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.