I had an animated conversation in an Edinburgh howf during the recent Festival. I attempted to record this dialogue of feeling within the standard structure of the article/essay-but failed. I couldn’t capture the passion of the trio who were urgently conscious of themselves within the shifting self-consciousness of the new Scotland. Edinburgh, celebrated for its ‘respectable antiquity’ was the initial subject of the debate but quickly assumed a national context and so I have attempted to record (liberally) the imitation of the action as a scene from an on-going drama. Should a reader seek to extend the drama please feel free to continue the dialogue.
C: You’ve lost us. Come on, don’t hide behind your damnable Edinburgh intellect.
A: Simulacrum! A great new word I found just the other day.
B: Found? You had lost it?
C: You found it where? At the book festival I bet.
A: No, no. Get in another round and I’ll tell you.
B: Bloody Edinburgh intellectuals; selling understanding for a mess o drink. (Leaves to buy.)
C: The church I once knew, would call it a kind of simony… a political simony.
A: Look there are 5 million plus folk in Scotland. 5,000 have power … 5 million powerless, the rest, like us talk, think, drink and talk again.
B: Here! Don’t choke. What about the word?
A: Yes. The word.
C: In the beginning?
A: Far from it. Jean Paul Sartre used it in his introduction to Franz Fanon’s Wretched of the Earth.
B: Missed that at the tech.
C: (Whispers) I bet he missed it too, even with a fkn PHd from Edinburgh Uni!
A: Now now youngster. But you are half right. We discussed Fanon, tangentially, I remember. Reading the radicals with intent was just not on (unless you were politically well connected like AD.) Dare to quote them in yon Thatcher days and you might be listed.
C: Afro-Caribbean revolutionary psychiatrists were never on my reading list.
B: So why this Fanon noo?
A: He died 50 years ago this year, in 19 61. He finished his Wretched of the Earth just months before he passed and Sartre agreed to publish it and wrote a preface.
C: He comes up now in post-colonial studies.
B: Handy noo? So what about the word?
A: These wee haufs in here barely wet the throat!
C: Aye 25 mls. Edinburgh’s knickers!
B: Scotland! We export sae much there’s no enough left so we get this wee moose-pee!
A: Ah well. Cheers!
C: Do we get the sermon?
B:.. on the mound!
A: Context! We cheered at the massive popular vote in May for the SNP.
B: Substantial vote but…
A: Just 20,000 more in the right seats and we would have taken all!
C: Ok! That’s May. But what the hell is next? Do they know? Does Salmon have the plan?
B: I was a simple leaflet-giving, chapper-on-doors. But the punters inside and outside the party don’t have a clue as to what’s really next?
A: And they are right!
C: Soft devo-max or Hard-on Independence!
A: Much more. The party constitution has a definition; the white paper -the Alec conversation document has another; the election manifesto had a third and there was another election document on Independence offering a fourth version.
C: I had a letter in the Herald way back in 2008 on ‘the enigmatic question of Scottish sovereignty’-when I almost believed.
A: And you don’t now?
C: It’s your round!
B: It’s the old process or finished product argument.
C: The focus has to be on the sovereignty idea! What does it really mean?
A: Political power and constitutional authority over our national life!
B: When the World bank, IMF and European banks run oor economy!
A: But we will have our own voice at the table articulating our vision!
B: Hoad on there…that’s drink talkin’ but!
A: Or, to begin at the beginning, we find a nationalist simulacrum posing as sovereignty.
B: What..that word again? That’s lack o drink talkin.
C: My mobile dictionary tells me….Simulacrum … a mere pretence, a shadowy likeness, a deceptive substitute.
A: Right! That’s what we might have struggled for …a shadowy likeness of independence. Are we aware I mean you and you and yes me, are we aware that we belong to a subject people?
C: Eh … a bit much!
A: Then Fanon, fifty years on has something to tell us. Cut out his plea for violence. But listen to his essential cultural argument that we need a consciousness of our own being as a people, with power in our own nation, through an empowering culture that comes in advance of politics or even the economic process.
C: Strange … I’m reading Edward Said at the moment -his Culture & Imperialism has quite a bit to say to us, right here and now in our Scotland!
B: It has helped you to believe again?
C: I’m eh ….swithering.
A: It is vital that we have a programme that will animate, stimulate and create a popular consciousness on the idea of sovereignty… the need for sovereignty and the reality of sovereignty!
C: What Freire called conscientization…an understanding for social action.
B: My sister has a drama group-Acting for Change…a Green.
A: If we don’t provide the concrete vision… we will lose again!
B: We’re good at that!
C: We Scots are intuitive losers…my English mother used to say.
A: No! We can win this thing. But we need to define our nationalism…it cannie be a magic wand… it can’t be an excuse for failure to deal with powerlessness in Scotland; for not dealing with real economic hardship in places like north Lanarkshire or for ignoring injustice or for the creation of new jock-nationalist governing bourgeoisie! We can’t swap an arrogant London Raj with an equally arrogant Edinburgh elite!
C: Powerful stuff!
B: You’re getting roused!
A: Aye! But we need thousands to get roused… assert our political identity without chauvinism but with the vision of a genuine popular victory for liberal nationalism.
B: National liberation?
C: Ca’ cannie!
A: Well hundreds of countries have decoupled from London’s imperial hegemony…we are kind of late …but..
B: Aye there’s that the guid Scots word of doubt… but.
A: No! But without simulacrum! Without the shadow…Whose round is it?