Imagine Scottish independence. Give it a try. Close your eyes, and think about a small, independent, Scandinavia-esque, English speaking, progressive polity setting an example to the whole world.
Can you imagine that? I can.
The country I’m imagining is a country with the best educated population in Europe, one in which educational services are a prominent export. It is a country with abundant resources, including a quarter of Europe’s potential wind and wave power. It is potentially one of the wealthiest countries in the world.
And it is the country of Robert Burns, of Keir Hardie and of John MacLean. It is an equitable polity that I imagine, a social democracy at a minimum: Scandinavia-esque.
How does Scottish culture — and our distinctively Scottish music — support such lovely imaginings as these?
I recall back in the summer of 2014, when Scots were dreaming big dreams in streets and squares across the country. Back then I heard Isobel Lindsay deliver an incredibly insightful ‘Ayetalk’. Here is a gloss of what she said:
‘We shouldn’t be too afraid of using identity, and we shouldn’t be too afraid in this campaign of emotion […]. We are social animals, and loyalty to group and place is a basic part of who and what we are. […] Nationalism, broadly speaking, is a core part of what it is to be a human being […] but it is morally neutral, and can be used in either positive or negative ways [to affirm social solidarity, or to advance empires and militarism]. Myths are stories that we tell ourselves […]. Our national myths include Robert Burns, the highland clearances and the Red Clydesiders, and these can be made to help us embrace ideals of social solidarity and equality. […] By working with the grain of our national mythos in Scotland, we can use sentiment and emotion to advance our goal of winning in September.’
You can listen to the original here, and I highly recommend that you do:
The ideas that Isobel so ably expresses are exactly the theoretical foundations for the ‘Songs for Scotland’ projects, 1 and 2.
Songs for Scotland is a vehicle for bringing to mind certain core elements of our national mythos; and this mythos, our Scottish national culture, is the perfect antidote to that which has been dinned into us since we were weans: that we are ‘too wee, too poor, and too stupid’ to accomplish anything useful.
Have a wee listen to this, Dick Gaughan and Ewan MacLennan singing a rough hewn, barroom version of Burns’, ‘A man’s a man’:
Now, do you still feel inferior?
We are the heirs to a brilliant and coruscating national culture. And it follows from that, as night follows day, that you and I and all of us ought to be the masters in our own house. We have inherited one of the finest musical cultures in the world; one that in endless iterations, from Robert Burns and Hamish Henderson in the past through to the Proclaimers and Stanley Odd today, and others, express exactly this:
A man’s a man for a’ that
‘Then let us pray that come it may,
(As come it will for a’ that,)
That Sense and Worth, o’er a’ the earth,
Shall bear the gree, an’ a’ that.
For a’ that, an’ a’ that,
It’s comin yet for a’ that
That man to man, the world o’er,
Shall brithers be for a’ that.
Our culture will always and necessarily be at the forefront in our journey towards national independence.
The global corporate media has mastered the technique of mesmerising whole populations into thinking that the status quo, and ‘business as usual’ is the only possible option. TINA: ‘there is no alternative’. Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Syria, Ukraine… TINA. Austerity, benefit cuts, nationalising social assets… TINA.
Imagination, which is innate in each and every one of us, can serve to help us break this dark spell; and imagination’s handmaidens are music, and poetry and art. Indeed, according to the 19th century art critic Walter Pater, music is the pre eminent art, the most potent of them all: ‘All art constantly aspires towards the condition of music.’
Let’s collectively summon the ghosts of Robert Burns and of Hamish Henderson to our aid; and while we’re at it, let’s enlist the superb musical talents working in Scotland today to move our cause forward. That’s what Songs for Scotland 2 is mainly about, although our compilation album will also be a collective homage to one of our greatest living visionaries, Alasdair Gray.
And then one day, when we’ve won, we’ll set an example to be followed by other nations the hail warl o’er.
I’ll leave you with the words of a great Scottish patriot of the past:
‘I knew a very wise man who believed that if a man were permitted to make all the ballads, he need not care who should make the laws of the nation.’ — Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun (1658-1716)
Please support us! We are aiming to create a collaborative cultural event to honour Alasdair Gray. It won’t be the work of one of us, or of a few of us. It has to be the work of all of us.
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