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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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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Independence Until Independence

Given the SNP is a national party campaigning in a variety of different constituencies, it understandable – if deeply frustrating – that each constituency will take a different path. Why would you campaign on dairy rural reform in Springburn, or North Sea fisheries legislation in Wanlochead? A general election focuses as much on local issues as it does wider areas. So I can understand (if clench my teeth with no little grating) that some candidates in some parts of Scotland do not put the party’s reason for existance front and centre of their personal election campaign.

An argument could be made – and goodness knows Scottish Independence’s enemies make the argument often enough – that the SNP are so synonymous with independence, there’s simply no need to even mention the “i” word. Blue, Orange, and Red Rosettes can pull their double-act of claiming the SNP simultaneously don’t want independence at all while also wanting independence at all costs, a performance that would have even Janus spinning, while the SNP can justifiably promote their successes in policy.

But, as we all surely know by now, these are frightening times. People are fearful of the future to a degree I haven’t seen – hoped to never see again – since those dark days of the late 20th Century, before the ends of the Troubles and the Cold War dashed some cold reason into the faces of our planet’s leaders. The people want what none of the UK parties are actually offering – certainty, security, confidence, hope. They need more than even fairly unambiguous shibboleths for independence like “Scotland’s future in Scotland’s hands,” “Scotland’s right to choose,” or the like. And for some, the SNP’s focus on stopping the UK from leaving the EU, defensible as it may be, is not where they want the party’s primary focus to lie.

But incumbent MPs like Ronnie Cowan, Patricia Gibson, Philippa Whitford, Chris Law, Stephen Gethins, Stewart Hosie, Tommy Sheppard, Stewart McDonald, and candidates like Stephen Flynn & Owen Thompson (among others) certainly found space for the “i” word:

That’s why I’m voting SNP in Inverclyde, without any hesitation, without anything holding me back – because, when the chips are down, and when all the policy and politics are stripped away, I know that the SNP candidate for Inverclyde is down in Westminster for one purpose and one purpose only.

 

This election has been a nightmare for so many of us, and unless we get ourselves out of bed tomorrow morning, that nightmare won’t end anytime soon. Scotland needs to wake up.

Louie

It is with a heavy heart that we have to announce the passing of ‘Big’ Louie Pastore. A loving husband, dad, grandad, brother, son, brother-in-law and great friend to many.

Louie passed away at Ardgowan Hospice this morning surrounded by his family.

His memory will live on through his photographs and his contributions to Inverclyde’s arts and music scene.

His family would like to thank all the staff at Ardgowan Hospice for all their hard work in looking after Louie, and we would also like to thank everyone for their kind words and condolences.

“𝐼 π‘‘π‘œπ‘›’𝑑 π‘˜π‘›π‘œπ‘€ π‘€β„Žπ‘’π‘Ÿπ‘’ 𝐼’π‘š π‘”π‘œπ‘–π‘›π‘” π‘“π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘š β„Žπ‘’π‘Ÿπ‘’, 𝑏𝑒𝑑 𝐼 π‘π‘Ÿπ‘œπ‘šπ‘–π‘ π‘’ 𝑖𝑑 π‘€π‘œπ‘›’𝑑 𝑏𝑒 π‘π‘œπ‘Ÿπ‘–π‘›π‘”.” (David Bowie)

Louie Pastore
Rest in peace
1962-2019

Louie Pastore was a very close friend to the family, especially my mother and father, who knew him for most of their lives. He was someone I wish I got to know better, because he shared a lot of interests, hobbies, and causes with me. We graduated from the same university course, where he went on to do teaching. He played music at the Spinnaker; he adventured all around Inverclyde looking for ancient artifacts and taking wonderful photographs; he contributed so much to the local community, through projects like Heid ‘o the Hill and Dark Side o’ the Clyde.

Louie was a big reason I became so invested in local history. I always had a great love and appreciation for Scottish cultural heritage, but Louie knew about the Roman remains at Lurg Moor, the prehistoric rock carvings at what is now Gourock Golf Course, and anything and everything archaeological in Inverclyde.

A great deal of the work I do, from occasional posts on this blog about local history & lives, to Gourock Heritage & Arts, is thanks to his shining example.

A man like Louie lived for his family, his tribe, his local community. I hope we can keep his spirit going.

This Land Is Ours

I feel a great sense of personal failure over the news that Thomas Widmann of Arc of Prosperity decided to move to Denmark.

I’m an EU citizen, and I’m not willing to be left to the mercy of the UK Home Office. All Nicola Sturgeon’s sweet statements saying that β€œScotland is your home, we want you to stay” are just that without independence: words. To protect New Scots, Scotland needs independence, and it doesn’t seem to be happening soon enough. If Sturgeon doesn’t feel she can help us, she should say so instead wringing her hands helplessly – it’s infuriating.

So I’m leaving, together with my Scottish wife and our children (aged 9, 11 and 13). We’re moving to Funen in Denmark (I’ve found myself a job in Bogense). We have our own company here in Scotland, but we don’t feel confident it can survive the recession caused by Brexit, so we’re shutting it down.

After 17 years in Scotland, I will always feel partly Scottish. I’ll always support Scottish independence, and I hope we’ll be back for an independence march from time to time. But we’re not willing to expose ourselves to Brexit Britain, complete with chlorinated chickens, a privatised health service, rising university fees, getting hounded by the Home Office, and potential no prospects of an independence referendum for decades.

It’s devastating to leave, but we don’t believe remaining here is an option.

Thomas and the other millions of EU citizens in the UK are perhaps the main reason I campaigned so strongly for Remain – to the extent of working with the official Remain campaign, rather than the SNP or another pro-indy pro-remain group. Inverclyde was the 5th highest Yes voting constituency, but a statistical knife-edge, and the SNP vote in 2015 & 2016 was “only” around 55% – meaning the other 45% might not necessarily want to talk with someone with Clootie or Yes badges. I figured that if I’m there not as an SNP member, not an independence supporter, but as part of an outfit run by people who would normally be my most dedicated opposition, I would be able to converse & talk to people who might not otherwise be receptive. It seemed to work well in Inverclyde, where we ended up the 30th-highest Remain voting constituency in all of the UK & Gibraltar. Certainly it was a lovely, if awkward, change to go to the count with the “regular” party activists & politicians on the same side of a campaign. (Indeed, of the 40 or so present at the count, there were exactly 2 representatives for the Leave campaign in Inverclyde.)

So I campaigned not just because we needed to hold the UK to a promise they made in 2014, and not just because we Scots benefit so much from working with the EU (when the UK Government allows it), but because I felt we had a great duty and responsibility to those born in another nation who made Scotland their home. I was certain that this would come before the end of March 2019 – it had to. And, like Thomas, I thought the SNP were fighting well. Then the 2017 snap election – which I maintain was nothing to do with giving Theresa May a meaningless “fresh” mandate, and everything to do with neutralising the SNP & stopping indyref2 – came & knocked the SNP for six. It’s quite demoralising when the 2nd best Westminster result in the party’s 80+ year history hurts like it did. At some point, the SNP decided to stop and regroup – and in doing so, let the deadline for an indyref that would allow Scotland to seamlessly transition from UK-region-leaving-EU to independent-nation-in-EU.

I think of all that time trying to reassure my colleagues, friends, & acquaintances who would be affected by this that the SNP wouldn’t allow this to happen. I don’t know whether the 2017 election rattled the SNP. I don’t know if this is all part of some big plan we aren’t privy to. But I do know that one great advocate and campaigner for Scottish Independence has launched his own lifeboat, taking his family to a confident independent European nation not too far away, because he lost faith. And I’m so utterly, utterly furious that we let that happen.

But even in the darkest doldrums, there must be hope. When the Yes Campaign told Inverclyde activists that “we probably won’t win Inverclyde” & had a wee table predicting a 25% Yes vote, we didn’t play that game – because the alternative was unthinkable. When SNP higher-ups were suggesting that Inverclyde might not be able to unseat the party which has dominated it practically uninterrupted for 80 years, especially after the referendum, we weren’t going to just let that deter us from doing our damnedest. And now, when some folk suggest that the SNP are just going to let a Triple-Lock mandate that is unprecedented in Scottish political history just run out, I cannot help but think I’ve heard that before.

I’m not entertaining the possibility that this will happen any more than I entertained the possibility that Inverclyde would be one of the lowest Yes-voting constituencies, or that there’d be an Inverclyde-shaped gap in Scotland’s 2015 Yellow Blanket. I don’t see the point in it. Come the end of March, whether it’s May’s ruinous deal or the ultimate goal behind the UK leaving the EU in the first place, the SNP won’t really have a choice at all. That’s why there wasn’t a referendum in the 2007 Parliament’s lifetime, and why there was a referendum in the 2011 Parliament. In both cases, the Parliamentary arithmetic was academic. That remains the case here.

I’m sorry, and frankly ashamed, that we didn’t grasp the thistle in time for Thomas, his wife, and their children to stay. I cannot stand the thought that more have already made this exodus, and that even more are considering it. They don’t want, or need, “caution,” or to wait for “the best time,” or fiddling about. They need confidence, they need determination, they need hope, that the party whose entire existence is to make Scotland the best country it can be is willing to push the boat out as far as they can. We all do.

This land is mine. This land is Thomas’. This land belongs to all of us who make it our home. But Thomas isn’t the only Scot in exile who longs to return.

I mention it only because it always makes my heart glow. The phrase β€œNew Scots” is a well-intentioned and rather sweet one, but I prefer a simpler version – such people are Scots. They say you can’t choose your family but you choose your friends, and nothing makes me prouder of my country than that those from far-off lands should choose to come here and become, wholeheartedly, one of us, and to bring up their offspring in the same way…

… I want Scotland to be independent with my head, for the reasons exhaustively detailed on this blog for the last seven months. But I realised this week that its reluctance to stand up and take its place among the nations of the world gnaws at my heart and my soul too. Scotland is vastly more different to England than Newcastle is different to Birmingham or Norwich or Southampton, and it makes no sense on any level for it to continue to hobble along in the ill-fitting, badly-repaired shoes of Britain.

So if this rambling old post has a purpose, it’s to answer a question I’m often asked by surly Unionists. Why do I campaign for Scottish independence when I don’t live there? It’s simple: because I want to go home.

Let’s tidy up, get the tea on, and prepare for the homecoming.

This land is mine
God gave this land to me
This brave and ancient land To me
And when the morning sun
Reveals her hills and plains

Then I see a land
Where children can run free
So take my hand
And walk this land with me
And walk this lovely land with me

Ending On A High Note

These memes just keep getting more and more apocalyptic.

Jings, it’s been a year, hasn’t it?

It’s been a quiet year in the Wilderness, but there were still some fond memories and popular enough posts. I aim to do better next year, as always. For now, I’ll take a look back on the most popular blog posts of each month from the year that was.

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Scotland and the Apocalypse

Do you think Paris is still standing?
– Anna, being particularly timely despite being filmed years ago

I feel like Anna and the Apocalypse personally set out to antagonise me. It’s an apocalyptic film that assaults the eyes & ears with Glee-esque musical numbers; it’s a film shot in Scotland (several places in my home area of Inverclyde, even!) with posh English folk and a Yank in the lead roles; all the characters I actually liked die before the final act while the ones I actively disliked survived to the end; it’s set largely in a school. I’m certain this is actually part of the film’s appeal, as well as its strength – to blend genres (the Intolerably Twee High School Full of Melodramatic Desperados Musical with the Interminable Zombie Apocalypse That Will Never Die Just Like The Titular Monsters Movie along with the Permanently Hamstrung By The Nature of Western Calenders Christmas Film) which are seemingly completely at odds with one another, and shine a light up to them all.

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