History in the making. And yes it feels good!

The poet Paul Reekie


On the night of the 1997 British general election, along with my friend Paul Reekie, I took part in an election night cabaret in West Pilton at the Triangle club. We were two poets supporting a local guy; a freaky guy, whose act included picking up heavy weights with his cock. Aye. It was a memorable night and not just for the bizarre muscle man.

After the cabaret I went back to my Pilton flat with Paul to watch the election results come through on the telly. Naturally, we partied all night, Leith style, cheering every Labour gain, then dancing with joy when it became clear that the Tories had finally been ousted after eighteen long and painful years. It was a magical night.

In the morning, sleepless but still energetic, we headed up to a Broughton Street establishment to bask in the glorious sunshine of a brand new day. Neither of us were New Labour supporters but like most Scots just relieved and happy the nightmare had finally ended.

Fast forward fourteen years. Scotland looks pretty much the same as it did yesterday. The same streets, the same people, the same wonderfully exuberant and contradictory place to live. It’s the same government in London. And the same government taking up the reins once more in Holyrood. But something has changed. Something important.

Yesterday Scotland voted in an SNP government with an absolute majority. I can still hardly believe I’ve typed that! But it’s true. Scotland now has a government with the majority to drive through the sort of policies that the unionist parties blocked last time around. Good progressive polices like minimum alcohol pricing. Or the so-called Tesco Tax.

But that’s not what’s on everyone’s lips this morning. There’s a bigger fish swimming in the political pond today. Its mouth is wide open and it’s ready to be reeled in. The SNP government now have the majority necessary to pass an Independence Referendum Bill. This is the game changer. Today is our 1997 moment. Except this time with teeth.

Newspapers and columnists will jostle to tell us that Scots will always reject Independence. Of course, they will. It’s their job to talk Scotland down. Just as they told us that it was impossible for the SNP to secure a majority. Just as they told us that Scots would never break with Labour in its working class heartlands. But its all happened. The majority of Glasgow seats are now held by the SNP. Labour’s stranglehold on our biggest city is over. The entire north-east of Scotland has been won by the SNP, all ten seats. Dunfermline, Falkirk, Dundee, all SNP.

Here in Edinburgh only one Labour MSP, the redoubtable and principled socialist, Malcolm Chisholm, has survived the carnage. The rest are toast. The SNP even torpedoed a former Tory leader in the supposedly unsinkable seat of Edinburgh Pentlands. Taxi for David McLetchie!

The soul-searching and troubles of Labour, who were blitzed, and the depression of the Lib Dems – who have been wiped out in every mainland constituency seat (deservedly so for their double-crossing at Westminster) – is not my concern. For the Greens and the socialist left this wasn’t their day either. But both could still have an important part to play in events that will soon unfold.

Soon, here on Bella and elsewhere, I’ll be joining the debate on our constitutional future. There’s a lot of patient explaining to be done over the next few years. There’s no room for complacency, polemics or triumphalism. We have to raise our game now and encourage the people to join us in the great adventure ahead.

But today is a day for relaxing, celebrating, and basking in the warm glow of beautiful necessary change, knowing that Scotland is now on a very different road from yesterday. Where this road will go is anyone’s guess. As one of my great inspirations, Joe Strummer, famously said, ‘The future is unwritten.’

Like the rest of the political junkies I’m a bit tired as I write this and haven’t had much sleep. Nor can I party the way I used to do back in 1997. But I’ll certainly be having a wee celebratory dram later.

Thinking back to that memorable night in 1997 I dearly wish Paul could be joining me in Robbies tonight to talk over today’s events. Sadly he’s no longer with us. Although Paul didn’t take much interest in party politics he was an irascible and contrary Scottish radical at heart. A great Burns scholar too, who loved our national Bard’s verse and could quote it extensively.

I’d have loved it if I could have sat down in Robbie’s this evening with Paul to clink our glasses together. Over the years we had our disagreements, as you do, but there’s one thing I think we’d both drink to, on this most historic of days. It’s coming yet for a that.

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  1. James Hunter says:

    I’m not sleeping till I know this isn’t a dream.

  2. Alan Johnstone says:

    I want to know what happened over the spoiled AV vote with INDEPENDENCE scrawled over it.

  3. jennifer bree says:

    I am not convinced yet of independance, however, but i feel strangely pleased about the SNP taking the majority. i say strangley because i have never supported them. I watched Alex Salmon a few weeks back on question time and he had more character than any of the other guests who were on the panel (mind you he is a Scot so not hard). I shall look forward to hearing the arguments for breaking away from the Union and will keep an open mind. Even though i am not convinced at present one thing i shall say for sure is that if it did happen I would probably return home as even depsite my reservations I wouldn’t want to miss out on such an historic event for Scotland.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks for the comment Jennifer, I think there are thousands of people now ‘open to possibility’ and with a listening ear to the arguments on independence when before they were closed. It’s now up to those of us who believe to make the case and also be open to ideas. It’s not case of ‘us’ telling ‘you’ its more about us all creating an opening future together

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Barry, we’ve added a link to your site

  4. David MacGille-Mhuire says:

    A beautifully written, thoughtful piece. The people of Scotland have overwhelmingly re-named their world (to borrow a phrase from Friere) and now the great re-engineering project can truly begin with everyone buckling to it.

    Enjoy you dram – I shall hoist one in salutation to you and one and all at home.

    Slainte agus kampai!

  5. Vronsky says:

    Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive…

  6. David McCann says:

    Aye Kevin,
    We really are living in the early days of a better nation.

  7. Vronsky says:

    I know I’m probably asking too much, but wouldn’t it be wonderful if Jackie Baillie was next leader of New Labour in Holyrood? It’s not out of the question -the decision will be taken far from Edinburgh, the considerations guiding it will not be Scottish ones and she could get enough votes (or ‘vates’ as she calls them). Go, Jackie!

  8. Justin Kenrick says:

    Great piece, and great peace

    “Joe Strummer, famously said, ‘The future is unwritten’”
    . . . In one way that’s right but there’s another truth in there bursting to get out.

    It’s a truth you can feel at moments like this when people surprise themselves by making history, by realising that we are history in the making, and that history is not a thing of the past, its the texture of the present being woven by us into the cloth of the future.

    We reshape the future in unbelievably unexpected ways when we find ourselves acting collectively, find ourselves giving up on the illusion that we are alone and powerless in the face of what we had thought were unchangeable structures. When we become present – as we are right now – the future becomes us.

    Ok I accept it: too little sleep, time to catch up on rest!

    1. Roseanna Cunningham says:

      Loving that para about history in the making. Perfectly put.

      As one of my dear friends put it: this is a once in a lifetime event – and its our lifetime!

  9. Peter Burnett says:

    It was Pete Seeger who said ‘no matter who you vote for, the government always gets in’, and this is one reason why I didn’t vote this week, just as I have never voted in my life.

    What are the other reasons? First, not voting probably puts me in the majority anyway – a high percentage aren’t eligible; another high percentage don’t register; and another high percentage either don’t bother or have no hope in party politics as it is. I’ve seen elections where the stay-aways have amounted to nearly 70% – and if that isn’t an overwhelming majority, I do not know what is. Last week’s turnout was 45% – not bad – but that 55% majority (to which I belong – hooray we won again!) are discarded as being of no consequence. Typical.

    And you know, we non-voters are always accused of APATHY – and I hate that. I am not apathetic about social issues, I just don’t believe that party politicians have the answers – and so to counter the apathy charge, I often go to the polls to spoil a ballot, just so I can’t be accused of staying in bed, or whatever libertarians are accused of at election time.

    Our politicians always let us down – it’s why we vote them in. They are heroes the morning after, but a few years down the line they are our whipping boys and girls again – taking the rap for social problems that should be ours to deal with. We believe they will sort things like crime and education, so we sit back and shout at the telly, having relieved ourselves of some valuable social responsibility. Tut, tut.

    I’m pleased to think that the SNP might have leftist tendencies, and hooray for them for making the two party system into a three party system; but that is not enough for me. What’s wrong with aiming for impossible, by which I mean a democratically self managed world? Only a certain type of person becomes a politician anyway. The ambitious; media-savvy; the managerial. They presumably also get into it because they want to change shit, but you and I have the power to change things too; much more power, I normally find.

    A positive and cheering article Kevin, but for me, this is still the same o’er bureacratic and violence-sanctioning state it was in 1997, and that it will be in 2017 and so on. It’s hard to disagree with the article having met Paul a few times and seen how sharp and also riotously funny he was. But still; voting endorses an unambitious and oppressive system (even if it is voting for someone we all quite like, such as Alex Salmond) and it allows the MPs and their distaff side, the media, to continue peddling that old myth about how great our ever-capitalist state is. But Salmond knows as well as everybody else here who is really in power; and man, the world is in thrall to Capital.

    I was staying in Leith too, that night in 1997, and I also stayed up all night with a few people – but it was bloody good telly, that was all. Every human being has the right not to be ruled in any slight degree by somebody else. Simple and plain.

    1. James Hunter says:

      I’m pretty sure we tried Anarchy once. It was probably going really well and life was hard but very rewarding and enjoyable till big men with pointy sticks came from over there and decided they wanted our stuff as well as theirs. And sadly nothing has been quite the same since.

    2. Uncle Tam says:

      It would make more sense to spoil your paper Peter. Otherwise you just count in the figures along with all the lazy folk.

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