A Paean to Scotland

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A new poll shows a large majority of the Scottish population would vote for independence returned if there was a second Referendum. There’s hope in that.

The residing insult is how much my country’s elected senators are regarded as common caretakers, guardians of Scotland on behalf of Westminster politicians, sadly a view held by some of our own in Holyrood.

What hope is there for our children’s happiness, and the lives of  our children’s children unless we close ranks? Will they be forced to leave their homeland in search of work?

So many of my relatives were forced to flee to far off places, paid to leave, to Australia’s corners, to Nova Scotia’s bleak coastline, to Africa’s interior, aye, and even to Paisley. (I spent three years there as a youth. I can think of worse places to die than Paisley, but not many.) Whatever life our forefathers created far from home their hearts remained in Scotland. You can see it in the letters, and in the ‘wee bit of Scotland’ they recreated. Though few returned their children did.

They felt compelled to know the history of their forefathers.

The quality of light

What is it about this rain-soaked, corbie choked, drystane and fanked field of dreams?

Is it the painterly quality of light? There is something unique, iridescent about the north-west light that visits no other land. Sit outside a slate roof cottage in North Uist at midnight and marvel at the pearlescent water before you, fingers of land and inlets black in silhouette.

Raise your eyes to the heavens as far north as you can travel and the awe-inspiring shifting flashes of the Aurora Borealis would have men believe a superior being watches over us. It is not Westminster.

I have seen the Garden of Eden in hills of Tuscany, and the pleasure gardens of Moorish Spain. There I marvelled at waterways created to quench the dry terraces of orange trees, and in Italy galaxies of vivid red poppies swaying over undulating hills.

Rugged and ragged

Here in my homeland I stroll by rugged castles, and among silver birches, woods carpeted with cerulean bluebells and wild garlic. Battlements, colour, scent, we have our own unique topography worth preserving, some of it fashioned by the Romans and the Spanish. We were true northern Europeans once upon a time. We welcomed them, we did not argue for separation from their culture or trade.

I have travelled this great world over, through green places nourished by rivers abundant with fish, stared into bottomless crevasses; visited the ruins of ancient civilisations the bones of their dead under foot; driven across arid deserts where the air is so heavy with silence you can hear your heart beating. I walked renegade coyote tracks that skip across the desert until they rise up to meet the sky.

The people who had lived there thousands of years ago carved wondrous icons dug deep into red cliffs. Shamans placed their palm in berry juice and left the imprint on the rock to tell tomorrow they existed.

What do we do to show we exist?

I saw great cities built to enhance men’s vanity and power. The tallest buildings of Manhattan were fabricated by indigenous Indians, many were dispossessed Indians, balancing on girders hundreds of feet in the air.

Their oneness with the heavens, a spirituality, came from their land under vast skies that gave them a kind of bravura, a fearlessness of eternity. The cities they help build did not belong to them, but to a different people. And when they returned to the land they had inhabited so long, and where they chased the buffalo, they saw it savagely corralled. No one needed to own a horse anymore for there was no buffalo to hunt or to honour its death for giving them life.

In so many regards the same holds true for Scotland.

Why should we not love our own birthplace with a passion that would light beacons on every Mohr and mountain top? Why be expected to love Scotland less than an artificial construct called Britain? Or speak less well of it to such an extent we would not wish it protected from the tempests that assail its boundaries?

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A breath of wind

In every glen, rock and boulder each breath of wind whispers stories of our forefathers, stories of struggle and triumph, of strain and fortitude, handed down generation to generation. Why let stories of lives vanished disappear, their meaning mean nothing, never passed to our children?

In times past our Highland soldiers recited tales of their ancestors before advancing into battle. That way gave them courage. They knew who they were and what they fought for. They whispered the tales over and over again to seal their existence, and ensure they returned from the battlefield renewed.

Are we not to be citizens of the world with our own land that we can till to gather the harvest of our labours? Why should we not be a member of the United Nations? Scotland will never be proficient in international human affairs if it is restrained as a territory of a powerful neighbour.

Humanitarian intervention

I wonder if England sees its hold over Scotland more or less akin to ‘humanitarian intervention’, the kind of intervention they practiced in India, and more lately Iraq. We have a cricket team now, and there is oil still. Iraq has oil and plays cricket among its smashed existence. But there is a difference. India celebrates the anniversary of its independence from British rule.

Comparison beyond the pale? Think again about Scotland’s history, last century and the ones before, the history Scotland’s detractors wish forgotten. Think how politicians refer to Scotland as a place of scroungers, drunks, and whingers. Their respect for Scotland is no more than a person might have for a stranger’s dog, and just as fleeting.

The democracy they offer is only one day every five years.  That isn’t the democracy I read about in the works of Plato, Socrates and Aristotle, held fast in the soul of freedom. Westminster’s politicians will trouble us every day for five more years and leave us powerless the rest of the time.

Elections bring fresh hope – what can we do?

There are things we can do in groups we can’t do by our self. Granted, my contribution as an essayist is a lonely occupation, but in fact, very little is done individually. It’s usually done in groups by collective action, by objective defined, and by interchange. We saw that camaraderie writ large as Referendum day neared. Part of the cleverness of the system of domination and control is to separate people from one another so that doesn’t happen.

The challenge is for Scotland to unite. By unite I mean English in Scotland with Scot, aye, most definitely English working here, and Polish, Chinese, Italian, Spanish, Indian and Pakistani, all the cultures who generations ago made their home Scotland.

Scotland won’t regain the right for its citizens to control their lives if we do not resist the neo-liberal onslaught. It reduces us to passive pawns. Where is our spirituality? Where is our bravura? If we do not vote for Scotland what will we gain that makes our lives better?

Westminster has made plain we gain nothing but their derision.

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23 Responses to A Paean to Scotland

  1. hektorsmum says:

    When you read what has been written over the past few weeks by people who ought to know better. When you have watched democracy such as it is vanish as per the referendum, how can anyone feel that this Union is working?
    We spent nearly twenty years travelling round Scotland, well we had the wee dugs to look after, and we still will say there are bits we have missed. We still have all the isles to see, we will do it one of those days.
    Scotland can be so much better if it were run by those who live here. It is easy to ignore when you are in deepest Sussex. I have railed about the state of the roads, and how they just love that the wilderness is so, when it should be the home to people that were cleared to suit the Elite
    Both my husband and I have family in the US, Canada and Australia, all with more prosperous lives than they would ever have here and if that is not condemnation of this Union I do not know what is.

  2. YESGUY says:

    Another cracker GB.19

    I left Scotland in 1979 as a 16 year old. First time. First time on a train. First time away in “another place”. First time sleeping in another bed. Homesickness, aaargh the horror. I can still feel how desperately i wanted to go home but i had joined the Army. This was supposed to be my home now. And it was.

    I believe the only way you can appreciate your own place is to leave it. Like you i have travelled the world. Most often supplying aid to unfortunate folk in poorer countries. (Mexico 1985 earthquake while training in next door Belize. Northern Kenya. Sudanese border 1986 where i saw first hand, famine and death on a huge scale. I still get the jitters when i look back. Also many a year in the Arctic wastes on northern Norway where i rarely saw anything other than snow and those astonishing lights. Scotland was so different to me, a boy from an area of pits and printers.

    Everywhere i went i compared and found Scotland had all that and more.

    Coming home 1 or 2 times a year quelled the homesickness. It never left me. Climbing up the steps at Waverley station and seeing the Castle and gardens always gave me a feeling of, “I’m hame at last”.

    The picture of the Northern lights is a beauty. Very few places see these lights “from heaven” But we do. Maybe someone up there really does like us.

    Thanks for the memories GB. 🙂

  3. Wee Jonny says:

    “Shamans placed their palm in berry juice and left the imprint on the rock to tell tomorrow they existed. What do we do to show we exist?” Oof. I near choked up readin that wee bit.

    My first serious look into politics started when I bought Peter Hitchens – The Broken Compass for a holiday my wife & I were about to go on. My wife isn’t JoLa but she was astonished to see me buying a political book as I’d only ever bought Top Gear Magazine for holidays.

    My feeling at the time was that meh bonny wee cun’ray MUST be better than it’s made out to be. So a book thats title is The Broken Compass MUST show Westminster is full o shit and can’t be trusted with anything and would awaken the senses of people north & south of the border to the real truth that Sco’lind wiz ace and Inglind pyoor needed us mare than we needed them.

    In two weeks I couldn’t get past his line on “conventional wisdom is almost always wrong. By the time it has become conventional, it has ceased to be wisdom and become cant. Its smug cousin, received opinion, is just as bad.”

    Now I know I’m not the sharpest lightbulb in the sandwich but funk me, I jist coodnay git mi hade roond that.

    Anyhoo something in that book gave me a belief that meh wee cun’ray IS better than I was lead to believe and since then whether we’ve driven back fay a few days in Inglind or landed at an English airport and are driving home, the Welcome To Scotland then Dundee – City of Discovery (now One City Many Dicoveries) signs have been my Northern Lights. And I insist on taking a photo of the signs every time we pass them.

    And that’s why I got a wee bit choked up at your Shamans hand print line. I want to do something to show that we existed. That we stood up against the torrent of abuse and said Yes we’ll take it from here.

    So I’ve read and read and read and tried to get as jenned up as poss about how oor wee cun’ray is so much better than I had ever dreamed of and pass that information onto as many people who were as unjenned (?) up as I was and let them see what I see.

    With that info I changed a few undecideds, soft no’s and even a family and hard no’s before the referendum.

    I hope the job’s much easier for the election as Labour seem to be doing most of the donkey work themselves. But I’ll still do my bit and hopefully that will be my handprint to say to the future generations that we did exist.

    Another belter GB.

    (Sorry aboot the rant but I’m in the bath and had just put loads o hot wattir in so kept on typing)

  4. Grouse Beater says:

    That’s one cool post, Jonny. Not bad written in a hot bath. 😉

  5. Graham MacQueen says:

    Not a day passes that my psyche doesn’t shed an internal tear for my homeland.

    As I young teenager I had the unforgetable experience of travelling the West coast and the Outer and Inner Hebrides for 18months with my parents in an old Land Rover and caravan with 6 Golden Retrievers, 1 Cocker Spaniel and two cats. I doubt I would have ever had the opportunity to see so much of our magical country had it not been for my parents. For that, I thank them no end. My sadness for living abroad is only ever heightened when any of my four sons ask me, ‘Daddy, when will we go to Scotland?’. What makes it so hard is that I have come to live and love in a country that has, and still is, suffering at the hands of proponents of the very same ‘neo-liberal right-wing economic ideology’. I live in the hope that one day my children and others alike will have the opportunity to live in the manner and respect they deserve and have the same opportunities, if not more, to enjoy the land of their forefathers, which ever they may choose.

    Moving article GB; thank you!

  6. Grouse Beater says:

    Graham – yes, familiar with the loss of place I empathise … let us see what May’s election brings.
    In the meantime, if my words hold importance for other expats you know, please pass it to them.

  7. Derick Tulloch says:

    Beautifully written. My Man!

  8. Mac Beda says:

    I say again I wish I could write like you.
    However, I’m really pleased I’m able to read.

  9. Graham Macqueen says:

    Again, in the spirit of information sharing I attach a link to the official blog of Yanis Varoufakis’ proposal for a better Europe. Happy reading! http://yanisvaroufakis.eu/2015/03/15/presenting-an-agenda-for-europe-at-ambrosetti-lake-como-14th-march-2015/#more-7476

  10. Paul Muir says:

    Not to denigrate a bonny encomium, but I believe the high steel workers were Mohawk Nation, not plains indians.

    • Grouse Beater says:

      Hi Paul
      I take issue with your remark only because of the research I had to do for a screenplay. The Mohawk tribe is the one usually mentioned in coffee table book histories but in fact a number of tribes did the work including many Plains Indians. By the time of skyscraper build they had been dispossessed of their lands and scattered north. Anyhow, I shall alter the sentence in respect of your advice. I appreciate you took time to read my wee essay; hope it holds some meaning for you as it does me.

  11. diabloandco says:

    Just a thank you as I greet for my country.

  12. fortified to meet the coming, after reading Your piece G/Beater,brilliant read.

  13. xsticks says:

    Beautiful piece of writing GB. I’ve enjoyed all your contributions,

  14. McBoxheid says:

    Thanks again for a thoroughly well written and deep essay Grouse Beater.
    Like Yesguy, I took took my countries shilling in ’79 through lack of work and other oppertunities. I now live in Germany, where I stayed when I left the army, crippled after the first Gulf War. They treat me well here. They look after me, even though I’m furren. I look forward to when my German wife retires and we can return to Scotland. To a land that will hopefully be free of Westminster and prospering under it’s own steam.
    I’ll leave you with my addition to Robert Burns’ ‘My Heart’s in the Highlands´

    My heart’s in the Highlands
    My heart’s not here
    My heart’s in the Highlands
    A dinking the beer
    A drinking the guid beer with a whisky to follow
    My heart’s in the Highlands
    I’d go home tomorrow

    • Grouse Beater says:

      I like the word ‘furren’ – I can see you’ve never left Scotland.
      Please pass on my thoughts to others if it helps them too to remember who they are and where we are going.

  15. Robert, (Auld Bob), Peffers says:

    I do fear, at my age, I may never live in a free Scotland but I take comfort from the fact that nothing succeeds like an idea whose time has come.

    My country will be free. The picture of the wee girl bravely, and proudly, holding her Saltire on high, in the presence of overwhelming odds nearby, optimises for me the truth that the idea of Scotland’s freedom looms ever closer and will not be deflected for much longer.

    I read the above article and know in my heart the time is near for a new Scottish enlightenment and, perhaps, like the previous time, “Europe will look to Scotland for her civilization”. (Voltaire).

  16. Ghillie says:

    Hey Grouse Beater! Calling to you from the future, July 2016… We’re nearly there!!!

    Our day is come = )

    And to all our exiled Scots ( I was one too for a while, growing up in wonderful, beautiful countries which I miss very much, but Scotland is always home)… COME HOME! We’re waiting for you = )

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