The John Buchan Way

I believe that every Scotsman should be a Scottish Nationalist. If it could he proved that a separate Scottish Parliament were desirable, that is to say that the merits were greater than the disadvantages and dangers, Scotsmen should support it. I would go further. Even if it were not proved desirable, if it could be proved to be desired by any substantial majority of the Scottish people, then Scotland should be allowed to make the experiment, and I do not believe that, England would desire for one moment to stand in the way.
John Buchan, Debate on the Address, 24 November 1932

I’m struck by the changing timbre of UK Government Party in Scotland. Back in the day, the party battled with the SNP over the votes of rural constituencies over who would defend their interests the best from a distant, uncaring, increasingly centralised Westminster: the Opposition Party, despite being born in Scotland, were for the most part not as interested in the reality of constitutional change as the likes of its own founders. So for much of the 20th Century we had the strange situation where the UK Government Party seemed more interested in highlighting & exploiting Scotland’s distinctiveness than the party of Keir “Home Rule” Hardie. One of the greatest activists for Scottish Gaelic revival in the last half-century was Iain Noble, nephew of Conservative Secretary of State for Scotland Michael Noble; Malcolm Rifkind, another SoSfS, lobbied for a Gaelic TV channel, only to be blocked by Margaret Thatcher herself; yet another SoSfS, Michael Forsyth, also campaigned for expansion of Gaelic television, and even attended the premiere of Braveheart in a kilt.

Then consider the above quote: this was said not by an SNP, nor a Socialist, nor a Trade Unionist, but a Scottish Unionist Party MP in the House of Commons. I thought it would be interesting to include the entire speech in a post. While there are some more familiarly Tory-ish bits and pieces (particularly the notion that Irish Roman Catholic immigrants to Scotland are “not Scots”) there are also several arguments & observations that wouldn’t be out of place on the most fervent independence supporter’s repertoire. Certainly it puts to bed the phoney demarcation between nationalism and patriotism put forward by the likes of Ruth Davidson, who even invoke Buchan’s words (as well as Orwell’s own oft-abused comments) as evidence for how far Scotland has come since those terrible old days.

It’s clear Mr. Buchan did not support Scottish Independence any more than he supported any nation breaking away from the Empire he worked so tirelessly to maintain. Nonetheless, the tone and reason in his arguments, acknowledging the genuine merit of the independence position, is a far cry from the patronising scolding of people who proclaim to be against all nationalisms (because their nationalism isn’t actually nationalism at all). Here is someone who recognises the democratic deficit, recognises Scotland’s identity as a nation rather than a region or province, and recognises that you are not going to make the problem go away by ignoring or suppressing it.

One wonders what happened to the party of John Buchan in the eight decades since he made this speech. The John Buchan Way isn’t just a lovely walk in the Borders: it’s a mark of respect & trust. It seems Ruth Davidson’s gang strayed far from the John Buchan Way a long time ago.

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When Diplodocus Came to Kelvingrove

For a few all-too-short months, the Natural History Museum’s Diplodocus carnegii was hosted by Kelvingrove Museum & Art Gallery. Today, it’s on its way to Newcastle to see the tiddlypeeps of Northern England. There wasn’t a ceremony or send off: just a team quietly packing the bits away in boxes after the museum closed. I’d meant to have a post up long before this, but I kept agonising over it, because that Diplodocus means a great deal to me.

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The Flames of the Fire Are All I Can See

Today we buried my great uncle. My grandfather is now the last son of his family’s generation.

I consider myself incredibly fortunate to have a family full of independence supporters, especially considering the relative diversity of my family. I have close cousins across the Great West Coast of Scotland Divide, as well as family born in England, Germany, Kenya, Singapore, and elsewhere in the world. We may not agree on everything – what family does? – but while I don’t doubt many families in Scotland had heated discussions about independence, even if we didn’t agree on this issue, we were still family, and still liked one other as well as loved one another.

My grandfather is one of the most fervent Yessers I know. He likened his journey to Yes as being like a lightbulb going off in his head. For him, it was “if we’re such a burden, then why do they want to keep us so much?” Ever since, he would debate and discuss independence with anyone and everyone, never failing to tell me about something he read in a paper or online, or ask about a law or article of legislation. He was talking independence to old friends at the shops, neighbours passing in the street: he’s even built up a repertoir as a cybernat that I could only dream of! He and my great uncle, too, discussed the matter a number of times, especially in the past few years.

A lot of folk are very sanguine – frankly, ruthless – about the generation gap in regards to independence. They think there’s a sense of inevitability to independence, that we just have to wait until the older generation die out, let time sort it out. It’s something I could never really countenance, even from a coldly expedient sake. I want independence because I believe it will benefit all Scots, even those who voted against it. There would not, and could not, be any sort of “purge” of non-independenistas from an independent Scotland, because it goes against what we’re fighting for.

We don’t have the luxury of waiting for demographics to sort itself out. There are people starving, freezing, dying in Scotland as a direct result of policies enacted by a government we didn’t elect right now. There are people who made this nation their home who were denied a vote in a referendum and need us to do everything we can for them right now. And there are people who’ve been campaigning for an independent Scotland since they were changing our cabinet ministers’ nappies right now. As the reality of the UK’s ultimate design – using leaving the EU as a smokescreen to destroy decades of social and economic progress to line their pockets and inflate their egos – we can ill afford to simply let time do the work for us.

Too many have died before seeing an independent Scotland. Douglas Crawford, Margaret Ewing, Douglas Henderson, Bashir Ahmad, Margo Macdonald, Jimmy Halliday, Billy Wolfe, Gordon Wilson, Robert Salmond, and countless more activists, elected representatives, and believers have passed away this century alone. Even when polls showed only some 20% of over-65s supported independence, that was still tens of thousands of our people who were willing to believe despite everything that has been put against our cause over the centuries. It isn’t about being impatient, it’s about doing what we can, when we can, for the people who need us most.

My grandfather told me something about his brother’s final days. His health had deteriorated terribly in the past year. He was nearly deaf and blind: all he could see were vague shapes and shadows, like the flames of a fire. I want my grandfather to see an independent Scotland, just as I wanted my great uncle, and my paternal grandparents, and so many more – to know that whatever that nation looked like, it would be a nation where their vote matters. Where they matter.

I don’t know how my great uncle voted in the referendum, but as I’ve said for years now, how you voted in 2014 simply doesn’t matter any more. Independence is not, was not, and will never be, solely for those who support it. It is for the benefit of all of us in this wonderful nation, whatever their age or creed or view on the constitution. We owe it to them, and to the generations yet to come, even if all they see are the flames of the fire.

Far beyond the sundown
Far beyond the moonlight
Deep inside our hearts and all our souls
So far away we wait for the day
For the lives all so wasted and gone
We feel the pain of a lifetime lost in a thousand days
Through the fire and the flames we carry on…

Scottish Love Poems

McCulloch, Horatio; ‘My heart’s in the Highlands’; Glasgow Museums; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/my-hearts-in-the-highlands-85198

Wheesht, wheesht, my foolish hert,
For weel ye ken
I widna ha’e ye stert
Auld ploys again.

It’s guid to see her lie
Sae snod an’ cool,
A’lust o’ lovin’ by –
Wheesht, wheesht, ye fule!

– Hugh MacDiarmid

Valentine’s Day has a bad rap. Too often, it’s an excuse to engage in cynical commercialism – and even if not, the celebration of love is too often the genteel, shallow, milequetoast sentiment that’s barely worth the tree that died to make ten thousand greeting cards. The original story of St. Valentine was full of defiant relationships, clandestine passions, and daring commitments, with the bittersweet tragedy and triumph of any Shakespeare romance. Love can so strongly be associated with other strong emotions – fear, anger, hate, sorrow, joy – that you wonder how it became so diluted and saccharine in the public consciousness.

A bit like Scotland, really.

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Adventures in Burns Country

One of the blessings of friends in international places is being their guide to Scotland. A while back, a group of friends I knew from my Howard Days were visiting, and naturally enquired as to where are the best places to go and see in my homeland. Since they were literary folk, one of the must-visit locations was Burns Country.

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