Iron In Your Words

There’s a remarkable scene in 1976 revisionist western The Outlaw Josey Wales. It is, at least on the surface, a Southern Romance in the typical Lost Cause motif: a humble Missouri farmer joins a troop of confederate guerillas after his family is murdered, part of a series of violent conflicts in the Missouri-Kansas area; when the war ends, all except Wales surrender to Union forces – and all except Wales are massacred; so he becomes an outlaw and rides on to infamy.

Wales makes his way to Comanche territory, where he encounters the Ketahto leader Ten Bears:

Josie Wales: You be Ten Bears?

Ten Bears: I am Ten Bears.

JW: I’m Josey Wales.

TB: I have heard. You are the Gray Rider. You would not make peace with the Bluecoats. You may go in peace.

JW: I reckon not. I got no place else to go.

TB: Then you will die.

JW : I came here to die with you. Or to live with you. Dying ain’t so hard for men like you and me. It’s living that’s hard when all you’ve ever cared about has been butchered or raped. Governments don’t live together – people live together. With governments, you don’t always get a fair word or a fair fight. Well, I’ve come here to give you either one or get either one from you. I came here like this so you’ll know my word of death is true, and my word of life is then true. The bear lives here, the wolf, the antelope, the Comanche. And so will we. Now we’ll only hunt what we need to live on, same as the Comanche does. And every spring, when the grass turns green, and the Comanche moves north, you can rest here in peace, butcher some of our cattle, and jerk beef for the journey. The sign of the Comanche, that will be on our lodge. That’s my word of life.

TB: And your word of death?

JW: It’s here in my pistols and there in your rifles. I’m here for either one.

TB: These things you say we will have, we already have.

JW: That’s true. I ain’t promising you nothing extra. I’m just giving you life and you’re giving me life. And I’m saying that men can live together without butchering one another.

TB: It’s sad that governments are chiefed by the double tongues. There is iron in your words of death for all Comanche to see, and so there is iron in your words of life. No signed paper can hold the iron. It must come from men. The words of Ten Bears carries the same iron of life and death. It is good that warriors such as we meet in the struggle of life… or death. It shall be life.

– Josey Wales & Ten Bears, The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976)

The fact that such a nuanced depiction of Native Americans & the brutality of war came from the pen of one of the most infamous segregationists of the Civil Rights era is a surprising paradox (even if it’s easy to say how small government libertarians would light up). The United States has been wrestling with the legacy of its past for centuries – but it is words I think of today.

There is iron in your words. Iron = meaning, conviction, commitment. To say something with the intention of carrying it out. To promise, to swear. To vow.

We Scottish Independence supporters are all too used to the double tongues on the opposite side of the constitutional divide. The one which claimed a vote for No was a vote for “better, faster, stronger change” only to then say it was in fact “a vote for the status quo” – and then deny both: who terrorised Scots about being forced out of the European Union, then dragged out because a tiny majority in their larger neighbour was more important than the near two-thirds majority of their own: who, on today’s, ruling, now deny they ever said anything about this being a Union of Equals, that we are in fact One United Kingdom.

The facade of the Phoney Union has fallen at long last. There is no Union of Equals, no Family of Nations. There is only One United Kingdom. There is no Nation of Scotland – and that’s what you all voted for 8 years ago, even when the anti-independence brigade hotly denied it. The only justification you have in maintaining the people of Scotland cannot seek independence without Westminster consent is if you believe that Scotland is not a country. In their glee, many anti-independence mouths are speaking when perhaps it would be strategically impertinent.

But it’s to be expected from them, & they can be ignored. What cannot be expected, or ignored, is the failure of our supposed champions. We had 8 years to sort this out, yet only now we are learning the contempt of the UK Supreme Court for Scotland’s democratic wishes. And the reaction? To talk about it. Sometime next year.

8 years of this. 8 years of fine talk – about how Scotland will not be taken out of the EU against our will, about how Scotland’s voice will be heard, about how Scotland will not be taken for granted. Yet when all those things happened, it is incumbent on those who claim to champion Scotland’s democracy to prove the iron in their words. Now, when Ian Blackford or Angus Robertson or even Nicola Sturgeon make great announcements & proclamations, the response is laughter – because there is no iron in their words. They won’t do anything. They’ll complain, they’ll stamp their feet, they’ll gurn at the electorate apologetically – but deeds will not be forthcoming. Deeds I once believed were inevitable. In times past, when Scottish National Party politicians made bold statements, they followed through. For all the Westminster parties’ sins, even they could perceive the iron in their words.

And they would know – because all the UK have ever promised was devoid of iron. Promises of Devomax, Home Rule, Federalism? No iron. Vows to respect the Scottish Parliament? Ironless. Oaths to respect the will of the Scottish electorate? Completely devoid of ferrous content. So when someone comes to them with iron in their words, they recognise the (to them) alien substance – and know that bluffing won’t work.

The SNP need the iron back in their words of life or death. Otherwise, it’s just empty noise. And we have enough of that.

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Mourning on the 19th of September

I fixed the original picture, because including the original is just too soul-destroying for me.

The Wallace Tower in Ayr will remain lit up in red, white and blue up to and including Monday 19 September to commemorate the life of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

– South Ayrshire Council

The insult to the memory of William Wallace, who refused to recognise the primacy of the English monarch, is obvious, and irrefutable – not that it stops some people from debasing themselves and others trying. But the insult to the supposed recipient of this tribute is also profound. Do you think Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of Scots, would be happy seeing one of the most important & revered heroes of one of the Home Nations being disrespected in such a way? If Elizabeth Windsor, Queen of Scots, loved Scotland as much as everyone claims she did, then would she not find this affront to his memory insulting at best, and despicable at worst?

Save for the dyed-in-the-wool monarchists, Never voters, and those pitiful nihilistic wretches who enjoy acts of cruelty even at the expense of their own dignity, no-one will remember this as a fitting tribute. Ayr is not wanting for buildings to light up in the Union Flag in tribute to Elizabeth Windsor – buildings which were not constructed & dedicated to the memory of a man who died in opposition to the notion of an English King ruling England, Scotland, and Wales. Yet they picked this monument, of all Ayr’s grand and magnificent buildings, to affix their devotion. All they will remember from this display is how breathtakingly crass it is. They won’t remember it as a touching tribute to the late Elizabeth Windsor. They will remember it as the gauche, cynical, imperialist display it truly is. It is not a symbol of a nation united in grief over a public figure, but of one forced into acquiescence regardless of how they feel.

Some folk are proud to be “Scottish and British.” Here, we see the reality of that situation, where the memory of a man who died because he refused to acknowledge another nation’s monarch as his was defiled – in the interests of a fake, phony “unity” that’s as fake and phony as the union it exemplifies.

Folk like Lindsay Hoyle would claim that the funeral of Elizabeth Windsor would be “the most important event the world will ever see.” Even the most devoted of monarchists would surely consider that hyperbolic. But for a great many Scots, even the very date of 19th of September is a day of mourning for another reason – one that happened eight years before. It was a day after a referendum, when the woman who died is alleged to have “purred” in response to the result, where the lies & false promises made to Scots were enough to steal away a nation’s freedom.

I mourn the Scotland that could have been on the 19th of September eight years ago. Mourn Elizabeth Windsor if you wish – it is a freedom that the UK Establishment would deny others if they could. I don’t think I ever could mourn, for the reasons above. For me, the 19th of September is a date for mourning a nation – something even greater than any individual, regardless of how powerful, influential, or remarkable they may be. And even if I mourn that Scotland alone – I am, of course, certain that I do not – I am content in knowing there is at least one soul who will remember the 19th of September for a different reason than the Firm would have the world remember.

I’ll stop mourning when our nation lives again.

Voting for Independence in the Inverclyde Council Elections 2022

As the election is tomorrow, I thought I’d do my bit to note all the pro-independence, indy-open, or at least indy-neutral candidates standing in each ward. Every ward except Inverclyde East (where all three candidates have been elected automatically) and Inverclyde South have enough candidates for independence supporters not only to rank above open anti-independence candidates, but theoretically take all the available seats. This happened in Inverclyde West in 2017, where 2 pro-independence candidates and 1 neutral independent were elected. This should be the goal of every independence supporter across Scotland. Considerations about “democracy” and “fairness” are moot, because for as long as we are part of the UK, “democracy” and “fairness” never enter into the equation in the first place. This isn’t overriding democracy – it’s ensuring democracy, real democracy, has a chance to actually manifest with Scottish independence.

I won’t explicate the order in which I will be voting, nor will I make any particular recommendations. I expect Alba supporters to put Alba first and SNP supporters to put their candidates first: there is no real way to “game” the Single Transferrable Vote system, so it is honestly one of the most authentic methods. You really do vote for your first choice first, and your last choice last. Even if you can’t stand any particular candidate, or refuse to support their party, you can at least place them above individuals & parties who are actively opposed to independence. I leave to others arguments about local issues. My argument is that if the power station fails, it doesn’t matter how many lightbulbs you change or wires you reroute in your living room – you need to get the power going at the source.

So let’s break it down.

The Local Is National

No major party, it seems, is without blood on their hands. The cruelties and atrocities committed under the UK Government Party’s watch are well-documented and ongoing. Thanks to past Prime Ministers, the Opposition Party can count tens of thousands of innocents within and without the UK’s borders on their red ledgers. The moral cowardice of the Coalition Party makes them party to everything the UK Government enabled during that brief five year term which ended up decimating what was once offering an alternative to the destructive two-party dominance of centuries past. Even considering that the Scottish Government was not truly a national government with the powers and responsibilities enjoyed by nearly every other nation on the planet, I took great pride in the party I voted for and supported being something different.

When the new First Minister decided the “Scottish Executive” deserved a name more deserving of the Parliament it stood in, Scotland went on to flourish under a Scottish Government. 2007 marked the beginning of great changes, lasting even through the atrocious Financial Crisis: the rise in homelessness was stalled and reversed to almost half its previous level, as was educational inequality and crime levels; A&E waiting times for the Scottish NHS were significantly reduced from the previous government; the worrying rise in drug deaths was slowed since 2007; votes condemning and refusing to consent to war and exploitation were constant even in the face of international pressure. You could accuse the SNP of everything under the sun, but at least – at least – the SNP never voted to send our people to illegal wars. At least the SNP never let thousands upon thousands of our people die through negligence, incompetence, or malice. At least the SNP were an exemplar, a glimpse, of what an Independent Scotland could be – the good an Independent Scotland could do. Even if you’re on the other side of the constitutional divide, they were a party of government you could respect.

It breaks my heart to realise that it simply isn’t true anymore.

The John Carpenter Blues

Man, this could’ve been such a good film…

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.

You can see why it’s been so popular.

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Scots Asians for Alba

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.

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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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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