Stories from a Nation in the Making
I am gratified someone wrote a book describing some of the cultural components of the 2014 Referendum campaign, because that was what the referendum was about for me. Summer of Independence by Andrew Redmond Barr, not only carries this out, but records the oomph and ardour created by National Collective.
The history of the independence movement since the Second World War to date is covered in six pages, and this allows Andrew to place National Collective in ‘a long thread of troublemakers’, listing the era as composed of ‘Wendy Wood … Hugh MacDiarmid … the four Glasgow students, led by Ian Hamilton, who in 1950 took the Stone of Destiny’ and linking directly to ‘unaligned organisations like National Collective’. It gave me cause for pause and I wondered if National Collective were as significant as those others.
Having read the book, and having over the last few years appreciated the effect the National Collective had, I will agree with Andrew Redmond Barr that it deserves his place. I say this because people still talk about the National Collective, and from it a stream of indy based media continues to flow.
National Collective was many things, but it was probably never built to last. The introduction for most of us to the Collective was a sleek website with slogans and articles from many first time bloggers, sharing their thoughts, experiences and hopes.
After that, National Collective could be traced through social media to an increasingly broad range of public events. There remained however a core group of brain-stormers and campaigners, and Andrew Redmond Barr was one of them.
Many of the ideas from National Collective caught on as naturally as if they had always been there. Most potent were the hand held placards that visitors to their events were photographed with – – placards that read I AM NATIONAL COLLECTIVE.
For the majority of Scots following the referendum on social media the ongoing photographs were a first-hand sign of the swell in feeling for the years up to 2014. Although the Collective were rarely reported on by larger media, including the BBC – – who Barr complained to at one point, he writes – – National Collective touched more hearts and minds than any other cultural movement of the time.
In fact, I do not think that anybody began to appreciate National Collective’s reach until it had gone. After all it was a group that was able to communicate well, and generally in a few words, or with an image and idea – – ideal for our online selves and for those who were for whatever reason not to be found stepping out to cultural meetings of an evening.
The On The Road section of Summer of Independence tells the tales of the National Collective’s trip around Scotland, and fun as it is, the strength of the Collective was probably somewhere nebulous online, or at the back of our minds. Having little time for party politics and less understanding of economics, during the referendum I sought out the cultural equivalent during the debate, and the National Collective somehow provided that across the country, everywhere and nowhere at once.
“The fundamental argument for independence is the cultural argument,” Alan Riach explains in Summer of Independence, and I am with him. “All of these things about the economics have to be worked out, and all the pedantic details about how you organise trade, and how you organise society, all of these things have to be worked out sober. But without the cultural argument, without the imagination, without what the imagination does, what’s the point?”
I think ‘what’s the point’ indeed, and although Andrew Barr is polite enough not to bemoan the lack of cultural discussion, Alan Riach’s point is spot on.
The Summer is over for now (cue the Autumn of Independence!) during which we watch the UK slowly fall apart. Independence will come and although it won’t be the same, the fight has been proved possible, worthwhile and energising by National Collective.
This is because it is only artists that can tell us this – – while it is politicians that sit in parliament, it’s artists that we believe in.