Out of time

I probably shouldn’t dwell on it, but I can’t help pondering how different things might have been if we’d had a new independence referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018. Looking back may be futile. But looking to the future has rarely been more disturbing and depressing. So indulge me! Allow me this brief reverie. Who knows? It may even prove illuminating.

Suppose we’d had that referendum in 2018. Suppose we’d won. Four months on we’d be well into the process of getting Scotland out of the Union – instead of being in the position of desperately struggling to keep Scotland in the EU – in keeping with the wishes of 62% of the Scottish voters who expressed a preference in the 2016 EU referendum.

If the Brexit process hadn’t ground to a total halt as everybody tried to figure out the implications of the decision to normalise Scotland’s constitutional status then at least we wouldn’t be part of the mess. By now, we might well have agreement from the EU that Scotland would effectively be treated as the continuing state after 29 March 2019.

There is no reason to suppose that the British government’s handling of the Brexit process would have been any less catastrophically inept. Scotland’s elected representatives – along with those of the other ‘peripheral’ parts of the UK – had been denied any meaningful role in the process. So taking them out of the equation with a Yes vote couldn’t really make much difference. Of course, the (r)UK position would be considerably weaker given that they could not claim to speak for Scotland. And given that they would no longer have any claim on Scotland’s resources. But it’s hard to imagine how this could make things any worse than May and her fractious rabble managed even while the UK was relatively intact.

Obviously, there would still be ‘issues’. Many of these would impinge on Scotland. But, as a de facto independent nation, we would have effective input. We would have a say in how these issues were resolved. Scotland’s interests would be represented in a way they never could be as a mere adjunct of England. Which is not to say that we would get everything we wanted from either the EU or the rump UK. But whatever compromises were made would be our compromises. They wouldn’t be compromises made on our behalf without consultation or consideration.

We might well suppose that the departure from the EU of those who actually voted for this – England and Wales – would be made easier in our imagined scenario. It is at least probable that a Yes vote in Scotland’s referendum would prompt a reunification vote in Ireland. Thus resolving cleanly, democratically, peacefully and in a most rational manner, the Irish border/ Good Friday Agreement problem which has been the greatest obstacle to a Withdrawal Agreement not wholly reliant on Santa Claus pulling some ‘alternative arrangements’ out of his sack. (You’ll understand that I didn’t really want to write ‘sack’.)

Had Scotland voted Yes on Thursday 20 September 2018, the increasingly ludicrous Brexit farce played out in Westminster and in the media over the last few months would have been largely avoided. Although this may be to underestimate the capacity of the British political elite to render farcical pretty much anything it is associated with. But this is my reverie. So I get to give them the benefit of whatever doubt I can scrape up. I elect to suppose that, as January 2019 passes, the Brexit thing would be going swimmingly. Even if some way from Olympic-standard synchronised swimming.

Then there’s the parallel negotiations between Scotland and rUK and between Scotland and the EU. The latter would be at an advanced stage by now. With Scotland taking on the UK’s membership of the EU there really wouldn’t be that much to negotiate. Think of it as Scotland inheriting the UK’s EU member’s uniform and having it adjusted to fit. Given that whatever negotiations were required would be conducted in a spirit of trust and constructive good will, there would surely be no impediment to reaching agreement amicably and rapidly. Instead of regarding 29 March with dread, we would be looking forward to Scotland taking its place as an independent nation in the European Union.

As such, Scotland would require a written constitution. An interim constitution to take effect on Independence Day is little more than a formality. It need only establish the basics – which are uncontroversial. We know they are uncontroversial because, if they were at all controversial they wouldn’t belong in an interim constitution. Work on a full draft constitution is ongoing and we can anticipate this this would have accelerated following the Yes vote last September.

It’s more difficult to say what would be happening on the rUK front. British Nationalists have vowed all manner of retribution should Scotland’s people presume to assert their sovereignty. But I seriously doubt that there will be UK Border Agency machine gun towers along the border and RAF bombs raining down on Glasgow Airport. It’s possible that aliens might take advantage of the situation to launch the invasion of Scotland they’ve been planning since Grmthul descended from Blntrmed with the Cclt of Dryf. We’ll take our chances with a bit of intergalactic conflict. We’ll have more immediate, and proximate, ‘foes’ to deal with. Although some of them do have the appearance of alien creatures struggling to maintain human form. Aye! That’s you, Michael Gove!

In reality, or as close to it as we might get in a purely hypothetical exercise, the British establishment is likely to opt for a rather more pragmatic approach than is to be found in the spittle-flecked rhetoric of British Nationalist fanatics. There’s every chance the British political elite will claim independence was being gifted to Scotland by an endlessly beneficent British state which had, of course, always respected the democratic right of Scotland’s people to choose their nation’s status and the form of government that best suits their needs. In much the same way as the 2014 referendum was graciously presented to Scotland by a kindly British Prime Minister, and Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia.

There is no rational reason why dissolving the Union should not be a fairly straightforward matter. It’s not like there isn’t a lot of precedent to draw on. It’s basically a question of attitude. The Brexit mess may give cause to doubt that British politicians are capable of the spirit of trust and constructive good will I mentioned earlier. But we can help them find that spirit by presenting them with as conclusive a Yes vote as we can muster. Assuming an effective registration drive, 60% of an 85% turnout would suffice. That’s 51% of the electorate. 65%, or just over 55% of the electorate would be better. 70% (59.5%) would silence all but the most fanatical British Nationalists and force the British political elite to behave like grown-ups. Or, perhaps, delegate that task to professional civil servants.

Had we voted Yes in a referendum on Thursday 20 September 2018, we could now be be in a place indistinguishable from that where we find ourselves at the start of February 2019. We could be assured of our EU membership, with all the positives that this implies for our economy and society. Our EU citizenship would be secure. Our freedom of movement would be secure. Our access to the single market would be secure. More importantly, these things would be secured on terms freely negotiated by the people elected or appointed to represent Scotland. Politicians and civil servants whose imperatives are informed by the needs, priorities and aspirations of Scotland’s people.

And what if we’d voted No in September 2014? Well, we’d surely be pretty much where we are now. We really had nothing to lose.

Of course, British Nationalists would be bawling about how this had killed the independence movement ‘stone dead’. Rhetoric which would, if history is any guide, be parroted by many in the Yes movement. But these protestations would be no more valid after two referendums than at any other time. However often the people of Scotland inexplicably vote to remain shackled to the British state, they cannot vote away the right of self-determination that is vested wholly in the people to be exercised entirely at their discretion. In terms of the cause of independence, a No vote in a referendum is merely a setback. It does nothing more than delay the inevitable. And the authority to determine the duration of that delay lies entirely with the Scottish people.

Had we voted No in September 2018 we’d be facing precisely the same threat to Scotland’s democracy that confronts us now. We’d be getting dragged out of the EU. Just as we are now. We’d be listening to warnings about shortages of food and medicine. Just as we are now. We’d be looking at the prospect of economic chaos and civil disturbance and martial law. Just as we are now. We’d be seeing powers stripped from the Scottish Parliament and anticipating further assaults on our democratic institutions. Just as we are now. We’d be f***ed! Just as we are now.

But at least we’d have tried to avoid all this. At least we’d have made the effort. At least we’d have shown some resolve to save Scotland from the depredations that come with the Union.

Now, it may be too late. Awakening from my reverie, I must face the reality that we are, if not already too late, then fast approaching a point when that will be the case. It is unlikely that anything other than the most bold and assertive action by the First Minister can possibly prevent us being dragged out of the EU – with all that this implies. None of it good.

Nicola Sturgeon seems no more disposed to take such action than she did in September 2018. Despite everything that has happened since that regrettable outcome in 2014, and despite the real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy and identity, the SNP administration’s attitude to taking the cause of independence forward appears unchanged. Their strategy is still a mystery. Their intentions unclear.

Right now, we have even less to lose by bold, decisive action than we did last September. Right now, the threat is greater than it has ever been. Right now, the need for urgency should be absolutely compelling. But I see little sign that any of this has touched our political leaders.

We are almost out of time. And I don’t know if I can face the prospect of sitting here in four months time contemplating what might have been.


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BritNats say the daftest things!

My readers are doubtless familiar with the catalogue of inanities spouted by British Nationalists as they attempt to defend the indefensible. The dictates of reason and logic are no obstacle to those determined to maintain the Union at any cost. Truth and accuracy count for nothing compared to the British Nationalist’s devotion to the British ruling elites. There is no conduct, however reprehensible, that cannot be justified when it’s purpose is to preserve the structures of power, privilege and patronage which define the British state.

Reprehensible, or merely ridiculous. British Nationalists are ever willing to appear the fool in the service of their ideology. One need only witness an episode of First Minister’s Questions and the antics of the British politicians squatting in the Scottish Parliament to be struck by the eagerness with which they make themselves appear pathologically stupid in their efforts to undermine public confidence in Scotland’s Parliament, Government, institutions and public services. Who can forget British Labour in Scotland’s (BLiS) Iain Gray demanding to know where the money would come from for an oil fund. Or, more recently (and perhaps less amusingly), Maurice Corry for the British Conservative & Unionist Party in Scotland (BCUPS) insisting that the lower alcohol limit introduced by the SNP administration had caused an increase in road traffic accidents.

This kind of idiocy pervades British Nationalist rhetoric. During the 2014 independence referendum campaign there were countless instances when the Project Fear propaganda descended into farce. You may recall an official paper published by the UK Government which claimed that the cost of setting up an independent Scottish state would be over £2bn. This was almost immediately revised down to £1.5bn before the whole claim was hastily buried amid a storm of criticism from people who can do arithmetic and the academics whose research had been grossly misrepresented.

Then there was the claim that independent Scotland would have to renegotiate around 8,500 existing treaties. This figure, too, was revised down from Liberal Democrat Willie Rennie‘s original claim that “They would have to negotiate over 14,000 international treaties…”.

What both these examples of BritNat bawheidery have in common is that they both seem plausible.so long as you don’t think about them too much. Or at all. Question the claim about post-independence set-up costs and we find that, according to the very researchers cited by the UK Government, this would be more realistically estimated at £200m, spread over a decade or so. Examine the claim about thousands of treaties and we find that, in order to get the scariest figure possible the British Nationalists have been obliged to include the likes of a ‘Treaty with the King of Dahomey [regarding] Peace, Commerce, Slave Trade, Human Sacrifices’.

The point here is that it simply didn’t matter to British Nationalists that their claims were dishonest or daft. Knowing that those claims would never be scrutinised by the mainstream media, they just ran with the wildest story they could concoct. The lies and nonsense were trumpeted by the British media while the rebuttals and debunking remained relatively invisible. Truth is determined by the loudest voice. Reality is less important than perception. And the British establishment owns the machinery by which perceptions are manipulated. Even today, some five years since Project Fear was at its most feverish, there are many people in Scotland who remain unaware of the extent to which they were misled, deceived and lied to by the British government, the British political parties and Better Together.

If that sounds a bit Orwellian then there’s a good reason. The similarities to George Orwell’s dystopian vision are difficult to ignore. His ‘1984’ is, of course, fiction. In noting the similarities we must make due allowance for such licence as may taken by a writer the better to tell their tale. In real life, there is no Winston Smith sitting at a machine laboriously altering old newspapers in order to have them with the currently decreed truth. In 2019 the process of rewriting history is more sophisticated. More subtle. More insidious. Today, manufactured truth need not totally replace redundant truth. Instead, we have media which is a constantly, instantly renewing palimpsest. The old truth is not eradicated in order to replace it with the new truth. The old truth is, rather, gradually but rapidly obscured by a constant stream of new truths that are superimposed on it.

Think for example of Ruth Davidson’s enthusiastic championing of the Remain campaign in the 2016 EU referendum; now all but completely obliterated by the media-generated new truth of her at least equally enthusiastic support for the diametrically opposite position. The record of her previous stance is still there. Nobody has methodically tracked down and erased Davidson’s every written and spoken word on the absolute necessity of staying in the EU. Nobody needs to. What Orwell didn’t – couldn’t – foresee was the massive manipulative power of media in the age of the internet. If Orwell was writing today, Winston Smith would be probably be presenting rolling TV news for the BBC rather than altering old newspaper articles for the Ministry of Truth.

As I said at the start, most people reading this will be painfully familiar with the British Nationalists’ routine. It hasn’t altered much over the years. But, from time to time, they do come up with some fresh material. Or, at least, some material that isn’t as stale and mouldy as the usual stuff. For an example, I turn to everybody’s favourite British Nationalist cringe-monkey, Duncan Hothersall. For those who don’t recognise the name, Duncan is a sometime BLiS mouthpiece and one of the British establishment’s most prolific Twitter propagandists. An individual whose unthinking devotion to the British state and the ‘One Nation’ project is rivalled only by his mindless hatred of the SNP and his profound contempt for pretty much anything that is Scottish. He’s not called a cringe-monkey for no reason.

Duncan emphatically dismisses the notion that the people of Scotland are capable of running our country absent the beneficent intervention of the British political elite. He dogmatically rejects the idea that we deserve governments we actually elect. Generally speaking, he subscribes to the Tom Gordon ‘Scotland Is A Hell-hole’ school of thought. Everything in Scotland is awful and it’s all the SNP’s fault because everything was wonderful when British Labour was in charge and the Tories aren’t all that bad because at least they are Unionists and isn’t that the most important thing?

Bad as Scotland is, the one thing that would definitely make it worse, according to Duncan, is independence. Supposing Scotland was laid waste by pestilence and famine and rendered an uninhabitable desert by some devastating nuclear holocaust, Duncan’s dying breath would be expended on insisting that this is nothing compared to the fate that would have befallen us if we had chosen to be a normal independent nation.

There is, I strongly suspect, no news of Scotland so heartening; no achievement of Scotland’s people so impressive; no policy of the Scottish Government so successful, that Duncan couldn’t turn it into a gobbet of #SNPBAD propaganda or a Jeremiad on the ‘dangers’ of independence – abbreviated for Twitter, of course. Take a look at this.

You can almost taste the idiocy emanating from Hothersall’s response in a noxious miasma of bitterness and bigotry. As he would have it, no matter how horrific Brexit is, independence would surpass it. Try to get your head around the ‘logic’ which insists that, however much of a catastrophic mistake Brexit turns out to be, being the country that chooses not to make that mistake and has the power to ensure that choice is honoured, has to be a bigger mistake.

And that’s before we get to the comparison between the EU and the UK as political unions. A comparison which, even making allowances for the limitations of the medium, is stunningly simplistic, shallow and vacuous. In his assessment of the EU, Duncan echoes the inanity of the Mad Brexiteers who are totally, wilfully oblivious to the fact that over a period of almost seven decades the EU has evolved as the solution to a raft of issues – as well as bringing peace and prosperity to a continent historically blighted by bloody conflict.

Whatever it’s defects and failings, none but the most embittered Europhobe would deny that the EU was established for the most worthy of reasons and with the best of intentions. The EU’s fundamental purpose is honourable and its existence is broadly beneficial to member states even if, in practice, it often falls short of what we might hope of it in certain areas.

Compare this with the Union under which Scotland toils. A union that was contrived in a different age for purposes that were never relevant to us.

A union that we, the people, had no part in creating or sanctioning. An anachronistic, dysfunctional, corrupt union which serves none of the people off these islands well.

A union which was always intended to serve the purposes of the ruling elites. A union which, in that regard if no other, has not changed one iota in the last three centuries.

A union that sucks the human and material resources out of our nation and in return gives us government by parties that we have emphatically rejected at the polls.

A union that imposes policies which are anathema to our people. Policies which have been rejected by our democratically elected representatives.

A union which serves primarily as a constitutional device by means of which the people of Scotland are denied the full and effective exercise of the sovereignty that is theirs by absolute right.

A union which, were we being given that option now, not one of us would vote to join – but which we are nonetheless being asked to vote to remain in.

A union which we would reject just as we rejected Brexit.

Duncan Hothersall is a fool, blinded by British Nationalist fervour and partisan prejudice. Of the two political unions to which he refers, only one is actively doing harm to Scotland, and promising to do very much worse. Only one poses a real and imminent threat to Scotland’s democracy. Only one is so anti-democratic as to try and deny Scotland’s right of self-determination. Only one requires that the people of Scotland, our democratic institutions and our elected representatives be treated with callous contempt.

If you doubt how dreadful and dangerous the Union is, just listen to some of the crazies who imagine it to be the divinely ordained natural order.


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Culture of the periphery

A week into my tour of the Highlands & Islands, as my all too brief stay on Orkney draws to a close, I find myself with some time to reflect on the the impressions, insights and inspirations of my travels so far.

The first thing to say is that the people I’ve met have been, without exception, wonderful. From the staff of Northlink Ferries to the wummin fae Fife driving the Scrabster bus to the chef at The Shore Hotel here in Kirkwall who stayed back after his shift to prepare a meal for me when I came in late from the meeting, they’re all a bit special.

Most special of all, however, are the folk who have organised the events and the people who have come along to those gatherings. Almost exclusively Yes people, it must be said. Those in the No camp seem as unwilling to engage now as they did throughout the first referendum campaign. Which is unfortunate. Not least because they have most to gain from hearing something other than the voice of the British state. But what can you do? There’s no way to oblige them to attend. They can’t be forced to participate. If they are determined to remain on the outside of Scotland’s constitutional debate, it’s hard to know what might draw them in.

The people I’ve been speaking to and talking with could hardly be more different. They are totally engaged and constantly thoughtful. The gathering last night in Kirkwall was typical. Twenty or thirty people crammed into a room, each with their own ideas and opinions, but all united in a shared commitment to Scotland. Each prepared to offer their considered thoughts on how best or nation’s interests are served. Each ready to have their views questioned. Each equipped to sensibly and reasonable challenge the views of others.

This is democratic politics at its best. This is how politics should be.

Some choose to put themselves outside this sphere of popular, participative politics. They opt to exclude themselves. By choice, they retreat to the periphery.

But, of course, that is not how it seems to the hard-line Unionist. From the British Nationalists’ perspective, they are the centre. By aligning themselves with the British state, they associate and affiliate themselves with what they think of as the ‘natural’ centre. For them, Scotland is the periphery. Scotland’s concerns are peripheral concerns. It is those who occupy themselves with Scotland’s concerns who are occupying the periphery.

And it doesn’t matter where they are. Politically, the centre/periphery distinction is not a matter of place. It is a state of mind.

It was, however, a geographical reference which brought this to mind. I was being taken on a tour of Skarra Brae when made some remark about Orkney being remote. This provoked an instant and indignant rejection of the suggestion. To the people who live there, Orkney is not remote. That’s not how they think of themselves. And maybe it shouldn’t be how the rest of Scotland thinks of its furthest reaches.

In an earlier article I wrote about how the Yes movement needs to be more connected. We must be careful not to squander the enthusiasm and intellect that I have encountered on my travels by being too focused on the central belt.

Perhaps more crucially, as Scotland departs the Union, we should be wary of falling into anything like the British Nationalist centre/periphery mindset.

Scotland is one nation. But it is one nation on account of a connection, not to a central structure of power, privilege and patronage, but among all of our diverse communities. A connection among people with a shared commitment to the community of communities which is our nation.

Next stop, Shetland!


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A mighty force

I’m suffering from blogger’s guilt. A blog is a hungry and a demanding beast. It wants to be fed all the time. Fail to feed it, and it whines and nags and nips and nibbles at your conscience until you’re forced to bash out something just to appease the monster.

Not that I don’t have lots to say. But I feel a certain responsibility to consider whether people want to hear it. Or read it. I know, for example, that more than a few people are uncomfortable with some of the things I say about the way the Yes movement behaved in the first referendum campaign. Others are disinclined to listen to the arguments for #Referendum2018; having already made up their minds that delay – undefined if not indefinite – until some ‘optimum’ moment – undefined if not indefinable – is the smart strategy.

My views on how the new referendum campaign should be conducted by no means find favour with everybody. And I often get an adverse reaction to some of the things I say when talk turns, as it invariably does, to the economic arguments which are imposed on the constitutional debate.

It is a token of how open-minded people in the Yes movement are that they are prepared to turn out, even in the most atrocious weather, to take part in events.where I’m speaking. I have the utmost respect and affection for these people. These are good people. These are the people who make democracy work.

There are things that people don’t really want to hear. But the people I’m meeting still want these things to be said. If that sounds contradictory then all I can offer is the truism that people are complicated. Let’s leave it at that.

I think it is generally accepted that the first referendum campaign transformed Scottish politics. The media and the British establishment are desperate to drag us back to the arid rhetoric, monochromatic simplicity and faux rivalries of the old two-party politics. But the Yes movement is not for abandoning the rich vein of political discourse uncovered during the two-year period leading up to the vote in September 2014. I am forcefully reminded of this every time I attend an event such as the one in Tain last night (Monday 5 March).

A couple of dozen people defied the rain and the cold and the snow still piled deep everywhere to gather together in a room in the Duthac Centre (see picture above) to give me a fair hearing and then point out where I’d got it wrong. The discussion went on for almost three hours, and we still weren’t done. As ever, the business of the evening was conducted in a spirit of goodwill, high spirits and great comradeship. It was productive. But it was also good fun.

I have always thought that the Yes movement is something special. The more I meet with the people who are part of this great popular phenomenon, the more I am convinced that we are witnessing a powerful wave of democratic dissent such as has rarely been seen. The Yes movement is a mighty force made up of people who are simultaneously ordinary and remarkable.

I always come away from these occasions having learned something. I also come away thinking this Yes movement of ours can achieve anything. If that mighty force is tapped and deployed and channelled in the right way, nothing that the imperious British state can do will prevent the restoration of Scotland’s independence.

Now that I’ve tossed a few morsels to the blog monster, I can start preparing for the next event on my wee Highlands & Islands tour, which is at the Pentland Hotel in Thurso this evening. Maybe I’ll see you there.


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The ties that bind

solas_viewBest laid schemes of mice and men, eh? Good intentions, road to hell and all that. As I set out on my wee speaking tour of the Highlands & Islands I also set myself the task of writing regular updates. Due to various technical and human factors, that hasn’t been happening. Technical factors such as the lack of internet access. Human factors such as me being a lazy so-and-so who is all too easily distracted by stuff.

So it is that I find myself sitting in my room in Melbost, near Stornoway writing this instead of getting out and about. Having said that, it is a very nice room with a lovely view (see above). Which is unfortunate when someone is as easily distracted as myself.

The crossing from Ullapool to Stornoway was very restful. The driver managed to hit every bump and pothole on the water and, while I don’t suffer mal de mer, I found myself quite unable to walk around the good ship Pitchy McYawface. My old legs aren’t that good on terra firma, these days. As I quickly discovered, they’re worse than useless in the Greim bidhe on the MV Loch Siphort in even moderately choppy seas.

No internet, of course. And l soon wearied of the sights out the window. When you’ve seen one wave, you’ve pretty much seen them all. And if there were to be one awesome enough to be worthy of my attention, to be honest, I would rather not see it coming. Other than the waves, there was just grey. There was greenish grey and bluish grey and some grey that was almost black and some grey that was almost white. But mostly, it was grey. I tried playing a game of ‘Name The Grey’ – there are supposed to be fifty, I believe. But after slate, dove, battleship and a couple of others that I may have made up, the entertainment value of the exercise just couldn’t justify the effort involved.

So I spent the time reading and dozing and writing a few notes. And congratulating myself on getting bits off French and Latin and Gaelic into one paragraph.

A couple of hours in, the sun did break through the blue-grey sky to shine on the green-grey sea. So there was some excitement as the sky took on the glint of steel and the water the sheen of gunmetal. But, really, they’re just other names for grey. I only wish I’d thought of them when I was playing that game.

Then, suddenly, like the adverts intruding when you’re watching a black and white film, there was colour. We were approaching Stornoway. There were no more ruts and ridges for the boat driver to aim at, I was able to walk again, the green of Lewis’s low rolling hills hove into view and there was phone service.

Let me stress here that I’m not complaining. As a child, I used to go regularly on the ferry to the Isle of Arran. (I also have vague memories of the Queensferry Crossing when it was on, rather than over, the Firth of Forth.) The boat trip was always a big part of the holiday. It was exciting. It still is. I really enjoy it.

Part of that enjoyment is the thrill of being in a different, almost alien environment. Part of the pleasure – for those not distracted by serious nausea – lies in the fact that there is no longer solid ground beneath you. Everything feels different. Everything looks different. It may not be ‘other-worldly’, but it’s certainly ‘other-placely’.

Part of the pleasure, too, is the sense of being disconnected. Cut-off. Isolated. For someone accustomed to easy access to every form of communication, that sense of isolation can feel a bit scary. But scary in the same way that a roller-coaster is scary. It’s controlled danger. Just enough danger to be thrilling without actual fear for life.

Islands are a bit like that. Not that they’re scary places. But that they’re disconnected. Like boats. No matter how effectively technology builds links to the other world of the mainland, an island is always a place apart. Island people are, to a degree, people apart. If just visiting an island can make you feel some of the same sensations of being on a boat at sea, it stands to reason that living on an island must have some lasting effect.

Although I’m only here briefly, my excursion to Lewis has served as a useful and timely reminder that Scotland is neither wee nor homogeneous. By many measures, ours is actually a middling-size nation. Somehow, a two and three-quarter hour ferry journey is a more powerful reminder of how large Scotland is than a six hour road trip.

Experiencing the ‘empty’ spaces of Scotland, such as on the bus journey from Inverness to Ullapool and the crossing to Stornoway, also brings home the fact that Scotland is a land of dispersed and diverse communities. It must surely be a special force which binds those communities together into the nation we know Scotland to be.

Which, not at all coincidentally, is precisely what I was speaking about in Inverness on the first stop of my tour. And what I shall be speaking about in Tain tomorrow evening. If only somebody would remind me of the venue.

I always say, after these events, how stimulating, invigorating and inspiring they are. That’s because it’s invariably true. The gathering at Inverness Caledonian Thistle Social Club last Friday evening (2 March) was certainly no exception. I didn’t do a head count, but there must have been forty or fifty people there. Men, women of all ages, and even a few children. A mixture of Yes campaign activists from various parties and organisations as well as individuals who came along just . All engaged, informed and enthusiastic.

It was a crowd which, in its way, was as diverse as Scotland’s communities. Just as those communities come together around the idea of Scotland the nation, so the Yes movement comes together around a shared commitment to the cause of protecting and improving that nation.


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Highlands & Islands Tour

As some of my readers may be aware I do occasional personal appearances speaking to  Yes groups, SNP branches, public meetings or empty rooms about the independence campaign and issues pertaining thereto. Mostly, I’ll be making the case for a new independence referendum in September 2018. But I’ll be eager to hear the views of others.

At present, I’m working on putting together a wee tour taking in as much of the Highlands & Islands as possible in the space of a couple of weeks in March and on a budget of three shillings and eleven pence.

This post is intended to provide updates on my itinerary. Partly because one or two people may be interested. Mainly because writing it all down helps me keep track of whatever it is I have instead of a plan.

It all kicks off in Inverness on Friday 2 March. The intention is to travel north to Scrabster – with a couple of stops on the way – from where I’ll take the ferry to Orkney on Wednesday 7 March for a couple of days before heading to Shetland from Friday 9 – Sunday 11 March.

If any one has suggestions for places to visit, please let me know – peterabell@gmail.com.

#Referendum2018 – This time it’s urgent!

Friday 2 March
Inverness
Inverness Caledonian Thistle Social Club – 18:30

Saturday 3 March
Stornoway
tbc

Sunday 4 March
Stornoway
tbc

Monday 5 March
Tain
tbc

Tuesday 6 March
Thurso
Pentland Hotel – 19:00

Wednesday 7 March
Kirkwall
The Garden Room, King Street Halls – 19:00

Thursday 8 March
Kirkwall
?

Friday 9 March
Lerwick
Lerwick Hotel (tbc)

Saturday 10 March
Lerwick
Islesburgh Community Centre – 11:00 (SNP Branch Meeting)
Islesburgh Community Centre – 19:00 (hosted by INDY2 and supported by Shetland WFI)

Sunday 11 March
Lerwick
Lerwick Hotel, Lighthouse Suite – 15:00

Monday 12 March
Aberdeen
tbc

Tuesday 13 March
Elgin
The Inkwell – 19:00

Thursday 15 March
Portree
Tigh an Sgire – 19:30

Watch this space.


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