Wings Over Scotland published a really stupid article today, and a really good article. Well, technically it was the same article, but both halves of the article were very interesting for different reasons. So, while I’ll only discuss the disagreements briefly, I’ve been percolating a post about Scottish Gaelic for a while, and this provides an excellent prompt.
Nine-tenths of tactics are certain, and taught in books: but the irrational tenth is like the kingfisher flashing across the pool, and that is the test of generals.
– T. E. Lawrence
Scot Goes Pop and Wings Over Scotland have some fantastic pieces on the prospect of the “Vote SNP on the constituency, Another Pro-Indy Party on the list” scheme being promoted by various pro-independence parties. It is natural that the Greens, Solidarity, and RISE (the next stage of the Radical Independence Campaign) would want to promote their own parties, especially in the Scottish elections. I’ve often mentioned my desire for a new kind of politics, a collaborative rather than competitive model where parties work together to make things better rather than the opposition hounding the government for every tiny thing. As such, for a long time I’d been an advocate of the “vote SNP in the constituency, Greens/SSP/Yes Alliance in the list” method for next year’s Holyrood election. However, having read into the actual formula used to calculate list votes, I now realise there’s much more to it than I previously thought.
So is that it, then? Just keep voting SNP every chance you get until independence, and leave the Greens, SSP and other pro-independence parties and candidates to their own devices? That doesn’t sit well with me either. All pro-indy parties and groups worked their socks off to get the official vote to 45%, and they all experienced surges in support following the referendum.
What can be done?
I can not be a traitor, for I owe him no allegiance. He is not my Sovereign; he never received my homage; and whilst life is in this persecuted body, he never shall receive it. To the other points whereof I am accused, I freely confess them all. As Governor of my country I have been an enemy to its enemies; I have slain the English; I have mortally opposed the English King; I have stormed and taken the towns and castles which he unjustly claimed as his own. If I or my soldiers have plundered or done injury to the houses or ministers of religion, I repent me of my sin; but it is not of Edward of England I shall ask pardon.
– William Wallace, Statement at his trial, rejecting the assertion he was a traitor to Edward I of England (23 August 1305), as quoted in Lives of Scottish Worthies (1831) by Patrick Fraser Tytler, p. 279
Sometimes I look at the Scottish Cringe, and wonder how it could be so widespread. What other country is so gripped by a reluctance to commemorate, respect, or even acknowledge their past? What other people has so many of their members so eager to sneer and troll and disrespect their own history? What other nation has journalists prepared to vilify the recognition of a national hero as if it was some sort of demonic cult?
On this day in 1305, William Wallace was killed. It was called execution, because the King of England claimed dominion over Scotland, thus rendering Wallace’s rebellion an act of high treason. Even to this day, the Anglocentric view of events bleeds through, as countless “On this day” sites, wikis, blog posts, tweets, and facebook status updates talk about the execution of William Wallace for treason.
Yet by any reasonable estimation, this is a distortion of what happened. William Wallace was murdered by a foreign king, for leading his people against an invading power intent on conquest. That he continues to be called a traitor, that his death is still given the legal justification “execution,” exemplifies why I consider that word to be not a grave insult, but an honour. For the establishment, the nobility, the monarchy, those that lord above us, to call someone a traitor, is to call anyone who seeks to usurp their divine right to rule a traitor. I don’t have a problem with that.
We come here with no peaceful intent, but ready for battle, determined to avenge our wrongs and set our country free. Let your masters come and attack us: we are ready to meet them beard to beard.
– William Wallace, Statement before the Battle of Stirling Bridge (11 September 1297), as quoted in History of Scotland (1841) by Patrick Fraser Tytler, p. 121
Yet the Cringe is insidious indeed to reduce one of the great symbols of freedom to a joke. Our history is rendered parochial, narrow-minded, petty, small. Braveheart, a film which garnered ten Academy Award nominations (of which it won five), four Golden Globe nominations, seven BAFTA nominations (of which it won three), and is beloved worldwide, is ridiculed and laughed at nonstop – to the point where even pro-independence Scots are anxious to dissociate themselves from what they view as a cheesy, historically-inaccurate piece of shortbread-tin Pop Scot.
What’s even worse is treating a hero of Scottish nationhood, without whom there wouldn’t be a United Kingdom so much as a Greater England, as merely “a cover for hating the English.”
@MhairiHunter Not sure commemorating a young soldier is the same as celebrating the guy who give people a cover for hating the English.
— Stephen Daisley (@JournoStephen) August 22, 2015
Presumably the Americans celebrate George Washington’s birthday for the same reasons? And the Indians with Gandhi? Is that it? Or does it not count because America and India are independent, which makes celebration of historical icons ok? What about Churchill, is he a cover for hating the Germans? Is Nelson a cover for Francophobia?
As ever, making this an English vs Scottish thing is facile and disrespectful. The Scottish people’s greatest foes have always been themselves: be it the Scottish clans who aided and abetted Edward’s conquest in return for land and priveleges, the Parcel o’ Rogues who sold a nation to pay their personal debts, or the Lairds who turfed their own people out to make room for sheep and grouse moors, Scotland’s troubles have always taken root at home.
And it is only at home that Scotland can deal with their troubles at last. At least now, nobody has to die for this cause anymore.
I hae brocht ye to the ring, now see gif ye can dance.
– Statement before the Battle of Falkirk (21 July 1298); as quoted in The Story of England (1909) by Samuel B. Harding
It is the 12th of September, the year after the Caledonian War. The Tyrant of Eton was walking more slowly now. His strides became shorter and shorter, his childskin boots brushing the red marble apprehensively, his top lip quivering slightly with each jangle of his resplendent jewellery, as he approached the great portal. He jolted as he knocked into an unseen barrier on the threshold of the House Under the Lords.
He froze, his heart stopped by an eerie chill. The darkness beyond was illuminated by candles rendered in the fat of a thousand generations extracted from malnourished serfs, held in fixtures wrought from the fingerbones of overworked peasants, gilt with the melted-down last pennies of starving grandparents. An eternity passed before the barrier dissipated with an unpleasantly clammy wind. A cloying voice molested his ears: “The Elder will see you now.”
Play the above song as you read along…
A new fence, around a mile in length, has been installed in Calais to try to stop migrants from getting to the UK via the Channel Tunnel.
The barrier has been paid for out of £7m made available by the British government in recent weeks.
Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted there is “a lot more to do” to improve security.
Started the campaign well behind. But a great effort from all. Whatever happens tonight, the Lab fightback in Scotland has begun in earnest.
— Kevin O’Donnell (@kevwodonnell) August 6, 2015
— Scottish Labour (@scottishlabour) May 30, 2015
I try to be positive and not engage in schadenfreude on this blog, so I say this in the spirit of constructive criticism to all Labour activists, campaigners, politicians and supporters: please stop using the phrase “the Labour fightback starts here.” It’s jinxed. It’s cursed. It’s getting a bit embarrassing for everyone involved.
“Dundee, Scotland’s fourth-largest city, is a textbook example of how Labour is attempting to fight back in this Scottish parliament election.”
– Matthew Tempest, 20th April 2007 (when Labour were in government at Westminster and Holyrood)
“Here at Aviemore, the fightback has begun. It’s time to go to work.”
– Wendy Alexander, 29th March 2008, Scottish Labour conference
“And then there’s the message from the Scottish Labour Party’s general secretary, Colin Smyth, who appeals for help from supporters to aid Labour’s campaign to win the UK election, which he calls “Operation Fightback“… To use that old political line, Labour say – the fightback starts here.”
– Andrew Black, 27th March 2010 (when Labour was in government at Westminster)
“Labour’s fightback has started right here in Inverclyde – my hometown. ”
– Iain McKenzie*, 1st July 2011, after the 2011 Inverclyde by-election (Labour hold, but on a fraction of David Cairns’ majority from just the previous year)
“The fightback starts here!”
– David Martin, 11th September 2011
Vote sent away for @IanDavidsonMP for deputy leader @scottishlabour The man the SNP dont want. Get voting. Let the fight back begin
— Kevin Lindsay (@kevlindsayaslef) November 29, 2011
“Fightback begins as Scots Labour leader names team”
– The Herald, 20th December 2011, after Johann Lamont’s election
“And let no one underestimate the determination of Scottish Labour to regroup, to reform and to fight-back.”
– Iain Gray, 26th September 2011, resignation speech
“I honestly believe that each of you in this room has a real and significant contribution to make to our fightback.”
– Douglas Alexander, 19th November 2011
“Scottish Labour Conference: the fight-back has begun”
– Margaret Anslow, Executive Committee member for Scotland, 1st May 2012, after the Scottish Labour Conference
“There have been many highs in my time with the party, including helping deliver by-election and General Election victories and the recent local elections has shown that Scottish Labour is beginning the fight back after the disappointment of the last Scottish Parliamentary elections.
– Colin Smyth, 18th September 2012 (in his resignation statement)
“Colin has been a dedicated, loyal and hard-working servant of our party over the past 10 years. He has given me great support in my first year as General Secretary and delivered a fantastic fight back in the Scottish local election this year.
– Iain McNicol, General Secretary, 18th September 2012
“The Scottish Labour leader will launch a fightback at the Labour annual conference in Manchester, which will also hear Ed Miliband declare that only Labour can save the United Kingdom from the Nationalist threat to break up Britain.”
– Johann Lamont, 2nd October 2012
“I look forward to leading the Scottish Labour fight back across North Ayrshire and welcome the opportunity to meet as many constituents as possible to hear their concerns and their priorities for the future.”
– Margaret McDougall, 29th April 2013
– title of a Fabian Society paper by Andrew Harrop, 28th June 2014
“Sky News, speaking in Edinburgh, told us that the success of “Labour’s fightback” in Scotland was due to Gordon Brown, Labour’s “most vocal campaigner alongside Jim Murphy of course.””
– Sky News as recorded by Craig Murray, 6th May 2015, two days before the election
“Scotland needs a strong Labour Party and our fightback starts tomorrow morning.”
– Jim Murphy, 8th May 2015, after the 2015 General Election (he lost his seat and resigned as party leader)
— Scottish Labour (@scottishlabour) June 2, 2015
— Kate Dearden (@kate_dearden) July 1, 2015
How many times will it be before a fightback actually shows some meaningful returns? Labour’s seen disaster upon disaster befall it in the last decade with little sign of that ill fortune letting up. Surely there comes a point where calling it a “fightback” is just tempting fate?
*Alright, a tiny bit of schadenfreude:
“With a result like this I think we can safely say the SNP bandwagon has ground to a halt.”
“Labour won this election because we listened hard and took nothing for granted. This is the start of Labour’s fightback and there will be a lot more listening to do over the coming months and years.”
– Iain McKenzie’s powers of clairvoyance are truly uncanny!