2007 - 2022

A Flag for the Future Republic

On Saturday 4th June Yes Caithness and Yes Ross/Sutherland will be inviting hundreds of people to climb the hill behind Golspie. It is the Queen’s platinum jubilee and it was felt necessary to counter this sorry landmark and relic of the past with a show of defiance for Scottish independence and to raise a flag for the future republic.

As we contemplate the summit of Beinn a’ Bhragaidh on the east coast of Sutherland and the100-foot-tall (30-metre) statue perched on top which is that of George Granville Leveson-Gower, Viscount Trentham, Marquess of Stafford and first Duke of Sutherland (1758 –1833), the notorious sponsor of the Sutherland clearances, it is important to remember that this sandstone edifice, raised in 1837, means nothing.

We understand reality because of light. Without light there is no life and no meaning. Meaning is not eternal. Only songs and poems protect humanity from meaninglessness because they are manifestations of love, which is eternal. Without love there is no life, no light. Songs and poems shed light. They are love. They are the human memory. Not sandstone blocks raised in honour of a tyrant. The people of Sutherland are celebrated in the poems of the 18th century bard of Strathnaver, Rob Donn Mackay. Not in this stone arrogance.

The 19th century German poet Heinrich Heine wrote,

Freedom, which has hitherto only become man here and there, must pass into the mass itself, into the strata of society, and become people.”

In a 1968 essay, in response to this, the Scottish poet Hamish Henderson declared,

What Heine says of freedom applies also to poetry. Poetry becomes everyone, and should be everyone. But in fact, at any rate in the Western World, it is only a few individuals here and there. Our most urgent task, as I see it, is to make poetry ‘become people’

Freedom, people and poetry. These are the grand linking sisters of human experience. They are the three graces of possibility. But there is one sister missing, and it is the land. Our freedom, people and poetry depend upon it but, currently, it is denied to us.

This is a cultural dilemma and culture is what people living together in both settled and transient communities produce. Art is the result of that. Art is also people in a landscape. If there are no people in a landscape then there is no culture and therefor no art. It is empty.

But the Highlands of Scotland is not an empty landscape. It is an emptied landscape. The story of the emptying of the Highlands of Scotland, and of Sutherland in particular, is one of illegal land enclosure and of the wholesale forced removal of the native population to the sea coast where the worst ground was to be found. This was followed up by violent destruction of the peoples built culture, the suppression of their language and lived culture. After that it was the transportation in mainly un-seaworthy ships of almost three quarters of the dispossessed population thousands of miles across the Atlantic to North America. Then followed the re-writing and re-framing of these crimes as progress. This was the genocide which was planned, executed and celebrated by the Gordon’s of Dunrobin from 1800 onwards. It continues, under other headings, to this day. If the statue has any meaning at all, then it is this: it represents the continuity of tyranny.

The proto-environmentalist Frank Fraser Darling in his 1955 “West Highland Survey: An Essay in Human Ecology”, for the Department of Agriculture, wrote that:

The bald unpalatable fact is that the Highlands and Islands are largely a devastated terrain, and that any policy which ignores this fact cannot hope to achieve rehabilitation.”

The devastation, he pointed out, was the inevitable outcome of bad land use. The Highlands had first been stripped of their natural forest cover, then had been subjected to repeated burning, intensive grazing, overstocking and to other forms of maltreatment which had drained their soils of fertility and made them steadily less productive. He concluded that, although it was a much lauded landscape, it was in fact man-made – “a wet desert”.

The reality of UK politics, another desert, and of the British constitutional settlement, is that we are ruled by a dictator masquerading as a Prime Minister. We should be mindful that the dictator never thinks about you, the dictator only ever thinks about himself. If you make an unspoken agreement with him and keep silent for decades, whatever happens, one day he’ll dupe you. If the choice is between his country’s freedom and his own personal power, he will choose the latter. He understands that there is no place for him in the future. The dictator knows an independent Scotland is coming soon. Let us never doubt that.

As we climb to the summit of Beinn a’ Bhragaidh, both the hill and the metaphor, to reclaim our landscape for people as opposed to wealth, we have to bear in mind an alternative, possible future, not so distant, where we could see Brexit voters rioting in the streets of northern English towns because of the cost of gas and electricity, the rise in food prices and everything else spiralling upwards whilst incomes fall and few can afford a decent home. This is the new Tory deal for the working poor, the unemployed, the old, the weak and the disadvantaged in general. Boris and Rishi say – suck it up, losers.

Meanwhile, in Downing Street, they fight amongst themselves like the thieves they are, trying to smear every other politician and institution with the heavy gravitational shit they use to mark their territory. However there is only so much hair poor people can pull out before the anger and wounded pride boils over into violence and rage.

By October this year, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers inflation could well be at 8.4%. Martin Lewis, the financial journalist, thinks it could go as high 12%. With the subsequent fall of 2% in household incomes this represents the biggest drop in living standards and wages since records began. Under this Tory regime we are not going back to the 1970’s but to the 1870’s. The only difference in the epochs is that in 2022 the Tories plan to make protest and demonstrating about injustice illegal. They also plan to make the extraction of wealth by the elite easier. In the UK the government does not tax the corporations and companies earning billions, such as Shell and BP, but instead make the workers pay for their own oppression and poverty. This is unsustainable.

At the beginning of the 20th century the great Russian political thinker and historian Peter Kropotkin wrote,

In periods of frenzied haste toward wealth, of feverish speculation and of crisis, of the sudden downfall of great industries and the ephemeral expansion of other branches of production, of scandalous fortunes amassed in a few years and dissipated as quickly, it becomes evident that the economic institutions which control production and exchange are far from giving to society the prosperity which they are supposed to guarantee; they produce precisely the opposite result. Instead of order they bring forth chaos; instead of prosperity, poverty and insecurity; instead of reconciled interests, war; a perpetual war of the exploiter against the worker, of exploiters and of workers among themselves. Human society is seen to be splitting more and more into two hostile camps, and at the same time to be subdividing into thousands of small groups waging merciless war against each other. Weary of these wars, weary of the miseries which they cause, society rushes to seek a new organization; it clamours loudly for a complete remodelling of the system of property ownership, of production, of exchange and all economic relations which spring from it. Action, the continuous action, ceaselessly renewed, of minorities brings about this transformation. Courage, devotion, the spirit of sacrifice, are as contagious as cowardice, submission, and panic.

It remains to be seen where the courage, devotion and spirit of sacrifice are going to come from in a society obsessed by smart phones, personal wealth, individual gratification and the Eurovision Song Contest.

It is often a fault of the independence movement to wish to be understood to the world before we have made ourselves clear to ourselves. So let us be clear. We need hope. We cannot do anything without optimism. Hope is a discipline. Our job, as people on this Earth, is to cultivate hope, and that is what we are trying to do as we climb Beinn a’ Bhragaidh – both the hill and the metaphor. We are climbing to the idea of the Scottish Republic where the people are sovereign and not the Crown in Parliament, where an individual can be a citizen and not a subject. Where the land belongs to the people of Scotland and not just a few wealthy and absent individuals. In the Republic the land will be taxed to create wealth and the people will be liberated to create their new country, for their children and for the future. From the summit of Beinn a’ Bhragaidh we can see that future: freedom, people, poetry, land and love.

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  1. SleepingDog says:

    I am not sure Helen Keller would agree with the statement “Without light there is no life and no meaning”. And there is no simple path between light and understanding (there are lights in Plato’s Cave), hence optical illusions, and the light shone in the Gestapo prisoner’s eyes illustrates that light is sometimes blinding (please don’t look directly at the sun with unprotected eyes, even in Scotland). Apart from various interesting extremophiles, a lot of living goes on in the dark, as George Monbiot’s fascinating article on soil relates: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2022/may/07/secret-world-beneath-our-feet-mind-blowing-key-to-planets-future
    Perhaps all known life depends in some way on the electromagnetic spectrum, even extremophiles, but perhaps this is a case of a scientific truth and a poetic falsehood. Also, songs are typically conveyed by sound.

    The article also suffers from a confusion between wealth and riches that anarchists like Kropotkin generally avoid. Riches (making fortunes, creating harmful inequality, destroying natural wealth via extractivism and profiteering for short-term unhealthy gain) is bad, wealth (an abundance of the live-giving and life-enhancing without excess) is generally good. This is why Kropotkin uses ‘prosperity’ in the sense of anarchistic (good) wealth.

    Still, I agree about the ‘wet desert’ point.

    1. 220512 says:

      George is a poet; he works with metaphors. Light is a metaphor for understanding. Even Helen Keller used this metaphor; e.g. in her confession, Light in My Darkness, she wrote of how ‘the teachings of Emanuel Swedenborg have been my light, and a staff in my hand and by his vision splendid I am attended on my way’.

      To compound matters, some logocentric cultures (like our own) see metaphor itself as a locus of ‘enlightenment’ or revelatory understanding. In Heidegger and his successors, metaphor is the metaphorical ‘clearing’ in which the Being of beings can reveal or disclose itself (or become ‘present’) and, as such, is the origin of a work of art.

  2. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    I wish your event and its participants every success.

  3. Wul says:

    Given wur Queen is heid honcho of a church, she will no doubt be celebrating the Jubilee in the original spirit of the festival. It is a time when debts are forgotten, slaves freed and humans remember that, since we did not create the earth, it belongs to everyone and every species.

    A quick, random search throws up this definition:

    ” The designating of a Jubilee is not just for allowing the land to rest. It is a reminder, just like the weekly seventh-day Bible Sabbath, that God has created everything. It is also a reminder that humans are not the only owners of the land and are not to hold onto property forever. Because we are thankful to God for liberating us, we should also liberate others from debt to us.

    Any nation would receive a tremendous blessing if they observed this extra-special span of time! People would not ring up huge debt and there would be no great imbalance between the wealthy and the poorest. The value of land would stabilize and the usual giant ups and downs of the economy would not happen. ”

    I look forward to the Queen’s renouncing of her land-ownership, the return of slave-created wealth and the release from debt of working people. God save her!

    1. SleepingDog says:

      @Wul, so what colours will people be wearing for the counter-Jubilee if this modest proposal for #RoyalReparations falls on cloth (of gold) ears? Green and black, maybe?
      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Field_of_the_Cloth_of_Gold

      1. Wul says:

        @SleepingDog, I’ve often admired the artist Hundertwasser’s “Koru” flag for New Zealand. It is both beautiful and aspirational.
        Maybe something like this, in saltire blue?

        “The flag symbolizes old and new,
        history and progress at the same time.
        This flag symbolizes peace, but not weakness,
        but the strength of creation
        moving forward in a courageous engagement.”

        https://www.yeswhangarei.co.nz/flag/

        1. Wul says:

          Sorry. Didn’t mean to link to a sales advert. From the artist himself:

          https://www.hundertwasserartcentre.co.nz/about/hundertwasser/hundertwasser-koru-flag/

          1. SleepingDog says:

            @Wul, “This green is the wealth of New Zealand”. I like that symbolism for the fern (with its spiral path).

    2. 220514 says:

      Ah, but as heid honcho of the Church of England, the jubilee the Queen has called is jubilee in the modern European rather than in the ancient Hebrew tradition.

      The latter was a year-long sabbatical of observance and abstinence that was held every 49 (7 x 7) years in remembrance of the covenant they had with God and the commitment they had to that covenant. Crucially, it involved a great social ‘reset’, in which all Hebrews were liberated from the debts they owed one another, whether those debts were owed in the form of land, labour, or capital. Crucially also, it applied only in the land of Israel and not during periods of exile, when the covenant was considered to be broken.

      By contrast, the European tradition of jubilee dates to 1300, when when Pope Boniface VIII convoked a holy year of pilgrimage and indulgence (the remission of sins) in order to boost Rome’s religious tourism industry. Originally, jubilees were to be held only every 100 years; but such were their commercial success that, in the 1340s, Clement VI was induced to convoke an additional ‘golden jubilee’, which was to be held every 50 years, and, in 1470, Paul II decreed that ‘silver jubilees’ should also be held every 25 years. None of these jubilees involved any social reset, just a moral reset in the form of the remission of sins and punishments.

      Basically, the civic appropriation of jubilee functions sociologically to celebrate a year of solidarity, hope, justice, commitment to serve the State (in our case, in the person of the Queen) with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters, and to exploit all the commercial opportunities this offers. Of course, we may not wish to celebrate these things (especially a commitment to serve the State in the person of its head). But equally of course, we’re free not to.

      1. Wul says:

        “….the remission of sins and punishments. […] with joy and in peace with our brothers and sisters, and to exploit all the commercial opportunities this offers…”

        That seems a more pragmatic type of “Jubilee” indeed. More British. Our leaders are certainly cheerfully freeing themselves of any punishments for past sins.

        I’d always assumed it was an Indian word for some reason, brought home from the Raj. Until I looked it up.

  4. Ottomanboi says:

    Writ very large Scottish independence body, soul and ethnicity will not be won by politicians, stats and economic models but by the resurrection of a sense of what being a citizen of Scotland, from the 13th century BC to now, means. The monochrome, utilitarian, «celtic twilight» Scotland with its occasional kilt wearing and Burns nichting is a false and duplicitous friend, a turnkey of small mind and even smaller imagination.
    The dour, confining Calvinist anti culture served the predations of the British empire well. Now is the time for rehabilitation from self scourging. Scotland must shed the inhibitions and fall in love with itself.: what a romance.
    Beinn a bhragaidh looks a good place to rediscover the rejuvenation of unalloyed freedom.
    Carpe! Carpe! Carpe diem!

    1. 220515 says:

      There’s nothing to be resurrected, Ottomanboi; what being a citizen of Scotland means is yet to be defined. And it will be defined not by fine words, but by the structures and processes of decision-making in the realm of public affairs that the Scottish government is currently establishing in preparation for its independence from the UK.

      And by the looks of them, being a citizen subject to the regulation of an independent Scottish government isn’t going to be that much different from being a citizen subject to the regulation of a UK government; for that regulation looks like it will be no more democratic/no less bureaucratic than the government we have at present.

      I’m making deeper structural change in our governance a condition of my support of the Scottish government’s quest for independence from Whitehall. Deferring that demand until after the fact of independence will be too late, when we’ll have lost what little bargaining power we presently have vis-à-vis the Scottish government.

      1. Wul says:

        Your position annoys me a bit; seeking guarantees about what an independent Scotland would be, before the thing is even made. How can anyone promise that? It would be our job to make it what we want. For me at least, the prize of an autonomous Scotland is worth the risk.

        However, an iScotland could easily become an giant free-port off of Europe’s coast. A place where our cringing tendencies are nurtured. Enforced even. Certainly people like Fergus Ewing are not dreaming of a socialist republic of Scotland with radical land reform and all natural resources, social housing, transport and energy in public hands.

        I guess what you are asking for is a guarantee that citizens of iScotland will actually have the tools and mechanisms freely available to them to make any structural changes deemed necessary for the common good. That, surely would not be such a hard thing to quantify in advance. But there’s nae appetite for actual “community empowerment” within the SNP or within the civic establishment, that I can see.

        Promising “deep structural change” does not seem to be a strategy that would persuade comfortably-off Scots to vote for independence (don’t scare the horses”) but maybe it’s the “horses” of entrenched wealth and privilege that the SNP is really wishing not to frighten. I’m truly sick of political parties pandering to the “middle ground”, triangulating the best way to win over middle class voters who (as far as I can see, from all the new cars, shite holidays, fancy kitchens and general consumer garbage) already have more money than sense.

        Isn’t there a core of heartily-sick-of-being-skint-and-anxious-and-left-out working people who could be persuaded to vote for structural change? Their numbers must be swelling every day.
        (This group in America turned their entire country upside-down and elected a bum-hole as president. Their cousins in England voted to torch 26 free-trade agreements and their own citizenship of Europe just to make a dirty protest in their own country.)

        1. 220516 says:

          I’m just trying to do that job of making Scotland what I want it to be, and the only leverage I have in the political struggle to define the future state of Scotland is my vote, which the Scottish government wants towards winning its independence from the UK government. That little bit of leverage will be lost the moment that the Scottish government achieves its independence and implements the bureaucratic structures and processes of governance that will constitute our future state and which it’s been developing for the past 15 years. Holding out for something better than mere perpetuation of the bureaucratic status quo, by withholding my consent to Scottish government independence until it gives me what I want, might be vain, but it’s the best I can do in my powerlessness.

          It’s tempting to think (magically) that things will be different when the boat comes in, that when the Scottish government becomes independent of the UK ‘we’ will then be able to make Scottish society what we want it to be. But unless the structures and processes of our governance change as part of the revolution by which our government becomes independent, then ‘we’ won’t be any more empowered under the new régime than we are at present to shape the decisions that affect our lives. And the apparatus of decision-making that the Scottish government has been developing in advance of it independence simply confirms the status quo.

          A guarantee that, under an independent Scottish government, the citizens of Scotland will actually have the tools and mechanisms freely available to them to make decisions towards the common good, rather than in pursuit of private or party interests, is exactly what I’m asking of the Scottish government in exchange for my vote for its independence. If it does nothing to make the governance of our public affairs any more democratic than it currently is, ‘independence’ is not worth having.

          The tyranny of ‘Middle Scotland’ exemplifies this rather well. Under the current régime, which the Scottish government is working to replicate through the structures and processes of its future independent state, decision-making is dominated by the interests of the ‘middle-income’ majority that’s indebted to the status quo for its consumer lifestyle rather than by the general will of society as a whole (a.k.a. the common good’). The minority of Scots who aren’t so indebted, and who therefore have ‘nothing to lose but their chains’, are thus marginalised politically and have little say (even indirectly) in the decisions that affect their lives.

          And you’re right: there’s no appetite within the SNP and the establishment in Scotland generally for community empowerment and the deep structural changes this would require in our decision-making. Why would there be? The political interests of the SNP and of the establishment generally lie in ‘not frightening the horses’, in keeping Middle Scotland content, and in managing the ever-present precarity of its lifestyle. The security it can offer the silent majority of Middle Scotland is the Scottish establishment’s political trump card.

          Those who are politically marginalised by the status quo, who are excluded by their minority status from the existing structures and processes of decision-making, and who thus remain dependent for their welfare on the good will and taxation of Middle Scotland, do have an interest in structural change. But they can’t rely on the government, which are those structures, to effect that structural change on their behalf. Excluded communities need rather to take back power for themselves by taking small but incremental steps towards greater autonomy in making the decisions that most directly affect their lives, by organising their own responses to the problems they identify, and by thus gradually accumulating though direct community action the social capital they need to self-govern more and more of their own affairs.

          Greater democracy won’t come ‘down’ through an independent Scottish government. It will come (if at all) ‘up’ from the demos itself through the long and patient self-development of communities that resist the domination of the majorities from which they’re excluded.

  5. john mckellar says:

    we should temporarily use a haggis as a flag…a vegie one in order to mock the stupid idea that a flag is a good idea…then,we should stop all arms in scotland … abolish the army…retake the oil industry…the land for all the people…nationalise whiskey… … …if you want more ideas… … get in touch…

    1. 220517 says:

      Yep, flag-waving is largely cost-free gesture politics. For many recreational radicals, its easy virtue-signalling substitutes for commitment to the hard and often thankless work of community development.

  6. Chris Connolly says:

    All the best to everybody gathering in Golspie. May the weather be less dreich then usual…..

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