We have been part of something big, something so big it has smothered us. Centuries of suffocation under Britain have been the reward of our own labour and hard work. Our efforts can turn all this back and cast off the past.

When I left Kilmarnock for a life on the other side of the water the toon was a depressing, derelict kip of a place, wearing its past glories like the rags of a pauper. Titchfield Street and King Street had shed their fancy shop fronts for a shape-shifting drift of pawn shops and charity stores, the auld baths had closed up, and the picture house was a shell. John Finnie Street with its fine ruddy sandstone buildings had become a hopeless looking dive, and the Foregate was taken over by the out of doors heroin traders and populated with the lurching hallow frames of their customers. Kilmarnock was a pleasure to leave; a town forgotten by industry and pride.


After twenty years of being a mere visitor I came to realise that this dismal fate wasn’t only that of Kilmarnock, it was the death sentence of a whole country. Folk hung their heads and walked in a daze like so many mourners on their way to the graveside. Aye, there was money in Scotland, just as there was in Kilmarnock, but it was never where it should have been. It was gathering up in the troves of fewer and fewer people, and the effect was the production of a wasteland that spread from Thurso to Dumfries. Decades of neglect and indifference meant that in Glasgow, the workers’ heart of the nation, a kiss wasn’t a thing to be hoped for, and surgeons around the world looked for tips on dealing with knife wounds from their Glaswegian colleagues.

Voting? What was that? What sort of silly loon would waste their time casting a vote? Those that did, marked their paper and chucked it down the pan – for all the good it would do in making things any different for them. In our 300 years of London rule the ballots of Scotland had as much use in Westminster politics as toilet paper. Voting on polling day was the ruin of a decent walk. Change only came about when we re-opened our own parliament up in Edinburgh, and then the transformation began. It turns out, after all, that we are genetically programmed to make political decisions and think political thoughts. Somewhere it was written:

Today I appoint you over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.

These were always highfalutin words, best kept I thought for school assemblies, until it dawned on me that they were speaking about us. We’ve only been kept in chains by our own consent; be that as working people under management and ownership or a nation under the heel of an empire. It was we ourselves who put up the red stones on John Finnie Street, and it was our own people who broke the backs of nations to prosper imperialists, and just as surely as we did all that we can rip it all back down and build it again to the prosperity of ourselves. It is us who have been appointed over our nation, to pluck up and pull down a kingdom, to overthrow it and utterly destroy it, and plant and build up a nation for ourselves.


On Being Scottish


030 029 008

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