Gi’ me a break.
This little country’s miserable mealy-mouthed politicians begin to unravel at the thought of all that responsibility. Having to run things ourselves? Having no one to blame? No way hen. Am no goan there.
But ever since the Condems embraced Austerity-for-the-great-unwashed and Osborne’s punchable fizzug started popping up on Newsnight, making me boak over my dinner, the doubts about the benefits of unionism have been building.
A family wedding encounter with Little Englander You sure you can afford it? You got a job? Or are you here to steal our jobs? Eh? You Scots are a theivin’ lot of subsidy junkies. Whinging and spending our money. Go back where you come from, why don’t you. You lot need to piss off back home. Nobody wants you here. (Charming man. This genuinely was his response to my eldest innocently asking him, as father of the bride, if he wanted a drink.). And I was well on my way to manning the Border and instituting passport control and shoot to kill.
But what the hell is ‘a country’? And supposing there’s a satisfactory answer (this is personal – the answer might satisfy you but I’m not convinced turf wars are me) – is Scotland really a country?
Alex Salmond (Leader of the governing Scottish National Party) has been cleverer than his opponents. One step ahead. But, like all politicians who’ve been at the top of their party – and leader of their country – for too many years, the lustre’s beginning to lose its sheen. Taking power for granted is dangerous. Complacency leads inexorably to mistakes. And he’s beginning to be found out. For an empty vessel. A charlatan medicine man peddling dodgy claims. He has been living on hypotheticals and appealing to emotive nationalism and patriotic Scottish jingoism for years. And when attacked and asked to explain his rationale or the basis for policies adopted he has done a fine line in deflective defence and logical fallacy: I say to the honourable lady, she may ask where the money is going to come from but I say I have faith in the ability of this proud country to….blah blah blah’. Aka ‘you are unpatriotic anti-Scottish and pro-Condems’. With a strong whiff of: ‘you are a stupid fud’.
‘Country’ comes from the late Latin ‘contra’. Meaning ‘against’.
Country: A country is a region legally identified as a distinct entity in political geography. A country may be an independent sovereign state or one that is occupied by another state, as a non-sovereign or formerly sovereign political division, or a geographic region associated with sets of previously independent or differently associated peoples with distinct political characteristics. (Wiki – which will do me for now).
So, Scotland can be said to be a formerly (1707) sovereign state. ‘Against’ England. Politically distinct (enough) from England to have to sign a Treaty to bring the United Kingdom of Great Britain into existence.
The truth is muddier than that. I’m no royalist – but the Royal Houses of Scotland and England had been inter-marrying (and fighting each other) for centuries. The DNA of this mean little island has a glorious mongrel pedigree. Romans. Celts. Picts/Britons. Angles. Saxons. Normans. Jutes. Flemings. Vikings.
We are a’ Jock Tamson’s bairns as my sexist old Granpa always said. All progeny of the original man. I prefer original woman. But it comes down to the same thing. He never could think in terms of ‘it’s ma baw’ – and neither can I.
It’s true though that the further North you go from London or the Home Counties the more ‘left-leaning’ local politics become.
Scotland has a well-developed preference for re-distributive economics, with a heavy emphasis on social justice, community, looking after your vulnerable, striving for equality of opportunity. Even our old Conservatism (before the 1950s the natural party of power here) was community-minded, soft. more paternalistic MacMillan than free market Friedman.
Scotland provides a useful boost to Westminster coffers of course. Oil revenues. Whisky revenues. Corporation tax. Income Tax. Stamp Duty. Car tax duties. And the rest (http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Publications/2011/06/21144516/10 )
Of course Scotland’s been ripped off by its neighbour for centuries. That good man Blair re-drew the marine boundaries in 1999 ensuring that ‘English waters’ stretched up to Carnoustie. That’s deep into Pictish Scotland for you non-Scots readers. http://www.craigmurray.org.uk/archives/2012/01/scotlandengland-maritime-boundaries/
and the government’s own confirmation of this: http://www.opsi.gov.uk/si/si1999/99112601.gif
A cynical Westminster move to ensure that devolved powers did not disadvantage England too much. And to make pro-Independence financial arguments even more difficult to make.
We currently contribute more than we take (you have to count the Oil and Gas and Whisky revenues here – not do the usual Telegraph/Daily Mail wheeze of happily ignoring them). But we take more back per head of population than our union partners because of the Barnett Formula. England (or the South of England at any rate) could survive without us. No doubt. And Little England-er from the wedding demonstrates a real desire to be shot of us. But they still want our cash. And a diminished UK of GB is bad for the global reputation. So the Unionist parties defend the status quo.
Cameron, in fact, continues to defend ‘the union’ despite paralleling Scottish Independence arguments in his Euro-Referendum ‘In or Out’ speech. Reform the terms of our Union he shouted. (And then the wheels came off because it wasn’t clear whether he’d push for a ‘No to Europe’ vote if he didn’t get what he’s yet to explain he wants from illusory negotiations that aren’t going to start unless DC wins a majority for his party).
Phew. What a grand wheeze. Defended by that very odd man with the strange voice – William Hague. A desperate attempt to unite his own Conservatives; scupper the electoral chances of UKIP; deflect attention from their dire economic policies and distance them from their Coalition partners. The electioneering starts here. There will be a General Election by next May.
|A Belltoon. David Cameron to the Left and Alex Salmond to the Right.|
Where are our Scottish politicians when we need them though?
In the middle of all of this Westminster disarray they could be making hay. No?
No. Alex and his cohort of incompetents are running to the aid of their unionist opponents. They’re revealing – with their every response – their lack of answers to the thousands of questions Scots have. Worse – the answer to many of the hard questions appears to be: Westminster will continue to exercise that power.
UK to continue to control Green Energy subsidies? Adoption of Sterling? Control of interest rates by the Bank of England? The list is growing by the day. What’s the point of Independence, Alex?
I wish politicians – wherever – would grow up. Would grow a set.
Be honest. Stop treating us all like idiots.
Scotland would have no easy road if it chose Independence. It is not a rich country. Though it’s richer than the unionists pretend. There would be hard political choices to make.
Free prescriptions? Or free transport for pensioners? Or free personal care? Or maximum class sizes and teaching time? What service do you Change? Reform? Get rid of?
But that’s the mark of a grown up state.
With it being Shirl’s birthday on Friday and with Caravan Palace pulling out of their planned Friday night gig for Celtic Connections in Glasgow she had to do something to celebrate. So Sharon, Jamie and I helped her get unco fu at our wee local instead.
|The wee local at Wellgate head. You need to limbo dance out the door. Big beer bellies get stuck here.|
Maisie’s is a bit shit just now if I’m really honest.
Used to be a good cool crowd that drunk there (ok, ok there were the usual drunk aggressive numpties too). But it was young. Or if it wasn’t young, it was right on the money when it came to music. Mostly.
Meg’s and Charlotte’s barmaid nights were rich trips through the new and the old. You’d get Bowie played next to Florence and the Machine. Or Buckley (either) and slit yer wrists Nick Drake right next to Prodigy. John Martyn and Danny Thompson with a bit of Fleet Foxes. Johnny Cash and Biffy Clyro. The stupendous Mogwai. The delicate wit of Divine Comedy. Villagers and Arcade Fire. Queens of the Stone Age (yes, Meg, I count them too).
Meg and Charlotte have moved on. As they always needed to.
|Meg and Berlin.|
Charlotte has finished the music degree and is gigging about 20 hours a day (really, she is). The girl is a stunning guitarist and her voice is honey and broken glass. Astonishing range and an emotional depth that can only increase with her age. Lanark gets the treat of her and Jaz (soon to be a Daddy Jaz and getting anxious about how to be a good ‘un) singing their own stuff usually the last Thursday of the month at The Crown.
|Charlotte and Jaz – taken last year for Lanark’s Music Festival. This photo makes them look very clean and tidy and square. And they’re not.|
And they’ve been replaced by lovely lassies who’ve a taste in Guns n Roses. Status Quo. And Leo F’ing Sayer.
We staggered down to Shirl’s at last orders. I had a Baileys for the road. Shirls and Sharon decided they’d have coffee and cheese n biscuits (those were tasty crackers, Shirls) and we got into music we liked.
Trip down memory lane stuff.
Kate Bush. Just the best. But be warned this youtube vid is of the whole album…
Divine Comedy. Playing by the Seine. A Lady of a Certain Age. My favourite.
Moving Hearts – ripping off Christy Moore. Controversial vid for this part of the world…
Prince. ‘I bet he’s a tosser.’ (Jamie you really don’t like the man. eh?) But that music is sex. Maybe not this one mind. My jury’s still out on the new album.
Queens of the Stone Age. This I played myself out loud on the iPhone on the way home. Meg – I played it for you, to try to understand what you saw in them. Sorry kid. I still don’t really.
Jamie did his usual naked streak. We shrug shoulders and go on munching crackers and brie.
At 3am I thought I’d brave the cold. From Shirl’s it’s only a mile and half drop to the bottom of the valley and home.
I crunched over old snow to get from the farm to the road end. Then I walked, hearing only the soft sound of my boots on the tarmac, until I got to the head of New Lanark and the top of a steep descent into darkness, trees, phosphorescent lights and kamikaze badgers.
It’s at that bend in the road – from open land to steep drop – that I always steel myself.
One night, years ago, I was followed down by some man I couldn’t recognise. I was drunk and as my feet got quicker, his did too. I ran the last half mile. The fear pounding in my ear drums until I got to my door.
My neighbour came to see me the next day. Was I ok? He’d tried to catch me up last night but couldn’t…
My walk home on Friday was a peaceful one. There was that heavy sound of nature’s silence. Dundaff Linn and the Clyde thundering, full of snow waters. Occasional twig snapping in the undergrowth either side of me. I listened to Villagers. It seemed the right thing to do.
And Joselito Montoya. Camaron de la Isla. Tomatito. Flamenco. Avoid the shitty commercial sentimental stuff that tries to straddle ‘pop’ and go for the screaming and swirling and then just surrender to it.
Joselito sang me into the darkness.
When I got in I remembered Elvis. I rejected him years ago. With all the energy and vigour that a teenager rebelling against Ma and Pa’s ‘type’ of music could muster. I’m getting old. Or I’m changing. Or something. He’s better than I thought. And oh my god he was good looking.
That’s Alright Mama.
Then sleep, with a pint tumbler of water beside me.
The villa is booked.
We’re off to Spain again. A month of sun and the sea and the pool and just living.
Now I’m impatient to be there.
Las Heredades was a rural, backwater, bit-of-a-shock-to-the-system, last year – especially after years going to the bigger coastal village on the Costa Blanca. It became as familiar as our own backyard. The baker who opened only between 8-10am. The tobacconist who was always shut and you had to ring the doorbell for. The multi-purpose pub come cafe come ice-cream parlour that was open from the wee sma’ hours to the wee sma’ hours and where there was no such thing as a ‘measure’. Neighbours clearing rubble for their tomato and courgette plants and to plant orange trees and cut back the fig – and being chased by the crazy pup who just wanted to play. The lazy heat of the day spent in the village pool or the villa plunge pool. The fruit and the salads and the olive oil and the watermelon from the handcart at the motorway roundabout. Mouthwatering, messy hot churros con chocolate at the cafe in Santa Pola. Trips to Cartagena where we met up with our favourite waiter and loved the city again. Or to Torrevieja or Alicante. To Elx (Elche) and the mountains beyond to worship palm trees and to run through the pop up fountain and marvel at the tower.
For the rest it was our big messy rambling family filling the house, laughing and shouting and just taking it all easy.
|Meg and Ana Cristina and a trip to spend holiday money in Torrevieja.
|Cartagena – Meg and Ana Cristina – Town Hall in the background|
|Elx – strawberry daiquiris in the evening for Meg|
|Cartagena in the evening – trip out with Lewis, Carrie and Evan|
|Santa Pola beach in the evening – Carrie|
|Carrie and Lewis – Cartagena – with them looking very pale and white|
|Las Heredades – view from villa rooftop – and no, it’s not picturesque…|
|Carrie and Evan – Rooftop – Las Heredades. Very not picturesque…|
I’m sad that Meg won’t be here this year. It’s Berlin for her – with a trip to Italy mid July. But that’s life.
The boys have T-in-the-Park (should’ve gone to Rockness) tickets and then work commitments but will be out for at least a week.
My friend of the messy divorce is planning to be with us for another of the weeks.
Mum and Dad and the two wee ones will fight it out for the spot beside the air conditioning.
It’s all good.
I was granted a tiny wee insight into What I Should Be Writing About just as November 2012 closed.
Sloth set in around the beginning of December.
Sloth and fear.
The idea started to intimidate me. The bigger, more expansive it got, the more I backed off into surf-the-net-land and vegetate. Into occasionally reproach yourself and feel stupid.
I’d approach Carnwath every working morning.The motte and bailey remains looking like a ridiculous giant pudding squatted in the golf course grounds. The decrepit Church nave opposite, slimy with moss and frosted with ice. And I’d be seeing the ancestors. Be overcome with the deep dark desire to delve, to unearth them.
As I turned off onto the A70 their proximity would become intoxicating. I could sense the words I needed – but couldn’t see them. I have spent every journey drafting inadequate fragments. Sifting through word lists. Constructing whole shitty verses. And discarding every one before I made it past Balerno and the end of the Whang.
I know that what I need to write is what the land is showing me. Between us lies the gulf of translation. My eyes scanning the landscape; every dip and scar, every lump and hillock, the outline of old farmhouses showing themselves to me in stony debris and lightly raised earthworks – my eyes becoming as sensitive to the changes in grass colour and in marginal earth elevation that I can feel them. An optical pressure that prints off internal pages in a language I haven’t the skill or understanding to decipher.
There are the Bronze Age clearance cairns on Staneymuir Farm. Interspersed with the grassed over neolithic funerary cairns. There is the outline of an old round house, ripped apart by the road. The Roman fortlet at Camilty sitting in a treeless depression amongst an ugly tax-evading forestry. The Roman Road revealing itself still straight and higher than the surrounding moor land – used by quad bike farmers and walkers seeking out Cauld Stane Slap and the Harperrig Reservoir. The soutterains whose purpose we guess at. The earth turning over amber bead necklaces and caesar’s head; chertz workings and stone axes; imported Arran pitchstone traded in 3500BC; funerary remains.
|The reservoir with Cauld Stane Slap pass behind – the old drover’s road.|
This road I travel every day has changed little in over five millenia. Maybe more. The modest one or two farmhouse additions in the last three hundred years testify to its hostility now – snow drifting yesterday over the high land and the fields slowing me to 10mph. I glimpse the lowland Scotland that the ancestors walked and worked.
What do they have to tell this troubled little land which labours now to articulate its own identity?
follow the link for the best photos of the Whang and area I travel to get to my work in Edinburgh.