Tag Archives: independence

Two Solitudes

In glancing over the online papers [they aren’t on paper any more, so what should we call them?] in order to keep up with the Mackintoshes, so to speak, I notice more and more that there seems to be developing a divide in the hapless United Kingdom that’s a bit unsettling. There has always been a certain minority in England that distrusts and even fears the Scots, and likewise there has always been a body of opinion in Scotland that feels the same about the English. Both groups have been vocal to a greater or lesser extent for years, and both have been discounted by the rest as risible jingoism. Nowadays however with the greater availability of soapboxes, especially on the Net, they are getting more coverage, and their message is louder. The papers that allow readers to respond to stories, at least the red-top tabloids, seem to tend to let them steam away with the most frightful invective, and it must be said that the target is mostly Scotland. Replies in kind focus on the slip-ups that those in the establishment keep on making, poking fun at Little Englanders and their isolationist stance which finds its apogee in the British National Party and UKIP. The latter seems to have no platform except “Get out of the EU”, which is understandable in a way since the involvement of the UK in the European adventure has caused a good deal of grief in many respects.
The Scottish National Party is but one group (albeit the most prominent and powerful) that favours Scottish isolationism, in that the yoke to be thrown off is that of England. Or at least of Westminster. Their insults are mostly aimed at dodgy politicians and not the inhabitants of the Home Counties. In fact it’s been pointed out that the English need independence too. They don’t have their own parliament to deal with English matters, which seems unfair. But then there’s this Referendum looming in Bannockburn Year. This is the main item in mind these days – the Establishment keeps on harping about the dangers and foolishness of a Yes vote, and finding ever more questionable reasons for attacking the very idea. They bring out big guns, or those presumed to be important and informed thinkers, practically every day, to opine from umpteen points of view about the ludicrous idea of Scottish independence. That referendum is two years away. The noise on both sides is going to get more raucous, the insults and dirty tricks and threats more vociferous, and by the time of the event will be a clamour to turn off those who are still interested. It’s going to be a long two years.

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Left? Right.

I see that Janey Buchan has died at the age of 85. When I met her she was a young 34, which seems ridiculous now. I went along to Norman and Janey Buchans’ flat a few times before I left Scotland, and often regretted I hadn’t been able to further our acquaintance. I lugged my guitar with me and was pleased to be allowed to sing a song for the company – as I remember, a sort of happy-go-lucky entourage who welcomed new faces and immediately got into conversation. And the talk was mostly about leftist politics of course. My song was a Russian one I’d learned when I was training to be a spy [more on this later perhaps], titled Pomnju ja, and I was delighted when a Polish guest joined in the chorus:

Pomnju, pomnju, pomnju ja,
Kak menja mat’ ljubila,
I ne raz, I ne dva,
Ona mne govorila.

(I remember, I remember, how my mother loved me, and not once, and not twice [many times] she spoke to me…)
– about the bad company I kept, otherwise I’d wind up in Siberia in shackles. A political song, of course!
Norman was into folksongs, and had a hand in getting The Reivers onto television. We exchanged books and opinions – though I was never quite as far left as they were, although I called myself an anarchist, and in fact I’ve wondered once or twice what they would have thought of later developments in Scottish/British politics. I can’t see them as Blairites, for instance.
We talked about Burns once or twice – predictably, the quasi-socialist aspect of his poems. I mention this because of the upcoming anniversary of his birth, next Wednesday, on which significant day the First Minister of Scotland promises to unveil his plans for the much spoken of referendum, so that a dialogue or discussion may take place. I follow this from thousands of miles away with a mixture of amusement and cynicism, I can say: amusement at the knots the Unionist cabal are tying themselves into, and cynicism in that I don’t really believe the promises, or threats, that they make.
If Westminster says that Scotland should “calm down, dear” and stay in the union because of jam tomorrow, I for one nod sardonically and say “Aye, right!” There is also the undiscussed and unanswerable question of the political consequences of independence. (A long time ago, when the SNP were a beleaguered minority, I broached the obvious point that a Scottish government would likely be full of Socialists of one stripe or another, not to say Communists. This did not go down well with the Catholic family I was lodging with, but my leftist friends in the Socialist Labour League were interested to chew over the idea.)
However, as “events, dear boy” have shown, what Holyrood has is a left-centre government (so far), and the prospect of a whole plethora of parties of various colours vying for their place in the sun in a new independent Scotland. – Whatever the result of the referendum, whenever it is, I think it’s true to say that “it’s comin yet, for aa that”. Maybe not in my lifetime, alas, though geriatrics are wonderful these days.
Not until then, however, will we really need to bother ourselves about a national anthem. More on this later, I trust, but right now let me disown the idea that “Flower of Scotland” is anything other than a sentimental patriotic piece of claymore-rattling. Yes, it’s a good song, and can be very effective, nay moving, in the right circumstances; but that’s it.
Next piece will be all about Burns, I promise.

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Flodden Field

That referendum I mentioned last time has been promised for 2014. In the autumn, and not June (the anniversary of the famous victory), which may surprise people who thought a vote on the actual day of the resounding defeat of the Auld Enemy would be very appropriate for dealing another smack in the goolies. It might be thought however that the great anniversary could overshadow the political decision in an unexpected way; besides, oh horrors if the vote were no, such a defeat for national aspirations would do something to taint the blessed day.
Bannockburn Day is celebrated with some pomp and circumstance, skirling and speeching, as may be expected. Some think there’s a bit too much of that. Take a look, though, at the preserved site of that other battle in 1513. There’s a simple monument erected in 1910 inscribed with words I find quite moving: TO THE DEAD OF BOTH NATIONS.
The rights and wrongs of the event can be argued over – was James a warmongering tool of the French? Was perfidious Albion just defending its home? And what about Henry, eh? Well, no one can deny that the battle, the last great mediaeval battle maybe (the Scots used the old style, the wily English the new), changed history and had a dreadful effect upon Scotland. Look up the list of the fallen – great names and small, lords and lairds and knights and gentlemen from all over the kingdom, not to mention the poor bloody infantry and all who are not named in the history books. The loss in sheer manpower to the country was immense, and the king himself slain. It was in remembrance of the disaster that Jean Elliot of Minto wrote “The Flowers of the Forest” lamenting the sudden decimation of the manhood of Scotland:

The Flowers of the Forest

I’ve heard the lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Lasses a-lilting before dawn o’ day;
But now they are moaning on ilka green loaning;
“The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away”.

At buchts in the morning nae blythe lads are scorning;
The lasses are lonely and dowie and wae;
Nae daffin’, nae gabbin’, but sighing and sabbing,
Ilk ane lifts her leglin, and hies her away.

In hairst, at the shearing, nae youths now are jeering,
The bandsters are lyart, and runkled or gray;
At fair or at preaching, nae wooing, nae fleeching,
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

At e’en, in the gloaming, nae swankies are roaming
‘Bout stacks wi’ the lasses at bogle to play.
But ilk ane sits drearie, lamenting her dearie,
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

Dule and wae for the order sent our lads to the Border!
The English, for ance, by guile wan the day:
The Flowers of the Forest, that focht aye the foremost,
The prime o’ our land are cauld in the clay.

We’ll hear nae mair lilting, at the yowe-milking,
Women and bairns are heartless and wae;
Sighing and moaning, on ilka green loaning,
The Flowers of the Forest are a’ wede away.

I put up the words, even though they’re very available in umpteen books, and the Net of course. The above set is mostly as the song is given in the Stenhouse notes to The Scots Musical Museum. The tune is given in volume one, no. 63, to “Adieu ye streams that smoothly glide”, verses by Anne Home (Mrs John Hunter), whose main claim to remembrance is penning the words to “My mother bids me bind my hair”, a favourite canzonet by Haydn.

flodin

Henry VIII’s poet laureate John Skelton wrote a triumphant sneering sort of poem about the event, “A ballade of the scottysshe kynge”, which doesn’t say much except pour scorn on James (whose death was still in doubt) and his presumption. It was published in black letter that year, just after the battle, and ends

God saue kynge Henry and his lordes all
And sende the frensshe kynge suche an other fall,

Amen, for saynt charytë
And god saue noble.
Kynge Henry
The viij.

This is nicely reproduced with lots of background by John Ashton, 1882.
FLODIN a
There is another “Ballad of Flodden Field”, composed much later, which is quite long and detailed, ending with the lines

                               Thus have you heard of Flodden fight.
                               Worthy of each to be commended :
                               Because that then Old England’s right
                               Was bravely by her sons defended.

In the great collection of English and Scottish Popular Ballads of Francis James Child, “Flodden Field” is no. 168, from a 17th-century copy of a 16th-century ballad: “in disgrace of the Scots, and in remembrance of the famous atchieved historie, the commons of England made this song, which to this day is not forgotten of many.”
I wonder what ceremonies are planned for the quincentenary next year? The Selkirk Common Riding will remember it of course. Tradition says that after the battle a lone man, the Town Clerk, came to town with a captured flag, let it be known that all but he had been killed, and promptly died.
2013 marks 60 years since the coronation of Elizabeth Queen of Scots. This year marks the 60th since good king George died. Poor man, he didn’t live to see all the shenanigans of after time, which is maybe just as well. What would he make of his grandchildren? But that’s another blog…

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Name-calling

The Internet Movie Database is very useful and even enlightening, but is at the mercy of those who write in to contribute to sections like the synopsis of a film. Take “Braveheart” – Please!!
No, but seriously, folks –
I had a look at the IMDb info on Mel Gibson’s effort and straightaway saw:
“In the 13th Century England, after several years of political unrest in Scotland, the land is open to an invasion from the south.”
This seems to say that Scotland was (maybe still is?) part of England. I grant you that from the point of view of Edward Langshanks, it should have been. But this is of course the long-standing point of contention – how the English (establishment) view Scotland. There’s a pretty decent little songbook put out by A L Lloyd called Singing Englishmen, which contains the songs presented at a celebration of British folk song hosted by Lloyd on 1 June 1951 as part of the Festival of Britain. It was an interesting programme, sung by the Workers’ Music Association Choir, with arrangements by the composer Alan Bush, and featured songs from all over Britain, and so inevitably included some Scottish songs. Lloyd was of course equating England with Britain, an arrogant and unthinking attitude, but he is not alone. I remember the outrage I felt as a teenager lang syne when I opened up Stanley Gibbons’ stamp magazine to read that “Many Englishmen, some of whom were Scotsmen, have been featured on stamps.” The editor gave an asterisk and a footnote to the effect that those were the contributor’s words, and while he was allowing them to stand (no censorship) he was keeping out of it.
But there it is. Somewhere I read that back in the 1700s an English parliamentarian exclaimed in astonished argument “Are not the Scots English?” – echoed I suppose by foreigners who equate the two very easily. French doesn’t speak about the British; it’s les anglais, of course, and when I was in Paris I took pains to tell my landlady that I was écossais. The Americans seem to be similarly careless a good deal of the time, but Canada with more memories of its Scottish heritage sensibly differentiates.
One of the consequences however of this ambiguity is that the separateness of the two countries is not considered, which has led to an emphasis on “Britishness”. That concept only got going after the union of parliaments, spurred on by the incorporation of Ireland around 1800; Scotland being referred to as “North Britain”, abbreviated on addresses to “N.B.” You don’t see that these days, thank goodness, although my fellow-Fifer Gordon Brown is on record as telling Americans, wasn’t it, that he came from North Britain (besides trying to erode his Scots accent, like an eighteenth-century hopeful wanting to get on in the real capital). Such things have for the most part disappeared, for somehow or other there has been an amazing upsurge in national pride of late, certainly since I emigrated to fresh woods in 1960. This does not mean, naturally, that everyone is waving the saltire with enthusiasm. All of a sudden the Labour Party is joining forces with its enemy the Conservative Party, along with the hapless Liberal Democrats, to put obstacles in the way of the Scottish Nationalists who quite understandably want to free Scotland of the English yoke. To this end, they are forming an unlikely coalition to support Westminster in its determination to run, or certainly put strings on, the referendum on separation promised by the SNP.
It’s as if the Scottish sections of the three main parties are playing down the Scottishness and saying they welcome English interference. One must not, naturally, impugn their patriotism or call them ant-Scottish (as one wee lass dared to in Holyrood the other day) – perish that thought!! But one can think of other adjectives.
Actually, I do think that the referendum, promised for 2014, will show a majority for independence. After the break, whenever that is in fact accomplished, those parties, now tied to the apron strings of their London HQ and the mother of parliaments, will be free to develop on their own in their own directions. I bet though that a few of them will mutter “Ah, but if we were still British, I might have made it to the ermine….!”

Happy New Year, by the way, to all my readers. One of my resolutions is to be a bit more regular with this weblog. It all depends of course on how riled or inspired I become. What I can promise you is a poem or two (Scots and English), and a tune or two (of my own devising), forbye a translation or two, and a bittie folklore.

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