"Auferre, trucidare, rapere, falsis nominibus imperium; atque ubi solitudinem faciunt, pacem appellant." – They ravage, they slaughter, they plunder, and they falsely name it "empire"; they make a wilderness, and call it "peace."
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.
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.
One of my favourite directors is John Carpenter. Even the least of his films are imbued with his creative watermark. 1978’s Halloween is the blueprint for all subsequent Middle-American anxieties about youth turned into grim slasher horror; 1976’s Assault on Precinct 13 is a nigh-unbearably tense thriller that manages to foster deep isolation in the middle of a crowded city; I would argue that 1988’s They Live is more relevant & socially resonant now than even at the point it was first released. His Apocalypse Trilogy, most overtly in the 1987 science-cosmic horror (and one of my very favourite films) Prince of Darkness, posits multiple interpretations of the end of the world. The third of the trilogy, 1994’s In The Mouth of Madness, is a homage to literary horror traditions from Lovecraft to King. But it’s the first – 1982’s The Thing – which has remained in the public consciousness the longest, finding Man to be the warmest place to hide its creeping dread.
I can’t even begin to explain The Thing, a loose adaptation of John W. Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” where the extraterrestrial, well, thing of the title manages to creep around everything from still-formidable Cold War Paranoia to self-destructive masculinity, fear of the loss of self to good old-fashioned existential cosmic dread, with a tightly-knit script, impeccable performances, brilliant production, and groundbreaking effects. But the most powerful – and most desperately sad – thing about The Thing is the erosion of trust in a close community. People who came to know one another, who relied on each other to survive in a deeply hostile environment that humanity was not equipped to inhabit without technology, started to betray each other and themselves in their rising panic about something that was not them.
I have been deeply fortunate in my voting life. Each time I have voted, it was with full heart & soul, because I truly believed in what I was putting on the ballot paper. This election, I had the honour of doing the same. No lingering doubts, no nagging trepidation, no bitter reluctance: the lilac and peach papers received their marks promptly & proudly, before being cast into the black void of the ballot box with their fellows, where they will be counted in due course.
As ever, no matter who you’re voting for, use this power. If voting didn’t change things, very rich & powerful people wouldn’t spend millions (if not billions) on campaigning for yours. Newspapers & television stations wouldn’t spend weeks of their time trying to convince you. Even if its a candidate with no hope, even if it’s a party that won’t form the next government, even if it’s to spoil your ballot, your vote is a covenant with society – to show the kind of society you want to be part of.
That’s how I voted. That’s how I’ve always voted. See you at the polling stations.
I will sharpen the tone on the angel’s tongue And wield a blow to unreality’s front Illusions flow out from this mortal wound As I wake to the sound of the lion’s roar
Ever since switching to Alba, I’ve made a sincere effort to be fair and even-handed to the SNP: it is obvious that the SNP are vital to the cause of independence, and I know my friends are no less dedicated to the cause than I or anyone else. But the question as to why I left does warrant more explanation, and I’m afraid it cannot be bereft of some criticism.
Many of my friends will be voting SNP/SNP (as I did in 2016) or SNP/Green (as many of my friends did in 2016) tomorrow. I voted that way because I thought they would deliver on the single, most important part of their manifesto:
We believe that the Scottish Parliament should have the right to hold another referendum if there is clear and sustained evidence that independence has become the preferred option of a majority of the Scottish people – or if there is a significant and material change in the circumstances that prevailed in 2014, such as Scotland being taken out of the EU against our will.
Some would say the Pandemic is sufficient mitigating circumstances, to which I cannot agree, for what illustrates the pressing need for independence more than being trapped in an insane United Kingdom with a robber baron perfectly happy to “let the bodies pile high” so long as his precious finances are unharmed?
One of the many friends I made when I officially joined the SNP back in 2014 was Abdul Majid – or, more properly, my Mammy’s friend, because she’s the people person. While the Abdul I know is not one for self-promotion, I believe it’s important for the Scottish Independence Movement to know who he is, and why his support for the Alba Party is so important.
Abdul is one of the key figures behind Scots Asians for Independence, one of the earliest campaigning groups to be established for the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum: he served as its convenor. His activism advocating for peace in Kashmir led to a mention in the UK Parliament chambers courtesy of Glasgow MP, Alison Thewliss. His standing in both the Asian Scots and SNP community meant he was regularly consulted and invited to Bute House with the First Minister of Scotland, and was until recently a member of the SNP NEC.
I first met Abdul after being introduced to him by Mammy back at my first SNP conference as a delegate: we regularly met at fundraisers, adoption nights, and the St. Andrews’ Night Dinner (where we happily always seemed to end up seated at the same table). We found out quickly that Abdul was absolutely in love with Scotland: even with strong roots half a world away, he was belting out “Caledonia” with the rest of us, waving his flag as proudly as anyone else. Someone once told me that multiple nationalities is not like division, but addition: like multiple layers to a person’s being, not half-this or quarter-that. Abdul is a fine example of a many layered nationalist – one whose nationalism sweeps to all the nations of the earth, like another famous independence icon from the Indian subcontinent.
Now, Abdul and many of his friends & colleagues have signed up for Alba. He’s heading up a new organisation, Scots Asians for Alba, and seeks to continue his work to bring independence to Scotland. Just like the SNP, Alba is a party that advocates a Scottish Independence that includes all on our journey, be they born in Lesmagahow or Lahore, Milngavie or Mumbai, Kirkcudbright or Krakow. As a great man said, it’s not where we came from that’s important, it’s where we’re going together.
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.
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.
I try my best not to be too critical of fellow independence supporters, but sometimes I feel like I have to plant my colours to the mast. Such a day is today, where Neil Mackay hosts an interview with Andrew Wilson, former SNP MSP and currently (in)famous for the Growth Commission prospectus on an independent Scotland.
It’s been a difficult few months for all of us. I haven’t commented on it because everyone’s been fighting their own battles, and it seemed self-indulgent of me to rant into the aether. But several things have happened recently that changed that.
A good friend of mine lost somebody very important to them to a terrible disease. They live in a country that doesn’t have universal healthcare, and so they must resort to their own means for treatment. They asked for money, donations, anything anyone could spare, just so someone could stay alive. They kept everyone up to date on how things are going, sharing the little joys and tremendous pains. And through it all, everyone offering their well wishes, offers of assistance, ensuring that their thoughts were with them.
To my eternal shame, I haven’t said anything to them. Anything, everything, I could say feels so profoundly inadequate that it would be insulting to even impart the words. “I’m sorry.” “I’m here for you.” “If you need anything, just ask.” All while they live in a nation where your health and wellbeing is dictated by your income and insurance choices. Where good health is not a universal right – a human right. It seemed the height of perversion to me for a wealthy nation to demand its people look to charity just to make their lives less agonising, their existence less uncertain, their story less bleak.
My friend’s significant other has passed now, just as untold thousands in that nation have, and thousands more will, because they live in a country where the people have decided it’s an acceptable state of affairs.
Yet I can’t cast stones in my glass house. The parliament which governs our nation has voted for a bill absolving public authorities from wrongdoing – including crimes like torture, sexual assault, even outright murder. It comes barely a month after that same parliament decided that breaking international law was an acceptable eventuality in their disastrous talks with the EU. That comes after that same parliament decided that any and every power which should come to the parliament which should govern our nation must go through them first, democracy be damned.
Meanwhile, the parliament which should be governing our nation is preparing for an election, where the government party is looking towards unprecedented support, led by a tremendously popular leader praised across multiple parties, and buoyed by historically high preference for Scotland’s natural status as an independent nation… and yet. I would love to be confident that such an election will even take place given the direction the UK is accelerating towards – not to mention the little demon on my shoulder that reminds me “a lot can happen in seven months.”
It seems perverse to see such a surge for the cause I hold dearest, the party which will and must deliver the goal of that cause, and the people who must make it happen, yet feel utter despair and dread for what the future will bring. The criticism the SNP have faced from fellow pro-independence supporters outstrips even the most severe condemnation I heard in the runup to the first referendum. Back then, I acknowledged that some people are going to just disagree, be it the socialists balking at the White Paper’s plans for corporation tax cuts, or the anti-EU campaigners wanting a Scotland outside the bloc.
Despite the polls, despite the support, despite the glow from the fires of a people newly awakened from apathy and nihilism, it is imperative that criticism – genuine criticism, not the dishonest storytelling concocted by those opposed to independence – must be contextualised & understood. The SNP has survived as long as it has not because it suppresses disagreement, but because it adapts to concerns where warranted. Hence how the Scottish Government correctly changed its initial response to the Coronavirus epidemic; hence how the Education Secretary reversed the initial decision on Scottish exam results; hence how we’re seeing discussions of alternative routes to independence despite the insistence on repeating the circumstances of the Edinburgh Agreement.
And it’s tough. We’re all tired of the UK Government lying and cheating and wrecking lives and communities. We’re all tired of Coronavirus taking away loved ones and necessitating difficult practises. We’re all tired of arguing with each other and being accused of being secret UK Government assets by people who agree with us on just about everything. We’re all tired of being tired.
But I’ll tell you this: we have to get over ourselves. All of us. Because if we don’t, nobody’s going to do it for us.