WHAT HAPPENS WHEN IT STOPS RAINING? From The Province Of The Cat
On the absence and omnipresence of theatre in contemporary Scottish politics, and the players and actors involved. It’s time to re-write the script argues George Gunn.
It was a rainy Friday afternoon in Golspie in 1972 when I received my first lesson in class consciousness. Thurso High School were playing Dunrobin at rugby and I was a prop forward. I was only picked for this position because I played in goals for the school football team and they thought as well as being a stocky peasant that I was good with my hands. That was the first mistake. The second mistake was my agreeing to play. Football was, and still is, my first love and I wasn’t keen on rugby and have grown over the years to loathe it. In those days Dunrobin Castle was a private school and the team that took the field against us were on average one or two feet taller than us and at least a stone or two heavier. In fact they were a different species who spoke a different language from us native Gallaibhs from Caithness. We didn’t understand a word they said. Nor they us. From the very first whistle it went badly. The team from Dunrobin literally ran right over the top of us. I cannot remember the score but it was something like 100 – 0. We Thurso boys were unceremoniously trampled into the mud of the private school playing fields by the well fed sons of the ruling class. Later, on the very silent bus that crept back North over The Ord and into Caithness and back into familiarity and safety, I looked out of the bus window at the hills and the rain and I thought to myself, “What happens when it stops raining?”
When my brother and I finally got home to Dunnet later that day, to my mothers horror, she discovered that my brother had a broken nose and that I had contracted scabies. With all the authority that only several generations of fish gutters from Wick could give her, she pronounced, “Neither oh ye loons is ever goin til play thon game again!” What my mother was talking about was rugby, a game in fact alien to Caithness and only introduced in the 1960’s through the huge influx of English workers and their families who were the human addition to Thurso because of the expansion of the nuclear complex at Dounreay. But I suspect what she really was talking about was the futility in trying to take on the ruling class at their own game.
According to DermNet, “Scabies is a highly contagious infestation of the human epidermis. Scabies was described by Aristotle who likened the disease to ‘lice of the flesh’. Scabies presents as a rash with intense itching; it may have a characteristic appearance and distribution.”
If you translate that clinical definition to the political realm you could be describing the Conservative and Unionist Party. Maybe not so strange then that I caught it at an elite private school. My brother obeyed my Mother’s command by going to university. I, on the other hand, have nursed my wrath against rugby and the ruling class and have kept it very warm indeed ever since that rainy afternoon in Golspie in 1972.
As fate would have it I was to return to Golspie the following year for a very different, but related, consciousness raising event. Our English teacher, the legendary Margaret “Grannie” Gunn, organised a bus from Thurso and took her entire class to see a performance of “The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil” by the 7:84 Theatre Company in, I think, the Golspie High School. This proved to be a revelatory moment for me. It was as if I was lifted out of the mud of Dunrobin and was filled with strength, knowledge, confidence and vigour. Everything became clear. Here was my story. Why did I not know any of this? Now, at last, it could stop raining.
It was not just the radical simplicity and joy of 7:84’s public storytelling – and that the story was, at last, our story – but also the realisation that the art form of theatre is based on a deep human need to reveal to ourselves the games of societal and class concealment which oppress us and to celebrate the sheer theatricalisation of everyday life which can liberate us. For a sixteen year old to get all that from watching a play in Golspie in 1973, to understand that you can both be entertained and educated and that both are pleasurable, is what happens when it stops raining.
For those of us who work towards an independent Scotland April 2023 has indeed been the cruellest month. It has certainly rained heavily on our cause. The events surrounding the SNP, the media response to it, the damage being done to democracy in Scotland and how all that will effect the Scottish independence movement, are questions no-one can really answer now. I can almost guarantee that no contemporary Scottish theatre company will touch any of the above as a subject for a play. Well, not one that will receive any funding that is.
Which is a pity because we need the theatre to work for us now, more than ever, for it is clear that there is something atrophying and rotting in the institutions of the United Kingdom, as it is presently constituted. As the press delight in telling us no-one trusts anything anymore and politicians least of all because they are all alike. They are only in it for themselves. This unpleasant sharn has spread to Scotland from Westminster like the effluence in the English rivers and as long as Scotland remains shackled to the UK the worse this rot will become. This is not a recent pollution. It has been seeping into our social and political water-course for some time.
There is a tendency in certain sections of the Scottish left to see everything as a conspiracy theory (I confess I can be guilty of this) and then there is the counter argument, from the other side of the left, who say that to see everything as a conspiracy is infantile. There is no conspiracy. Ever. However, conspiracy is an easy conclusion to jump to when the facts are withheld from the public. For example, on the 6th April, in 1985, the Glasgow lawyer, anti-nuclear campaigner and SNP activist Willie MacRae was found dead in his car on a Highland roadside, murdered, many say, by the British state. The sticky fingers of MI5 were over everything, was the argument. There was no public enquiry so we will never know the truth. The big carpet of complicity was lifted and poor Willie MacRae was swept underneath it, along with Hilda Murrell, Doctor David Kelly and who knows who else?
As far as Peter Murrell and Nicola Sturgeon are concerned we’ve seen this move from MI5 many times in Northern Ireland. Media tipped off and Sinn Fein offices and houses raided, loads of police erecting screens and tents and officers boldly seen removing computers and bags and boxes of documents, people arrested, questioned for hours and then released with no charges resulting. It’s pure theatre! Whether anyone connected to the SNP will eventually be charged remains to be seen. No-one knows. But what I do know is the British state will murder Scottish independence if we let them.
Never mind the details though, “arrested” sounds far more dramatic than “detained” and adds nicely to the narrative of what many independenistas see as a political stunt by the establishment. Digging up gardens, searching other properties and towing away a camper van certainly adds to the drama of what would seem to be a search for evidence in a case that’s being blown up by the media to be as big as it can be. Douglas Ross has died and gone to Tory heaven.
The investigation may go on for some time, as fiscal cases, I am informed by friends with legal knowledge, only result in a formal charge if accompanied by significant evidence and reasonable prospects of successful prosecution. The conspiracy runs that the British state are determined that “evidence” will be found and if they can prosecute they will. The blood is in the water. There is going to be a kill. Unfortunately, I would suggest, what the British state is in danger of killing is democracy in Scotland. That, the conspiracy insists, is the price the British state is willing to pay for the death of Scottish independence.
Meanwhile in conspiracy-free Ukania there’s the on-going £38bn test and trace scandal as well as the numerous other PPE scandals that we’re not hearing much about. I look forward to the accounts being made available on these. Will the Met be “arresting” Tory ex-ministers Matt Hancock and Kwasi Kwarteng, following the revelations a fortnight ago that both asked for up to £10,000 a day to further the interests of a fake South Korean company invented by the campaign group Led by Donkeys? Somehow I doubt it. Will Boris Johnson be arrested? Will Rishi Sunak be brought in for questioning?
The most recent Westminster corruption is Scott Benton, the MP for Blackpool South, who is the latest Tory to disgrace himself. He has been suspended after undercover footage recorded by reporters from the Times appeared to show him offering to lobby ministers on behalf of gambling investors in exchange for money. The Tories can’t be critics of one-party dominance in Scotland when they are such a stark example of its corrosive consequences at Westminster. If the SNP scandal over the missing £600k is criminal then let the guilty be punished to the full extent of the law. I suspect there will be no raids on the Tories, no tents around their houses, no tape, no media tip offs. Just the soft purring of the complacent British state humming its way to oblivion. Meanwhile it continues to rain and Scotland is not so much being governed as contained for what can be extracted, as the worst nightmare of the British continues: even if support for the SNP drops support for Scottish independence is likely to rise.
On the other hand the Scots are increasingly inclined to look at the ballet paper and say, “None of the above.” This will be when representative democracy makes the ultimate transition to corporate representation. £10k appears to be the going daily rate for a privatised MP. “Democracy”, as such, will not have to be bothered by an “electorate”. Was that Damien Raab’s rugby boots I felt stamping on my head on the playing fields of Dunrobin?
Things fall apart. That’s a rough interpretation of the wisdom contained in the second law of thermodynamics: Entropy increases over time. And yet, human societies have gotten ever more intricate, moving from small hunter-gatherer bands to a worldwide society with megacities. This paradox is fundamental to understanding human history, but historians have largely ignored it, instead they focus on particular, consequential personalities and events. Nicola Sturgeon, Peter Murrell, or whoever. There is no doubt about it – our democracy needs to be upgraded.
Anyone, any politician, in Scotland now, who becomes Minister for Education, Health or Transport (or Minister for Anything) is going to fail. Failure is all that devolution offers the Scottish Parliament. Doing nothing, and giving back money to the UK Treasury, as Jack McConnell’s Labour Executive did in the early 2000’s, is the only success on offer. The rest is impossible arithmetic. Entropy in action. No amount of very clever civil servants can help with that. The BBC will read out the dismal headlines with their usual mixture of matter of fact-ness and gloating. And the miserable meandering and muddling will go on and on, sliding between the potholes and the empty shops, the windmills and the broken dreams. Money for the criminals and jail for the honest. And oh boy, how they will laugh as we suck it up and do as we are telt. How long is this going to go on? Where is the pride, the self respect or the ambition? How long is it going to rain?
So, what happens when it stops raining? When the Sun eventually comes out what kind of Scotland do we want to see? At 3.00 pm on the 6th of May in Edinburgh the Declaration of Calton Hill will be proclaimed to the world. The first sentence in the Declaration is,
“We the undersigned declare our support for an independent Scottish republic built on the inalienable principles of liberty, equality, diversity, and solidarity.”
The six key points of the Declaration are,
- Refuse to send our citizens to unjust wars in other lands
- Banish nuclear weapons of mass destruction from our land
- Control the use of property or land by individuals, corporations, or governments from out-with Scotland’s borders
- Provide sanctuary in our country for those fleeing war, famine and persecution
- Protect the natural ecology of Scotland, including our soil, seas, and rivers, and ensure it benefits all people in perpetuity
- Build a more equal society, free of poverty, through the redistribution of our vast wealth
To read the Declaration of Calton Hill and to sign it go to https://www.caltonhill.scot/
This is what is important for the Scottish people and our long term future, not how £600k was spent on this or that. The Declaration of Calton Hill is not a conspiracy, it is an optimistic manifesto for what is possible. This is political sunshine. As one of the organisers, Allan Armstrong, said here on Bella on 20th of March this year,
“The aim (of the Declaration) is to bring together once more that Rainbow Alliance which achieved so much in 2014. We have no constitutional means to achieve Scottish independence. Our protest on May 6th anticipates the withdrawal of participation in the UK state’s directly imposed institutions and extra-constitutional, non-violent, direct action until we complete Scotland’s Democratic Revolution.”
It’s been a long journey from Golspie to Calton Hill and much rain has fallen, but now at last, I think I can see what needs to happen when it stops raining.
©George Gunn 2023