Mr Blue Skye

The last post was a bit dowlie for my liking. I was still upset about the situation with the McPherson Centre, and frustrated. Fortunately, a couple of things happened since writing that post which reinvigorated my belief in Scotland and her people.

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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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A Rat Called Mouse

In a time long ago, I was once privy to secret knowledge. Back in my film criticism/journalism days, I talked with directors, screenwriters, producers, all sorts of individuals: I knew a lot of folk who worked at various levels in the industry. I’m lucky enough to call some of them my friends – damned if I know how or why I found myself in their circles, yet there I was, an errant mote in the whirlpool of Important People. One of my favourite secret memories is when I received some… information. To protect my sources, I won’t say anything beyond that it was related to a significant milestone in popular culture – the sort of thing that only happens once.

I knew that, while some elements would surely be divisive, others would be received warmly, & some would have longtime aficionados leaping to their feet in delight. Oh boy, folk are going to love this, I thought. But I daren’t tell a soul what I knew – quite apart from betraying my sources’ confidence, how could I ruin something that means so much to so many? So, I went on forums, news site comment sections, Facebook groups, Twitter lists, and looked at what everyone was thinking about this pop cultural milestone… while I, privy to secret knowledge, cackled in glee like the proverbial Imp of the Perverse. Reading their theories, their hopes, their fears, all while I knew exactly what was going to happen. Then, the pop cultural milestone happened. Sure enough, some criticized a few parts – but the vast majority seemed to adore it. And I felt that kind of contentment, knowing that I never betrayed my source’s confidence for well over a year, waiting for this great event to unfold. Something of the glamour of prophesy, but for fun.

I wish I had happy secret knowledge like that again.

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A Federation of Dunces

Oh Lord, it’s that time again.

THE current devolved settlement is becoming out of date and the UK should begin a serious debate about creating a “sensible alternative: a federal United Kingdom”, says Sir Malcolm Rifkind.

We’ve heard this so many times it’s getting beyond a joke. How many times? How many decades? How many people have tried this with us?

It’s easy to dismiss the words of a Johnson or Gove because what they say is so blindingly, obviously false, it’s almost like they’re daring you to challenge them on their outrageous lies. Mr. Rifkind is a different animal, because he sounds like he’s being serious. He talks the talk of being a person with actual ideas, with genuine concerns, and reasonable thoughts. But everything he says is just like anything his party’s boss in Number 10 says – noise. Meaningless, fruitless, pointless, useless, worthless noise.

I mean, we know that. Look who’s talking. Just five years ago he was telling us a Federal UK was unworkable “because England was too big.” And then he said the UK was already quasi-federal“! For a such an eloquent man, he seems to be all over the place.

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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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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