By Kenneth Roy
When we were starting the Institute of Contemporary Scotland, publisher of this magazine, in the golden hours of the century when there was lots of dosh swilling around for crazy new ideas, Sir Lewis Robertson (now deceased) arranged a lunch to enable me to meet the theological thinker Richard Holloway, of whom he was an admirer.
I never did discover the purpose of this lunch, enlightening as it was, since Mr Holloway made it clear that he would not be assisting the fledgling institute. ‘I’m not a joiner,’ he explained. It was not long after this that he joined the Scottish Arts Council as its chairman. ‘I’m not a joiner’ was perhaps a tactful way of saying, ‘I’m not a joiner of the Institute of Contemporary Scotland, but I could be a joiner of the Scottish Arts Council’.
His remark stuck, because I’m not a joiner either. Yet I’ve just joined something. It’s an odd feeling.
I even turned down an opportunity to join the Scottish Arts Council, long before Richard Holloway was its chairman. The idea was that I should become a member of the drama committee and work my passage from there. It was an attractive proposition; I was enamoured of the Scottish theatre, and the arts in general, in a way that I am not any more. And I enjoyed going to lunch with the woman who was doing the persuading. Mostly we didn’t talk about the Scottish Arts Council. We just exchanged scurrilous gossip about this and that. Mostly that.
Eventually, I had to tell her. I confessed during one of our lunches that, all things considered, I wouldn’t be joining the drama committee, that I was hopeless as a team player and that I wouldn’t be happy about turning down applications which put people out of work. This must have come as a huge disappointment. The gossipy lunches ceased abruptly. It seemed we weren’t friends any more.
One committee I did join, if only for one meeting, was some Church of Scotland advisory group on Life and Work magazine. The editor at the time was Bob Kernohan. I couldn’t believe it when people started criticising stuff that had appeared in his magazine. Was our only purpose, if we had any, not to give moral support to the editor and tentatively pitch in an idea if asked? Who the hell did we think we were, lecturing one of Scotland’s best journalists on how to do his job?
Hey, I’m not a joiner. I’m with Holloway on that one.
Why, then, have I just accepted an invitation to join JFM – the Justice for Megrahi Committee? The one obvious route to refusal was that membership of this committee might compromise my independence as a six hours a week journalist, filling this space; ii’s often a useful get-out clause from any commitment to altruism or, for that matter, anything else.
Two things tipped me over the edge. The first was driven by anger, the emotion that my adviser Seneca counsels me against. I can’t help it, Seneca, I’m not like you; for the time being I have to live in this world.
In this case, however, it’s hardly likely. I have been banging on about Megrahi for years. My views are not going to change in a hurry, if ever. That report of the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission needs to be published, it needs to be published in full, it needs to be published pronto. Then and only then will the people of Scotland be able to judge for themselves the credibility of the prosecution case and the conduct of our justice system.
We paid for this report. It’s a public document, one of the most important ever produced in Scotland, concerning the worst atrocity inflicted on these shores in peacetime and the deaths of 270 blameless people. But although we’re big enough to have paid for the report, it seems we are not big enough to be trusted with its contents. Important vested interests continue to obstruct its appearance.
Non-joining being bred in the bone, I still wouldn’t have joined the Justice for Megrahi Committee. Two things tipped me over the edge. The first was driven by anger, the emotion that my adviser Seneca counsels me against. I can’t help it, Seneca, I’m not like you; for the time being I have to live in this world.
Last Thursday, when we published a detailed positional paper from JFM with an accompanying editorial, all of 14 minutes elapsed before an iphone response from a Labour MSP pouring scorn on the Scottish Review’s campaign for transparency in the Lockerbie case. Fourteen minutes, huh? Fourteen minutes in which to read and assimilate a complex document, and prepare a negative six-liner on your iphone – it’s impressive. It could even tell us quite a lot about why the Labour Party hasn’t been in power in Scotland for the last five years. They’ve all been too busy taking lessons in speed reading.
The second thing was more personal. One of the people on the Justice for Megrahi Committee is Dr Jim Swire, who lost his daughter Flora on flight 103 and has been fighting for the truth ever since. I have discovered from years of interviewing them that, with few exceptiions, that is what victims yearn for and work towards: not revenge, not blood, but the truth. At the age of 76 Dr Swire goes on fighting for it, risking his life to enter the chaos that is Libya. Why wouldn’t I join a committee with that noble man and do what little I can to help him?
So I’ve broken the habit of a lifetime and joined something. Fourteen minutes from now – maybe less – someone with an iphone will tell me I’m wrong. This time, I won’t be counting.
Courtesy of Kenneth Roy – read Kenneth Roy at the Scottish Review