"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."
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.
I’ve gone on record saying that I don’t want anyone to die for Scottish Independence. Yet at the same time I can say, in all honesty, that if the extremely unlikely were to happen and the only thing standing between a bullet and either Alex Salmond or Nicola Sturgeon was me, I absolutely would’ve taken the hit for either one. I know that about myself. I had those intrusive thoughts every time I was in either First Minister’s presence. How could I not? Indeed, when I was part of the crew seeing the First Minister’s helicopter land at Battery Park, we were told in no uncertain terms that there is a slim chance of death in any helicopter landing. Slim though that chance was, it was a sobering thought: dark thoughts ran through my mind. Yet I, and all the others there, stood there, waiting for the bird carrying the First Minister to alight on the green grass of Greenock.
Thankfully, the dark thoughts did not materialise, and I’ll never forget that day. What follows is a collection of some of my darkest, most intrusive thoughts over the past few years, as an illustration to show that even if things look hopeless, there’s always a way out.
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.
“The traitor within is to be feared more than the foe without. It was not the legions of Rome which conquered me – it was the traitors within my gates. Not alone in swords and ships does Rome deal, but with the souls of men.”
– The Tall Stranger, “Delenda Est,” Robert E. Howard
There’s a phrase that kicks about in times of conflict and war – Delenda Est. It’s most often seen in the term Carthago Delenda Est, “Carthage Must Be Destroyed,” by modern scholars of classical antiquity in regards to Marcus Porcious Cato’s closing words during Senatorial debates between the 2nd and 3rd Punic Wars. The Carthaginian Empire were Rome’s great rivals to undisputed rule over the western Mediterranean Sea, and had been reduced to a corner of North Africa following the 2nd Punic War. The punitive peace treaty of 201 BC- which included losing almost all of its overseas territories to Rome, and barring Carthage from making war without Rome’s permission, even when being raided by aggressive neighbouring Numidia – meant that Carthage presented little danger.
But this was never enough for Rome, & it certainly was not enough for Cato, who viewed Carthage’s wealth & prosperity despite losing two wars in the last century as an outrageous threat to Roman security. Carthage must not only be defeated – it must be destroyed. When Carthage finally acted against the invading Numidians, Cato convinced the Senate to go to war – and Carthage was destroyed.
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.
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.