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A Country Set To Exorcise Its Demons

Scottish-Independence-v2In the aftermath of the referendum, when the hangover was still fresh and the sense of loss and regret still at its strongest for me, I travelled to Dunfermline, where my girlfriend lives, on the coach from Buchanan Street.

When the bus reached the Kincardine Bridge I looked out at the bollards dotted on the beach and I saw that one of them was still painted with the word Yes, something I’d previously found amusing every time I passed it.

Not that day. Something stirred inside me seeing that, and I had an odd, unusually profound thought; “This country is haunted now.”

Everywhere I looked that weekend was evidence of it; from the guy not far from my good lady’s house who flies a saltire in his front yard to the people who were still wearing their Yes badges and the sudden emergence of a new one, the one bearing the 45% slogan. The ghosts were rattling their chains alright.

I was back on that bus, doing the return journey, earlier this month. I passed that saltire in the garden with a smile and I was positively beaming when I saw that white painted word still down there on the sand, waiting for the incoming tide.

My thoughts are different now.

We are no longer haunted by that event, and we never were. The dream wasn’t killed, but they buried it alive. Yet somehow, we clawed our way out of the grave.

Now the people who were defeated last September stand on the cusp of making history all over again, and yet I’m acutely aware that events have overtaken us all, that there’s something more going on here.

There’s a great river pushing us along now, and it is no longer about the SNP and it’s no longer about the 45% either.

This is about a country that’s wide awake for the first time in my life.

This is about a people, an entire nation, realising it is strong, and dreaming of what else it can be.

The opinion polls are predicting a rout in Scotland and the end of the Labour Party hegemony that has held here, held fast, for a generation or longer. If it happens it will dramatically realign politics in this country and the tremors will be felt in London and elsewhere.

This is the closest democratic nations come to a revolution, and it doesn’t matter whether you are part of one camp or the other; you, me, and everyone else in Scotland is involved in something fundamentally transformative here.

The level of public engagement with the process has never been higher.

Interest in politics and political issues has scaled new heights, and this is why I am so excited. Because the real ghosts that have stalked Scotland for too long – the real haunting of this whole island – are finally being confronted at last.

They are the products of our history, of our nation’s fate, which was to play second fiddle to its stronger, richer, and more influential neighbour.

They produced that apathy, and a strange inferiority complex we sometimes seem to have, which manifests itself in so many way. One of these is an odd, irrational, hatred of the “local boy made good”, a peculiarly Scottish trait wherein we try to find reasons to dislike those who hail from these sunny shores and have achieved success out there in the wider world.

How many times have seen that?

Some of us have taken to calling these feelings “the cringe”, that unusual near shame of doing or saying anything that might be seen as an endorsement of the land in which we are born. You see these people all the time on social media; they are the “too wee, too poor, too stupid” folk who either wholly accept the narrative that this is a land that takes more than it gives back, that only has colour television because of the “pooling of resources we only get in the union”, or are perfectly content to push that line for their own ends.

This is why so many, for so long, have been content to have Westminster do the heavy lifting for them, although that parliament only has the most fleeting connection to our day to day lives.

Now Scotland’s people want more. They want more responsibility. They want more power, to make more of their own big decisions. That’s the truth that came out of the referendum and this river only flows one way. No amount of shrieking from the London metropolitan press or its political establishment is going to silence the demands of the people who live here.

Some still don’t – and won’t – get it. There are any number of them who claim people have been “duped” by the SNP without realising, it seems to me, the SNP are simply a vehicle for achieving reform. Do we, the voters, believe every word they say?

Of course not. Politicians of all shades endlessly quote stats at us, and we can swallow them whole or take them with a pinch of salt as we like, because in the end this isn’t about whether the Institute of Fiscal Studies is right or whether the price of oil will go up or down.

This isn’t about whether or not Full Fiscal Autonomy will make the country richer or poorer in the short term. Only a very few, on the fringes now, actually do believe that this nation couldn’t stand on its own two feet and be a successful player on the world stage.

Strip it down to the bone and this is about power and how it’s wielded … and by who.

If we send 50 SNP MP’s to London next month they’re not going down there simply to represent their own interests and their own party agenda. If some of them believe that, it would be a tremendous error to make.

The flag they are going to plant on the Westminster benches will not be the yellow and black thistle but the blue and white saltire instead.

Their party leaders understand that. They know they are merely the vanguard of a much larger movement and cause and they will have to behave accordingly.

For the first time in my life Scotland is preparing to send its own MP’s south on the serious business of representing this nation, not just to rubber stamp decisions and get their noses in the trough.

A lot of people who would not normally support the SNP are giving their votes to the one party they know will have to put Scotland first. These MP’s will not be answerable to a London based political party leadership.

They will be answerable to the folks back home.

I read, with some amusement, Alex Massie’s recent piece in The Spectator, where he says that the SNP has replaced the Church of Scotland, and that longing for independence has made this a “faith based election” where the unionist parties can’t compete.

At first I thought it was hysterical nonsense, but the more I ponder it the more I wonder because when I voted Yes I knew it was, in no small measure, an act of faith.

This election will be different from any other because here in Scotland it’s not based on the old realities and certainties.

So many in England are looking enviously at us here because this whole nation is starting to believe again, believe that politics is not just peopled by the same old tired party drones and that it can make a difference.

That is a faith based concept. This is a campaign built around belief … not certainty or the promise of it.

We know things won’t automatically be better the day after the votes are counted … this is a small step on a long road and there will be bumps along the way. We simply believe that this road is the right one.

It’s a leap into the dark, and we know that it is.

What makes this special is that it’s something Scotland hasn’t done in a very long time.

Because we do have faith now. We are inspired by something more than self interest … and we have put aside self doubt completely.

That makes what we’re about to do more than just revolutionary.

This is an exorcism.

It seeks not only to repatriate power, but to finally lay to rest the ghosts.

It is yet another moment of national self expression, and it may prove even more profound, in time, than the recent referendum.

This is Scotland, finally, hammering down the coffin lid on the notion that our destiny is better off in other hands because we can’t be trusted to hold it in our own.

I have never been so enthralled by an election campaign, or so eager for the day to finally come.

Scotland is awake. Soon we will be haunted no more.

(A version of this article appears in Issue 2 of Enjoy The Silence, which will be out this week.)

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8 comments to “A Country Set To Exorcise Its Demons”
  1. Goosebumps! And a great big lump in my throat.

    You’ve captured the emotional journey that, despite our unique experiences, feels like a shared one.
    The sense of solidarity, and the dawning realization of our collective power, now binds many of us tightly – like one giant family.

    Our resolve to breach WM is unbreakable: we’ll huff, and we’ll puff, and we’ll blow their house down. Every time they try to push us back, we will surge forward with even greater force and resolve. And that solidarity extends to our English neighbours – they need this change as much as us.

    But I’m a little afraid for Scotland too. Sometimes I wonder just how far WM would go to stop us in our tracks. They drop bombs on innocent people abroad, collaberate to abuse already vulnerable children… I can’t quite shake the idea they could orchestrate some terrible tradgedy to break our spirit. What are they capable of in Scotland? Here’s hoping I’m just a paranoid eejit!

    Anyway, another brilliant piece James Forrest – I envy your huge talent. Roll on the biggest bestest party in scotlands living history. All our hogmanys rolled into one 🙂

  2. James – this is brilliant and inspiring. You have made a street or should I say concrete foundation artist sitting near to me very happy too 😉

  3. Yesterday I stood at the top of Buchanan Street and a short time later, in George Square. The sights and sounds in both places moved me to tears. You are right James, I felt a stirring of faith, not blind faith, but a strong belief in those around me and their ability to govern themselves, to break free.

  4. Hi James
    Just as a matter of interest -where did you get the header image of the saltire waving and the hands up –cheers

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