Kirsty Gunn: A good deal more worthy than pandering to politics

Maybe it's the time of year.
Nicola Sturgeon outlines her plans to trigger article 30 requesting a new independence referendum earlier this monthNicola Sturgeon outlines her plans to trigger article 30 requesting a new independence referendum earlier this month
Nicola Sturgeon outlines her plans to trigger article 30 requesting a new independence referendum earlier this month

All of us waiting for Spring, and while Spring’s sort of here – having passed the equinox, and so there are the longer evenings, and now there are daffodils – it also sort of isn’t. It’s been a cold week, with newborn calves drenched in sleety rain up in Sutherland, and a biting wind down in Dundee with near-snow one night, and the gloom and doom of Scottish politics all around making us feel even more… what? Well, fed-up, I think is the best way of describing it.

I spent the other night talking politics right up to just before I turned the light off, and woke up the next morning talking politics again before breakfast. What has happened to me? I am not even interested in politics! Politics bores me rigid! The argy-bargy back and forth-ness of it, the whole procedure of one petty bit of point-scoring after the next and with no thought whatsoever to the big picture: Who are we? What do we want? What sort of nation do we want to be? Are we a country that only threeps on about independence at every drop of a hat? Regretting this, regretting that.

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Or one that gathers up an impressive intellectual and cultural past and uses it now to get past politics somehow, the small-mindedness of it, to paint a wider, lighter picture of our future that is intelligent and sophisticated and cultured and international? Goodness me, I want the Spring to show itself to all of us right now.

For the fact is, a lot of clever people are wanting to leave Scotland. Sara Hunt with her fabulous Saraband Press, with a Booker shortlist on her books this year, and one on the long list. She’s left Glasgow and gone South. She’s not alone. Loads of people I’ve been talking with – in the arts, in the academy, in law and the profession…they’re all saying: If we go independent, I’m moving to England. If there’s another referendum, I’m out. One of our most distinguished Scottish historians said the same to me the other night. And here’s the phrase again, the one I am hearing a lot of, that I am hearing myself say: “I’m fed-up.”

I’m fed-up with the very word “referendum”, fed-up with the constant belittling of our nation by seeing it over and over being represented in terms of England’s position and power. I’m fed-up by being fed the same rhetoric round and around and around: that if only we were this or we were that, could have this or have that, we would be better, life would be better.

Haven’t we leaned by now that capitalism has had its way? That it makes no difference what ideology we pick up, because the sums say different and the market rules, ok? We’re all of us, in the West, boxed into a corner of our own making. There’s a president across the water, after all, who reminds us of the fact: that democracy is now a dangerous tool that can be wielded by the super-rich to gain exactly the results that the super-rich want to gain.

So give up on political ideology. Thinking one party is going to achieve the result that will get a result. Why not instead learn to celebrate the nation that we occupy now in the terms of its impressive past? I for one don’t want to define myself as a citizen of a country that sees itself – until it gets its little indyref2 – as being inferior. Feeling inferior is for losers.

Yes, I know a lot of writers and artists, not to mention journalists, find the current climate exciting – with its bracing and changeable weather that’s full of potential for front page news. Independence is like a brand new creative project – it’s the blank sheet of paper waiting to written on – and now we get to “plan for the country we want”, as one of my writer friends put it to me recently.

But the reality is that the planning will be in the hands of the politicians, not the artists or intellectuals. And the simplistic binary nature of the discussion that has been fostered in the centres of power will continue to inform the debate, marginalising all the rest of us who feel more complicated around the issue of who we are and who we want to be. Binary thinking works, of course – to present an argument as “all this”, or “all that”. Look at the way the rhetoric has been so successfully constructed around the idea of independence being equated with a pro-European stance that everyone who voted remain in London now wants to move to Scotland.

The SNP have done a marvellous job, all right, of leveraging Scotland’s Remain vote with ideas of separatism. As though we here north of the Border occupy some high and more decent ground than our anxious racist neighbours in the South. As though we are, what? – the underlying message of the same rhetoric goes – better?

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It’s nasty stuff, all of it. And what of the artists who don’t want to be part of writing that brand new story that is the new Scotland anyway? Those of us who are people but not “the people”? The award-winning international writer Cynthia Rogerson who is from California, but lives here in Scotland, is one of those kinds of writers. For years she ran the Moniack Mhor Writers Centre in Inverness-shire and now pops down to Dundee to give readings and classes, and has a brand-new novel out that’s set in California.

Wait For Me Jack is one of those one-of-a-kind kinds of fictions – quirky, brave, inventive – that tells the story of a marriage, two people, nothing more fancy than that – yet within that modest ambition explores the very depths and nature of commitment and love. The novel has a fascinating and engaging form that runs backwards in time and seems to knit up into a future tense the further back in time the story goes. It’s a brave book, this, now, in its subject, and in its setting, California. And it’s a brave move for its publishers, the Dingwall-based Sandstone Press, to take it on.

Where will the likes of Cynthia Rogerson and her wonderful novel be when “Indyref2” comes around, I wonder? And where will Sandstone Press be, with their international roster of writers who don’t necessarily want to write about ‘Scot-land’ but want to write really good books?

If Spring doesn’t come soon it will be a case of “Wait for me, Jack” all right. Because a whole lot of us are thinking: for goodness sake don’t leave me behind here. I want to be where the conversation is, not where the politics are.

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