Monday, 24 February 2014

The Independence Debate - Time for Brutalism or more Vapidity?

Edmund Burke disagreed with his elder and mentor, David Hume, over the interchangeability of the concept of what was beautiful and what was sublime. For Burke there was a big difference. Burke argued that most of human experience which was brutal could also be sublime but never beautiful. He gave the example of warfare which he contended was clearly brutal and yet for many of the participants their involvement was considered sublime; as in exciting, enervating, fearful, scary, sense of intimacy with others beyond any normal boundaries or previous experience. Burke considered that beauty was transient, dictated by fashion and short term mores, it did not have the cohesiveness, the deep entrenchment of the experience of the sublime.

What has this to do with the independence debate?

I want to think about Scotland, the geology, geography and how it shapes our activities to this day. I am going to try and explore this impact and how it shapes who 'Scots' really are and 'Why'.

Scotland is a brutal land. We have mountain ranges that will kill the unwary or careless, we have rivers which will take away those not up to their challenge and seas all round our coasts which our fore bearers have challenged and taken on for thousands of years knowing the risk - when they set sail they might not return. Even in seas protected from the worst of the Atlantic, behind the break water of Western Isles, there are tidal falls and whirlpools waiting to trap and destroy those stupid enough not to understand their dangers and their moods. We have a history of being involved in brutal trades such as mining and ship building where maiming and death were daily threat. Brutal industries whose very nature reduced the life span of men who did not have that long on earth in the first place. Yet when you listen to the tales and stories of miners, shipbuilders, fishermen and farmers there is little sense of beauty in their stories but a deep, unbreakable core of the sublime in their tales of hardship. Beauty remains in the eyes of the beholder.

Over the years of de-industrialisation in Scotland many have lost contact with the sublime which is the origin of Scotland and replaced it with a vapid, cossetted, shortbread tin, picture post card beauty, in effect a denial of Scotland is and by doing so we have increasingly lost our knowledge or acceptance - Scotland: brutal, yet sublime.

Now if someone dies on the mountains through their own error or misjudgement the Herald and Scotsman letters pages are bombarded with self righteous indignation, screaming how could this be allowed to happen in our beautiful Scotland, the 'Government', the 'Authorities' should stop this from ever happening again, damaging our self imposed image created by shortbread tin Scotland, Scotland is under threat!

To which my answer is simply Scotland is brutal yet sublime - it is just we have forgotten.

I once nearly came a cropper on Ben Nevis because of my own carelessness while climbing. Ben Nevis is not a killer mountain, it has no sense or feelings, no requirement for vengeance or hatred, it is just there. Ben Nevis does not 'brood'; at best it just sits there - yet its inherent brutality does engage the sublime. I do not 'hate the mountain' for 'trying to kill me' because it had no part in my 80 foot fall, that was all my own fault. I understand Scotland is brutal and this understanding has shaped the person I am. I am a Scot who has travel widely, lived outside Scotland for over 27 years and yet only feels at home when he sees the brutal, yet sublime landscapes of Scotland's hills and mountains. The first evening I moved back to Galloway and looked out onto the Southern Uplands and the nearby crags, I was in tears, as I understood just how much I had missed Scotland and how much I had denied missing Scotland.

The point has arrived in the debate on independence where trying to assuage peoples fears over the premature death of shortbread tin Scotland, has to stop. The time for vapidity and timidity has ended. The time of protecting 'beautiful' Scotland  is at an end, it is time to address the brutal Scotland of the sublime, the real Scotland, the one which we only now engage with at international sporting events - football, rugby and the rest. It is time to say to those who can not tell the difference between beautiful Scotland and sublime Scotland exactly what those differences are. Independence has nothing to do with antipathy towards the English or any other nation it is about the 'brutal' tearing up of a 307 year old Treaty.

This brutality implies it can not be done painlessly nor kindly nor gently and involves trauma, upset and failure to achieve all we hope for. The process will not be seamless, there will be jagged rips, sadness and open wounds but in comparison with the brutality Scotland has already dished out to the people who have lived and loved here, over the millenia, it will be very small beer indeed.

If the Scottish electorate can not face up to this truth, then we do not deserve to become an independent nation and the ' Unionist - aye beens' (itself a myth of denial up sides with shortbread tin Scotland) will gain victory by default.
It is time for the 'Yes side' to be honest.

The negotiations will not be without pain, anger or disappointment, stop pretending they will be.

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