Silly Wee Scotland
“Don’t put North Britain on your paper; put Scotland and be done with it. Alas, that I should be stabbed in the house of my friends! The name of my native land is not North Britain, whatever may be the name of yours” – RLS
I believe in the after-life. Even though your carcase may be as expired as my BBC staff electronic entry card, I think you live on in the hearts and minds of those who knew and loved you. It’s not the same as breathing, I grant you, but it is a continuing existence.
And if it is the case that in your life you created something memorable, if you produced an idea that sent minds soaring, then you can also be brought back time and again as a new generation discovers your gift. It’s why the great composers, artists and writers are still synonymous with the works they created centuries later. Ars longa, vita brevis. And all that certainly applies to Robert Louis Stevenson whose creations are revived in production houses across the world, whose books and variations are still in print and who remains with us in enigmatic straight-to-lens photos, the hair long and wavy, the moustache drooping, breeks tucked into leather boots, a flowing cravat wrapped round him like some 70’s glam rocker…the Adam Ant of the 1870s.
But when the memory of a revered talent is turned to modern political ends, I am left wondering about the veracity of the claim. Stevenson was held up this week by David Torrance in the Herald as a pointer to a questionable equation that the only countries that become independent are those geographically separate from the main state and have been protectorates or colonies in some form. Countries never take their leave from “modern, democratic welfare states”, he tells us. I think the paraphrase required is that it is only oppression that drives independence and if you’re lucky enough to be a subsidiary part of a benevolent mother state – saintly Albion – you’d be mad to leave.
This is predicated on his trip to visit RLS’ house and grave on Samoa which won it’s independence, he reminds us, not from England but the Britain (that means us). This is his prompt that we, as Scots, helped form the British Empire and were major players in it and therefore have no case to claim we are oppressed like the those in colonies in Africa and Asia. I blame the British state for much in Scotland but I’ve stopped a long way short of oppression…surely that’s what they did to the Catholics in Ireland.
It was Alex Salmond who said we didn’t need to be liberated. This is one of those Unionist canards designed to make us think we are no different in culture and outlook from the rest of Britain and therefore the nationalists are splitters and spoilers. In doing so he implies it is illogical for Scots to seek independence since we’ve already got it so good. The Quebeckers didn’t separate either, we’re told.
On the other hand, the Baltic states, Ukraine and Belarus did split from the Soviet Union although that is filed under USSR break-up. Czechs split from Slovaks but that wouldn’t be a modern democratic welfare scenario, would it? And how do we explain the independence of other British territories which weren’t under the oppressor’s boot – Australia, New Zealand and Canada? Didn’t they split from a benevolent mother state? But the exception with them is that they are not physically attached to the state they left. We’re really whittling down the options now until, under David’s self-imposed definition, there is only one place attempting to disengage from the warm bosom of benevolence – silly wee Scotland.
But this is a tale of an exotic array of nations, like the luxuriant plants in Stevenson’s Samoan garden, growing at their own pace and in their individual fashion. There is no uniformity of independence, cataloguing each under Good and Bad. Samoa didn’t become independent from Britain but from New Zealand. New Zealand did cast off from Britain but doesn’t know when. In the eccentric manner of British-run democracy, the Kiwis gradually accrued rights until they realised one day they were de facto independent. There is no independence day because they don’t know the date. Australia finally stood alone only in 1986, less than 30 years ago but was clearly independent and economically successful long before that. In Canada’s case, the last ties to Westminster weren’t cut until 1982. They weren’t oppressed, they were expressing national sentiment and a desire to run their own affairs in the logical process of moving from benevolent dependence to mature independence. That impulse isn’t just universal, it is naturally-occurring in nations everywhere.
Independence can’t be portrayed as a knee-jerk response to limited freedoms and imposed restrictions. It is the greatest expression of national will. The point about independence is that it is the creation of the people, not the lawyers. The people decide, the lawyers draft and the politicians legislate. It is a national cri de couer, a cry of freedom to which the world responds. When it is heard, affairs are organised to make it happen. You don’t need constitutional history to guide you, it is something you do because it is a need and a right. As David says, the memorial in Samoa states: “Samoa is founded on god” which is like saying: “We need no other reason than it is so.” Or you could say it is our destiny…how it works out and who welcomes us, we will see.
There is no template for Scotland to follow and it is the Unionists who have been first to dismiss every attempt at modelling on a precedent, be it Greenland leaving the EU, little Malta joining, Ireland splitting and remaining “not foreign” or similar-sized Denmark. So let’s accept that and declare that this won’t follow a pattern described by academics or lawyers but it will be done Scotland’s way.
And whatever unionist sympathies RLS had, he opposed the actions of the super powers in Samoa which is a reflection of the modern western militarism in which Britain plays a role, and he wrote longingly but vainly of being buried under Scottish soil. Who’s to say he wouldn’t be proud of his homeland today and approve of his beloved Edinburgh shining at the centre of it all.