2007 - 2020

Take Me to Abaton


“Abaton (from the Greek a, not; baino, I go), a town of changing location. Though not inaccessible, no one has ever reached it and visitors headed for Abaton have been known to wander for many years without even catching a glimpse of the town. Certain travelers, however, have seen it rising slightly above the horizon, especially at dusk. While to some the sight has caused great rejoicing, others have been moved to terrible sorrow without any certain cause. The interior of Abaton has never been described, but the walls and towers are said to be light blue or white or, according to other travellers, fiery red. Sir Thomas Bulfinch, who saw the outline of Abaton when traveling through Scotland from Glasgow to Troon, described the walls as yellowish and mentioned a distant music, somewhat like that of a harpsichord, coming from behind the gates; but this seems unlikely.”
–  from My Heart’s in the Highlands, Edinburgh 1892

As we glide (dis) gracefully from one phase of this Memetic, hyper-normalised dystopia to another, Scotland’s odd status feels like Abaton: a place and a space blinking in and out of existence.
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We are borderless, seamless according to Jackson Carlaw who wrote:
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“It is ridiculous to suggest Nicola Sturgeon could close the border. There is no border – we are one United Kingdom.”
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Without definition you don’t exist.
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The recurring thread of Unionist thinking from 2014 and well before is that Scotland doesn’t exist in any meaningful way. The well worn and famous phrase of the campaign from Lord George Robertson is worth remembering: “There is no linguistic differentiation, no great cultural discrimination, that might argue for independence like it does in some other countries. In Flanders or Belgium, or Catalonia and Spain they say they want to become an independent state. But they’ve got language and culture … we don’t have any of that here.”
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‘You don’t have a culture.’ ‘You don’t really exist’ are two of the strongest arguments in the armoury of an increasingly beleaguered Union, whose old baubles and icons of unity: the Monarchy and the Palace of Westminster, are not so much tarnished and discredited as broken.
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The deep irony is that having sold-off and privatised many of the institutions that might act as a bond of ‘Britishness’, the Conservative and Unionists are now dependent on our support for the National Health Service, an institution they have derided and undermined for years.
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The queue for writers to quash any perceived differentiation has been a long and consistent one, it may stretch even longer than that of those claiming, remarkably, that the coronavirus experience has destroyed the case for independence. Sure, the differences in culture and society can be over-emphasised, as a global culture unites people in different countries. But to deny any difference at all is a sign of desperation.
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And the strident calls for unity and borderless nations strikes an odd note with the stench of English nationalism still in the air after the debacle of Brexit still lingers with its toxic xenophobia and exceptionalism.
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This is a new level of Morbid Unionism, in which the task must be to cleave to the entity of ‘Britain’ muttering “UK:OK” even if it means, literally, a higher death rate. Any divergence from the Mothership cannot be tolerated or even considered. This is Britain as the Borg cube. Resistance is futile. As the British governments response to pandemic is revealed to be what can only be described as criminally negligent leading to thousands of avoidable deaths, the Unionists response is to revert to a default position of fealty and deference and to demand the same of others.
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As we descend into further crisis, the Prime Ministers response is a sort of confident bonhomie mixed with some Churchillian rhetoric. It’s Trump without the bleach.
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In this crisis its essential not just to reiterate “we exist” but also that we have agency and we will act – in self-defence – as we need to. Sturgeon has been scrupulous in trying to NOT make party political advantage out of this. She has been – rightly in my opinion – careful to try and be as co-operative as possible with the British government. She, like the rest of us, is making it up as she goes along. She, like the rest of us, has never had to cope with this situation before. She has said: “My only interest right now is to fight this virus, and anyone who is trying to use the immediate challenges we are facing, or trying to twist what I am saying … will not find me willing to play ball.”
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But as the mishandling of the crisis spools out through the cracks in a pliant jingoistic media, the pressure for her and Scotland to take a different path increases dramatically, whatever the political cost.
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For the geographically curious, the border between England and Scotland runs for 96 miles between Marshall Meadows Bay on the east coast and the Solway Firth in the west.
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It exists.
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Liminal Land
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All of this, stating the obvious, is a pity.
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Scotland has for a long time been in a liminal state, halfway through a transformative ritual – neither what we were previously, nor what we are to become.  The tensions a country can experience when it is at a threshold of choice are what we’ve all been going through for the last thirty years or more. But this national conversation, this constitutional moment has now been deepened with the rupture of the virus experience. As the philosopher Richard Rohr writes:


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“Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways. It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next. We usually enter liminal space when our former way of being is challenged or changed—perhaps when we lose a job or a loved one, during illness, at the birth of a child, or a major relocation. It is a graced time, but often does not feel “graced” in any way. In such space, we are not certain or in control. This global pandemic we now face is an example of an immense, collective liminal space.…In liminal space we sometimes need to not-do and not-perform according to our usual successful patterns. We actually need to fail abruptly and deliberately falter to understand other dimensions of life. We need to be silent instead of speaking, experience emptiness instead of fullness, anonymity instead of persona, and pennilessness instead of plenty. In liminal space, we descend and intentionally do not come back out or up immediately. It takes time but this experience can help us re-enter the world with freedom and new, creative approaches to life.”
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Our ability to “begin to think and act in new ways” will be crucial, and this is not just a case of looking to our leaders, it is down to all of us, it is a community and a societal challenge.
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The opportunities in this liminality are endless but must be cultivated. There is the chance to emerge from the lockdown freer and more appreciative of each other and the sort of society we can create. Coming out of the lockdown must mean coming out the Union, but it must mean much more than that.
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All the signs are that the crisis is worse than we are being led to believe. The FT today suggests that the the data indicates that the Coronavirus deaths are more than twice the hospital toll.
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Those advocating a public inquiry haven’t grasped the scale of the predicament. The idea that we replace the British state with the Scottish state, British capital with Scottish capital and business as usual with business as usual with a saltire, isn’t good enough. It never was. The idea that we replace rampant inequality with Lion Rampant inequality and that we fail to use this opportunity to remould our economy into an ecologically viable one, is now just unthinkable.
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We need this to be an epiphany, somewhere between Gunn’s Atom of Delight and Robertson’s Republic of the Mind. As we settle in our new interior world and worry about the past, we must look to the exterior and plan our future.
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We must not allow this future to remain like Abaton, an unreachable destination.

 

 

Image from Tropenmuseum, the Imagined Places exhibition.

 

 

Comments (28)

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  1. Dougie Harrison says:

    Mike, you aren’t always able to make me gasp in wonder that such fine journalism exists… but you manage it on occasion. If newspaper editors aren’t begging you to be able to print this, in a sane world they would be doing so. This is the sort of writing which can help change the world for the better. Thank you.

    Dougie Harrison

    1. Och Dougie that’s very kind of you.

      1. Daniel Raphael says:

        As you bask in the glow of that well-deserved plaudit, I am pleased to announce, “The check is in the mail.” Trump’s pittance to the unworthy likes of yours truly arrived, to be immediately distributed by me to need/ful worthy assemblages and projects. That, needless to belabor, includes the gem of Scotland, Bella Caledonia. Please continue!

  2. Robbie says:

    Mike I cannot add anything to Dougie,s reply, I,m an old y but your posts fill me with hope for Scotland and it’s people, God bless.

  3. Jell says:

    It “is down to all of us, it is a community and a societal challenge.”

    “”The idea that we replace the British state with the Scottish state, British capital with Scottish capital and business as usual with business as usual with a saltire, isn’t good enough. It never was. The idea that we replace rampant inequality with Lion Rampant inequality and that we fail to use this opportunity to remould our economy into an ecologically viable one, is now just unthinkable.”

    These words should be on a Banner of Declaration.

  4. squigglypen says:

    What a well written article!
    My only comment at this time to Carlaw is….We need a border so we can check for princes who skelp up to the highlands and then mysteriously develop the virus and hide in our fair land.
    ( I’m such a kill joy)

  5. Dougie Blackwood says:

    This piece just about nails it.

    We need an independent Scotland so that we do things differently. The idea that drones working hard and existing on both minimum wages and the handouts from foodbanks to support the elite in our society, in patronising comfort, is Westminster’s way; it is not my way.

  6. Julian Smith says:

    Great piece of writing, Mike. One of several I’ve read recently in Bella. Thank you.

    1. Thanks Julian, glad you liked it, we will keep going as long as we can.

  7. James Mills says:

    As others have said more eloquently than me – excellent work , Mike !

    There is a suggestion going round that in this crisis , due to falling sales of ‘newspapers’ ( aka propaganda sheets ), that the Scottish Government is being asked to consider some form of subsidy/bailout for them .
    I do hope that this is NOT true but rather Trump/Fake news as the last thing we in this country should be doing is propping up the very institutions that would see us remain servile to our larger neighbour .

    If any Government subsidies are warranted for media outlets it should be for sites like this , not because it favours Independence as I do , but because it presents a broad range of opinion ( some of which I completely disagree with ),covers a breadth of topics , is generally entertaining , treats its readers as grown ups and has a very lively comments section which is often even more informative than the articles being digested .

    Well done , Mike !

    1. Thanks James (!)

      Agree with you about our comments section, and we do try and present challenging opinions and analysis. There’s literally no point in sites where everyone just agrees and everyones existing opinions are confirmed.

      The crisis of newspapers is very real and we will see what happens next. There is a real opportunity for supporting a better media.

  8. SleepingDog says:

    154.5 km, to use non-imperial units of measurement. Talking of distance, space, limits, dimensions, signs: perhaps changing all Scottish road signs to metric distances and speeds would create a border that imperialists could hardly fail to recognize…

    1. J Galt says:

      The units of measurement were there long before Empire.

  9. Carol says:

    Hello Mike, I have come across your article through the kind act of sharing by my kindred bro,
    Pat Kane.
    Love to him, you and ALL. x
    My words here are different to the many.
    I have followed the vision of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek since the sixties with human hope of that future with an “Allness” for humanity. (Yes, I am a Trekkie)
    This is an excellent article and your reference to the BORG – ONENESS, is spot on!
    I leave a gift, sang from my soul (gut feeling) in poetic form written many years ago when Scotland was held in Assimilation” with – “The Vow”!
    EPISODE TWO – INDYREF TWO
    SLOW AND STEADY WINS THE RACE
    The warning from Nicola
    To the PURRING BORG QUEEN
    Gave us all hope
    For a new Scottish dream
    A FAIRNESS for people
    Never heard of before
    As we get OUR FREEDOM
    Through an INDYREF door……….

    Nicola stood with two arms folded tight
    She knew in her heart this could lead to a fight
    The silence was deafening as they waited to hear
    A response from the CUBE that was out there so near

    “CAPTAIN THE SCREEN” Came a voice by her side
    She looked up to see her eyes opened wide
    What a sight for sore eyes a new BORG had appeared
    Looking at him it was worse than she feared.
    “I’M BROWN GORD ON BORG QUEEN IS ONE I AM TWO”
    A red beam from his eye told you this fact was true
    “RESISTANCE IS FUTILE YOU MUST ALL BE ONE NOW
    WE WILL GRANT YOU MORE POWER WE WILL CALL IT THE VOW”

    Patrick Harvie spun round on his seat and said clear
    “There’s a build- up of power at WARP FACTOR FEAR”
    A loud bang was heard a TRACTOR BEAM had locked on
    He finished his sentence “Captain ALL HOPE IS GONE”
    Then Elaine C. Smith In her broad Scottish tongue
    Said to the BORG figure “D’YE KNOW WHIT YIV DUN
    BRING OOT YER WEAPONS AN WE’LL GIE YE A FIGHT
    YER NAMED WI TRUE COLOURS FUR YER JUST A BIG SH**E”!!!

    “RIGHT” spoke out Nicola” I’ll take it from here
    We’re not fooled by your VOW and I say it CLEAR
    It is our intention to get rid of YOU
    Maybe not this time but INDYREF TWO!!

    Our Scottish sister Nicola Sturgeon is the captain to follow in more ways than ONE.
    “Make IT so” (Independence Time)
    Allness
    Love to All
    Carol. x

  10. Jim Stamper says:

    This article amazed me. On reading part of the quote from Richard Rhor “We need to be silent instead of speaking, experience emptiness instead of fullness, anonymity instead of persona, and pennilessness instead of plenty. In liminal space, we descend and intentionally do not come back out or up immediately. ” it reflected exactly how I had felt (excluding, luckily for me, the pennilessness) over the past few weeks – but hadn’t analysed it until I read this and felt relief that I was not alone or particularly at fault. The quote continues “It takes time but this experience can help us re-enter the world with freedom and new, creative approaches to life.” I very much hope people will turn away from valuing possessions and instead value caring both for people and the environment.

    1. Interpolar says:

      Richard Rohr is a fine thinker, and this quote has been captured in a fine and thoughtful article. Obviously, I agree with the assessment of those above, so yet again, Mike, thank you for your writing.

    2. Thanks Jim. No you are not alone. Nor at fault. Many people living in both fear and hope.

  11. Liz says:

    Wonderful article. I couldn’t agree more with the sentiment. I’m up for playing my part.

  12. Kevin Hattie says:

    “The idea that we replace the British state with the Scottish state, British capital with Scottish capital and business as usual with business as usual with a saltire, isn’t good enough. It never was. The idea that we replace rampant inequality with Lion Rampant inequality and that we fail to use this opportunity to remould our economy into an ecologically viable one, is now just unthinkable.”

    The part of your article I have quoted above really stands out to me. Earlier this morning I was reading an essay on the online magazine, Aeon, by the political philosopher Jonathan Wolff. It was an essay exploring the lessons we can learn from 20th century history and the rise of Fascism in Italy, Germany and sympathetic movements here in the United Kingdom. There are certainly parallels between some of the sentiment we have seen from the Trump administration and supporter-base, as well as the rise of British Nationalism in the wake of Brexit, and the Fascist movements of the early 20th century. But I think the writer failed to appreciate how Trump, Brexit and other worrying elements of our world are the result of failures on the part of the Liberal institutions that he believes we ought to defend. If we wish to avoid cyclical slides into Fascism, we have to ensure that the social conditions in which Fascism seems to thrive are not ever-present.

    If we want to live in a different society after independence, we have to make sure we don’t simply mirror the UK on a smaller scale. The economic and political institutions in the UK have left people feeling powerless and disenfranchised. A Scottish oligarchy is no more desirable than an English one. If we adopt a “business as usual” approach, we’ll see poisonous ideologies flourish in our own society. We can and must do so much better.

    1. Ian Caldwell says:

      My desire is to achieve the unconditional right of self-determination for my country. When this happens, I’ll leave it up to the people of my country to decide what kind of Government they want whether I agree with them or not.

      Those who would support self-determination, but only if it favours their particular brand of politics, are every bit the enemy of self-determination as British unionists are.

  13. Wul says:

    Brilliant writing! Thank you.

    This North British subject is very much up for working to live in a real, actual country. We will make it very clear to people like Jackson Carlaw that Scotland is indeed a place. It exists. How dare that used car salesman draw a Scottish Parliament wage and simultaneously tell me that Scotland doesn’t exist!

    I signed up last night to volunteer with Common Weal for action after the lockdown. They seem to be one of the few outfits that have actual plans and policies that don’t include a life of serfdom for my weans.

  14. Richard Easson says:

    It’s almost worth imagining that Scotland does not exist just to assume the corollary , that England and anything mentioning England does not exist also.

  15. Kenneth G Coutts says:

    Phew! Thoughtfull piece.
    Cuts through all the crap we’ve been fed to date.
    Politics didn’t end with this virus, it’s the beginning
    We must be ready to take our new way forwards,
    No , demand it!
    Superb ! Mike.
    Regards

  16. Josef Ó Luain says:

    Take me to Abalon, where the the streets are paved with unobtanium. (Gunnite neologism.)

  17. Yong Grum says:

    this web site is my breathing in, rattling wonderful design and perfect content material.

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