September 14

Following on from Charlottesville Magi Gibson has written this anti-fascist poem remembering the events of George Square the day after the Independence Referendum.

She writes about “being an eyewitness – indeed standing right next to – what unfolded there both when and after the Unionists arrived to celebrate their victory in the square. I was there by total chance, but stayed on to bear witness. Right up to the kettling into Buchanan Street by the mounted police.”

Her new book ‘Washing Hugh MacDiarmids Socks’ is out now by Luath.

Today – Tuesday 22nd August 3.30 – 4.45pm she appears with political cartoonist Greg Moodie, at The Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Street, Edinburgh to discuss how different art forms are used to deliver a political punch.

September 2014

A still September evening, we spill
from Queen Street Station, down
sun-streaked steps to George Square

where sad clumps of lads and lassies
wreathed in Saltires and tartan sit scattered,
grieving the death of their dream of a better nation.

One lad strums a battered guitar,
plastered with stickers curled at the edges,
Yes We Can, Forever Aye, Saor Alba.

In tiny kilts and tammies girls with tear-stained faces
hug and hum along, when suddenly the air vibrates,
a cavalcade of honking horns, a roisterous parade

of cars and vans revs up in a flap
of massive Union Jacks. Shouts and yells
crack the air. A crowd on foot invades the square

as if someone unseen somewhere has fired
a starting gun. Mums, dads, grannies all come
streaming in. Babies in buggies. And lo!

Britannia herself! Breasts high in a scarlet bra,
a swirling skirt of ribbons, red, white, blue, swirling
round her spray-tanned thighs. And women, waving

voddie bottles, singing like a choir of Furies
Ye can stick yer independence up yer arse!
And trickling through their midst, young bloods,

cans in fists, unfurling Union Jacks, the Red
Hand of Ulster, the Cross of St George.
The early evening sun’s still bright, but

shadows fall. A chill. We stand stock still.
Yet feel as if we’re slowly
sliding somewhere we don’t want to go.

Fists punch the air. The referendum victory’s theirs
and now they want the square. But that’s not all.
Men swarm around a statue, clamber up

its sides, neck veins bulge, forearms thrust,
faces gargoyle as they form a seething mass
Rule Britannia, Britannia Rules the Waves.

Capricious as cells splintering from a cancer clump,
random as sparks from a raging blaze, some lads
split from its seething edge. One singles out

a kilted lass, spits in her face, struts off, pleased
as a playground thug. Another shoves
a blonde girl to the ground, wrests her Saltire

from her hand, sneers at his mate, sets
the flag alight. They laugh. The ‘Yes’ kids don’t
retaliate. Defiantly they sing their Flower of Scotland

requiem, mill around, confused. Union families drift off home,
robbed of their celebration by their own.
Police arrive on horseback. Define a thin blue line.

A neo-fascist lights a flare. A flash of luminescent green.
Ejaculate of hate. The hydra-headed gargoyle vents its spleen
in vomit flame and battle screams. And we stand quietly,

wondering: Are these the Unionists who won the vote?
Or fascists spoiling for a fight?
These men who scream as if some primal fear’s

been stamped into their brain at birth, coded
in their DNA, as if afraid that all they have might
suddenly be snatched away if they don’t fight fight fight.

Or is it boredom’s pulled the pin from the grenade
of thwarted masculinity? Are they so tired of being bossed
around, being constantly ground down

by humdrum mind-numb jobs they cannot stand?
While in this fascist brother-band they find
a place to flex their biceps, beat their chests, wield a club,

a gun, a knife, an iron bar, say I am Warrior!
Just then their voices rise as one –
God Save Our Gracious Queen!

The Hydra they’ve become roars and rears,
but makes no move to charge. And we stand
where we always will, staring fascists down.

Knowing them for what they are. Little men
who measure out their lives in lager cans of fear
and hate, desperate to be no longer small,

unheard, unseen. No longer impotent and bored.
And just for this one moment, not easily ignored.




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Comments (11)

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  1. Valerie says:

    Brilliant. Very evocative.

    The range of pics from that night are absolutely disgusting.

  2. George Gunn says:

    “boredom’s pulled the pin from the grenade”
    brilliant poem, Magi, capturing a sad night. There will be better mornings coming.

  3. Gordon bradley says:

    I’m English. I live in England.
    We certainly do not want these screeching, strutting, flag-waving subnormals anywhere near us !

  4. Ellen MacPhee says:

    A wonderful, gut wrenching poem – that brings back that awful sight in George Square and the memory of the victors shouting “No Surrender!” My heart sank with disappointment and fear when I witnessed their sheer hatred of the Independence supporters.

  5. yvonne Dalziel says:

    Brilliant poem Magi – I wasn’t there but feel as if I was – can feel the hatred and the triumph in the words – what did the flag wavers win?

  6. Doug Leighton says:

    Stereotypes abound. All the yes voters are young, fresh, guitar strummy, (and glum).
    All the no folk are swirling triumphal furies, voddi swiggers. This is the rag tag of the deplorables, the Orange order of bigots, the raggle-taggle mob of self-harming favourers of the comfort of accustomed squalor. The standard bearers of a regressive status quo.
    Anti-fascist is good.
    The problem I have is that the No vote was not, in the greater part, such screaming sirens and shit kicking riff-raff. The No voters were the unseen, the douce, the reserved of villa land, the Sunday besters, the C of S congregationals. They were the bourgeois silent influencers that assiduously avoid such unseemly rabbling or gestures. They are Gramsci’s good folk with good intentions.
    ” This is the dominant hegemony – the prevailing cultural values that protect the economic status quo by shaping popular perceptions of what is “normal”, “inevitable” or “common sense” (the status quo) and what isn’t (any meaningful challenge to the status quo.)
    This rabble are victims too. Best to know who the enemy really is.

    1. The poem is specific to an actual event

      1. IDL says:

        Yes, I know. But does it identify something unknown or otherwise unseen, and important, by its close focus on some event? ? Is the poetic insight valid?
        The novelty of verse form is not enough and does not confer particular value, any more than other forms. Its only validity is in expressing something which is generally inaccessible to other forms.
        Ok let me say I am sympathetic in general. The No vote was a disappointment but identifying the nay sayers as some rag tag of crowing, alcohol deranged unionist demi-monde is essentially bourgeois, patronising and is a mistake.

        1. I think you are generally right in that identifying No voters in that light would be a mistake, there is also an issue of the Loyalist riot being airbrushed into history. Gaby Hinsliff recently did this in the Guardian, as have many others. It’s important to recognise the violence of British nationalism in this instance, whilst not generalising it to the wider No vote.

        2. Magi Gibson says:

          Where someone else might reach for a camera, I witness an event, experience it, and if it touches me deeply in some way, as this event did, then I write the poem. I’d like to clarify a few things. Firstly that there never was any suggestion in the poem that those who arrived in George Square were in any way representative of No voters across Scotland as whole. You really think No voters as a rule have St George’s Crosses and the Red Hand of Ulster? I certainly don’t. That’s a clue as to who some of these people were. Secondly, their arrival was bizarrely orchestrated “as if someone unseen somewhere had fired a starting gun”. Ordinary No voters don’t behave like that either. Later come the lines, / Union families drift off home / robbed of their celebration by their own. This makes it clear that many No voters who’d turned up couldn’t stomach what was happening. And even further on in the poem I question: /Are these the Unionists who won the vote? / Or fascists spoiling for a fight?. All of these lines in the poem are leading the reader further and further away from any idea that these are ordinary everyday No voters out to celebrate victory. Indeed, by the end of the poem I’m calling the men causing trouble out for what they are – fascists. And fascists who are not fighting for a cause at all, but because of some need to belong to a band – any band – and to prove something to themselves. But on the way to that I find myself trying to understand what sickness in society has brought them to this point. So the compassion is there. But ultimately fascism has to be named and has to be challenged wherever it is seen.

  7. Bibbit says:

    My daughter was walking home that night, to her student hall. Her walk would normally take her through George Square but on the way to the square two men, running away from the square, wearing YES badges, stopped her.

    They’d seen her YES satchel which I had given to her when I had been out canvassing for YES.

    They told her not to go into George Square, as British nationalists were chasing and beating up anyone they saw with YES stickers or a Scottish Saltire, including women.

    My daughter (18 at the time) took their advice and went home by another way.

    Scotland, too, will get home by another way.

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