by George Gunn
The beginning of May is the time for change. The first of May is Beltane, the beginning of the Summer in the Celtic calendar: a time for fire and celebration. It is also the day of international socialism, a time to mark solidarity and the common cause of the people. It is a time for renewal, for new beginnings, for undertaking journeys: in other words it is a time to be brave.
We also have a Westminster election to contend with which promises to be the most significant, for Scotland, since the end of World War Two and the Labour landslide. Political tectonics are at work here and no matter how much the British political establishment will deny it the Scottish people will speak and only fools and London bankers will ignore them. The mechanics of parliamentary democracy are relentless and there is little to be gained, other than in suspending it, that the Westminster mandarins can do about it, no matter how much they would like to. It would suit the City of London financiers and the politicians who keep them in power to judge first past the post democracy a failed experiment or a system which is past its sell by date. They are unlikely to replace it with an improvement.
There is nothing new in all of this, even though we in Scotland are excited by the prospect – somehow or other and no one is too sure how – of getting out country back as some kind of spin-off from a British political meltdown. In 480 BC the city state of Athens emerged from a seemingly unwinnable war – suicidal many suggested – against the mighty Persian Empire. Despite everything the Athenians emerged victorious from the struggle and then proceeded to create their golden age with democracy emerging in its earliest form and art forms such as theatre and philosophy thriving and, indeed, even history in the form of the writings of Thucydides and Herodotus entered into a societal narrative by which we try to understand ourselves, and have continued to try to ever since.
Not for one moment am I trying to compare Nicola Sturgeon with Pericles nor am I trying to belittle the importance of what is going on, or of what will happen in several days’ time when the votes are counted and the world changes, but there has to be some kind of perspective on it and other than the disbelief and hyperbole there doesn’t seem to be a lot of common sense going around in the heads of our southern politicians.
What I am concerned about, other than independence, is corruption and how we can manage to haul ourselves out of it, even if that is possible considering that it is a deep and corrosive financial and political corruption which has got us to this point. I personally have no interest in replacing one set of lying shysters with another set no matter what they call themselves. I support the SNP, at the moment, because it is the only way I can see to get a political system in place which offers the people of Scotland a future. I am quite confident that the people of England, Wales and Northern Ireland are equally capable of jailing their own thieves. When the Scottish National Party starts to be the problem, and acts like Athens and become hawkish, chauvinist and corrupt then they will have me as an enemy. I can just see them shivering in their boots about that. Better brains than I and with sharper pencils can explain to them about the nature and meaning of hubris.
All that flannel aside I do think Nicola Sturgeon is the woman of the moment. Each age and society throws up its own version of Pericles, give or take a set of vine leaves or two. I thought Ian Bell got to the heart of our current First Minister when he described her as being someone able “to be polite without taking any lip.” How many of us, I wonder, can say the same?
But I foresee a problem. What happens if the lambs do not lie down on Downing Street come Friday May 8th? What are we going to do, or how reasonable are we going to be, if the British establishment just don’t accept the General Election result? Oh, but they will have to. I can hear myself saying that. I don’t believe me either. How valuable is democracy, exactly, in a society when a thousand people have a combined wealth in excess of £547 billion? What does democracy actually mean then? The ancient Athenians, however imperfect they were, at least had the welfare of the poor as one of the central principles of their democracy and they saw the value in giving land to those who were dispossessed, unlike our current landowners. The Athenians saw this as an investment in stability. Am I suggesting that just because Scotland may or may not become independent that wealth, some way or other, is going to be redistributed? No I am not, even though I advocate it as a way of maintaining stability. Corruption has a deep sea-anchor.
What I see is a depressing unregulated confusion not just in wealth appropriated by the few but in how we live generally. To disentangle ourselves from the mess of compromise, chicanery and cynicism which passes as a working society is going to be a long a long a complicated process, if not for the simple reason that London will never willingly let us go. How can we empower our communities in the Far North Highlands, for example, when such things as wind farm developments have us at each other’s throats in a four square stand-off between the power companies, the land owners, the environmental bodies and the local people themselves? There is nothing more unedifying than witnessing bald men fighting over a comb. As reported in The National on Monday 27th April how insane is it that any government can construct a system whereby “ghost hydropower plants” that will never be built are still counted by the Department of Climate Change as being active and producing? As Richard Howarth of the company Glen Hydro wryly reflect “The way DECC operates the subsidy means that we are being penalised for something that is not going to happen and is going to stop a lot of schemes being built.”
Come Thursday 7th May 2015 the Scottish people could well be penalised for something that has actually happened: democracy in action. I was not alone, I am certain, in noticing that during the Referendum campaign of last year the British state had all but got fed up with “democracy”; and as the top one thousand increase their riches to double what it was in 2005 you can see the threat that this kind of “democracy” poses to that little equation.
Being poor, I can assure you, is bloody exhausting so it is no wonder that the Joseph Rowntree Foundation found that an attainment gap between children from poorer families and those from wealthier backgrounds exists before the children even start school. It is easier to be “out-performed” if you are hungry and unhappy by someone who is well fed and content. Many well-meaning and well performing people may tell the press in earnest tones that they are “astonished” by this but I am not astonished: I am hacked off because I think it is immoral.
However the British ruling elite might like to separate us off from ourselves, to disconnect the majority of us from wealth and from possibility, by explaining to us that education, hydro schemes, wind farms, parliamentary democracy and constitutional change are all separate issues and not to be confused one with the other; the fact is they are all the part of the big thing called existence: they are all manifestations of our energy, whether that be kinetic, mechanical, human, creative or political energy. They are integral components in our song of life. In Scotland now, I think we have to attempt what Walt Whitman suggested, which is to “Re-examine all that you have been told. Dismiss that which insults your soul.” Or even if we need heed it – and we do – then let us heed the words of William Blake: “What is now proved was once only imagined.”
It makes my heart heavy but I have to admit that there seems to be little love for the Scots in Downing Street. But we are not “ghost hydro-power plants” nor is our political, social and cultural future just a rammy about mere money. The snow may have come late to the broad fields of Caithness and the lambs may be shivering, temporarily, in the lee of the flagstone dykes, but we are not lambs to lie down and die. Those that are desperate for this union to stay together seem hell bent on tearing it apart and those people, like me, who want Scotland to be an independent country, now seem reasonable. Who would have thought it?
Who also would have predicted the complete destruction of Athens when she first went to war with the Spartans in 431BC?
© George Gunn 2015