing themselves and others trying. But the insult to the supposed recipient of this tribute is also profound. Do you think Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of Scots, would be happy seeing one of the most important & revered heroes of one of the Home Nations being disrespected in such a way? If Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of Scots, loved Scotland as much as everyone claims she did, then would she not find this affront to his memory insulting at best, and despicable at worst?
Save for the dyed-in-the-wool monarchists, Never voters, and those pitiful nihilistic wretches who enjoy acts of cruelty even at the expense of their own dignity, no-one will remember this as a fitting tribute. Ayr is not wanting for buildings to light up in the Union Flag in tribute to Elizabeth Windsor – buildings which were not constructed & dedicated to the memory of a man who died in opposition to the notion of an English King ruling England, Scotland, and Wales. Yet they picked this monument, of all Ayr’s grand and magnificent buildings, to affix their devotion. All they will remember from this display is how breathtakingly crass it is. They won’t remember it as a touching tribute to the late Elizabeth Windsor. They will remember it as the gauche, cynical, imperialist display it truly is. It is not a symbol of a nation united in grief over a public figure, but of one forced into acquiescence regardless of how they feel.
Some folk are proud to be “Scottish and British.” Here, we see the reality of that situation, where the memory of a man who died because he refused to acknowledge another nation’s monarch as his was defiled – in the interests of a fake, phony “unity” that’s as fake and phony as the union it exemplifies.
Folk like Lindsay Hoyle would claim that the funeral of Elizabeth Windsor would be “the most important event the world will ever see.” Even the most devoted of monarchists would surely consider that hyperbolic. But for a great many Scots, even the very date of 19th of September is a day of mourning for another reason – one that happened eight years before. It was a day after a referendum, when the woman who died is alleged to have “purred” in response to the result, where the lies & false promises made to Scots were enough to steal away a nation’s freedom.
I mourn the Scotland that could have been on the 19th of September eight years ago. Mourn Elizabeth Windsor if you wish – it is a freedom that the UK Establishment would deny others if they could. I don’t think I ever could mourn, for the reasons above. For me, the 19th of September is a date for mourning a nation – something even greater than any individual, regardless of how powerful, influential, or remarkable they may be. And even if I mourn that Scotland alone – I am, of course, certain that I do not – I am content in knowing there is at least one soul who will remember the 19th of September for a different reason than the Firm would have the world remember.
These women’s scandalous way of life was observed by a sculptor, Pygmalion. Sick of the vices with which the female sex has been so richly endowed, he chose for a number of years to remain unmarried, without a partner to share his bed. In the course of time he successfully carved an amazingly skilful statue in ivory, white as snow, an image of perfect feminine beauty – and fell in love with his own creation. This heavenly woman appeared to be real; you’d surely suppose her alive and ready to move…
Orpheus’ Song: Pygmalion, Metamorphosis by Ovid (translated by Henry Raeburn)
The story of Galatea, first attested in Philostephanus’s De Cypro (The Story of Cyprus) but most well-known from Ovid’s Metamorphoses, is deeply tied to the history of the Cult Image. The sculptor Pygmalion crafted the statue of a woman from ivory. He was so taken with his creation that he fell in love with it: he prayed to the gods to make her real. Aphrodite heard, and granted his request. Various misadventures followed, and as is the case in mythology, variants emerged over time – but the central concept of a statue brought to life following the wish of the sculptor remained.
As the election is tomorrow, I thought I’d do my bit to note all the pro-independence, indy-open, or at least indy-neutral candidates standing in each ward. Every ward except Inverclyde East (where all three candidates have been elected automatically) and Inverclyde South have enough candidates for independence supporters not only to rank above open anti-independence candidates, but theoretically take all the available seats. This happened in Inverclyde West in 2017, where 2 pro-independence candidates and 1 neutral independent were elected. This should be the goal of every independence supporter across Scotland. Considerations about “democracy” and “fairness” are moot, because for as long as we are part of the UK, “democracy” and “fairness” never enter into the equation in the first place. This isn’t overriding democracy – it’s ensuring democracy, real democracy, has a chance to actually manifest with Scottish independence.
I won’t explicate the order in which I will be voting, nor will I make any particular recommendations. I expect Alba supporters to put Alba first and SNP supporters to put their candidates first: there is no real way to “game” the Single Transferrable Vote system, so it is honestly one of the most authentic methods. You really do vote for your first choice first, and your last choice last. Even if you can’t stand any particular candidate, or refuse to support their party, you can at least place them above individuals & parties who are actively opposed to independence. I leave to others arguments about local issues. My argument is that if the power station fails, it doesn’t matter how many lightbulbs you change or wires you reroute in your living room – you need to get the power going at the source.
No major party, it seems, is without blood on their hands. The cruelties and atrocities committed under the UK Government Party’s watch are well-documented and ongoing. Thanks to past Prime Ministers, the Opposition Party can count tens of thousands of innocents within and without the UK’s borders on their red ledgers. The moral cowardice of the Coalition Party makes them party to everything the UK Government enabled during that brief five year term which ended up decimating what was once offering an alternative to the destructive two-party dominance of centuries past. Even considering that the Scottish Government was not truly a national government with the powers and responsibilities enjoyed by nearly every other nation on the planet, I took great pride in the party I voted for and supported being something different.
When the new First Minister decided the “Scottish Executive” deserved a name more deserving of the Parliament it stood in, Scotland went on to flourish under a Scottish Government. 2007 marked the beginning of great changes, lasting even through the atrocious Financial Crisis: the rise in homelessness was stalled and reversed to almost half its previous level, as was educational inequality and crime levels; A&E waiting times for the Scottish NHS were significantly reduced from the previous government; the worrying rise in drug deaths was slowed since 2007; votes condemning and refusing to consent to war and exploitation were constant even in the face of international pressure. You could accuse the SNP of everything under the sun, but at least – at least – the SNP never voted to send our people to illegal wars. At least the SNP never let thousands upon thousands of our people die through negligence, incompetence, or malice. At least the SNP were an exemplar, a glimpse, of what an Independent Scotland could be – the good an Independent Scotland could do. Even if you’re on the other side of the constitutional divide, they were a party of government you could respect.
The most erroneous stories are those we think we know best – and therefore never scrutinize or question.
– Stephen Jay Gould
It is no great surprise to see that Inverclyde Council has voted to remove instances of Gourock’s Burgh Coat of Arms from public view. The results of last year’s consultation were as follows:
Of the 205 respondents, 50 felt that the coat of arms should be retained (although a great majority of them were in favour of information boards to explain them); 77 felt the coat of arms should be changed or removed; and 23 didn’t know or weren’t clear about their views.
There were 29 comments left as part of the survey; 11 of these were strongly negative about the coat of arms (some respondents were ‘shocked’ and ‘horrified’ upon seeing the coat of arms for the first time), five were of the view that it is history and therefore cannot be changed, and two believed it to be inaccurate to describe the man as enslaved.
The discussion & vote can be found at the 55 Minute mark on the Council’s Youtube site:
Ultimately, it was a nuanced and sensitive discussion, and I must give particular thanks to Gourock Councillor Chris McEleny for his considered words in what could easily have devolved into a heated and unproductive debate. I also appreciate the qualification “widely considered” on the Inverclyde Now article for reasons I’ve gone into before. It seemed more likely than not that the Council would choose to take the same route as other councils and local authorities, especially given the recent (and long overdue) reappraisal of Scotland’s history.
The following post is an expansion on my response to Inverclyde’s Historical Links to Slavery Working Group: Gourock Coat of Arms Public Consultation. I have written on the Gourock Coat of Arms before, and I have a deep personal interest in it stemming from an early age. Therefore I felt it would be beneficial to share my response on this site. Inverclyde Council had pre-emptively planned to remove the Coat of Arms, concurrently with plans to de-colonise the Watt Institute’s museum collections.
I encourage any Gourockian readers to fill out the survey & hand it in by Wednesday 24th November.
The last post was a bit dowlie for my liking. I was still upset about the situation with the McPherson Centre, and frustrated. Fortunately, a couple of things happened since writing that post which reinvigorated my belief in Scotland and her people.
I’ve found great difficulty mustering the heart & will to post anything on the blog in the past few months. Everything since the election has seemed so counter-intuitively dark and dreich, a sense of failure clad in the gaudy rainments of victory. For all the gains we made since 2014, we still keep failing somehow. Almost as if I’m starting to understand the Cringe.