So the view from Rosehaugh today is beautiful. The sun is shining, and the loch reflects a patchwork of white clouds and blue sky. There was a flock of gulls wheeling about high over the water, screeching and bickering, as I walked up the road to my Tai Chi class this morning.
Every time I walk up the road to the village hall, it reminds me how beautiful this place is. There is still a cap of snow on the mountains above the Rest and Be Thankful, visible in the distance. In the foreground, the Saltire on the end of the pier flutters bravely in a brisk breeze.
I used to feel the same about the fields of Gabriel’s Farm in Edenbridge that I could see from the window of my old house in Kent – more intensely so because that was my own country, my own land. My own history lay beneath my feet as I tramped across the fields to Marsh Green with the dog, or the kids, or both. I rode across those fields. We picked blackberries in autumn and sledged down the hill in winter. Scotland is beautiful, but it isn’t mine in the same way. I miss not belonging to England.
Last night was the first time I slept since the grim results of the election were announced. I expected the Tories to win, but not to win by 80 seats. It’s a very difficult thing to come to terms with. In five years time, much more of what we treasure about Britain will have been consigned to history.
I really haven’t been able to stop crying. I tried to rally and look for the positive, but honestly, there isn’t any. There’s no getting away from the fact that we lost the battle. We’ve been defeated. The enemy is in the ascendant. We must all be kind to ourselves, and each other, and accept that it’s going to take time to get over this defeat. I realised this morning that what I was suffering from was grief. It feels very much like how I felt when Grant died. Then, I lost one dream of who I was and what life was all about. Now, I’ve lost another.
The history of Scotland is littered with noble defeats. Listen to the songs. Listen to the heartbreak of Flodden in the Flowers of the Forest. The passionate hope pinned to Bonnie Prince Charlie –
“If I had fifty thousand sons I’d give them all for Charlie” – trad. Over The Water To Charlie
But in spite of the heartbreak and betrayal that litters Scottish history, Scotland is still proudly, defiantly, Scotland and the West of Scotland where I live is the home of the Gael. If you want a miserable song, look for a Gaelic one, but I find inspiration in a more modern Scottish folksong from a great band called Skipinnish:
“Don’t tell me I’m dead when my heart is beating strong
Though I’m down upon my knees I will rise in song…”
The song is called Anchors of the Soul, and the second verse says,
“In our day we stand now to lose or to live
We have one last chance before the lifelines give
Use the history and the pull of our people and our plight
To wake up now and see the morning light.”
We need time to grieve. Time to rage against the machinery of power that inflicted this defeat on us. I will probably cry more tears for the people who were so desperately deceived when the truth was staring them right in the face – you can’t say Boris pretended to be anything other than the lying, bullying, elitist bastard that he is. And people still believed it was decent, honest, caring Jeremy Corbyn who was the threat. That decency and honesty and compassion are weak and a dishonest, callous disregard for humanity is a sign of strength. All the time people believe that, we will be spiralling down to oblivion – and I think we’ll probably deserve it. That’s not the kind of human being I want to be.
I don’t think it’s the kind of human being most people want to be, but everybody is just trying to survive, and sometimes the work of survival simply doesn’t leave time to think – not about politics, anyway. This is why the machine makes it so hard to survive. In the words of one of my characters, “People don’t want deep they’re too busy trying to stay afloat.” There are all sorts of ways of stealing voices – death is only the most final. But even after the death of an individual, the songs remain. The expressions of how we felt, and what we dreamed about. And in those songs you can reach back and connect with people long dead; reach across boundaries and barriers and connect with people in other places, other desperate situations. Even if we can’t rescue them, we can say, I feel your pain. I share your anger. I grieve for you.
And we still have a voice. We have the power to keep fighting. We just need to fight smarter.
This morning, our Tai Chi tutor gave us a demonstration using a sword. (It’s not every day you get handed a sword and asked to sweep it down towards your tutor…) Tai Chi is like a ballet to watch, a sequence of graceful movements as the energy flows back and forth, but it is a martial art. That energy is being gathered in, sucked from your opponent and then unleashed in targetted blows. That’s how we have to fight. We need to understand the power we have, gather it in and focus it where it will have the most impact.
We are living through the collapse of the old system, and it is throwing up grotesque distortions of all its best features as it dies – twisting democracy into the travesty that is Trump and Johnson, twisting enterprise into the malevolent greed of a Nestle or a Monsanto, twisting commercial competitiveness into the control freakery of Google and Amazon and Uber and all the others. Appropriating the freedom of the internet to spread the old messages of hate and bile and contempt. Brow-beating us with information technology until we start behaving like programmable algorithms ourselves. Feed a big lie in one end and get the power of popular support out of the other.
“There is nothing either good nor bad but thinking makes it so.” Shakespeare, Hamlet
The rich and powerful won’t save us, they’re only interested in themselves – they think they can live without us, besieged inside their castles, numbing their souls with drink, drugs and excess and telling people this is what success looks like. The things won’t save us – the money, the politics, business, science, theories. They’re just things, tools. Only the people can save the people.
“Hold, hold and live for the goal
We still can save our soul
Hold, hold and live for the goal
And the anchors of our soul”
Skipinnish, Anchors of the Soul
Hate and anger cannot create anything but hate and anger, and they will tear us apart. Love and understanding can hone the rage into a sword, and learn to wield it effectively. Look back at why we lost this battle not in recrimination and blame, but to learn how we can avoid making the same mistakes next time. For there will be a next time. We are fighting to make sure there’s a future for our species, and there will be a next time right up until Earth’s patience runs out and she destroys us all.
The next battle for me will be for Scottish independence. The chance to forge the future without the dead weight of Westminster on our backs. We might lose that one, too, but my point is that my English friends should not see the Scottish fight as a betrayal, as Scotland bailing out, but as Scotland leading the way for a better way of organising ourselves.
People are people and politicians are people too. Even the best of them will probably get more wrong than they get right, but if Jeremy Corbyn has taught us anything it’s that winning or losing means nothing if you don’t stand up for the values you believe in. The SNP believes in Scotland. The Tories believe in the British Empire and the God-given right of the rich and powerful to rule over us. I know which history I prefer. So I’m going to give the last word to Skipinnish:
“We will look to the future with the power of our past
And the wounds long held will be healed at last
And the rise of the Gael in our time will come
From the old through the passion of the young.”