by Kenneth Roy
Away since last weekend, I returned from the conference to the surprising discovery that I had become a minor national traitor in my absence. There have been expressions of sadness and dismay, of contempt and derision. I stand accused.
Until this week, I had always enjoyed a happy relationship with supporters of the nationalist cause. I was once the recipient of the Scots Independent’s Oliver Brown award, given annually to someone in the arts or media judged to have made some contribution to Scottish life. At the awards lunch I said that it would be a good thing for Scotland if there was a daily newspaper sympathetic to the SNP. Paul H Scott, who was present, seemed particularly interested in this idea, although nothing came of it at the time.
Fairly recently, when I was approached by the admirable founder of Newsnet Scotland and asked if I would help him to get the website launched, I readily agreed. With its rapid development, we do now have a daily newspaper sympathetic to the SNP, except it is not in old-fashioned print as I had envisaged that day of the Oliver Brown lunch; it is online. A couple of months ago, the producer of a BBC current affairs programme called me to ask why I was supporting such a venture. I gave her the obvious answer: we need a pluralistic media in Scotland; the Murdochs of this world have had it all their own way for too long. (As it happens we have a second daily online paper, the Caledonian Mercury, offering its own distinctive view of Scottish politics. Long may they both flourish. Let’s have more.)
This happy relationship with supporters of the nationalist cause appears to be over. It has been suggested that I am a card-carrying member of the Labour Party. I have been attacked for publishing the election notebooks of David Torrance (the journalist, not the new MSP) and Alf Young; there has, however, been no mention of the election notebook of the nationalist intellectual, Christopher Harvie, whose own appeared with the same regularity. According to other critics, I am simply suffering from a bad attack of sour grapes over the result of the Scottish election. It has even been proposed that, as the person who conducted his funeral, I chose to ignore Jimmy Reid’s association with the SNP. Oh, dear. That bad?
It is true that there is something of an overhanging gloom about the Scots,
or there was until this week when gloom was banished forever from the national psyche.
I must consider the nature of the crime. At 5 o’clock two successive mornings this week, before the business of the conference consumed the rest of the day, I took a pile of election statistics largely ignored by the Scottish media and attempted a rational analysis of them. The Scottish media had claimed that Alex Salmond and the SNP had ‘united the country’. But was this strictly true? I set down many statistics, of which the most important was that the SNP had gained 902,015 of the 3,985,161 votes available – 22.6% of the Scottish electorate. I deduced from this that the claim that Alex Salmond and the SNP had ‘united the country’ was not strictly true. How could it be? The facts demonstrated otherwise.
I thought I was on relatively safe ground with these two short pieces, the second mainly concerned with disengagement from the democratic process; I pointed out that, in the poorer districts of Glasgow for example, only 35% of the voters turned out. Neither of the pieces dealt with the policies of the SNP; neither challenged the party’s claim to independence. Yet they touched an intensely raw nerve. I wonder why.
My old friend in Argyll, Ian Hamilton QC, in two successive emails which I saw only on my return, has come closest to offering an explanation. In both messages he reprimanded me for being ‘gloomy’. It is true that there is something of an overhanging gloom about the Scots, or there was until this week when gloom was banished forever from the national psyche. It was James Bridie, not exactly a merchant of joy himself, who put it about that Henrik Ibsen, the gloomy Norwegian dramatist, was actually born Henry Gibson and that he came from Motherwell. Yet my old friend in Argyll has made me ponder the nature of journalism in the new and exciting Scotland that has been thrust upon us by the stirring events of the last seven days.
Must I now exhibit every symptom of patriotic happiness? Am I expected to appear in public with a permanent smile, grateful to be alive in our united country? Should I consider myself elevated to the lively status of unofficial cheer-leader? And, if I find myself cast in occasional gloom, poring over some less than obliging facts at five in the morning, should I consider seeking alternative employment, perhaps clearing the remains of the Tandoori takeaways, favourite evening dish of our Braveheart Scots, from the streets of Kilmarnock where they have been abandoned in the latest manifestation of national pride? In short: I suspect that I am simply not up to the required standards of non-gloom.
Ian Hamilton quotes at me a saying of David Hume published in the Scottish Review this week: ‘A propensity to hope and joy is real riches; one to fear and sorrow real poverty’. The implication is clear. I prefer, however, another Humeism: ‘I have written on all sorts of subjects, yet I have no enemies; except indeed all the Whigs, all the Tories, and all the Christians’.
But it is not Hume I will be reading this weekend. It seems that all who love this country should be brushing up on their Orwell.
Courtesy of the Scottish Review