"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."
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.