Common Weal’s Butterfly Rammy begins its 21-show run at the Edinburgh Festival on Friday (buy tickets here). The show has an accompanying book (now on sale here). The following is Robin McAlpine’s prologue to the book.
What a strange and disorientating thing, to awake from a dwam. When the cotton wool haze of a meandering daydream leaves us, when our mind comes back from elsewhere, when our concentration returns to us the sharpness of our surroundings. Falling out from a dwam you will find the cold suddenly colder, the warmth warmer. For how long have you been here?
So how long was it? Perhaps since the doors opened again on a Parliament for Scotland. It was such a long road to those doors that as they swung apart before us did we perhaps mistake its threshold for a destination? In that dwam, in that place, did we perhaps coo ‘it’ll do, it’ll do’. A bit better. Not quite as bad. Let’s shop.
It’ll do. It’ll do.
Naw it wilny.
And it won’t because someone asks us the question “do you want Scotland to be an independent country?”. A cotton wool haze begins to lift, our surroundings sharper again, the cold colder, the warmth warmer. Do we? Do we?
As our senses return, we feel the drouth, the thirst for something. Is it a thirst for our independence? Not sure – but it’s definitely a drouth. Not just this, surely? Something more, surely? And yet it all begins so dour. Her spreadsheet. His spreadsheet. Who wins? Do I care? At first, he says ‘its No for the same’, but then she says ‘its Yes for the same – mostly’. Ah, we Scots have a way with dull greys. Look at our cooncil hooses. On a bad day they match the sky. But how, how can this question be a dull grey?
Naw it wilny.
So we get to gabbin. No-one came with a ‘conversation’ neatly folded in the boot of their leased, silver, is-it-not-too-big-for-one-person car. Just us. Talking. All at once. Over the top of each other. A new sentence before the old one is finished. It didn’t feel grey. It’s wasn’t. This was no longer Kansas.
And so to that other thing the Scots do so well – shall we call it wild? Certainly untamed. First day of summer with no rain and it’s straight in the river for a dook. No, of course you can’t feel your legs. First real snow of the winter and men in business suits are chucking snowballs at each other. And yes it looks strange. Steal a kiss off a bemused Estonian police woman at the football, climb a statue and put a traffic cone on its head, get asked by a tourist where to get lunch and walk them half a mile to the best chippy in town.
It’ll no last. Better make the most of it.
That’s what happened. No-one handed us the campaign we wanted (like no-one has handed us the country we wanted). So what is there to be done? Dour or untamed? Fuck it, sun’s oot, taps aff. We’ll just need to make our own.
But where? And how? And what if no-one comes? This isn’t a construction project. No-one is wearing hard hats and there’s no budget. It’s your gran, the guy that works in the bank, your hairdresser. And then (no-one is more surprised by this than you) – it’s you. You’ll just need to build it from whatever you have and keep it wherever you can.
What about the toon hall? Did they not use to use them for this sort of stuff? That guy, I liked what he said yon time. That woman – do you think she’d come? Will we ask them? Let’s ask them. So-and-so could knock up some posters and some leaflet if so-and-so could sneak-photocopy them at her work. But I can only play the fiddle? Fine, play the fiddle. Folk’ll like it.
If they come. What if they dinnae come? Ma nails are bit tae pieces. Hold on, here’s someone. And here’s someone else. And someone else. Jesus – have you seen it in there? It’s hoachin. Acutal hoachin.
The following morning a young man thinks about the meeting. He went in curious but a bit embarrassed (folk don’t do this kind of thing, what am I doing here?), head down like he was auditing the lines of the badminton court. He came out different. The thing that he thought he thought, mibby he doesn’t think it after all. Why did he think it? Can he remember why he thought it? This is strange. Why is he asking himself questions? Might it be less strange to write it down? He writes it down. He puts it on his Facebook. And then – holy fuck! – five thousand people read it. Some of them send links to answer his questions. He discovers Bella, Wings, Wee Ginger Dug, National Collective, Radical Indy. He reads and learns and reads and learns. Stuff he never thought he’d read. Stuff he never thought he’d learn. See when ye ken stuff, there’s nae cause fir being embarrassed. When he walks into his local Yes hub his head isn’t down. Is there anything he can do?
None of this is big. It’s tiny. Lots and lots of tiny. None of this is grey. It’s bright. It’s flashes of sunlight all over the place. It becomes kind of mesmerising. It doesn’t look like a thing. It doesn’t stand, it swirls. Can you see some kind of order in this? I can’t. It looks like chaos, like a rammy in the pub. But it’s not violent. So small, so delicate, so colourful.
A butterfly rammy? Aye, a butterfly rammy.
Is the question ‘where do you bide?’. Is this about here, about being from here? Of course it is. And of course its not. We’d all like to fix everywhere – but how are we going to do that if we don’t fix here? Where we bide. Does mending your own roof mean you wish other people were wet? How does us being wet too help? Is ‘here’ a reason? Mibby aye, mibby naw – but it’s not the only one. So some of us carry flags and some of us don’t. One thing we all are is scunnered. Sick to the back teeth of someone trying to put us back into our dwam. We’ve felt cold colder and it’ll no do. Not at all. Hope and anger? Those we all carry.
Someone outside notices that it’s not just the yellows, that it’s the greens and the reds too. But why can’t they see the mauves, lilacs, tangerines, turquoises, maroons, azures, cerises and indigos? They keep assuming that a tangerine must be a yellow in disguise, that a turquoise is the same thing as a green. They’re wrong. We’re shades, not categories. We’re lots and lots of things. We’re friends now. We don’t greet each other in concepts but with hugs. The more they call us fake yellow, the happier we become in our rainbow. We coorie doon thigither. Many of us will remember this with more happiness than you will believe.
Others are beelin. Ragin. Very angry indeed. We live here too, they say. Why are you trying to take away our here? Why are you trying to make us live in your here? Oddly, the more they have, the angrier they are. But this really is their here too. Mibby we could talk?
No you can’t. Wheesht. We’re the fucking news and we’ll decide who talks. Wheesht. We’re the fucking news and we’ll decide what you hear, who’s good, who’s bad, what numbers are real numbers and what numbers are not real numbers. Oh, by the way, you’ll be hearing no noises of hope, you’re the bad guys and your numbers are not real numbers.
And so a nation swithers. On the one hand this. On the other hand that. And then, nearly at the end, one moment when it looks like it could be the left hand. And so, from London, come banks and supermarkets and mobile phone companies and the Daily Record, united in their goal of cutting that hand right off. No money, no food, no phones. Do as you’re told and we’ll give you magic beans. Well, actually, a vow. (Can’t we have the magic beans instead? No? But what the fuck can we do with a vow?)
A blur. A great big flurry of exhausted butterflies. Is that us really here? A blur. A blur.
And then it’s a dreich morning. Weeks of sun and the grey is back. It’s like the weather knew.
Were we just too feart? Was that all it was? Did we live in a here that was too small, not big enough to fit those who lived in that other here? Was it us? Was it them? We’d be angry if we could stop crying. Numb. Today the cold doesn’t feel cold and the warm doesn’t feel warm. Is that it? Are the butterflies gone for good? Now I’m feart.
But that carpet of lifeless butterflies twitches. The most amazing thing. No-one asks us, no-one tells us. But we find ourselves back in the square again. Leaving food for the poor. Thousands of us. Our here is still here. We’re still here. The young man blogs, the hairdresser volunteers, the granny joins, the guy from the bank donates. What are we doing? Anything, just anything. This isn’t over. Thrawn? Aye we’re thrawn. Did you think we were kidding? This isn’t over.
What a strange and disorientating thing, to know that everything has changed. To know it was us. To know we’re still here.
Mind. Mind how it felt. Mind who we were. Mind what we did. Mind why we did it. They want us to forget. They want everyone to forget. You weren’t that nation. You weren’t those people. Sleep children sleep. And we’ll coo ‘it’ll do, it’ll do’.
Naw. It. Fucking. Wilny.