Them and Us: A Perspective

Them and Us: A Perspective – FROM THE PROVINCE OF THE CAT by George Gunn

At the end of H.G Wells novel, “The War of The Worlds”, the Martian invaders are not defeated by brute military force or by state-of-the art technology but by germs and viruses. Against these Planet Earth pathogens the space invaders have no defence. When Wells novel was first published in 1898 the British imperial project of Empire and world domination was at its height. What Wells tapped into was the underlying anxiety which eats away at the heart of all power structures when they have reached a zenith.

Historically this fear is both suppressed and encouraged by the power elite in order for it to work to their advantage. The Empire must promote itself as the natural state of the world and to advocate that the dominance of trade by military means to the benefit of the few is in fact the best and only set of circumstances there can possibly be, and that all the subjected peoples and countries are liberated from their local limitations and can benefit by being part of the infinitely greater good of the Empire. This is the Marcus Aurelius principle. On the other side of this delusion the imperial project has to foster the notion, either true or false, that “others” are “jealous” of “our” way of life and wish to appropriate it for themselves, so “we” must be constantly vigilant and in a state of ever-readiness. This is the identity principle. All empires need an “other”. Tragically for the Edwardians this arrogance and anxiety found its hauteur being bled to death from 1914 to 1918 in the mud of the Somme. Tragically for “us” now the US and the UK are fighting a Cold War that lacks a Cold War enemy. Despite what Donald Trump may blather the Chinese are not Martians.

In “The War of The Worlds” the mighty are brought low by the humblest. The unseen undoes the unknown. The Marxist economic geographer and anthropologist (yes, such creatures exist!), David Harvey has noted,

“If I wanted to be anthropomorphic and metaphorical about this, I would conclude that COVID-19 is Nature’s revenge for over forty years of Nature’s gross and abusive mistreatment at the hands of a violent and unregulated neo-liberal extractivism.”

When it was first published the predominant interpretation of “The War of The Worlds” was that the novel chronicled the triumph of the Empire over the Other. This unfortunately was not the authors intention. What Wells was actually pointing out was that the Martians were only doing to “us” what “we” did to the native Tasmanians and many other indigenous peoples around the world. As an indigenous Scottish Celt I can point out the low-walled remnants of the culture and society of “us” in Strathnaver and Kildonan and chart a map of Canada to indicate where “we” ended up because of “unregulated neo-liberal extractivism.”

Like his literary predecessor, Charles Dickens, H. G. Wells, if one can be critical of both, it would be to say that while they genuinely sympathised with the poor – the former a philanthropist and the latter a socialist – they nonetheless identified with the rich: the rich were their audience; the “us” of “The War of The Worlds” and not its “them”. The rich were the ones who would read the books because they could afford to buy them, even if they were serialised. Most of the working poor in the nineteenth century, in the industrial heartlands, were too exhausted and malnourished to have the wherewithal to read.

Everyone has their own perspective. I have mine. One aspect of this particular attitude is that I see no reason why the response to the coronavirus is not a matter for politics, as our First Minister regularly insists it isn’t. How “we” arrive at decisions about how “we” allocate resources and respond and react to major problems is primarily political. How could it not be so? How else can “we” the people hold “them”, the government to account, especially when the UK government has granted itself unparalleled powers, if “we” the people cannot debate the issuing and effect of such powers? This is especially pertinent to “us” in Scotland when “we” watch daily the Westminster government collapsing into an incoherent, almost post-political mess. In Scotland the people must, especially now in a time of crisis, be encouraging each other to think of a way forward out of the crisis and into a new arrangement where “we” can replace the current economic and constitutional deal with a more participatory democracy. To a lesser extent Holyrood, and to a greater extent Westminster, have metamorphosed from being governments of the people for the people into a state of governance where controlling the population is a preferred substitute for providing for them. Surely at this time and under these conditions “we” the people can expect “our” independence supporting politicians to be actually working towards independence?

This raises further questions: is the debate about Scottish independence one for an era of crisis, or is it one for an era of stability, pre-Covid-19, which admittedly seems like an eternity ago? Has the sordid catalogue of recent clown-like events, which the Tories are trying to pass off as the responsible administration of a crisis, not been enough to guarantee the resurrection of the cry for another referendum on Scottish independence, and to ensure the obliteration of the Tories as a political presence post the 2021 Holyrood election? Sadly, I fear not. Why should this be?

Change is inevitable whether you believe in it or not. Change, for governments, is usually a version of what happens now happening (somehow better, no-one really knows how) in the future. This is called continuity. One thing that has been laid brutally bare by this coronavirus pandemic is that devolution does not work for Scotland. It was never designed to. When exposed to severe stress the reserved power faultlines inherent in the system crack apart and the entire arrangement betrays the people, as it was designed to. As of May 28th there are 2,316 of “us” dead as a result. For those of “us” who believe the movement for Scottish independence is one born of modern circumstances then this time of crisis, no matter how acute or tragic, cannot be a cause for halting or proclaiming “that this is not the time”. This is exactly the time.

Thankfully, according to recent poling figures, the Scottish people agree. On 29th May David Jamieson, on Source Direct, published these figures,

“Polls all point one way at the moment for both Scottish independence and the SNP. According to another Ipsos Mori poll published on 26 May, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon enjoys a massive 82 per cent approval for her coronavirus performance. Meanwhile, 55 per cent of Scots think Prime Minister Boris Johnson has done “badly” during the pandemic.”

This is another perspective and a positive one. Boris Johnston, the Prime Minister, has proven to be a gift that keeps on giving to the Scottish independence movement. The most damning observation about the entire Dominic Cumming scandal and the exact nature of his relationship with the Prime Minister was observed recently by John Crace in The Guardian (and lest we forget this paper is no friend to Scottish independence),

“He (the PM) even said he was forbidden from making any promises on dates for reaching government targets. Let that sink in. The prime minister is forbidden from making his own policy. If we had been in any doubt who was running the country we weren’t any more.”

The problem here is, just what country does Mr Crace mean? In 1989 the late Canon Kenyon Wright issued his famous retort to London power, “’We say no, and we are the state’. Well we say yes – and we are the people.” Here the perspective is one of sovereignty. In the UK the parliament is sovereign. In Scotland, through “The Claim of Right”, the people are sovereign. For many historians this “Claim of Right” began its constitutional life as an Act passed by the Parliament of Scotland in April 1689. But it goes further back in time than that and much deeper into out collective memory and also goes some way to explaining the recent Ipsos Mori poll.

In an 2016 essay “Mess With Them At Your Peril” the writer and behavioural neuroscientist Sharon Blackie gave her perspective on this memory,

“So it was that the ancient rites of kingship in Ireland included a ceremonial marriage contract, the banais ríghi, between the king and the goddess of the land, and so fundamental was that idea to the Irish way of life that those rites lasted into the sixteenth century. In this sacred marriage, the king swore to uphold and protect the land and his people, and to be true to both; in return Sovereignty granted him the gifts which would help him to keep his oath. These old stories make it clear that, while there is mutual respect between the two partners – between the goddess (Sovereignty) and the king, between the land and the people, between nature and culture, between feminine and masculine – then all is in harmony and life is filled with abundance. But when the contract is broken, the fertile land becomes the Wasteland.” (

There is no doubting, as recent events have shown so unsparingly, that “the contract is broken”, the social contract between the government and the governed, where the former “swore to uphold and protect the land and his people, and to be true to both” and “we” the sovereign people – not a goddess – will grant to “them” the gifts of power. The Tories have driven a wedge between our nature and our culture and are in danger of leaving “us” surveying “the Wasteland”. In his poem of the same name T.S. Eliot, in 1922, summed up our recent experience perfectly in this one line “April is the cruellest month”.

So “we” return to perspective, looking out on the broad acres of identity, the rolling hills of “us” and sunlit lowlands of “them”. The prison and prism of the Union has forced “us” into such observations but the coronavirus pandemic has bound all of “us” together in the commonweal of humanity. What “we” are all in together is the great lyric poem of life.

An independent Scotland has the much longed for potential to enhance and fulfil the lives of the Scottish people. The UK project is forcing “us” to see the world as a set of financialised opportunities modelled on the charnel house of the USA. This perspective does not see the coronavirus pandemic as a global tragedy which we cannot afford to repeat and which must bring humanity closer together but rather enables greed to pilfer the “harmony and life (that) is filled with abundance” and enabled senior US intelligence official Bill Evanina to inform BBC News that,

“In today’s world, there is nothing more valuable or worth stealing than any kind of biomedical research that is going to help with a coronavirus vaccine.”

This attitude, this philosophy, this perspective does not bode well for harmony or international mutual aid and cooperation in developing a vaccine against Covid-19. It would be naïve to think that Big Pharma will somehow drop its traditional habit of secrecy and primary purpose of making billions and become altruistic and humane. It would be more than optimistic to think that western scientists working on a vaccine will share their findings with Chinese scientists or vice versa. It is sobering to remember that coronavirus are incredibly difficult to vaccinate against – one still hasn’t been developed for SARS even after eighteen years and nobody has ever even come close to solving the common cold. But that won’t stop “us” being exploited by “them”, even to the extent that you can buy ten disposable face masks in Lidl’s for just under eight quid.

But “we” will emerge from this pandemic and “we” will still retain the vote as much as “they” would like us relax on that front. The coronavirus might have suspended everyday life and put much of our society into storage but it has not suspended democracy and it will not dampen the ever increasing need for Scotland to become an independent country. This pandemic will have consequences which “they”, the government, both governments, will not like. As A. L. Kennedy so brilliantly put it last week in The Observer,

“We’re quiet now – we’re trying to save each other, staying home, not forming crowds, thinking, planning. But un-isolated life will eventually recommence. We’ll remember our wounds. We’ll remember who helped and who harmed. And, pardon my language, but our government is fucking terrified of what happens then.”

It’s not only the government in Westminster that is terrified “of what happens then”. So is the opposition. As again David Jamison on Source has so perceptively noticed, the Labour leader Keir Starmer (Sir),

“…has been largely absent from the enormous controversies of the pandemic era. And he wants to be seen to be absent. As the Dominic Cummings scandal rolled into its sixth day, he said: ‘This was the week when we should have been talking about how we ease the lockdown safely. How we restart our economy, support businesses, get more children back to school.’”

This man and his party want things to get back to normal as soon as possible. They have learned nothing. Meanwhile back in Alba the “them” and the “us” of the independence movement have yet to learn that “they” have got to ditch the proxy Salmond/Sturgeon feud and come to terms with how, strategically, “we” can deliver an independent and democratic Scotland. If the Yes movement as a broad church and as the engine of independence concludes that it requires an extra independence supporting party to be on the list at the next Scottish election then so be it, but let that not divide “us”. Rather “we” should be constantly on the alert that a big state such as the UK is the most powerful of dieing animals. It will tear “us” to shreds if “we” divide.

Let us put our faith in the ecology of love, justice and truth which is the true measure of the sovereignty of the Scottish people, otherwise the tribe will falter and the iconic landscape where our freedoms are born will become a wasteland. “We” have no right to let that happen to “us”. “They” are not Martians or the Other: “they” are the rest of the world. They are us.

Comments (18)

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  1. Squigglypen says:

    Excellent article. So… united we stand…divided we fall.It has always been thus.
    But I don’t want to be quiet just now…I want to snarl and glare down south..and hopefully the rest of the clan will follow suit.I cannot wait for that Scottish border where you need to ask to get in…

  2. Mary MacCallum Sullivan says:

    Wonderful stuff, George! Your prose is meat and drink to me: truthful and direct; through it flows the passion and cultural richness of ‘the old ones’.
    Thank you!

  3. Robbie says:

    Yes I could not agree with the first two comments more,the sooner we can ditch Benito Johnson and his loathsome crowd the better,time for action is Now.

  4. Wul says:

    We do need to stop letting the sociopaths run things. Every single event is for making money.

    From George Monbiot’s column on 29th May:

    “Four layers of commercial contractors, each rich with opportunities for profit taking, stand between doctors and nurses and the equipment they need. These layers are then fragmented into 11 tottering, uncoordinated supply chains, creating an almost perfect formula for chaos. Among the many weak links in these chains are consultancy companies like Deloitte, whose farcical attempts to procure emergency supplies of PPE have been fiercely criticised by both manufacturers and health workers. At the end of the chains are manufacturing companies, some of which have mysteriously been granted monopolies on the supply of essential equipment. ”

    The Market does not care about people or planet. But governments should.

  5. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    Thanks George for this insightful and helpful perspective.

    I have an ongoing interest in the provenance of our Scottish “sovereignty of the people” predisposition to which you refer.

    You write: ‘In Scotland, through “The Claim of Right”, the people are sovereign. For many historians this “Claim of Right” began its constitutional life as an Act passed by the Parliament of Scotland in April 1689. But it goes further back in time than that and much deeper into out collective memory.”

    At that point however you don’t mention our founding and solidly historical constitutional document, the 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, but quote an Irish legend (“ancient rites of kingship in Ireland included a ceremonial marriage contract, the banais ríghi, between the king and the goddess of the land”) from which Jungian framing you then transition back:

    ‘There is no doubting, as recent events have shown so unsparingly, that “the contract is broken”, the social contract between the government and the governed, where the former “swore to uphold and protect the land and his people, and to be true to both” and “we” the sovereign people – not a goddess – will grant to “them” the gifts of power.’

    So I find myself motivated to re-emphasise the millenium of non-fairyland intellectual hard graft regarding constitutional thought which has bequeathed to us our default “sovereignty of the people” conviction in Scotland.

    A few key thinkers en route were John Mair (1467-1550, Conciliar Movement), George Buchanan (1506-1582, ‘Art and Science of Government among the Scots’) and Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661, ‘Lex, Rex’). But preceding these, and with regards specifically to the Declaration of Arbroath, the credits go to John Duns Scotus (1265-1308), as Professor Alexander Broadie writes:

    “The Declaration of Arbroath…repeats the message that a king does not rule except by the consent of those who are ruled, for it states that Robert [The Bruce] was made prince and king ‘by the due consent and assent of us all’ […] My conclusion is that while Wallace was fighting for Scottish independence, [John Duns] Scotus was developing precisely the intellectual framework that the Scots within a few years would deploy in the chief documents that defined that independence.” (‘John Duns Scotus and the Idea of Independence’ by Alexander Broadie) common/the-wallace-book/5.html

    I have not yet come across research regarding who may have influenced John Duns Scotus himself, but since Ireland has arguably been alluded to in a somewhat “Twilight Romantic” manner in your article, it might be compensatory to mention a major and even earlier Hiberno-European philosopher, the neo-Platonist John Scottus Eriugena (c 800-877) [Both Irish and Scots were designated “Scot(t)us” at the time, but “Eriugena“ specifies “Ireland-born”] :

    Thomas Cahill writes:

    “[John Scottus Eriugena] boldly opposed reason to authority: ‘Every authority that is not confirmed by true reason seems to be weak; whereas true reason does not need to be supported by an authority.’ (Thomas Cahill, How the Irish Saved Civilization, Doubleday Anchor, 1995)

    Cahill speaks of ‘Carolingian Renaissance‘ Eriugena’s importance as:

    “the first philosopher of the Middle Ages… To read his De Divisione Naturae (The Division of Nature [also called the Periphyseon]) after immersion in the [European] folk literature we have been reading is a shocking experience: one is back in the world of Plato. Here is a mind that could grasp the most rarefied distinctions of the Greek philosophical tradition and, far more important, could elaborate a new system of thought, one that is balanced and internally consistent. It has more than a soupcon of Celticity in it, however, for John Scottus’ favorite word is Nature […] In John Scotus’ system Nature is a virtual synonym for Reality—all of reality, our natural world as well as the reality of God. In Scottus there is no useful distinction between natural and supernatural…”

    And finally if I may, there being no Scottish Gaelic translation of H.G. Well’s ‘War of the Worlds’, here are the two opening sentences of the Irish version:

    “Ní chreidfeadh duine ar bith i mblianta deiridh an naoú céad déag go raibh súil ghéar ghrinn ar imeachtaí an domhain seo ag neacha ar mhó a n-intleacht ná intleacht an duine, ach dá ainneoin sin, a bhí cho básmhar linn féin. Ní chreidfeá duine ár bith ach an oiread go raibh dianscrúdú agus géar-iniúchadh á dhéanamh ar an gcine daonna a fhad a bhí siad i mbun a ngnóthaí, go díreach mar a dhéanfadh fear na feithidí bídeacha a fheictear i mbraon uisce a chur faoin micreascóp agus iad a scrúdú de réir mar a bheidís ag imeacht anonn is anall ina dtáinte agus iad ag dul i líonmhaireacht le himeacht aimsire.” (COGADH NA REANN, H.G. Wells a scríobh, Leon Ó Broin a d’aistrigh, Evertype 2015)

    Best wishes.

  6. Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh says:

    FIXED URL for Alexander Broadie’s text ‘John Duns Scotus and the Idea of Independence’ —

    And I should probably add Broadie’s audio lecture:

    ‘The Past as Propaganda in The Declaration of Arbroath: Influence of John Duns Scotus’ by Alexander Broadie

  7. Fay Kennedy says:

    As always your words uplift and inspire me though far away in Australia. Canny hold back the tide and the power of cultural memory.

  8. Alex Brownlie says:

    Your first 3 words in the title say it all.

  9. Angus Bearn says:

    “Boris Johnston, the Prime Minister, has proven to be a gift that keeps on giving to the Scottish independence movement.” Forgive me, but just another reminder that the ‘red wall’ of Londoners seek ‘independence’ from this charlatan with equal passion! United we stand, indeed. A fascinating article. If what you say is true – and I believe it – that the ancient stories still run in our veins, then we must learn to supplant them with new mythologies. It seems the English still have a feudal mentality, that to be treated with disdain by our rulers is how we like it. How is THAT story persisting? It can’t just be the Daily Mail? Let me know. Please. Independence from Bullshit Boris and his Covid Chaos for Scotland, ditto for London! Ditto for the UK!

    1. Blair says:


      There is a them & us, mythology & theology also gives us Gods & Goddesses. The Holy Bible gives us the most recent accounts: if we dare to believe in the cross then anything is possible. Since the fall of the Roman Empire, the power of the Roman Catholic Church has undermined the world.
      Romans 8 informs us that we must be spiritually minded.

      ‘There is no doubting, as recent events have shown so unsparingly, that “the contract is broken”, the social contract between the government and the governed, where the former “swore to uphold and protect the land and his people, and to be true to both” and “we” the sovereign people – not a goddess – will grant to “them” the gifts of power.’

      Being spiritually minded we the governed people of Scotland have the right to change the way we are governed by Church, State & God if necessary as we all collectively agree.

      There is a very good chance that the vast majority of Scots (and the rest of world) would be prepared to ditch our current systems of Church and State.

      In John Scotus’ system Nature is a virtual synonym for Reality—all of reality, our natural world as well as the reality of God. In Scottus there is no useful distinction between natural and supernatural…”

      In Scottus there is no useful distinction but at a technical level there is a powerful difference when considering three or more phases in within a multidimensional system.

      We are currently held by the power of the church (phase-1) & the state (phase-2). Through technology we can have a virtual (phase -3). Scotland does not require to be independent it just needs to introduce a ‘Christ in a’ and let people have the freedom of choice back so that they can live their life in a better way and protect their world.

      Our common home needs to protected from the damaging actions of few global elite who have the power to make & break humanity.

      -The Christina Project.

  10. Clive Scott says:

    I very much doubt that whatever words uttered by some long forgotten King to fool “the people” into maintaining his position of privilege resonates at all with voters as they troop off to the polling booths. In my view what would have a better chance of energising “the people” to get off their collective arse and give the Tories, Unionists and Brexiteers a good kicking at the polls would be if Nicola absolutely ditched any pretence of statements of difference regarding response to Covid-19 as being “non-political” and went full on up front to call out Boris, the Tory filth, Unionist collaborators and Brexiteer nut jobs at each and every opportunity. Playing nice is for losers. Boris doesn’t, Cummings doesn’t and last time I checked they won, “we” lost.

  11. James Mills says:

    Brilliant and inspiring !

    My only correction would be that ”They are not the Martians .” I am convinced that Boris Johnson and his clique , if not Martian , are certainly not Terrans !

  12. meg macleod says:

    It is the green party who have bravely suggested a way forward. Their voice is not listened to . independence yes please but new directions required. SNP not keeping up with grass roots m

    1. Elaine S says:

      No thanks, majority of Scots are more than happy with Nicola and SNP! They are tried and tested in Government, ScotGreens would NEVER, EVER be a party who could run Scotland, if they were they would have had far more support by now over the years. Bellacaledonia is so desperate to get rid of SNP and in doing so they will alienate the majority of pro Indy SNP Scots who would see those on the Yes side who are trying EVERYTHING they can to get rid of SNP in the dirtiest of ways that are befitting to Tories and Labour. Who in their right mind no matter how much they want Indy would trust anyone/party on Yes side who had spent years trying to oust the one party that has done well by Scotland and its people.

      As ex Labour, I was in that fake party longer than I should have stayed, 40 years, I have seen enough dirty rotten shit from the unionist side and trust me, seeing it from the Yes side sickens me and if your propaganda brainwashed other Yessers into getting rid of Nicola and SNP then you also bury Indy. Why on earth would these unsures, soft Noes who have been impressed over the years by Nicola, EVER want to vote for people on the supposed Yes side who spent years trying and God forbid, succeeding in getting rid of her. Scotland is already in a difficult position with the economy tanking because of Covid and you lot want us to put trust in an untried, untrusted new party or Greens are a small fraction of a majority of SNP Government and who as I said, after all those years, has not really increased its popularity that much. You lot from Bellacaledonia, Greens and Wings all in your bunkers plotting to get rid of Nicola because you all think you can run ac country! SNP have had many years of tried and tested power and popularity, how to damage Indy for good would be to crawl the gutters like our unionist enemies in trying to get rid of Nicola and her Government. I want Independence but not at the cost of Nicola and SNP Gov. Before 2014 we were a together Yes movement, now its ugly and divided and the ugliness is coming from the anti Nicola Gov brigade, giving the Tory/Labour pact a run for their money in plotting the demise of Nicola in power. The stench of Labour hangs over this and IMO too many who may be pro Indy still have the obsessional hatred for SNP running through their veins, the kind of hate that droe me away from Labour as a member/activist.

  13. Adrian Martyn says:

    “as am indigenous Scottish Celt’ – a Gaeil, surely? The whole ‘Anglo-Saxon’ versus ‘Celt’ is another imperial paradigm, and likewise bogus.

    1. Arboreal Agenda says:

      And ‘The Celts’ don’t even really exist as a coherent group as an excellent exhibition showed in Edinburgh a couple of years ago.

      It was also interesting to note that the big genetic survey that was conducted a few years ago showed there is no greater prevalence of ‘Celtic’ DNA in Scotland than there is in England. There are a few concentrations of it in some areas but many of these are in England.

      Not that that means there are not important distinctions but they are cultural, not ‘by birth’ as such.

      1. Adrian Martyn says:

        Their only existence is within the ‘racial’ category crey by Anglos during the 18th-19th centuries, which while false, remain deeply embedded in Anglophone culture because it was one dictated by the imperium to suit themselves. Irish scholars have always had problems with it not only because of its racism, but also because it’s wrong. Nevertheless it remains in use within Anglo states – the UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand. And because of their cultural and demographic weight in the Anglophone and beyond, remains the standard but wrong way many continue to misinterpret these nations. The fact that even descendants use ‘Celts’ rather than their own ethno-linguistic terms shows how successful it still is. The irony is, ceasing to do so doesn’t effect their individual nationalisms in the slightest, but many are so segregated from knowledge of their own history and heritage, being Anglophones themselves, they have no idea of any other, correct, alternatives or interpretations.

  14. SleepingDog says:

    They did have public libraries in HG Well’s time, and he could easily have been writing for future audiences of the mass-educated (which he touches on in his short story A Slip Under the Microscope). Well’s writings were also serialized in newspapers. There were very large literary components of popular movements like universal suffrage, and printed pamphlets had long been cheap and accessible. Keir Hardie learnt to read growing up in poverty, taught at home in the evenings, an example of how some parents saw literacy as essential for improving their children’s life chances. I am not sure your assumptions about the working poor’s reading habits make any logical contribution to your view that HG Wells identified with the rich. It could just be a lazy link into the virus-themed article, but it has an unwholesome smack of “too wee, too poor, too stupid” snobbery.

    As for looking to ancient Irish models of kingship, what exactly were these characterized by? Constant warring, cattle raiding and epic drinking sessions? Perhaps like Wells we should be looking forward to newer models.

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