Iron In Your Words

There’s a remarkable scene in 1976 revisionist western The 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 SNP need the iron back in their words of life or death. Otherwise, it’s just empty noise. And we have enough of that.

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Mourning on the 19th of September

I fixed the original picture, because including the original is just too soul-destroying for me.

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.

I’ll stop mourning when our nation lives again.

The Woman Elizabeth Windsor and the Cult Image of Queen Elizabeth

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.

It came to mind with current events.

The Local Is National

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.

It breaks my heart to realise that it simply isn’t true anymore.

The Ghost of Burghs Past

The empty shield that once bore the Gourock Coat of Arms blazon at Gourock Park, removed by persons unknown (Picture from Greenock Telegraph)

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.

Inverclyde Now

And Councillors have acted accordingly:

COUNCILLORS have agreed that Gourock’s controversial coat of arms should be removed from display where practical.

The coat of arms includes a figure widely considered to be that of an enslaved man.

Councillors agreed that officials should now look into the practical issues arising from the decision and report back.

The coat of arms features at several Gourock buildings and on a stained glass window at the Watt Institute in Greenock.

Gourock Community Council use the coat of arms, and it is on the badge of the Gourock Athletic amateur football team.

The coat of arms was adopted in 1954 and was based on the burgh seal which dated from the 19th century. Gourock Burgh became part of the new Inverclyde District Council in 1975.

Inverclyde Now

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 question becomes, what now for the Gourock Man?

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Gourock Coat of Arms Public Consultation

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.

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We Do It To Ourselves

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.

Image courtesy of the McLean Museum & Art Gallery

This is – was – the Duncan McPherson Centre.

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Vulgar Tongues

NICOLA Sturgeon was the first politician to be sworn into the sixth session of Holyrood as the new parliament formally got under way, with affirmations and oaths taken in a record number of languages.

Returning and new members took an oath or affirmation following last week’s election in which the SNP was returned as the biggest party for the fourth consecutive term.

Many MSPs made their vows yesterday in second languages, including Urdu, Canadian French, Scots, Gaelic, Orcadian, Doric, Welsh, Arabic and Punjabi.

It is believed to be a record variety of languages used in the swearing-in ceremony to date with newly elected SNP MSP for Edinburgh Central Angus Roberston taking his in German. Fellow SNP MSP Karen Adam made her affirmation in British Sign Language – a first for the parliament.

– The National, 14th May 2021

As an outward-looking, internationalist nation, it is a sign of good faith and sincerity in those traditions for Members of the Scottish Parliament to take oaths & affirmations in languages that are important to them. Nominally speaking, it underscores Scotland’s place as a nation among nations throughout the world, where languages of those nations and our own are acknowledged and highlighted, threads in the fabric of our national tapestry.

In an ideal world, this would be wonderful, a cause for great celebration and much rejoicing. But Scotland is not independent, and the affirmation every MSP took yesterday was not one in the spirit of internationalism, nor of solidarity with the people of Scotland within and without its borders – it is an affirmation of obedience, supplication, and surrender.

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West Scotland Alba Launch

I remember attending my first “Yes” event, all those years ago. I was pleasantly surprised at how many folk were there, all sharing a desire for an independent Scotland – but nonetheless, acknowledged the trials which lay ahead. It’s almost a decade since I started the modern, “real” leg of my personal journey. Back then, Inverclyde was predicted to be one of the lowest Yes-voting constituencies in all of Scotland, and everyone seemed to know it: the best we could hope for was that our complement would be enough to contribute to the national vote. As it ended up, of course, Inverclyde was the 5th highest Yes result in all of Scotland. Then we went from an Opposition Party stronghold to one of the top ten SNP gains in both UK & Scottish Parliament elections. Then we were the 30th-highest Remain vote in the entire UK.

Inverclyde seems to have a habit of confounding expectations.

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10 Days to Save Scotland

I’ll tell you a memory I have of the Scottish Independence Referendum campaign, some seven years ago. A group of young men came in. They seemed animated, enthusiastic, but with an air of frustration about them. They had questions – the usual sorts they’d heard from the papers & telly – which we listened to carefully and answered as best we could. One was quieter than the others, his face serious and thrawn. After about five minutes of talking, he said something to me: “but will they really do it?”

He went on to talk about 1979: how the Opposition Party made such fine promises about a Scottish Assembly, only for one of their very own to betray them – to betray all Scots – with the affront that was the 40% rule, never applied to any referendum before or since. He was not asking if the UK would respect a Yes vote – he was asking if the Scottish Government would live up to their promises once independence was assured. I said that they had to: they had no choice in the matter, or they would answer to the people of Scotland. Then he said “how can you give any assurances that they would?” The atmosphere in Yes Inverclyde started to feel tense, electric. The two of us were a foot apart. And I said to him this, eyes dead set on his, unwavering: “if the Scottish Government betray us, then I will be marching right at the front to demand they answer for it.”

He was one of unnumbered people I encountered at the old Yes Inverclyde, each with their own story to tell, each with their own hopes and fears and wants and concerns. I remembered him as I contemplated my malaise of the past year – and when Alba was publically announced, I finally felt some light piercing the clouds.

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