Monday, September 30, 2013

I'm no fan of Twitter. Didn't wish to indulge. But I was (half) persuaded. "Suspended" two nights in a row is making me wonder, though. Form your own opinion @IanBell1916. It begins to feel a little personal. Was it something I said?

Sunday, September 29, 2013

So I am persuaded, much against my better judgement, that Twitter might be useful in the months ahead. So I overcome my reticence. So I manage eight "tweets". Paranoia comes easily enough most days, but "account suspended" after just eight tweets? Small contest - no prizes - why would that be? If anyone's interested the thing is @IanBell1916. I

Friday, September 27, 2013

This continues where the previous post left off, more or less. A slightly shortened version should appear in The Herald on September 28.

Unionists have worked hard to give identity politics a bad name. They have not done too badly, either. Perhaps because they know where the arguments can lead, some in the Yes campaign have been content just to drop the issue. Even Nicola Sturgeon, deputy First Minister, is on record as conceding that “this debate isn’t about identity”.
            Can that be true? If nothing else, it leaves all the politicians and journalists who talk proudly of being “Scottish and British” in an odd position. That claim too is a statement, perplexing as it may be, of identity. It is a recognition of Scottishness by people who would otherwise damn “narrow nationalism” as inherently racist, wedded to grievance and stuck in the past. Add a bit of British, though, and all is well.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

‘For me, this debate isn’t about identity,’ she says. ‘I don’t feel we need to be independent for me to feel confident in my Scottish identity. I think Scotland is pretty comfortable in its identity. We won’t need independence to preserve it… If we don’t become independent it won’t disappear, it isn’t under existential threat.’
Nicola Sturgeon, deputy First Minister.
Guardian interview. August 24, 2013.

At other times, ‘identity’ has a much more specific meaning, referring to the ways in which people subjectively understand their place in the world, who they see as being ‘one of them’, who they see as different, and who they see as being against them. According to this approach, ‘Scottish identity’ is not an objective description of what Scotland is, but rather a psychological sense of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we value’...
Steve Reicher, David McCrone and Nick Hopkins:
‘A strong, fair and inclusive national identity’:
A viewpoint on the Scottish Government’s Outcome 13.
(Equality and Human Rights Commission research report 62, Autumn 2010).

The Yes campaign has grown wary of the word identity, no doubt because Unionists like to treat ‘identity politics’ as a term of abuse. If it can be yoked to ‘grievance’, so much the better. Then the claim of independence becomes the preserve of the parochial, the obsession of the self-interested. The politics of identity is reduced to the small-minded creed of the selfish. It is also, says the perennial heavy hint, one step away from racism.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A book of mine will be published in the United States next month. Two cheers for me. Pegasus, the publisher in question, is a devoutly independent operation. This is no small feat in any part of the world. In New York, it’s tough to achieve. That deserves another cheer.
            The book and its successor were issued by Mainstream, an Edinburgh publisher that in recent years has managed to be both independent and a partner of Random House, the gigantic and loveable multi-national. Random House has its towering headquarters in New York, but is owned in turn by Bertelsmann, the German media conglomerate. So where does that leave me?
            Here I am, a Scot, writing a couple of fat books about an American within what Hugh Andrew would probably call an Edinburgh-corporate-New York “nexus”. I am also a Scot who will be voting for independence the minute the doors open. According to Mr Andrew, I’ll be endorsing  something that “represents the worst of all worlds for our writers and culture”. Professionally speaking, I’ll be cutting my own throat.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Only a year remains. Just 52 weeks, 12 months, four seasons and 365.256 days for the planet to nip around the sun and back again. Still time for a couple of speeches if anyone’s in the mood. Doesn’t history fly when you’re having fun?
            In reality, the semi-educated guesswork as to Scotland’s future will probably begin next spring, when the finishing post is bigger than a speck in the distance. By then, we will have a better idea of the quantity of shots left in the referendum lockers. For now, the truly tantalising question is whether the No campaign can keep its scare-a-day production line going for a full year.
            What remains? No part of Scottish life has been left untouched by the horsemen of the Better Together apocalypse. You name it and it has been laid waste, metaphorically, by the representatives of austerity Britain. In the process, they have tested the limits of fiction several times over. So here’s a serious question: can they run the disaster movie for yet another year, or do they think they have accomplished their mission?

Friday, September 06, 2013

I meant to ask him about those opinion polls, but he decided he had better things to do. He went to sleep again.
            It’s an interesting technique. When something matters, when it becomes urgent – with a biscuit-shaped kind of urgency – his entire body responds like a single nerve. When the rain’s on, when he can’t be arsed, when nothing is demanding his attention, you can find him on the sofa.
            A bit like an electorate. The happy notion that we are all “engaged in the debate”, or worried perpetually over “the quality of the debate”, might keep a few in my trade going for a while, but it’s a myth. Most of us, most of the time, have lives in need of attention.
            Only rarely do we respond like a single nerve. That’s as it should be. If not, we wind up yelping over he-said-she-said. That’s when manipulation starts. That’s when social media are mistaken for life. That’s when the thinking stops and the shouting begins.
            Those who want our support need to find that single nerve, reflexive and electric. A steady drone is an invitation to find the nearest sofa. Pavlov was wrong about this. We don’t care on cue.
            But hold on, he’s up, just about. This lazy ingrate does stretching like it’s an Olympic event. So what about those contestable polls?
            “Any random sample of stupid people answering stupid questions designed to provoke stupidity produces a result in favour of stupid.”
            You sure?

            “You asked, thicko.”

Thursday, September 05, 2013

After a busy day, he’s managing an entire parody while fast asleep. He’s dog-tired. I’d have to poke him awake to get him to sneer at the joke.
            Should you wish to understand the world in terms of types, however, the dog is interesting. That vain mutt is an English Pointer. What’s more, he is, reportedly, a “vanishing breed”. Still more, he has only one instinctive trick: he points.
            He was born below the border, in Northumberland. He crosses that line all the time. He is very fond of those people and those places. But let him run impatiently on the sand and turf he knows as his own: something thrills him. Then you see a rollicking animal complete in his landscape.
            More metaphors, then? Why not? The dog has an unvarying sense of self and place. He has a fixed idea of home. Take him away and he’s happy enough. He has lots of fun. Bring him back, though, and he points always at his patch of the planet.
            It would be a mistake to draw anthropomorphic lessons from the household deity. It would be an equivalent mistake to believe a word from a Secretary of State for Scotland, poor rescue beast. The third mistake would be to understand yourself only in terms of place and chance.
            But I am where I am. You choose and are chosen. When the dog points into the wind, I know he is smarter than I am. When you become attached to a place, ideas follow, then emotions. These things about our lives should not be denied, or venerated. But hell, he’s awake.
            “Do you think you could leave off the licking for once? I’m in the middle of something.”

            Dog says: “What? Them? They’ve had their parts licked often enough.”

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The dog just bounced back from one of those health things they call a scare. For a couple of weeks, we thought we had lost him. If we got lucky, they said, it might be no worse than the loss of a tongue, a jaw, or whole irradiated throat.
            If not, we should “prepare for the worst”. There was worse?
            Instead, we paid for a lesson in what it means to be uninsured in a world full of price points, in which Oscar Wilde on cost-and-worth has been put beyond parody, in which there is no NHS for dogs. What remains are feral types asking why an NHS could be cost-effective, as a “burden on the taxpayer”, for anyone.
            The dog, little bastard, refused to succumb. With a head full of dope he was probably as funny, in a fuckem kind of way, as me sober. I won’t lean against your leg while attempting a straight line, but he’s better-tempered. At the end of it all, the diagnosis said there was probably a “foreign body” under his tongue.
            “Dog,” I said. “You’re a metaphor.”
            “What else is new?” he said.
            “Besides, according to that nice lady who had her fist down my throat, these things ‘have a way of finding their own way out of the body’. If I’d known that, I wouldn’t have chewed on the crap in the first place.”
            “So you want to talk about metaphors now?”
            “Naw,” says the dog. “Show me the new polls instead. Then tell me how stupid you are, compared to me. What is that stuff you people swallow?

            “I might have evulsed a George Osborne on your carpet there, by the way. You might want to mop that up.”