Remembering Forgotten Histories

The Fisk Jubilee Singers, 1875: B.W. Thomas, Julia Jackson, Maggie L. Porter, Ella Sheppard, F.J. Loudin, H.D. Alexander, Georgia Gordon, Jennie Jackson, America W. Robinson, Thomas Rutling

Current events often inspire an itch in me to go back to history. Given the global situation, this means going through my own library, or diving into the internet for digitised offerings.

One such gem is The Singing Campaign for Ten Thousand Pounds by Gustavus D. Pike. This 1875 book covered the journey of the Fisk Jubilee Singers, a choir of former slaves who toured the world to fundraise for education for freedmen and other black Americans:

And yet again, I found myself surprised that Scotland – Gourock itself – plays a tiny role in this amazing story.

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The Streets Where We Live

In case it wasn’t obvious from recent posts (and ones not so recent), I wholeheartedly support the movement which has led to protests against systemic injustices around the world in the past few days. That it should be even necessary to state this is purely because too many people are either conditional in their support, or outright silent, & I didn’t want to leave any ambiguity on my part. I value the lives & wellbeing of my BAME relatives, friends, colleagues, and fellow people, than I do “accommodating” or “keeping the peace” with people who disagree.

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All in This Together… Except When We’re Not

I presume most readers are aware of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” An emperor rather obsessed with fashion is always on the lookout for the most flamboyant and outrageous garments. Two con-men catch wind of this, and hatch a scheme: they claim they can weave delicate fabrics so fine and sheer that they would appear invisible to the unworthy and stupid. The credulous emperor commissions them forthwith, and the two “weavers” set to “work,” pantomime weaving & sewing these nonexistent garments. Obviously the Emperor, his ministers, and his officials cannot see a thing – yet rather than speak & be thought unworthy or stupid, they went along with the con. Once finished (and several bags of gold heavier) the “weavers” pantomime dressing the nude Emperor up for the big parade. As with the ministers, officials, and the Emperor himself, the townsfolk also go along with the con, loudly commenting on his finery as he passed. This farce continued until a little child – who, being a child, is not yet susceptible to pluralistic ignorance – loudly comments “the emperor has no clothes on!” His understandably mortified parents attempt to save face, but once the truth is elucidated, it’s hard to suppress. Whispers became murmurs, hubbub became commotion, until eventually all the crowd were exclaiming the same as the child – “the emperor has no clothes on!” And the emperor, vain and proud to the end, realises that he’s been had… but still marches on, while his sycophantic nobles continue holding his nonexistent train aloft.

Imagine if, at the end of the story, rather than point and laugh, breaking the spell, the adults keep up the pretense. They continue to compliment the Emperor on his finery; they still treat the Emperor as a wise and intelligent ruler; they perpetuate the illusion even when explicitly pointed out to them. Because, to those people, it is less frightening to continue the illusion than face the facts – they were ruled by an idiot who was swindled by a con-man.

Such an alternate ending is sounding darkly familiar.

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Declaration Day

The Declaration of Arbroath from Charlie Stuart on Vimeo.

Today marks the 700th anniversary of one of the most important documents in not just Scottish, or British, but world history. It is the subject of documentaries. It is cited as an inspiration to other national declarations. It has been registered on UNESCO’S Memory of the World. I’ve quite proud to have an illustrated edition by Andrew Barr.

We should be out in our thousands celebrating it – at Arbroath itself, throughout Scotland, and the wider world. We should be marching and dancing and laughing in the streets, singing auld sangs and chanting auld hymns, embracing our friends and family and total strangers. But we cannot, because of circumstances outside our control – and some circumstances which we allowed to happen to us.

A day of great jubilation and self-affirmation for the entire nation is strangled – politically, socially, existentially.

And yet…

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Blazoned Across The Stars: International Women’s Day 2020

Grannies are formidable figures in Scottish culture, hence why this 4,000 year old megalith is affectionately titled “Granny Kempock.”

Men have sat at the feet of women down the ages and our civilization, bad or good, we owe to the influence of women.
Robert E. Howard, letter to Harold Preece, December 1928

I watch Suffragette back when it came out, knowing it was going to be rather difficult to get through. I’m not good with historical dramas which centre around oppression and unfairness: I keep wanting to leap into the screen and sort everything out. Because in cinema, that’s how things work: charismatic individuals with right on their side just get things done with rousing speeches or acts of defiance. It’s why heroes like Zorro and Superman are so popular – the will and the determination to change things for the better with the strength & ability to make those changes. The strong should use their strengths to carry, not to crush – but it has been bred into us to suffer some tyranny for some security.

I still profess to having a childlike view of such things. I don’t like it when the strong use their power to keep those weaker than them down. But worse, to me, are those who just stand by and let it happen – because I know there have been times when I was one of those bystanders. When women were beaten by policemen with truncheons, sympathetic men and women did nothing. When women are imprisoned, their husbands are ashamed to pay their bail. When women go back to work, they are disciplined – by their employers, or their husbands – for their insubordination. That was at best. At worse, they were complicit in the social exclusion that the state fostered against the agents of change. Alienating. Shaming. The violence against their bodies is bad enough, but the violence done to their minds and souls is what truly cuts.

And we, as a species, are still at it. For all we’ve made strides in many nations, there are still too many where women and girls are forbidden from basic freedoms, forced into “marriage” (how anyone can define such a union as marriage is beyond me), where abhorrent treatment is a fact of life. Being part of a global community carries responsibilities – otherwise, it is a community without collective consequences. All throughout history, women made their mark, from Sappho and Elpinice to Aspasias of Athens and Thargelia of Miletus: and this is no less true in Scotland, from the Caledonian Period to the Middle Ages, on through to the present leader of our nation. Even my own little hometown of Gourock can boast women writers, artists, politicians, journalists, and war heroines. – to say nothing of my mammy, my sister, my niece, my granny, my aunties and great-aunties and cousins, and my many brilliant female friends who are such an inspiration to me.

The least I could do is be as brave as they are.

Woman have always been the inspiration of men, and just as there are thousands of unknown great ones among men, there have been countless women whose names have never been blazoned across the stars, but who have inspired men on to glory.
– Robert E. Howard

 

Quick Question for Democrats

So the new clarion call is “if the SNP win a majority in the 2021 Scottish Parliament elections, then we’ll recognise the mandate that we’ve refused to recognise no less than four times since 2015.” (Unless you’re Lisa Nandy, Willie Rennie, or Alister Jack.)

Here’s the thing, which it amazes me hardly anyone brings up – by every reasonable measure except the number of seats (in a system designed explicitly to prevent any party gaining a majority) & regional vote share, the SNP have a stronger mandate for an independence referendum in 2016 than they did in 2014.

  • In 2011, 45.4% voted SNP on the constituency list: in 2016, that rose to 46.5%
  • In 2011, 876,421 voted SNP on the constituency list: in 2016, that rose to 1,059,897
  • In 2011, 53 of 73 constituency seats – as in, the First Past the Post system used in UK General Elections – went to the SNP: in 2016, that rose to 59

It is only because of the method used to elect members to the regional list that the SNP lost their overall majority despite increasing their vote share, the number of voters, & the number of constituency seats – which tend to be all that matter in First Past the Post systems such as the UK’s ancient regime. (And this isn’t taking into account that the SNP went into the first independence referendum with a mere 6 MPs and 19.9%, etc.)

So this poses an interesting question.

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Gather Ourselves Together

The reaction to the First Minister’s announcement this past Friday has been decidedly mixed. Some considered it a perfectly balanced and ultimately realistic approach; others have criticized it for excessive caution or repetitious platitudes. Where you lie on that sliding scale seems to correlate with how much you trust the SNP, the Scottish Government, and the First Minister, to deliver the intended 2020 timeline for the next Scottish Independence Referendum despite the monolithic obstruction that is the UK Government.

Whatever you thought of the announcement, it is clear that it is beyond time to get things going again. There has been a considerable vacuum left by Yes Scotland since its dissolution three months after the 2014 Referendum. Many groups and initiatives have attempted to fill that void – All Under One Banner, the SNP’s new Yes campaign, the revived Scottish Independence Convention and its Voices for Scotland campaign – but for various reasons, none have truly captured the movement in that sense of united purpose felt in the run up to 2014. Personality conflicts, party dynamics, internecine disagreements, campaign fatigue, and lost momentum have taken their toll on the movement’s structural integrity.

Getting the disparate independence supporting groups together is the primary goal of the National Yes Registry.

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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.