2007 - 2021

On grief and independence, part 2

by Andrew Eaton-Lewis

It is just over a year since my dad died. In theory I should now be in the final stage of grief – reintegration, accepting your newfound reality and moving on.

I find myself questioning all those words. Re-integration suggests returning to some kind of normality. ‘Newfound reality’ seems to suggest something else.

What if they feel incompatible? What if the grieving process changed the way you look at the world so much that nothing seems ‘normal’ or ‘real’ anymore?

In the 1972 Russian science fiction film Solaris, a team of scientists on a space station above a mysterious ocean-covered planet are confronted by eerie simulcra of people from their past, which the alien planet has somehow manifested from their most vivid and traumatic memories. For the main character, Kris Kelvin, it’s his wife, who committed suicide years before, an event he is now forced to relive, and re-examine, again and again. At the end of the film, Kelvin returns home to his elderly father’s countryside home, then realises that this too is a simulation – it is raining inside the house and his father has not noticed. And as the film’s opening scenes explained, it is unlikely that his father would be alive anyway, given the length of time it took Kelvin to travel to Solaris. In reality, as we discover in the film’s extraordinary closing sequence, Kelvin has landed on an island on Solaris, and is now living inside a simulation of his old life.

This week I watched Adam Curtis’s film Bitter Lake, and was struck by his use of Solaris’s final scene to illustrate the way Russians felt when they returned home from Afghanistan in the 1980s, when the war there was finally lost. As Curtis describes it, the Russians, having failed so spectacularly to create a Communist utopia in the Middle East, could never look at their home country in the same way again. Nothing about it seemed normal. Their ‘newfound reality’ was incompatible with the reality of Russia. This, in Curtis’s analysis, helped to hasten Communism’s demise.

I am writing this from my own version of Kris Kelvin’s alien island. It is a facsimile of my elderly mother’s house in Helensburgh. On the surface it looks like the real thing, but there are enough subtle differences to tell me it is a construct. Objects are not quite where they used to be, either when my parents, both creatures of meticulous routine, both lived there, or when my mum began to forget where things went. There is an alarm system, notes left on tables, instructions for the carers who visit four times a day. The fridge is half empty, with just one of everything. The freezer is full of microwaveable food. My mum is living in a version of her home built by aliens. Like Kris Kelvin, she is disorientated but increasingly accepting of this. One morning recently she appeared in the living room looking happier than I’d seen her in weeks. ‘This is just like my house,’ she marvelled, as she waited for the carer to bring her breakfast. ‘Everything’s just the same.’

Bitter Lake’s thesis is that modern life has become so disorientating, complicated and frightening that, rather than attempt to explain it, politicians have resorted to telling simple stories of good and evil. The result is absurdities like the ‘war on terror’ – the idea that you can somehow declare war on an abstract concept rather than a specific political opponent with legitimate or at least comprehensible concerns – and the American obsession with bringing ‘freedom’ to countries in the Middle East, when what in fact tends to happen is that foreign interference makes things worse, as British and American soldiers have experienced in Afghanistan. I could add the recent ‘Je Suis Charlie’ meme to this list – by which I mean the popular notion that the attack on the Charlie Hebdo office was a strike in a war between tyranny and freedom rather than a crime with complicated political motivations and contradictory outcomes, and that the correct response was to choose a side.

The campaign for Scottish independence was often accused of something like this – of creating a simplistic narrative of hope over fear, of acting as if a fully self-governing Scotland would be some sort of utopia. There is an element of truth to this – how could there not be in a complicated debate which, in the end, came down to a single, landscape-changing binary question? As much as all of us who were involved in it think of our political views as complex and nuanced, pragmatic as much as idealistic, based on solid policy research rather than the sentimental nationalism we were constantly accused of, there is no getting around the fact that the summer of 2014 was also characterised by a rush of giddiness – the playwright David Greig likened it to a ‘summer of love’ – as we dared to imagine a different sort of country, a different way of governing. Neither is there any getting around the fact that the days following 18 September were characterised (as I’d expected and feared) by something like the first stage of grief. Shock, denial, despair. I know people who genuinely felt that all was lost, that all political hope had died in that moment. That everything felt unreal. This was, after all, more than just an election, something you could have another go at in four years. It felt like a one-off, and in that moment it felt as if we’d been defeated for ever. The starkness of that feeling seemed to transcend everyday political concerns.

On 19 January, the anniversary of my dad’s death, I started taking anti-depressants again for the first time in years. I went through long-term depression in my twenties, from which I have now mostly recovered, but occasionally there are relapses if I’m not looking after myself well enough. In this case I was suffering from stress and exhaustion, trying to do several freelance jobs simultaneously while looking after two very small children who wake me up seven or eight times a night, and something had to give. At least, that’s what I think the reason was. But I may be wrong. I’m accustomed to lack of sleep, and to multi-tasking, and have survived many Edinburgh festivals without succumbing to depression, so it was odd that it happened now. It wasn’t until two days later that my wife pointed out to me that I’d gone to the doctor exactly a year after my dad died. She was surprised and concerned that I hadn’t talked about this, and that I might be keeping something from her. The truth was that I hadn’t actually realised what date it was. Was it a subconscious reaction, then? Was my mind somehow rejecting an idea that still felt unreal to me? Was my ‘newfound reality’ too much to bear? I genuinely don’t know. I’ll figure it out in time. In the meantime, the pills are helping.

Last week I joined the Green Party, which caught me slightly by surprise. I have been a Labour supporter most of my life, even through the Blair and Brown years (although I let my membership lapse when John Smith died and haven’t been a member of any political party since). While I like to think of myself as left-wing, when it comes down to it I’m also too much of a pragmatist ever to be any sort of political radical. My dad was the same. He was fond of the Otto von Bismarck quote “politics is the art of the possible” and Churchill’s suggestion that “democracy is the worst form of government apart from all the others that have been tried”, and would repeat at least one of them most times we had a conversation about politics. Both of these ideas are lodged deep in my psyche, to the extent that I am instinctively suspicious of anything that feels too radical. My mind rejects it. It’s partly why I became a journalist – a good journalist, I always felt (rather idealistically, perhaps), should always try to find the middle ground, to give every side of the argument a fair hearing.

Except that this reality, the view of the world I inherited from my dad, has fallen apart in recent years. It couldn’t survive the referendum. Those years of heightened debate helped to open up endless numbers of questions – for me and many others – about how this country, and the world in general, is governed, and what the alternatives might be. If it’s possible to break up the United Kingdom after hundreds of years, after all, what else is possible? If it’s possible for Scotland to rid itself of nuclear weapons, what else is possible? The more we asked these questions, the less radical they seemed.

Also, these questions were being asked in a way that broke the usual rules of political debate. The most interesting answers, for me and many others, weren’t coming from politicians or the mainstream media, they were to be found in blogs, on Twitter, in public meetings and in conversations with friends, an intense level of public engagement in a political issue that most of us had never experienced before.

And at first, being the person I am, I leaned towards the view that looked more moderate, more pragmatic. Why break up the United Kingdom? Except that the people expressing this view – Labour, the Tories, the LibDems, almost all newspapers, the BBC; in other words, the mainstream, ‘centre ground’ of British politics and the media – seemed to be living in a parallel world to the one I was in. The mainstream, the centre ground, felt increasingly unreal to me.

I could reel off examples all day. There was the media’s relentless, almost never challenged repetition of the Orwellian propaganda term ‘cybernat’, eloquently described by the poet Harry Giles as “the latest in a series of fantasy constructions designed to silence… hiding a diversity of opinion and debate behind a monster mask”. The Daily Telegraph described Harry as “sinister”, and when a Sunday Express survey inconveniently discovered that 21 per cent of Yes voters had been abused online, compared to just 8 per cent of No voters, the newspaper buried this fact so far down the story that it was almost invisible.

Then there was the idea that the Yes campaign was fuelled by anti-Englishness or ‘ethnic nationalism’, an idea given a prominence in the media out of all proportion to any evidence offered. A quick Google search will find dozens of examples, but the Telegraph’s story from 10 September 2013 is typical. Leading with the headline ‘row over anti-English racism link to independence referendum’, it finally acknowledges, in the second last paragraph, that far from the ‘sharp increase in attacks’ suggested, ‘the number of incidents with English victims had fallen from 84 to 57 over the past three years’. Oh, and the nationalism? It was mostly to be found on the No side.

Then there was the pervasive idea that the debate was a conflict ‘between the heart and the head’, with the heart saying Yes but the head saying No. This idea was parroted so relentlessly that even active Yes campaigners internalised it, and yet, for anyone in the thick of the debate, it made no sense. There were more than enough facts, figures and research papers in support of the Yes argument to fill anyone’s head with hard, practical information. You could read the White Paper, or the vast quantities of Common Weal research, or Blossom by Lesley Riddoch, or thoughtful blogs by Pat Kane, Gerry Hassan, Robin McAlpine, Kate Higgins and others. Ask most Yes campaigners why you should agree with them and they tended to cite information from one of these sources. Meanwhile, ironically, the No campaign constantly appealed to the heart. David Cameron said he would be ‘heartbroken’ if Scotland left the UK. Hundreds of celebrities pleaded with us to stay, in an insultingly brief open letter that had nothing of substance to say beyond ‘let’s be friends’. Better Together made posters on which people said they were voting no because “we love our kids”.

And yet the message, repeated constantly in the mainstream media, was that for Scotland to stay with the UK was ‘common sense’ – the safe, sensible option. For Scotland to be independent was a reckless, emotional decision, a “risk”, while the very real risks of staying in the UK – a debt-ridden country attempting to hide its perilous economic situation by turning itself into a tax haven for millionaires – received little attention.

Mostly, though, I had to give up on the mainstream because, while thinkers on the Yes side seemed capable of imagining endless numbers of possible futures, the ‘mainstream’, whether it was the Tories, the LibDems, Labour, or much of the media, essentially only offered one – austerity, a neoliberalist agenda that consistently puts the interests of banks and big business above those of the poor, because that, we are told, is just the way the world works now.

This week I read an article by Alex Andreou, one of the voters who helped bring Syriza to power in Greece. His reasons were fascinating, and echoed my own reasons for voting Yes – and, later, for joining the Greens. “Syriza’s supporters were accused of being irrational, were threatened and cajoled not to destroy the country in advertising campaigns of breathtaking negativity,” Andreou writes. Sound familiar? “This confirmed in my mind that conventional politics supported the very system that collapsed globally and spectacularly only a few years ago,” Andreou continues; “a system that eschews taxation, but required unprecedented bailouts from taxation; a system that, somehow, has now gone back to being considered infallible, supreme and self-correcting. I concluded that voting for that would be irrational and that trying something different with Syriza, however risky, made better sense. Dignity might be an abstract concept, but its absence is a very real and practical thing.”

Andreou is not naïvely hoping for utopia. He acknowledges, in his article, that Syriza could well fail, that the odds are stacked spectacularly against it. “The leviathan of politics may swallow its politicians and regurgitate them wearing the same ties and telling the same lies as those before them. But this election was about putting down a marker. About saying ‘no more’. Shock doctrine has its limits.”

I felt much the same about Scottish independence. The sheer hostility towards the idea from the political mainstream, most of the media, and much of the business world, suggested that the obstacles put in its way would be formidable. It too might well have failed. But ‘mainstream’ thinking has its limits. I just couldn’t subscribe to it anymore.

(There is a theory that what happened to white, middle class moderates like me during the referendum debate was that, for the first time in our lives, we found ourselves going through what women, black people and the disabled endure every single day. Women with strong opinions are labelled harpies. Yes supporters with strong views were labelled ‘cybernats’. Feminists are branded ‘man-haters’; Yes supporters were branded ‘anti-English’. Women are dismissed as ‘emotional’. Yes supporters were too. Women who call out sexism are accused of ‘playing the victim’. The SNP was ridiculed for having a ‘persecution complex’. Etc. The intention behind each of these accusations is the same – to dismiss, to control. It is what people with power do, consciously or unconsciously, to preserve the status quo in the face of external threat. It is fascinating to me that the media’s response to the accusation of unionist bias was, on the whole, to say “Biased? Us? Don’t be ridiculous.” Each time I heard this it sounded more like “Sexist? Me? Don’t be ridiculous”, and just as hollow. Sometimes they would offer counter-examples of theoretical mainstream media bias against the No side. And yes, these existed, but to continue the analogy, they existed in the same way that sexist behaviour by women towards men exists. It is simply not the same thing, because the balance of power is so different.)

As for the Greens, I’m not sure their manifesto would be remotely workable if, by some miracle, they ever got to form a government. It reads, a little bit, like a list of provocations, moral responses to all that is wrong with mainstream society. Now that the party are looking like serious contenders, it is fascinating to watch the mainstream media and political parties attempt to ridicule and rubbish their ideas. Yesterday I watched Andrew Neil tear into Green Party leader Natalie Bennett with a ferocity that was brutal even for him, interrupting her every few seconds, as if irritated that he was expected to take this dangerous radical at all seriously. Nigel Farage, a more dangerous radical, never seems to get the same treatment.

What is happening here, though, is that the establishment is having to engage with ideas it would prefer to dismiss, and politics is suddenly getting a lot more interesting as a result. Perhaps some of the dismissal will backfire. The Telegraph article linked to above is clearly designed to expose the terrifying radicalism at the heart of Green policy, warning that the party wants to “change life as we know it”. The Greens even appear – gasp – to be soft on terrorism. But what if, once all these arguments are given a platform in the mainstream media, rather more people than expected – people who would never think of themselves as radicals – find that they want to change life as we know it too?

If the outpouring of grief on 19 September didn’t surprise me, the speed at which Yes supporters picked themselves up again did. As SNP and Green membership grew and grew, it was as if thousands of people were moving from the first to the third stages of grief in the space of a couple of weeks. Perhaps this was because the world left behind by the referendum defeat didn’t seem real anymore. Look, we were told, now things can return to normal. But, like those Russians, we were all living with the ghosts of another country – not a country we had tried and failed to create in our own image, like Afghanistan, but the opposite, a country we had imagined so vividly that we couldn’t let the idea go, but which we never got the chance to try and build. Where do you go from that thought? Not into acceptance, it appears, but into action, into a determination to build it some other way.

Before Kris Kelvin leaves for Solaris, he is visited by Henri Berton, a pilot who flew over the planet years earlier while searching for two lost scientists. Together they watch footage of Berton’s testimony. He describes seeing a four metre tall child on the ocean surface. His report was dismissed as hallucinations, and he is unable to convince the sceptical Kelvin that this was wrong. Later, he contacts Kelvin to say that back on Earth he has met the child of one of the scientists he had been searching for. The child looked just like the creature he encountered on Solaris.

Berton sends this last message from his car. The sequence that follows is a POV shot as the car drives through traffic. It seems to go on forever, is increasingly hypnotic, and has been lodged in my memory ever since I first saw the film as a teenager. It was late at night, Mark Cousins’ Moviedrome was on, and Mark introduced Solaris by saying that it was a long film but you should really stick around until the end because it was ‘conceptually better than 2001’. That drew me in and kept me watching through what, to a teenager, seemed like longeurs.

Solaris is often likened to a Russian version of 2001: a Space Odyssey, released four years earlier in 1968. In that context, its traffic sequence is the film’s equivalent of the scene in 2001 when Bowman travels through a wormhole in space – another POV shot that seems to go on forever. Except that, while Bowman embarks on a fantastical, psychedelic journey through the cosmos, Berton is just speeding through traffic on Earth. The longer it goes on, though, the stranger and more unreal that mundane landscape outside the car seems, a collection of abstract shapes and sensations rather than boxy 1970s Russian cars. It’s as if Berton, despite being back home on Earth, is traversing an alien planet.

My mum was very worried about the referendum. ‘This is so important,’ she told me weeks before the vote, pointing at the ‘No Thanks’ sticker on her blouse. A Scot who had been married to an Englishman for over 50 years, she had a strong emotional attachment to the union, and its potential separation must have been a particularly painful idea for her in the months following Dad’s death. We all worried about what effect at Yes vote would have on her. It would have been like grief, a second wave of it.

A year on, my world and hers seem very different. She is alone on Solaris, in a facsimile of her and Dad’s old house, a landscape that was disorientating and unfamiliar at first but to which is is steadily adjusting, as benevolent aliens hover invisibly around her, correcting mistakes and fine-tuning the details to make her feel as comfortable as possible. One day I’ll be on Solaris too. But for now, I’m speeding through the traffic, watching it become more and more unfamiliar, and contemplating a journey to somewhere else entirely.

(First published on Andrew’s blog here)

Comments (32)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Brian says:

    Wonderful piece. Articulated many of my unspoken thoughts post referendum. Thoughtful, measured. Thankyou.

  2. satincat says:

    This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read. Thought-provoking, intelligent, compassionate and coherent. I wish you well and look forward to reading more. Thank you, Andrew.

  3. mebungopony says:

    I have to say, this was an excellent article. It illuminates so much on the subject of the referendum both before and after the vote. The explanations of the language used in the demonisation of Yes supporters by the “establishment” and the reasons given for the continued vibrancy of the independence movement are just spot on. I will have to favourite this.

    PS One handy thing, though, would have been a recommendation on whether the later American version of Solaris was worth watching or if it is best to stick with the earlier Russian one 😉

    1. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

      I’d suggest that the 2002 Soderbergh version starring George Clooney is a poignant enough story, while the 1972 Tarkovsky film is more of an existential experience. What impacted me in the latter was the Russian director’s prolonged observational silences (interrogating focus on “conceptually-unhijacked” spaces?). To me, the American remake is rather like a glossy-mag reproduction of a Rembrandt – more is lost than meets the eye. And it smells different. I confess to having just (re?)discovered (via Wiki) that the movies are based on a 1962 Polish novel by Stanislaw Lem. And that there was also a 1968 film version made for Russian TV.

      I join with others here in expressing great appreciation for Andrew Eaton-Lewis’s fine multi-layered essay, so humanly resonant, quarried from such dark rockfast places.

      And it occurs to me that we have been given a rich metaphor for our post-referendum sham-Scotland: A house perpetually raining inside, so many inhabitants adamant that all is normal.

  4. Splendidly articulate & thoughtful article Andrew.
    Thank you.
    This road won’t build itself indeed!

  5. That touched so many chords in me. Thank you.

  6. cirsium says:

    thank you for this interesting essay. I was in Glasgow a couple of days before the referendum and, for the first time in my life, I felt that this was my country and that I was home. Currently, I feel like I am in exile. My country has been stolen from me.

  7. robert graham says:

    thanks for taking the time to publish this thoughtful piece usually i tend to skip long articles having read almost everything on the run up to the referendum i suppose i like a few others was tired exhausted and totally pissed off with this silent majority who stole the future of so many people by sheer selfishness ignorance or both but strangely this struck a chord it brought back that feeling of hope that so many people wished for before we were robbed and cheated out of an uncertain but possibly a better future i just had to stick with it this as the usual lies are being told by our friends in scottish labour we stopped fracking in its tracks EH excuse me sitting on your arse doing nothing not even bothering to turn up to vote does not represent a victory this as usual was ignored by the scottish press surprise surprise its as you say some kind of parallel universe it just doesn’t make sense its upside down back to front i mean who are these people they seem to forget we Employ them to represent the people of scotland ,rather than be downhearted its time for our second wind lets hope we are not so bloody stupid next time to believe these people fight fair just a thought

  8. bearinorkney says:

    A wonderful piece of writing that deserves a wider audience.

    A pleasure to read. I’m going to reread at a more leisurely pace and savour it.

  9. meaghan says:

    This is essay is a beautifully written, thoughtful, piece of writing. Thank you, Andrew,for your openness and vulnerability here and in in giving eloquent voice to the links between the personal and the political.

  10. ScottishLass says:

    I am sorry for your loss….on both counts x

  11. lawrenceab says:

    I am so impressed with this piece. Thank you for writing it and especially for putting so much of your private self into it. This is the work of exceptional depth, and it has sent me back to your first article. God bless you.

  12. Laura Dunbar says:

    An excellent piece on every level –
    Thank you Andrew for giving voice to what I’ve been thinking and feeling since the referendum…I’m thinking most of the 45 can relate to this.

  13. ian says:

    Great article which captures how many of us feel.I live abroad and now have this sense of being in limbo and a bit embarressed to call my self Scottish although i have never felt british.It is still hard to understand how people given the choice of their country being free can vote agianst it.

  14. Just, wow.
    On of the most thoughtful and perceptive pieces I’ve yet read on Bella. It articulates thoughts and feelings I myself have experienced over the last couple of years but especially last summer and I can definitely concur with the ‘summer of love’ feeling you describe.
    I was in the company of a friend driving through the East End of Glasgow the Thursday before the referendum and the air almost crackled with excitement in the sultry weather and the afterglow of the games. There was a real magic there. I’m not really an overtly emotional type but those weeks on the run-in, I felt uncommonly emotional. On the 17th I was driving through Dumfries when Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’ came up on my player’s shuffle. I just kind of welled up, but in a good way; this felt like a happy revolution. In a way, it was a good thing that I started a new job the next day; with company on the Thursday, but on my own on the Friday. At least it gave me something else to concentrate on after one of the worst night’s sleeps I have ever endured. Although I didn’t know the result – I couldn’t bear to look until 6.30 am – About 3am I awoke and looked to the north as if for some clue in the sky, but all I felt was this awful sensation of doom, like that famous “great disturbance in The Force” described by Obi Wan in Star Wars.
    By 7am I had to get up and took my dog for a long walk. A different kind of tears were never far away and when I got home I sat on the stairs and this big bloke sobbed his old eyes out for five minutes.
    The day spent at work driving a small delivery van passed in a surreal haze, crowned at 4PM with news of Alex Salmond’s resignation. Numb and hollow are the two words that sum that afternoon up for me.
    By tea time I was home and out walking in the woods with my four legged companion again. It felt like I was going through the stages of grief at an unnaturally accelerated pace.
    I decided to take a step back that evening so I played quiet music, treated myself to a bottle of Merlot and looking at some books before making up for the sleep I’d lost the night before.
    I woke up in a different frame of mind. I knew I couldn’t accept living in a country I had no desire to live in and though I was angry at the result, the vulgar triumphalism of the Nazis in George Square and the emerging news of the (admittedly expected) irregularities, my anger was contained safely by a quiet determination that even though I might not live to see independence now, I would dedicate the rest of my life to promoting the cause.
    Living outwith Scotland (just), I am limited at the moment in what I can do but I hope to change that soon if I can find work back home.
    Meantime, stuck in an England, lurching ever rightwards into an ocean of paranoia, free-market extremism and fear of ‘the other’, my own Alien Island exists within the footprint of my home.

    1. patmctavish says:

      Well you describe how i feel and i am living in Scotland, for the first time in my life I felt like I was living in a country I could call my own. I think before that I was a bit like a refugee left over after the battle of flodden, not needed and not wanted.

      As for the article, brilliant the way it has described the time so well and makes it a bit easier to look back on.

  15. Lazarus says:

    Hi Andrew,

    Sorry to hear about your old man, been there and one of the toughest things I’ve experienced. And we may be alike in our misfortune but our suffering is unique and ours alone. Keep strong Bro!

    Very thoughtful piece and makes some great observations about the Indyref. But I can’t agree with the analysis.

    I’ve never been a fan of Adam Curtis, but recognise his talent and the compulsiveness in his work. But if you scratch the surface it’s pretty shallow and their is a school of thought that thinks he is either outright taking the piss or falling for his own overly intellectual and post modern bullshit.

    Either he is an artist parodying the very the very media structure/ power systems he claims to deconstruct (Ayan Rand, Neo libs, Neo Cons, etc) – By knowingly indulging in the selectivity of information and fine tuning presentation to form a manipulated narative for those predisposed to lap up anything without thinking too deeply about it. (e.g) just like modern 24 hour media. All very Duchamps and relativist. There is no truth so why attempt to define it etc. Instead juts play on the psychology of the audience.


    He is essentially genuinely a grandiose conspiracy theorist and if so not a very consistent one.

    Take the recent ‘Bitter Lake’ The contention is that the world is too complicated to understand, that the media and politicians simplify events into binaries, good and evil ignoring complexity. But the problem is in the very process of showing this ‘the complex real story’ of Afghanistan/ Saudi/ West, Curtis manages to do precisely that simplify the complex? (And of course only he can!) And people already predisposed to the politics in his message lap it up as it fits their preconceived world view as it flatters their ego. They know the deeper ‘truth’ not like the foolish brainwashed ‘establishment’ others etc. But his analysis is not based on empirical evidence, nor rational open analysis, nor is it based on personal testimony of those involved, nor is it personal experience, nor it is critical of itself, nor subject to competing narratives, it indulges in huge generalisations while purporting to be definitive?

    The fact is anyone could construct a similar narrative (humans are predisposed to tell stories to make sense of the world, to sift info, leave this out but include that usually to suit themselves.) but the documentary could could be entirely different. This is why history is necessarily contested and multiple views prevail simultaneously. – This is why books like Freakonimics are bullshit.

    History needs a criteria for judgement on it’s validity (objective documentation, empirical research etc.) Not just sifting through the BBC archives to get grainy images that create ‘a mood’ then play a bit of Aphex twin or whatever unsettling ambient music and cut and slice the images so quickly that people don’t question the constistency of the links or just follow a convienient trail. Throw in a few shocking images and hey presto….a very definitive, coherent and overly simplified narrative. ‘The Truth’. Anyone can do this and come up with an entirely different story! He claims complexity by creating a simplisitic narrative – this is not consistent! And of course it is all a big understandable conspiracy rather than accidents and luck and randomness?

    e.g) Why start at Bitter lake? Why not start with the creation of BP and the first oil wells being drilled in Middle east or multiple other events that influenced Afghanistan? Why not start in USSR? or the Ottoman History or Indian partition etc etc. Does everything really come back to USA and neo Cons?

    The Russians went home with a sense of dislocation and dissolussionment with the system, but that was pretty much widespread in USSR anyway by then, the system was already in collapse. Perestroika was already in motion and it was Gorbachev who ended the war.Of course Afghanistan influenced USSR’s demise but not necessarily in the way Curtis assumes.

    Then measure Bitter lake against his other work…The short on Charlie Brooker that was gushed over by so many. It claims an avant guard artist/ spin doctor is feeding misinformation to the media to confuse people into what is going on as a power play and this is replicated across the world? A few evil svengalis controlling our minds? Really? Can you see the joke here….the satire and irony? The piss take of the audience who are gushing over him? It could just be that Putin is an old school despot who imprisons his oponents and silences the media! Nothing new in that!

    And his other series, ‘the trap’…which contends the whole world has been reduced to zero sum, game theory considerations destroying the human spirit and values. All Ayan Rand’s fault and the neo cons again. They are smart but not that smart.

    The problem is people take his ‘Art’ as fact and history, but it is only ART and this is dangerous. especially in ‘Century of Self’ which is repugnantly anti semetic – the old Jewish conspiracy theory (of course Wolfovitz was a neo con and a Jew etc.) Apparently it is shared enthusiastically on Far Right web blogs across Europe! It fits so it must be true!

    And I think this is why many people were repelled/ creeped out by the ‘My journey to…’ aspect of the Yes campaign, the Artiist ‘imagining a better country’ and so on. Most people are actually pretty prosiac and sceptical so don’t respond to unfounded conspiracy theories easily. And this became the essence of the Yes campaign. All artists imagining, visions of the future, while boring old Darling came over like a sensible if party pooping uncle pointing out the unfortunate realities.

    e.g) The media is deliberately bias (it was pro union) but all of them together in a conspiracy? The possibility that the media just thought Alex Salmonds econ claims were in fact mostly bullshit can’t have been the case? etc etc.

    Or that their is some conspiracy ‘the establishment’ with a big sinister plan rather than the usual, pretty similar competing power centres, as there has always been in history?

    Or that people who voted no were decieved? or manipulated? Actually most were well informed and simply didn’t buy the argument Yes put forward. Simple!

    To claim their was no Anti Englishness? Who do you know this with such certainty? etc.

    You’re right to critique the No side, who did the same thing, and it was ridiculous!!! some of the claims but I think you are a wee bit blind to the same process in Yes.

    This kind of thinking, the confirmation of bias and search for a deeper ‘truth’ that only we know, and a ‘conspiracy’of others became the essence of the more Utopian Yes campaign, over and above reason and fact and pragmatism. It is why it failed and why many found it disturbing and worrying.

    1. connor Mcewen says:

      Sheesh !!!???Whit ???.I have not seen the pictures referred to or read some of the stories referred to ,but surely FEAR was the main ingredient in the NO camp.Backed up with collusion of the main media mis-information.Lazyness in looking for pertinent facts personified by some NO voters going on holiday to avoid the debate.I liked the article by Andrew Eaton-Lewis it must resonate with any body who has lost someone close.

    2. tartanfever says:

      Lazarus says:

      ‘There is no truth so why attempt to define it’

      Funny, I’ve never heard Curtis once claim that his films are the truth or that he is even attempting to define it.

      Documentaries are not truthful, they are authored narratives from a point of view. If you want to throw truth at some form of media then it has to be at journalism of current affairs TV. Curtis is neither, nor has ever claimed to be.

      Understand what a Documentary is first, then work out what your objections are. Here I think you confuse the very different genres of Documentary and Factual News gathering and presentation.

      As for empirical evidence, I agree, Bitter Lake is short on interview testimony but that is not the case for many of his other work. The closest in theme to this film would be The Power of Nightmares series, which does contain many interviews and in some respects could be viewed as a pre cursor to Bitter Lake.

      What I find strangest of all is your complaint that Curtis is oversimplifying situations. That may well be the case. However, what is clear is that if this is true of Curtis then what exactly do you think of TV news coverage that only presents a 2 minute clip on the same subject that often contains no direct questions to politicians from an interviewer ? If 2 hours of a Curtis film is over simplifying, then what is a 2 minute news clip that contains a politician reading a press release unquestioned ?

      Surely as a fair critique of how we are presented with our current international situations on TV you would have taken news gathering into account ? Would I prefer to watch a Curtis film or watch the news nightly ? – Give me a Curtis film any day.

      Does that make me brainwashed ? – No less so than anyone who reads a newspaper or watches some current affairs programme on tv. The secret is being able to understand, disseminate and be critical of what you are watching or reading.

      Sadly, reading your response to Andrew’s article, you seem to put little faith in people’s ability to question and reason. Apparently we’re all ‘gushing’. Well done.

    3. And where, exactly, did conspiracy theory or anti-Englishness feature in the campaigns of Yes Scotland, the SNP, the Scottish Greens, the Scottish Socialists, the RIC, Women for Independence, Business Scotland or National Collective? You are resorting to insinuation rather than presenting evidenced arguments.

  16. Lazarus says:

    A funny parody of Adam Curtis!

    1. barakabe says:

      I don’t think anyone believes Adam Curtis’ documentaries are some sort of panacea of definitive truth-I think you’re being a bit too harsh on him to be honest. As for Century of Self being anti-Semitic: where do we draw the line where destructive behaviour involves agency from those with Jewish ancestry- do we merely ignore it for fear of being labelled an anti-Semite? Someone like yourself just comes across as something of an ostrich: lets bury our heads in a hole of simplicity. You say conspiracy is improbable in most cases ( even an age of digital communication ie look at pedophile rings) or that small elites of self interested groups somehow don’t connect with each other ( which seems more improbable to me than your premise)- & so we’re led to believe that very small numbers of powerful people with similar backgrounds who all inhabit the same environment don’t interact in any meaningful way to reinforce each others best interests…that really does stretch the bounds of what is believable. We could always just go down the old Conservative road of completely ignoring systemic deficiencies & reduce all problems to the individual…that really would make the complexity of modern human life simpler!

      1. Lazarus says:

        By Adam McCurtis.

        The Tartan Revenge.

        We live in a state of confusion.

        It is one of the main features of our age. Wherever you look there are lying politicians, crooked bankers, corrupt police officers, cheating journalists and double-dealing media barons, sinister children’s entertainers, rotten and greedy energy companies and out-of-control security services.
        There has always been Us vs Them in modern Britain – but this new pervasive mood of suspicion and distrust is different.

        In the past it divided along political lines. The Left was for Us and the conservative Right was firmly for Them. But now the politics have disappeared – because no politicians are trusted (except those in Scotland). It doesn’t matter whether they are left or right, all politicians are despised. They will never do anything for the ordinary person – only for themselves and their other corrupt friends in power. This is the British Establishment.

        In some ways this is disempowering because it means there is no-one who is both powerful and trustworthy enough to challenge the corruption. But it is also a moment of great opportunity – because the present mood of distrust with authority is very powerful and it could be harnessed to create a new populist movement.

        The story starts in the early 1970’s at the prestigious University of St Andrews on Scotland’s East coast and a personal, political and romantic rivalry that would one day put the very unity of the British state at risk and plunge the establishment into chaos. The two men involved were Alex Salmond and Michael Forsyth. Both were from the Scottish working classes but had risen during the post war era of social mobility. And they despised one another.

        Both were ideologues of the left and right. Both were nationalists favoring competing states.
        ‘He was a scruffy, contrary figure round St Andrews, invariably with a Maoist cap on his head. Another contemporary, Desmond Swayne (now a Tory MP and minister), recalls: ‘Alex had nocturnal habits. He was the sort who would rise at 5pm and go to bed at 5am’.

        Meanwhile in Maoist China the second phase of Panda Diplomacy was being plotted in the ranks of the free market reformers under the direction of future premier Deng Xiao Peng. A short man he was known to have a fondness for scotch eggs and an near addiction to the exotic sugary orange drink called Irn Bru – a delicacy in the closed socialist system where the tight social controls meant refreshment was limited to a state designated beverage. A fizzy mixture of green tea, turtle urine and snake bile.

        Oddly both Salmond and Forsyth, it was whispered, shared a predilection for stern older women who would spank them and call them naughty little Adam Smith, the father of modern liberal economics. Smith once wore a dress to a party at David Hume’s house. This predilection had far reaching implications. In the case of Michael Forsyth his desire led him to London where he began working for a lower middle class Madam with puritanical Victorian values and delusions of Empire and greatness. Her name was Margret Thatcher. The thin young Salmond, spurned and left out in the wilderness turned to pies and sausage rolls for comfort as he watched his rival being favored by the new dominatrix of the British State.

        Salmond married someone 17 years his senior and moved to the distant wild bad lands of Aberdeenshire close to the North Pole. A place of industry and invention where no West Central Socialist Scotlander dare venture.

        By the late 1990’s, thanks to Deng Xiao Peng’s open door policy, Irn Bru had established itself as the soft drink par excellence in the corridors of the Great Hall of the people. The world’s second largest economy now turned towards tiny Scotland and Alex Salmond, negotiating contracts worth £2.6 billion for the supply of salmon meat, Land Rover cars and petrochemical and renewable energy technology. To smooth the process they loaned Edinburgh zoo two giant Panda’s for the SNP ‘establishment’ – a matrix of interconnecting business people, politicos, crap footballers, self promoting artists and a certain actress Elaine C Smith – the pin up of the Russian Duma and sexual fantasy to both a certain Vladimir Putin and the British Chancellor Osborne – to use in its media campaign against the might of the British establishment all of whom fagged at Eton or St Paul’s and were strangely alike in appearance.

        The rivalry for the affections of Elaine C Smith led Osborne to maintain Trident, a metaphor for his own inferiority and impotence regarding the man’s man politician, Putin.

        At this stage in Saudi Arabia, King Faisal and the Religious Court decreed Irn Bru to be unislamic and declare a fatwa on its makers in Scotland. In an attempt to destroy production and shift the balance of power they plotted to drop the Oil price and destroy the Scotland’s hopes of an independent nation. The SNP were no living in fantasy land, detached from reality.

        And so was coined the mantra of the Scottish independence referendum. ‘There are more Panda’s in Scotland than Tories. Using this hypnotic phrase Alex Salmond, with the help of the shadowy Chinese politburo, and the Chinese secret service that rules over one fifth of the world’s population, nearly broken the 300 year union of the last great imperial nation. But his revenge over his arch enemy Forsyth was incomplete, and the sense of betrayal at Margret Thatcher and mother Britain still rankled.

        Thanks to Irn Bru, China now rules the world.

  17. Darien says:

    I’ve always felt that Scotland’s independence was rather a matter of common sense – since I discovered our positive trade balance in the 1970’s, plus some notable instances of Scots language discrimination. Few seemed to notice, or care.

    There is not much point in making governance overly complicated (e.g. Lord ‘Deutsche Bank’ Smith’s poisoned chalice). The granting of devolution (should have) informed Scots that we were considered by our imperial masters to be no more than a colony – i.e. the rather obvious clue being that only a colony would ever be ‘granted’ a devolved parliament. We have been pretty slow to realise how exploited our nation has been, and quite how much we have been and still are discriminated against. But it is good to see that our ‘cultured’ middle classes are beginning to realise their error. Bit late though.

  18. David Smith says:

    It’s never too late, Darien, I realise that now. Like those disillusioned Soviets, an increasing number of our people can see that the economic and political doctrine of the UK has failed. The opportunity will come again sooner than we think. The West’s own 1989 is approaching.

  19. Craig P says:

    Very good article Andrew. Yes it does feel like we live in a country that does not exist. At least now it feels like a country with fellow citizens.

    I sometimes wonder how damaging to us all the unionist response will be to independence. I hope they think about it now and get the anger out the system before the next indy ref.

  20. barakabe says:

    A beautiful post. Tarkovsky will one day be regarded as great an artist as Shakespeare, Van Gogh, Tolstoy, or Mozart…unfortunately at present the seventh art does not have the same status among the intellectual class as literature or even the theatre ( why that is of course is a very complex issue)- it’s the same crass elitism that once poured scorn on jazz…but the very last scene of Solaris is that rare transcendental moment in art when emotional power & intellectual insight fuse into spiritual sublimity; the ending somehow dramatizes the very core problem of the human condition that few artists have ever achieved: do we deny a reality that we know will only lead to suffering or do we accept an illusion that will make us happy? What then is the price of happiness- is it ultimately always an illusion? Is suffering the price we have to pay for reality?

  21. Sean McNulty says:

    Just want to add my thanks. I’ll be coming back to this piece frequently.

  22. Analysis clarification and illumination, the aspirational target of good journalism anywhere but so seldom encountered in reality. That was beautiful – thanks!

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.