29 January 2010

World ceilidh!

Some of you might recall Sunday Herald journalist Paul Hutcheon’s ad hoc fizzily hostile column that appeared in that publication last August. Attacking what he styled “Salmond’s Cod Nationalism”, the piece roved and raved - and at the time, shook up a bees’ nest of comment, critique and reply. Young Malcolm Harvey had a particularly good, section-by-section look (and rebuke) of the argument Hutcheon presented. At the time, I thought to use the vision of nationalism which Hutcheon espoused as a leaping-off point for a bit more detailed, alternative account of the features of my own nationalist inclinations – but the article mysteriously slipped from internet availability and hasn’t migrated over to Herald Scotland. The intention lapsed. Weltanshauung went unelaborated.

These thoughts involuntarily returned to me last night as I watched (and spun) in internationalist Eightsome Reels which hooched into skirling Dashing White Sergeants and blundered into slightly bruised but spry Strip the Willow sets. Folk from across the globe, who I suppose had never been to a ceilidh in their life before, gamely set to. Indeed, there were only a flourish of Scots in the room, stoating about in full kilted fig. Humorous disasters not infrequently followed, but good fun was had by all. All of this fell on the heels of a Burns Night celebration, with its haunting apposite (and for me, invariably moving) refrain, "Its coming yet for a' that / That Man to Man the world o'er / Shall brothers be for a' that." Quite how much of Burns’ immortal memory this event impressed on these (relatively) youthful minds from across the globe I couldn’t say – but there was an unerring sense in the dancing that followed that we were doing ‘a man’s a man for a’ that’, not just mouthing the epithets. Would-be dignity savers stood around gloomy and stiff – for the rest, unbending, there was the brute materiality of grasping arms and hands and fingers, rhythmic inclusion and expression. Although at times I find his peat worrying tendencies a bit wearing, Perthshire folkie Dougie MacLean wrote a song about just this egalitarian, levelling, elevating capacity of communal dance, entitled ‘All Together’. Although the temporarily dissolving social divisions which inspired MacLean were primarily those of class, this finds expression in a humanist lyric which resonates profoundly with yesterday’s curious ceilidh floor.

Anyone who has spent any time in one of the country’s larger universities, particularly at graduate level, will find their social field populated by persons from innumerable nations. This contrasts, almost to comic extremes, with my early childhood, which was spent in the rural West Coast. Certainly, one would encounter the occasional, temporary, isolated adult soul from Australia, South Africa, New Zealand – but all of the folk my own age were white and Scottish. Later, I lived in the Netherlands for a year, often being startled on a personal level when common sense, under-informed humanism on my part thumped into Dutch self-consciousness, their storied and alternative accounts of themselves. In any discussion about nationalism and its merits or demerits, I’m always interested in exploring the speaker’s experiences of other places and peoples. Not in the spirit of a cheap ad hominem – not even because such experiences will justify or defeat a nationalist account of politics – but because they invariable fertilise the human experience underwriting discussion. For my own part, one of the reasons I called this blog (probably unhelpfully obscurely) Lallands Peat Worrier was because that peaty sentiment often underwrites an account of nationalism with which I’m profoundly uncomfortable. Although broadly harmless in folk songs, talk of the love of our land's sacred rights will invariable make me fidget something awful, usually followed by an attempt on my part to hasten the succession to the love of our people as quickly as is possible. In this context, I was particularly struck by a small, largely unnoticed section of the Maximum Eck’s recent Edinburgh Lecture, Choosing Scotland’s Future. Quoting Hugh MacDairmid (writing as Christopher Murray Grieve) in Albyn or Scotland and the Future, Salmond said the following…

“Grieve’s examination of Scotland's future from the perspective of 1927 is interesting for revealing both where progress has been made - and where it hasn’t been made. For example he complained that, quote: ‘A passenger bridge and vehicle bridge across the Forth is refused to Scotland by Englishmen, but Scots must contribute towards the £7,000,000 or £8,000,000 granted for a bridge across the Thames.’ Time moves on.

Now of course, it is not an Englishman but a Scotsman in Downing Street who is hindering us from financing the Forth Bridge development in the most effective manner through long term loan finance; and, indeed, someone, as a Scot, in Downing Street who believes that the London Olympic Games should be financed by the whole United Kingdom, but the Glasgow Commonwealth Games should be financed by the Scottish Government and City of Glasgow Council alone. But that underlines how the debate about Scotland's future has nothing to do with nationality or antagonism. It has everything to do, in my view, with achieving sensible constitutional structures that will lead to sensible decisions.”

Interesting also to see here where the Eck (Maxissimus Mirabile Dictu) deviated and fiddled with his script on the hoof, when the spoken remarks are compared to the issued text of the speech. In particular, the surprising section – nothing to do with nationality – reads in draft ‘And that underlines how the debate about Scotland's future has nothing to do with antagonism towards other nations. Of course, what constitutes a ‘sensible’ decision is subject to deviating preferences, but in the shadow of the Chilcot Inquiry, we need not strain mental sinew to begin composing our list. To that we may quickly add the continuing detention of children following brutal raids that come with the dawn. For an extensive (indeed, very impressively thorough) account of the cares which ought to animate seekers after a more virtuous Scottish republic, have a read of Power and Its Minions’ interesting Scots colony theory. This is justice in small places, close to home. Although the essential human, reeling and laughing in a world ceilidh compels, and I'd say, imparts an important lesson - the workmanlike unities of the nation remain indispensable (at least for the present) and a potent, pragmatic basis on which to ground our aspirations for a just republic.


  1. Long time since I've been called young, I can assure you!

  2. But to style you 'crone-like' or 'senescent' just seemed too impolite, Malc.

    I'm a slave to my good manners!