Let Us Rise A Little Higher: From The Province of The Cat

cameron_1030639aThe first lambs are stumbling into life in the frosty Caithness fields. The Sun blesses them for a couple of days with some heat. Their little legs seem to be going in four different directions. At this moment in time everything is beautiful for them. The lambs signal in the season of optimism: Spring. The human heart lifts at the sheer promise of it all – life! The Cailleach of Winter is finally asleep for another year.

The euslan crone of Downing Street, unfortunately, is not. There is no poetry in his dismal progress. Like the leader of a tribe of Zombies he cannot rest. The latest victim of this attack of the political undead is the European Union. Not many on the Scottish left will have any love to spare for this pan-national cartel of big business and banking but one did seep a modicum of sympathy onto stony ground for the EU’s collective leadership when they had to endure a few days last month of meaningless self-indulgent dialogue, conjured up by a narcissistic, principle-free necromancer who means not what he says and does not what it appears he is doing. It is difficult for democrats to not feel nauseous when they witness the despicable and toxic talking to the deplorable and un-democratic.

A John Warren has eloquently pointed out on Bella last week this referendum on Europe is not about Europe: it is about the Tories staying in power, come what may. The Tories will never condone a public plebiscite which they have any chance of losing. They barely tolerate the risky tedium of General Elections even though they have the press and media singing their siren song to the electorate and have introduced five year fixed term parliaments to ease their burden. Unless the agenda is of their own choosing they will not participate. Whether we like it or not even if Scotland had voted Yes in 2014 the Tories would still have won: they would be in power in England forever, which is all they really care about. If “Britain” votes for a European exit this June or to stay in the Tories have also won. Out of Europe they can freely pursue their plan to drag us back to the 18th century and concentrate on building the financial pirate metropolis of Londinium. In Europe Cameron can crow for a few years at least about the special status “Britain” enjoys even though it is an illusion.

Nothing David Cameron had to say to the EU last month meant anything and what he has to say to us, the citizens trapped in a state not of our making, in the weeks up to June 23rd will mean even less. In fact everything the mainstream political cohort in “Britain” has to say about Europe is an illusion. Scotland badly needs economic migrants, open borders, direct trade routes to European markets (remember that notion?), a common currency (or our own currency?), a progressive European defence policy to sign up to as opposed to NATO – in fact everything which the Conservative Party in England is hostile to. As far as Europe is concerned Scotland’s needs stand in diametrical opposition to England’s prejudices.

No-one can doubt that the European Union has lost its way. It is centralised, undemocratic, authoritarian, financialised with a powerful central bank and an aggressive neo-con economic philosophy which protects the big battalions of industry and capital at the expense of the little people. On an optimistic note, the EU referendum on June 23rd may not be, as the Tories wish, a vote of confidence in the Conservative Party as the natural party of governance for the UK plc. Agendas, however carefully managed, have a habit of drifting when exposed to public scrutiny. What the referendum should be about, but I suspect the media in “Britain” will do their best to suppress this, is the beginning of a realisation about what has happened to Greece. The events in that country since 2008 has been the real test for the European Union and it has failed that test miserably. Greece is the name painted in red on the fortress door of financialised Europe. All of us on the periphery of Europe approach the EU like those in thirst entering a ghost town in the middle of a desert: with a well-travelled, desperate and needy caution. Once we have drunk a little we soon realise the place needs radically reformed or the entire edifice will collapse and the springs of opportunity dry up.

Artificially constructed hierarchies kill off real politics and only defer the inevitable. That is the lesson of Greece. Financial and economic imposition in order to change social structure is not a “rescue package” for the Greek people but in fact a coup d’état constructed by the “troika” of the International Monetary Fund, The European Central Bank and European Commission. We saw in Scotland in 2014 during the Independence Referendum campaign how grass roots politics can lead to huge change in the general perception of the uses and purpose of real politics and how that inspired ordinary “non-political” people. This movement is on-going however much the establishment political parties wish this self-education would get back into its didactic box. It won’t. Similarly new political energies are to be found in Italy, Spain, Portugal and, of course, Greece. The very term “politics” is from the Greek “politikos”, which roughly translates as “of, for, or relating to citizens”. For us Scots this raises the issue of our status dichotomy: are we “subjects” of the Queen in the constitutional monarchy which is “Britain”, or are we citizens of a unified, shared sovereignty, European Union? Should we in fact, as David Cameron advised Jeremy Corbyn last week, just straighten our tie and “sing the national anthem!” and forget all this European rubbish?

As much as that sounds like Tory Central Office policy for the “oiks” it cannot do for us. What we have to attempt to do is to internationalise our struggle in Scotland. As much as we crave and dream of an independent country to live in so must we work to democratise the European Union we will vote to remain in. The “troika” cannot be allowed to asphyxiate the economy of a country like Greece. Brussels cannot be allowed to dictate that elections cannot alter economic policy as decreed by Brussels. The political energy Scotland discovered in 2014 has to be transferred and built upon in the coming dangerous years. We must create a real Scottish democracy where the results of elections can and do change economic policy otherwise what is the point of democracy? We must insist upon this because if we do not how can we minimize the human cost of the unnecessary and manufactured depression we have suffered since 2009? If we do not co-join our political consciousness with those similarly liberating movements forming across Europe how can we argue convincingly against the idea put forward by both London and Brussels that there is “no alternative” to the existing economic model?

We must articulate the truth which is that those in London and Brussels who make the rules do not respect them and that they change them when things do not go their way. To counter this opaque duplicity Scotland must lend her collective voice to the greater European peoples collective voice which is calling for transparency in all departments and at all levels of the European Union, whether that be in the Parliament, the Commissioners or the Central Bank itself. Across Europe we have common problems which require common solutions. Shutting ourselves off from Europe and burying our head in the sand is not an answer to anything. Bond markets are flourishing as investment falls away. Deficit countries in the South are being bled white by profitable Northern countries. This is not a long term arrangement. This is travelling back in time. The reality is that the “troika” has come off the rails and Europe is in deep muddy trouble. The myth that this is the “only way” things can be done is part of the problem. What will history make of these past twenty years of European political affairs? Will it laugh out loud at the simplicity and stupidity of it all?

The twentieth century Greek poet George Seferis had a long, autobiographical poem in which he tries to find a human continuity in the past and present as it is preserved in the experience of the individual and in the collective cultural memory: he called it “Mythistorima”. Seferis explains,

“Mythistorima – it is its two components that made me choose the title of this work: Mythos, because I have used, clearly enough, a certain mythology; Istoria (both “history” and “story”) because I have tried to express, with some coherence, circumstances that are as independent from myself as the characters in a novel.”

The critic Kimon Friar’s translation of the title of this work, “The Myth of Our History,” suggests that the poem is the story of this shared experience, part myth and part history.
“Mythistorima” is a long powerful 24 part poem. In part 23 Seferis writes,

“A little farther
we will see the almond trees blossoming
the marble gleaming in the sun
the sea breaking into waves

a little farther,
let us rise a little higher.”

In 1963, Seferis was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature and in his acceptance speech he modestly chose rather to emphasise his own humanist philosophy rather than his strong moral and political convictions. He concluded:

“When on his way to Thebes Oedipus encountered the Sphinx, his answer to its riddle was: ‘Man’. That simple word destroyed the monster. We have many monsters to destroy. Let us think of the answer of Oedipus.”

After the coup that overthrew the Greek government in 1967, Seferis went into voluntary seclusion and many of his poems were banned, including this one, “Denial” which in 1971 the people of Athens took to the streets and sang as his funeral cortege passed through the enormous crowds,

“On the secret seashore
white like a pigeon
we thirsted at noon;
but the water was brackish.
On the golden sand
we wrote her name;
but the sea-breeze blew
and the writing vanished.
With what spirit, what heart,
what desire and passion
we lived our life: a mistake!
So we changed our life.”

Often progress can seem dismal and hope and poetry seem distant. David Cameron may force the beauty of our arguments down into the xenophobic gutter and the “British” red top press will mock them and jeer that they are the ravings of lunatics but it only proves that a successful independent Scotland is something they are terrified of: that is madness, not our reasonable aspiration. So as the European Union Referendum approaches “let us rise a little higher” so that we can see the possibilities a free and democratic Europe offers us and what we can offer to it. If history – our “mythistorima” – is to be our judge in this then let us be able to say, as Seferis could say of Greece, “So we changed our life”. As the poet said, “We have monsters to destroy”.

We are not lambs to be dazzled by the low Spring Sunshine.

Comments (14)

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  1. davie says:

    25% unemployment in Greece, 20% unemployment in Spain 10% in France.

  2. Douglas says:

    Brilliant as always George…

    …I really fear for Scotland if England votes to leave…it is the nightmare scenario and, effectively, we will be cut off from the rest of Europe.

    We had a great European tradition, but I’m afraid it has gone into decline these past 25 years or so. Young people need to reconnect with Europe, by learning European languages, it is so important that young people understand that, in Europe, England and British politics are an eccentric sideshow….nobody cares if the UK stays or goes….and they do know the difference between Scotland and England….of course they do…

    Umberto Eco, who sadly passed on the other week, rightly said that translation was the language of Europe. I saw Umberto speak at Glasgow Uni, back in the late 80’s….what would he have said about a country with our European record, which devotes not one penny to independent translators to “bring something back” from abroad? Scotland used to be at the forefront of European thought, and now it is something of an irrelevance. The SNP, I am afraid to say, are no different to Labour in that respect, they are inward, insular and parochial…they refuse to listen to Scottish artists, and insist on the Great Clutha of Creative Scotland.

    George, I don’t know if you saw that The Edwin Morgan Translation scholarship was recently announced. It awards two grants to translators working out of Scottish English, and nothing at all to Scottish translators working in the field who want to “bring something back”. What would Edwin have said about this, George? How can you expect Scotland to save itself from England – and the way to do that has always been through Europe – when nothing is done to promote a knowledge of European culture in Scotland?

  3. Paul Codd says:

    I am a European. I have been the beneficiary of European funded projects in Scotland, I have enjoyed borderless travel, I have worked and paid taxes in European countries, I have received free health care in Europe. I love Europe with a passion.
    But the EU is structurally malformed and short of surgical removal of its rotten and corrupt heart it is hard for me to imagine how any real reform is possible. The ECB, the unelected Commission, the Economic Stability Fund, all of them are structurally dysfunctional to their very core. These organisations are the heart of the EU, at the centre of its power. They ARE the European Union. While they continue to take their orders from the IMF and Goldman Sachs there is no European project worth fighting for. The Troika that destroyed Greece was not a random abomination of technocrats who have no clue, it was the intended consequence of the system.

    I love Europe but what I really love are the people of Europe, its cultures and languages, its diversity, its food. But if we voted to leave, none of those things go anywhere. Just like if Scotland leaves rUK, we don’t go anywhere and English people can continue to enjoy everything they love about Scotland and Scottish people, perhaps even more so.
    The free trade zone and borderless travel agreements are separate agreements. We can be in these and not subject to rule by the Brussels Troika, just as our neighbours in Iceland and Norway.

    1. Douglas says:

      Paul, don’t make the mistake of confusing the EU and the Eurozone – they are two different animals, and the Troika is exclusive to the Eurozone. We have a very badly designed common currency, but that has nothing to do with the referendum.

      Basically, the main issue which Euro detractors seem to be in a froth about is immigration. It doesn’t sound to me like you are of such a way of thinking.

      Of course we can reform the EU, I am absolutely sure it will happen.

      Finally, me personally, I don’t want to be like Norway or Iceland…they are countries on the periphery. I want an independent Scotland at the heart of Europe, leading the case for change.

    2. Muscleguy says:

      Sorry Paul, that is an argument from personal incredulity. Because you cannot imagine how something could be done, it cannot be. Such arguments speak only about the mind of the person making them. You are talking about things people made. What can be made can be unmade and built anew. We live on the ruins of the past and have built our houses of their stones in many cases. Bits of the cathedral and monastery can be seen in house walls in St. Andrews. Waste not, want not.

      Once the Church seemed so powerful, so inviolable. It fell very quickly when it did. The Kirk too once dominated Scotland, no more.

      In terms of what can be done I tend to defer to those who are expert in the field. Comes from being an expert myself. Life is too short to be expert on everything in this modern world. So I am reluctant to make definitive arguments like yours.

      As for the Norwegian solution. A bit part of the argument is about the lack of democratic accountability. Norway pays big time to stay where it is and has to swallow wholesale regulations it has had no input in. How is that status a solution?

      1. Crubag says:

        Norway has kept the bits it wanted where there was an advantage to going it alone and shared where benefits outweigh the disbenefits.

        It’s why they have their own fishing policy – and well managed fish stocks – for example.

        I think the Norwegian political class might even vote for the union, but I don’t think the people would.

  4. bringiton says:

    Current political “thinking” is based on the idea that people are simply commodities to be bought and sold/dicarded like any other.
    This creates the culture of elitism exhibited by England’s Tories and further afield in the EU and elsewhere.
    This sad state of affairs has been brought about by media manipulation of those who can be fooled all of the time into thinking that this is a good idea and that there is no alternative.
    Perhaps,once the printed media finally expires and people begin to see how they are being manipulated by organisations like the BBC,we can start to bring back a system where people count and not global corporate profits.

  5. LesRoches says:

    I live in France which is a republic within a European Union. The standard of living is better and fairer to what my birth country currently has. I want my fellow Scots to have the same and take its rightful place beside other confident nation states that converge to be stronger and not isolationist, imperialist or elitist. Rich people exist in France but progressive taxation on wealth and land means they pay more for privilege to help the less well off. The complete opposite to what the Union, The City of London and Westminster impose north of Watford and west of Devizes.
    Do not be fooled by this so called European debate, this all about London and the City. I know that the EU needs dramatic reform, but if London’s power is unchecked, poverty and protection for everyone else will reach new depths which even our grandparents could not have imagined.

  6. Michele Fox says:

    My goodness – for a moment my stupid heart lifted and I thought this article was going to be about the immense cruelty inflicted upon farmed animals and the hope of a better world for all – environmentally, morally, healthwise, and so on, on a plant-based diet. More fool me.

  7. George Gunn says:

    Well, Michele, you are right, in a way: it is about cruelty to animals – human animals. Everything is connected and a more enlightened attitude to animal and plant welfare is vital if any political system is to progress. I’ll give the lambs your love next time I see them.

    Douglas, yes, I was always inspired by Edwin Morgan and I wish we had a more, direct link to modern European poetry, literature in general. As you say, that has always been Scotland’s strength in literature. Douglas’s translation of Virgil, for example.

    Norway and Iceland are not on the periphery. Both are progressive and affluent democracies but the EU has a direct effect on them as well. The world is to inter-connected to be “out” of anything.

  8. Crubag says:

    “sing the national anthem!”

    The UK or the EU one? Both tunes are German in origin…

    But as with other BC articles on the subject, this one seems to be more about the Tories than the reality of the Union.

    Try a simple test, one very relevant to Caithness: is fisheries policy better under Scottish control, or UK or EU control?

  9. George Gunn says:

    Crubag, it is the Tories who are creating this false debate about the EU. They are the party in power in Westminster. An independent Scotland would negotiate a policy for fishing within the EU that was good for our fishing fleet and the environment. At the moment we are represented by people who use fishing as a bargaining chip for other issues, such as cash for huge farms in England. It is the Union with England that is restricting Scotlands development. West Caithness and all of Sutherlabd remains empty of people for a reason. Objective One status for the Highlands, while it lasted, did improve roads and other infrastructure but as it stands we are grossly underdeveloped in a way that encourages and benefits ordinary people and not landowners and power companies.

  10. Crubag says:

    A condition of Scottish entry to the Union will be to follow the common fisheries policy. It’s a non-negotiable, the same as the common agricultural policy. It’s one reason why Norway and Iceland haven’t become unionists

    A commitment to joining the euro is also required, but more easily fudged as with Sweden, because you can manage your own currency in such a way that it doesn’t meet the tests.

    As for Objective 1, H&I no longer qualifies as it is too wealthy following the accession of the new eastern EU members. Agricultural subsidies are declining for the same readon.

  11. Alf Baird says:

    Nae point in remaining in any union that disnae really want us, far less respect us, and that goes for both the EU and the UK. Scotland has been used by both as an expendable pawn for donkeys years.

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