In his recent SR article, Gerry Hassan
writes that: 'across too many areas, Scotland is not going in the right direction'. He also laments the poverty of thinking which has come from the two main left-of-centre political parties, Labour and SNP. On both counts, I am in agreement. However, the responsibility for the failures of the dominant Scottish Left go far beyond two political parties. It is now almost five years since the independence referendum. In the months and years running up to the vote, there was a huge outpouring of political discussion and writing. Overwhelmingly, it came from the Left. The public was, to an unusual extent, actively engaged in this process.
In terms of putting Scotland in the 'right direction', what was achieved? Sadly, I would say very little. Where original ideas were discussed, such as on land reform, most of the public showed little interest. On the issues which normally dominate elections, such as economic prospects, schooling, the NHS and policing, almost nothing worthwhile was produced. Of the large number of books produced, how many are still worth reading? Again, it's difficult to be positive. This amounts to an intellectual failure and not merely that of one or two large political parties.
At the heart of this failure, two factors stand out. First, radical change in Scotland, such as the Left purports to support, would involve disruptive change which would work against the interests of a significant number of Scots. There is no external source of wealth which would allow Scotland to become fairer and more equal without the creation of economic losers from the existing middle class. In consequence, there is no stomach for such change among the voters and – I suspect – many commentators.
Second, there is an absence of creative thinking. It is entirely acceptable to speak of a lack of talent in Scottish football. Drawing attention to a similar dearth of talent in Scottish political thinking appears taboo. The most impressive book I read at the time of the referendum was by Jim Sillars, who is now well into his eighth decade. Whether Scotland remains in the UK or becomes independent, it is unlikely to change for the better until this state of
affairs alters. It is unlikely to alter till it is acknowledged.
Gerry Hassan asks: 'What kind of a country do we want?', but whatever the answer, my question is do we really want to go independent when almost half the country disagrees with that according to the Ashcroft poll?
What some might regard as one of the most uplifting social events seen in Scotland for many a year took place last month. It was – now please don't switch off – a rowing regatta in Stranraer. The boats were what they call 'skiffies', that is, 22-foot home-made rowing boats made out of plywood and held together with glue. Ten years ago, there weren't any of these boats – they hadn't even been invented. Now, there are 350 all over the world and no, they aren't Chinese imports that you can buy at Amazon. All of them, every last one, was built from a kit by a community – a fiddly job at best that takes around three months, and that's if you know what you are doing.
Some 242 of these boats have been built in Britain. It's astonishing, and the building of many of them has often kicked off a real sense of community, sometimes in communities where, up till then, folk were hardly ever talking to one another. And these boats aren't just in Britain. There are 38 in the US, 26 in Australia and 23 in Northern Ireland. And that's just a sample.
Let me tell you about just one of those clubs – this one is by Strangford Loch. They have 130 rowers and two boats, and such is the keenness to get on the water that some of their rowers have been known to go out and practice at four in the morning so they could all get to work. One team at the regatta had all given up drink for a month before the racing.
The idea for the boats came from the Scottish fisheries museum who were working with a kit boat manufacturer, Alec Jordan, who suggested they employ this famous rowing boat designer called Iain Oughtred who lived in a wee croft house in Skye. Iain had already designed over 100 boats though none had made him much money. He was 70 and a bit disheartened. He reckoned they would sell about a dozen. I spoke to Iain at the regatta. Now nearly 80, he could hardly believe what he was seeing at the end of his career. He's stuck at his dream for the better part of 60 years and now it's all coming good.
The Stranraer event was called the World Championships and over 600 rowers of all ages were taking it in turn to use 56 boats for wild and cheering races. The majority of the rowers were women in their middle years.
Personally I found the whole thing incredibly uplifting. It seems that folk still yearn for community, for sharing, for being healthy and having a laugh with your pals. I asked Iain Oughtred for a quote and he stopped and thought about it a while before replying: 'The process is about team work, the fundraising, the building, the rowing. You build a boat and on the way you build a community'.
Some people regarded last week's rowing regatta at Stranraer as being one of the most uplifting social events seen in Scotland in recent years. Count me in as one of them.
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