Four days later, and I feel I now can articulate my thoughts with consideration. If I am honest with myself, I never really thought that Scotland would vote for independence, at least not with the majority that would have been needed to prove decisive. As I watched the results come through, it was evident from the start of the coverage that there was confidence among those talking heads on the ‘No thanks’ side, and a hint of acceptance from the Yes.
I watched them all come through until Glasgow, and I had to accept that was that. On Friday I couldn’t quite balance my previous pragmatism with the overwhelming sense of sorrow I was now feeling. Why did I feel this way? I guess looking around these London streets, conscious of absolutely nothing having changed, the vast possibilities and opportunities and challenges that a Yes would have brought, vanished away into the morning mist.
Watching the unravelling of The Vow on the following days was a revelation. We were never the main story. The Westminster parties have an election to fight. The next few months of debate and disagreement, if not downright abdication of responsibility to the Scottish public can only serve to strengthen the depth of feeling in Scotland. Whatever these new powers may turn out to be, they will not be enough to kill off the desire for independence amongst a huge proportion of the population. I realised that there surely is only now one way for things to go, as the rest of the UK is granted more powers, it will become even more tempting to be entirely in control of our own destiny. If UKIP force their way into Westminster, with or without an EU referendum, and Labours’ vote dwindles evermore in Scotland, those who have felt engaged in the last two years will be even more dedicated to engaging with those groups/parties/collectives who have fought so hard during this campaign, in the face of incredible odds, huge power and ridiculous media manipulation.
Already people are discussing ways to maintain people’s interest in politics, urging them to keep momentum going – I will be interested to see how this develops. One thing that makes me slightly uncomfortable is the ‘45’ badges etc I see on social media. While I understand it is a response to the immediate disappointment of things, a desire to show pride in a decision made, it is ultimately exclusive. What needs to happen is a changing of minds of those who voted No, and this seems like misplaced energy to me. We have to understand why people voted No, not just present them as ‘other’ to those who voted Yes.
Add to this the response to the voting ages and the preponderance of over 55’s to vote No, and there is the risk of antagonising, patronising and insulting a huge swathe of people (a majority no less!). It is not enough to presume the reasons for voting No, or to dismiss them as old, cowardly, disengaged and foolish. People voted both ways for a number of reasons, some good, some bad. And remember, lots of ‘old’ people voted yes! Are they foolish too, simply because of their age, or are they an exclusive group of right-on old people? How old is Alex Salmond? Tom Devine? Some old people are actually alright (this is sarcasm). And you’ll be one one day (unless you already are). One of the things I’ve found myself doing throughout this campaign is reading and listening to people with passive agressive tendencies, and flipping their argument around. How would it make me feel if ‘old’ people were blaming ‘young’ people for voting No? How would it make me feel if instead of referring to Tories as “fucking selfish”, all yes voters were referred to that way? It’s worth remembering that 400,000 people voted conservative in the last election. Those people want representation too. How would it make me feel if I was referred to as “cowardly” for voting yes? We have to work harder with language, with presentation and with listening.
To balance this out a bit, I heard many 16/17 year old’s who were voting yes and no, with great insight and intelligence. There were also some who seemed rather naïve, and thought Scotland was going to be some kind of paradise – it is inevitable that some younger people are going to have less experience of success and failure. So, in summary, we shouldn’t make assumptions about anyone’s reasons for voting, one way or the other. Nicola Sturgeon said an interesting thing last week, that whether voting yes or no, both sides had the same thing at heart, a desire for a better Scotland. I think that’s right, and it does no good to sink a cleaver into the rift that has inevitably opened up between people on both sides. We should be calm, mature and understanding in attempts to persuade people to come over to the yes side.
When I listened to people explaining why there were going to vote No, it seemed mostly connected to financial security. In the future (I reckon within 12 years) independence campaign, it is imperative that financial issues are dealt with open, honestly and with more certainty. Economics needs to be further understood by everyone, including the fact that it is uncertain whether in the UK or an independent Scotland.
The increase in (general) political awareness in Scotland is fascinating. Hopefully it will encourage everyone to hold their politicians to account, whether yes or no. Do they keep their word? Do they work for you? Why do you vote for them? What do they do for you, what don’t they do? What can we do ourselves (the leaving of shopping in George Square is an example) if they don’t do it for us? What are they not even aware of? Do they deserve your loyalty…..
We should contact our MP’s/MSP’s to ensure they are working hard, ask them questions, demand action from them. Do the claims they make stand the test of time? Might supermarket prices still (!) go up (!) despite us remaining in the UK? How can that happen?!
The vast uptake in party membership for the SNP and Greens in Scotland is evidence of people’s desire to maintain political ties and engagement with how their country is run. I would be interested to know if Scottish Labour, Scottish Conservative, Lib Dem and UKIP membership has changed at all.
I have heard of people also wanting to somehow cement the energy, commitment and enthusiasm shown by many groups throughout Scotland. Perhaps, if nothing else, this referendum and its result, will enable people to cope with defeat, assess their options, see what is possible, build confidence, and as I said in my pre-vote post, take responsibility.
So, from the unexpected depths of despair, to the unexpected strength of resolve in 4/5 days. It is an interesting time to be a Scot. I believe (other than the George Square incidents, the roots of which MUST be dealt with, and spoken about) we have shown ourselves to the world, to be intelligent, passionate, imaginative, humourous, creative and engaged. Long may that continue….
From the start let me be honest, and admit that I don’t have a vote in the referendum. I moved to London last summer, and made the choice to register to vote there. I felt it was important to participate in elections in the place I was living. I think it is right that I don’t have a vote. If someone chooses to move away then it only seems correct and fair that they can’t vote. I’m also uncomfortable with the idea of ‘Scottish’ people outside Scotland being able to vote, as at present I’m not aware of any reliable way to determine Scottishness. I wasn’t born in Scotland, and if the eligibility was based on length of residence in Scotland (let’s say 10 years for example) then you’d still have people complaining who had lived in Scotland for 9 years and so on. It also pleases me that there are non-Scots living in Scotland through choice or circumstance who will have a say in the future of the country they live in.
That said, I, like you, are entitled to an opinion, and this is mine.
When a young person leaves school and considers the options ahead of them, be they university, employment, the dole, moving away from home etc, it is usually the first major step in their maturation, their decision making, and their ability to take responsibility for themselves. No more relying on parents, time to grow up. Our lives as adults are initially shaped by these decisions, and how we react to the new circumstances that come our way. We take responsibility for ourselves. We may struggle financially, personally and socially. We may enter periods of depression, isolation and discontent. But ultimately, life on the whole is ours to shape. Our character is formed, we create new relationships, experience new and exciting places and people. Hopefully, we find love and happiness.
I cannot for the life of me see the development of a nation as being different to this. I truly believe that the people of Scotland (not just ‘Scots’) should seize the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves. Not for outdated historical reasons but for practical reasons. Smaller government is an opportunity to keep a closer eye on those who govern us, to feel more engaged with the decisions that are made on our behalf, to be able to press those who make the choice to be responsible for decisions to actually take responsibility.
I have always thought that Scotland should be independent, when younger it was for more romantic reasons. But I have tried to remain as objective as I can during the campaign. I am not a supporter of any political party, indeed think that party politics is outdated – ideally I’d like to live in a country where we know and trust (or don’t) the politicians we elect, and elect them on the basis of their ability to listen to their constituents and to attempt to provide the things they need. Anyway, as objective as I have tried to be, it has been truly depressing watching the ‘No (thanks)’ campaign. There has been nothing presented other than fear and the comfort of stasis. They have of course asked relevant questions, that remain to be fully answered, but the impression is that we would not be able to answer these questions for ourselves. Like a parent asking ‘but how are you going to survive?’ when you choose to leave home.
“Complacency is the worst enemy. If you grow complacent, you cease to think. If you cease to think, you cease to live” (attributed to Christopher Grieve (Hugh MacDairmid) in James Robertson’s “And the Land Lay Still”)
The ‘Yes’ campaign has been mostly a source of hope. There are parallels with the slightly vague hopefulness of the Obama campaign (which has disappointed), but hope is a vital element in achieving happiness. The debates and discussions I have seen and heard from those willing to hope are exciting, intelligent, contemporary and life affirming. The No campaign has been chiefly about telling us to be happy as we are. Where is the ambition? There is none. I don’t think there are many parents who would advise their children to settle for what they have, and not to hope and aspire for improvement. And by improvement I am not talking about economic concerns. I am not interested in that. The talk of oil is slightly worrying to me, as I haven’t heard enough about the desire to push towards becoming leaders in wind and sea power. Anyway, we don’t make life decisions based purely on economics. I, ultimately, want to be happier, and I think that’s what we should aim at as a nation. IT’S EXCITING!
Down in London what is clear from the coverage is that people are unaware of the depth of the debate in Scotland, the breadth of it, how people from all walks of life are considering many different aspects of life when coming to make their decision. From here, it seems like all we are thinking is of romance and old battles. I could talk about ‘getting the government we vote for’ (or I don’t vote for at present). With no Tories etc etc, but the truthfully exciting thing for me is what happens after a ‘Yes’ vote. The SNP would disintegrate surely, and new parties would be formed – maybe a stronger Green party, definitely new forms of conservatives, labour groups, socialists, and no doubt an anti European group. All of which are entitled to seek representation, and it would be real, proportional representation.
What’s going to happen to the currency, the Army, Trident, pensions, the NHS etc etc? I don’t know, but we’ll sort it out, surely? Why couldn’t we? What is stopping us? Things will not all be rosey, easy or an oil-fed tartan paradise – but, as with any other country, we have to trust ourselves to deal with any issues that arise. We have the intelligence, the experience, the humanity, the resources to deal with them. We can take responsibility for ourselves
Here is a less thought out list of things that have been on my mind.
– we are ‘drifting’ ‘leaving’ ‘separating’ – no we aren’t, we are becoming an independent nation. We’ll still be part of the British Isles, most of us will still speak English, and the border will not be closed. The way some people talk about it you’d think that no countries that share borders get on.
– The Royal family – unfortunately for me, we’ll still share a Royal family. I hope that one day we’ll make a democratic decision to become a Republic.
– The EU. I think we should stay in the E.U. and I cannot see how they would not allow us to join. It strikes me as strange that we are being asked to simultaneously not break up the Union, while large parts of the English populace are keen to remove themselves from the European Union.
– The Empire. It’s dead, its irrelevant, Britain is not as important as it thinks it is, it continues to act like it rules the waves and it reminds me of Madonna striding around in her 50’s desperate for us to think its still 1985.
– Trident. I don’t think we’ll be able to get rid of it as easily as we think, but I imagine a deal can be struck so that it stays for a while, and we make some money from it. Its pointless anyway, who is it deterring? Russia? We have a couple of stones in our hands, and they (and USA/Israel probably China) have big heaps of rubble ready to throw if they want. It’s pointless.
– Oil – if its still flowing, if there’s more to be found or not, please let’s use it sensibly, to help establish a strong base for the research and development of new, cleaner technology.
– Self satisfaction – there is a sense during this debate sometimes, that anyone voting differently to oneself is somehow a traitor, or an idiot. Let’s not fool ourselves; there are people voting yes and no for good reasons. There are also people voting yes and no for what I would consider the wrong reasons. Whatever the result, let us try to continue to have debates in a mature and considered manner.
– Alex Salmond – he’s not why I’d vote yes. A yes vote isn’t a vote for the SNP, it’s a vote for Independence. A No vote isn’t a vote for David Cameron. I met Salmond in the street once in 1998, he said he’d abolish tuition fees, and when I shook his hand it reminded me of sausages. Let’s not forget either how happy he was to get to know Donald Trump.
– That ‘patronising BT Lady’ – I feel for the actress, but it’s a horrible example of the kind of politics that Westminster wants us to engage in – thoughtless. Don’t think, don’t research, don’t hope, don’t question, don’t engage.
– Taxation – taxes will go up, or down, or stay around the same. It all depends on the government we vote for after independence – its theoretically possible that the new government will continue to be on the side of the rich, but if that’s the case, it’s the government Scotland will have voted for.
– THE CHIP ON THE SHOULDER – imagine, we’d be able to brush it off! No more blaming anyone else (though I imagine we’ll still look for scape goats…) We’d be….taking responsibility for our own actions….
– Lies – we’ve been lied to many times, big lies sometimes, MacCrone, WMD, tuition fees. We’ll probably continue to be lied to by politicians, but they will be under a greater spotlight with greater responsibility. Smaller government should make it easier to place greater scrutiny of those people who choose to become politicians.
– Land reform and housing. I don’t know much about the proposals for these, anyone got an opinion? Why can’t we build more housing like Fittie in Aberdeen?
– People who say they’ll leave if we become Independent – fine, go. What kind of unhelpful, childish threat is that?
– UKIP – seriously, the amount of exposure they get is bewildering to me. They have 1? 2 MP’s? The news in London is more interested in UKIP than the debate in Scotland. I don’t want to admit it, but it seems to me that the south of England is just seriously not interested in Scotland (or much of the rest of the UK). Why should the views of so many people in the south of England affect how we run our country? And vice versa, why should Scottish MP’s continue to be able to affect non-Scottish issues? It’s illogical.
– People who say things like ‘nowadays we shouldn’t be creating more borders between people’ and ‘its time’s like this when we should stick together’. And also “we will have less influence on the world stage” .What do either of those things mean? By becoming independent, we aren’t removing ourselves from the world, we are joining it. We’ll be able to make decisions to side with those we agree with, and oppose those we disagree with. To hopefully engage in discussions with both of those groups, as an independent voice. A nation that takes responsibility for its decisions and actions.
Anyway, like I said, I can’t vote. I hope you vote ‘Yes’. I hope to be able to return to a Scotland which has matured, and found comfort with it’s own personality and is happy.
I have been thinking recently about how, if and when an artist should ‘explain’ their work. I was reading a letter online complaining about Tatham & O’Sullivan’s work “Are You Locationalized” in the West Highland Free Press. The letter writer said
“I am not qualified to comment on the complexity of the artwork, but, provocation of its viewers there has certainly been. Most particularly in relation to its situation. The overwhelming reactions I have witnessed have been hostility, outrage and incredulity that this thing will dominate the Portree skyline instead of the landmark everyone recognises.”
“Are You Locationalized” Tatham & O’Sullivan
The work, part of Generation 2014 has been commissioned by the excellent Atlas Arts, based on the Isle of Skye. About ten years ago, I invigilated an exhibition of Tatham & O’Sullivan’s at the Venice Bienalle. I found it hard to understand the work, and I wanted some form of explanation from the artists, to give me more confidence when talking about the work to the public. This new work, looks particularly interesting (in photos, I haven’t seen it in Skye) one of the sculptures seems to turn the side of a building into a sounding post for mystical messages from space. At least, that’s how I’m reading it for now. It has taken a long time for me to reach the point where I can look at an artwork and not feel like I am being deliberately intimidated, this is probably down in part to my lack of exposure to art when younger, and a certain lack of confidence at art school.
Not being ‘qualified to comment on the complexity of the artwork’ is something that many people outside of the art world often think. I have been conscious of this, particularly when making Forest Pitch, and attempting to communicate with locals, councillors, contractors etc etc. I would wrestle with how much I wanted to tell people and why. I knew that the work was not highly conceptual or intellectual, and if people were given an ‘in’, then hopefully they would if not appreciate it, at least feel in a better position to make a judgement on it. I also felt a responsibility due to the public nature, and funding, of the project to communicate the idea as succinctly and clearly as I could, whether in public or private meetings, interviews, press things. I became concerned that I may end up talking the work away, removing a certain amount of mystery from it. I also find that if I analyse my own motivations too much, then work loses interest for me, and I lose desire to complete things. So I began to try and devise ways to talk around the ideas that originally motivated Forest Pitch, in the hope that that would be enough for people who didn’t feel ‘qualified’ to start thinking for themselves. I don’t know how well I managed it, but it was an attempt at a solution to the difficulty in maintaining some mystery.
I do think that artists have a responsibility to attempt to make art interesting and vital to people who feel intimidated or fearful of it. Personally, I do think artists talking about their own work in an open environment is a good way to achieve this. I recently took part in a talk about my new film “The Drummer & the Drone” (Edinburgh Art Festival, on til the end of August, 10-6pm everyday, make sure you catch it while you can etc etc) with Brigadeer David Allfrey MBE, who is the director of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. Although there weren’t loads of people there, there were enough to feel comfortable, and I felt I was able to talk around the work again, with making explicit the exact motivations behind the film or any underlying ‘meaning’. I am still not sure what some of the film is ‘about’, or what I’m ‘trying to say’, and I think most artists if pushed would admit there is more than a little uncertainty about what they do in their own minds, and I think this is a positive thing. I don’t know if that is clear to the unqualified public, and perhaps it would make things easier if a certain amount of the artistic inspiration myth is picked apart. But how to square that with the desire not to over simplify and take away all of the mystery I’m not sure.
So, back to explaining. Jonathan Jones is not my favourite critic (I’m not his favourite artist either) but he has written in the past that “explanations are the traitor of art’ and;
“It is a vice of second-rate art to come with its own eloquent explanation attached. If an artist can translate the meaning and purpose of a work into easily understandable words, it means one of two things. Either the artist is lying, in order to ease the way with patrons and funders; or the artist is a fool. And if dishonesty is the reason, that too is something that vitiates art. No serious art is easy to interpret. Nor is there ever a single valid interpretation of art. If art is good, there are many things to be said about it and much that will remain unsayable.”
Now, there’s plenty to pick apart here, not least what ‘serious art’ is. But he is right there is no one explanation of an art work. Even during the short time “The Drummer & the Drone” has been on, at least 4 people have offered me their insight into elements of the film which I had never thought about. Sometimes these views are offered in a way as if to say “is this right?”. There is no right. If you could write it all down you’d be a writer not a visual artist. Explanations neutralise the potential for individual interpretation. But there has to be a way to engage people in the things they find outrageous and incredulous, a way which doesn’t further alienate or humiliate.
One of the obvious ways is to encourage people to do some research, about the artists, the context, the commission etc. But so many people are used to viewing art in a gallery, with a little explanatory caption, that they may not have the patience or desire to do any working out for themselves. There has to be a way to allow people in, without holding their hand through the door. I am thinking along the lines of a television programme. Anyway, that’s for me to work out. I am sure there are already lots of attempts to get people not normally interested in art to approach it with confidence. There’s another interesting article in the Independent about artists explaining their art here.
I would love to be able to not ever say anything about the work I do, but I fear its unrealistic at this stage. I also fear that people will just not go near art for the reason that it just seems too alien to them without some explanation. The solution has to be giving people confidence to look, and draw their own conclusions. How do we instil that confidence so that art can become if not an ‘everyday’ experience for everyone, then ‘everyweek’ ‘everymonth’ or at least ‘everyyear’? Perhaps it needs to begin at school and continue into secondary school. The skills of observation, consideration, interpretation, analysis, understanding emotional and intellectual stimuli are vital, not just to those studying art.
I read somewhere else that an artist should not write about their own work, and if they need something written, to get someone else to do it. That is a little naive to me, particularly when almost every single art student has gone through their course writing about their work in statement after statement. However, if anyone wants to write something on my behalf, please get in touch.
At the end of a wee cul de sac, in the north of Kincardine, there is a small kirkyard accessible by key (or over a wall) which contains hundreds of beautifully carved 18th century gravestones. I’ve never seen such a huge amount of variety and imagery in one graveyard. Here are some images, though I could have put more up, plus a wee bit about each one – I am indebted to the work and website of the Kincardine Local History Group, who seem to have done a lot of work to help ensure these excellent examples of craftsmanship and memento mori are still in pretty good shape after more than 250 years. There are lots of skulls, hour-glasses, ships, tools etc and a lot of architectural settings – and a lot of things that I have no idea about.
Tulliallan Kirkyard – the actual Kirk is in good shape too, but locked up – dated 1675.
“Here lyeth GEORGE STEWART procrate betwixt JAMES STEWART and JEAN McCLAREN. He was born the 3rd day of March 1784. He died 25th February 1750” (Somehow seems to have been born after he died) – ‘Although my dust is all about thee…<unreadable>…touch’ ‘Yet in my flesh shall I my God behould’
(The crown and the hammer generally are meant to represent Hammermen, an incorporation which seems to include any trade that involves hammer on metal)
(Apparently the flowers are garlic flowers. I find this one particularly intriuging – the KLHG describe this as a skull, with “3 Masted ship, upper sails and top gallant set, Main sails furled, 4 flags flying against the wind” – but to me, the skull seems attached to a skeleton (see closeup below), and appears to have 2 very saggy breats hanging down, which brings to mind a painting of a female death figure. Either way, skeleton or ship, it is a complex arrangement.)
Fife – “a beggar’s mantle fringed wi gowd”. Only, some of the fringing has worn away and become a bit tatty and unloved. Driving from the East Neuk to East Wemyss, the neglect is evident when passing through former industrial towns such as Leven, Buckhaven and Methil. There is an excess of pebble dash. That’s not to say they aren’t interesting. Further on, there is Coaltown of Wemyss, West Wemyss and Dysart. I’ve often thought of Fife as an area of quite extreme contrasts, which to me is of interest. East Wemyss has a touch of gold about it, down by the shore, in the midst of a pebble dash estate, there is a series of caves, some of which contain Pictish (apparently), Viking and Christian carvings. What is so frustrating about this place is the seeming lack of care with which the caves are protected. There is no information on what you are looking at, no signposts (other than info boards that sit in the middle of the car park) – a bit of funding from the Lottery seems to have provided a couple of benches. The paths are neglected, there is no signposting coming from the East – there is even a lack of interest from kids, as I saw very little evidence of fires, used condoms (that doesn’t rule out unprotected sex, see Fife’s teenage pregnancy rates) underage drinking, drug taking etc etc. Apparently, in the 80’s some kids from Buckhaven drove a car down to the caves and set it alight, which damaged some of the carvings. Anyway, I can’t tell you much about the carvings, which are from what period. There does seem to be some local groups set up to protect the caves (see here and here) and I am sure they do their best, but these caves should have some sort of visible support from Fife Council, or SNH or something. I have a suspicion that if the caves were placed in a more geographically ‘golden’ area of the Fife coast, there would be more made of them, but as it is, perhaps it is satisfyingly Fife for them to be where they are, and how they are. Oh yeah, Time Team visited in 2004, you can watch the episode here.