Do you remember that? Do you recall seeing that sentiment – and those like it – espoused by Scottish nationalists the length and breadth of this little region? In town halls, churches, on the streets and on the bloody doorsteps. Ordinary people from all walks of life taking the plunge and risking raising their heads above the parapet to advocate for something better for themselves, for their families, for their communities. For the vulnerable and those who have not the means to stand up for themselves.
‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’
There was something in those words that struck a chord with many. A sentiment that forced people to rise above the petty trivialities of the day and to look beyond the now to the what could be if we made it come to pass. The ideals in those words were not boastful, cloaked in paper-thin patriotic drivel, or filled with egotistical penis waving – they held within them the flickering flame of inspiration and hope. That we, this rubbish wee region, filled with all our self-esteem issues, our bigotry, our almost primitive need to drag our own people down who dared to attempt to raise us up – we could be better. We could improve. We could take stock of our failings, our cynicism, our parochialism, our adoption of the romantic nationalism foisted upon us by external forces – and we could improve.
Not just for ourselves but for a world in dire need of a bit of progress, a bit of hope.
Of course there are many even within the Yes camp (what remains of it) that’d baulk at that last sentiment. Getting above ourselves. Our reach exceeding our grasp. Independence shouldn’t be about those lofty, idealistic, grandiose ideas – it should be about flags and bridges and some other gossamer pish.
And then, of course, you have the hardcore unionists, holed up in Ruth Davidson’s Fortress of British Patriotism who stare at such ideals as a mouse would the owner manual for a 1962 Chevrolet Impala. To them the notion that Scotland can be anything but a lackey to British identity and interests is utterly alien. We should not get above ourselves.
And that leads us, with sadness and a sense of melancholy, to where we are.
Throughout the referendum and the aftermath much was made by many about the need, the demand, for an alternative media. The BBC was not fit for purpose and much of the papers were little more than pamphlets distributed on behalf of the Scottish Labour & Conservative Party. We need new voices. We needed our voices amplified. We needed people to give the public what they were not getting. The void of intelligent discussion needed filled or the mechanisms of unionism would crush the spirit of the referendum for good.
Bella Caledonia has been one of the most prominent platforms to emerge from the independence referendum and over the years has provided so many with a stage from which they have launched themselves. People got themselves a ‘name’ in no small part to the site and some have gone on to do quite well for themselves.
That is not to say that the site has been without its flaws. Pretentiousness pervaded some of its output and there was a smugness, a superiority that emanated from the site which I for one felt counter-productive to its aims. Yet contained within those negative qualities were good intentions and while the path to Hell may be paved with them, Bella’s led in the opposite direction – to the same place many who denounced the site wanted to go themselves.
Mike Small opened up recently about the mental toll that running the site takes and how it affected him a while ago. It was enough to make him consider giving it all up, packing it in and retreating from the hostility. I’m not above stating that I was one of those who, upon seeing Mike’s original statement about packing up, felt it was nothing more than an overly-dramatic flounce the likes of which article recycling expert David Torrance has perfected.
I never once considered the person.
It didn’t cross my mind that this was a genuine plea from someone experiencing difficulties. Like many I’d been put off by some of the content at that time and thus this justified my own lack of empathy. Bella was too up itself. F**k Bella. Mike brought it on himself, frankly. So much for living in the early days of a better nation, eh? Consumed with irritation and anger at a series of views only minutely different from those I held in regards to indy I resorted to displaying indifference and even pleasure at the thought of Bella packing it up (as many others did and as many more still do to this day).
It is shameful to think of that. To realise I was so sure of my own narrow view I could be absorbed by such utter pettiness. To be so deep in the Twitter bubble of independence nonsense that I couldn’t even bother to look in a mirror and see how close-minded I had become.
Stepping outside the noise of the internet is good for the soul. Time to think without distraction. Time to reflect without getting bogged down by minutia that nobody much cares about and which will be forgotten in a week’s time.
For all of the independence movements proclamations of a need for alternative media, I look at the response to Bella’s recent crowdfunder and I despair. It has been apparent as the years since the indyref have worn on that what the hardcore and vocal sections of the Yes movement want is not a diverse alternative media that offers platforms and space to explore ideas and opinions – they want ammunition to fire into the ‘Yoons’. A realm fuelled by rage and conspiratorial corkboards, where traitors lurk in every corner who are ready to pounce and ‘do Scotland down’. And where, still to this day, legitimate criticism of the SNP is greeted with the braying sheepish sound of ‘that’s just SNP BAAAAAAD’.
Did you hear that? Oh, it was nothing. We’re just sweeping some things under this here rug. Nothing to see. On an unrelated topic – have you ever worked for BBC Scotland or do you know anyone who might have? Does anyone you know know someone else who might have had an internship at some point? Why am I writing this down? Oh, no reason. Absolutely no reason at all.
We all agree the Brexit referendum was one of hatred, paranoia, bigotry and bullshit – so why is our movement seemingly overflowing with the very same? Oh, right. Different flags so different rules. Or something.
If we are to be better than we currently are, if we are to rise above our shite and showcase a vision of this country that inspires the people enough to vote for it then we have do more than just pay lip service to those ideals. We have to support them.
We must be more than echo chambers and zealotry. We must give room to other opinions which may challenge our own not just reinforce everything we already believe (over and over and over again). We must not dismiss thoughtful explorations of what we could be merely because they don’t provide social media grenades we can chuck at ‘Yoons’. We have to realise that the only way, the only way we stand a chance next time is to have established alternative media, funded and supported, to speak to the masses, offering them something they will not get from our beloved state broadcaster.
Bella Caledonia is planning to expand the scope of its operation and do more with the platform it has. Thus providing (paid) opportunities for artists, filmakers, writers and creatives to create work that wouldn’t be touched by the gatekeepers of the Scottish mainstream. Scotland is a dire place for anyone trying to make something if they aren’t already in the embrace of the Edinburgh artist circle-jerk (ask any working-class artists in Dundee or Glasgow). Those agencies tasked with developing and nurturing talent are more interested in getting their name plastered onto something which has already been shown recognition. They have no desire to invest in material that has anything worthy to say, anything honest to say, anything that can’t be packaged into a bloody Visit Scotland advert or boasted about around a posh restaurant when the London elite venture north for the Festival.
We cannot bemoan our whimpering culture if we sit back and let those who are trying to do something about – those are trying to provide opportunities for people to make things and get paid for it – fade away because they had the audacity to offer a selection of prayer books instead of just the one tired hymn sheet.
If you have benefited from Bella in the past, if you hold any belief that we can be better than we bloody are, if you accept that sometimes people will write things you don’t like but that doesn’t make them traitors to the cause, if you believe in keeping a platform afloat that has been quintessential to the cultural expression of the independence movement, and if you desire to see the sum of who we are expressed in more than just a saltire and a bloody unicorn then considering donating to Bella’s fundraiser.
Chuck in a quid, a fiver, a tenner – whatever you can spare because once Bella is gone it is gone and our collective voice becomes that little bit quieter and even less powerful. Strength in diversity – without it we diminish ourselves.
Consider showing the people of this country that when we say we can be better than what we are that we f**ing mean it.
*No offensive intended to Unicorn Enthusiasts. We all have our vices.
We can’t continue without more of our readers supporting us.
The money will go towards developing Bella as a platform for writers, filmmakers and artists, something that no-one else is doing in Scotland.