Wednesday, 20 April 2016

Scottish Circles

I am just back from a week in Scotland. A week of talking and walking and island hopping from West to East and back. Walking and talking in circles.

Scotland has so many circles. I sat one night in the candlelit circle of a tiny bar on an island south of Skye, and sang circular Gaelic songs of the waulking. Here was a circle - half the population of the island with a handful of incomers - of people who love the ancient stony roots of the Gàidhealtachd, its history and its legends.

Then I talked with another circle, that might have been on another planet, about the landowners and the salmon fishing proprietors and their fear that the bureaucrats were about to enter their world in the form of regulation. The circle felt distant until we talked of the ghillies, Gaelic-speaking men (universally, men) who kept the rivers from the poachers.

In Edinburgh, with my best friends, I sat in a debating circle, critical of Government (in the proper sense of critical, the good and the not so good) and keen to see more radical policies, to break up power blocs from the landowners to the private schools, to shake up Scotland and put together a modern, egalitarian democracy.

In another home I talked with old friends in high places about life in the upper circle, about golf clubs and committees. Scotland's upper circle is very small, and anyone in this circle knows all its other members. 
For hundreds of years its most ambitious members have headed south for the vortex of London, and my old friends are likely to do the same.

I met more circles - the rugby circle, the business circle, the young circles of students and schooling. All of them interlinked so that a person in one can connect to another, but each with their own priorities, dreams, desires and politics.

We sometimes think of the independence debate, or the debate on wealth and poverty, as one-dimensional: 'Yes', or 'No Thanks', 'keep it' or 'share it'. But Scotland is such a wonderfully diverse place, with so many circles of light, that we do well to remember that the 'Yes' or the 'No' come from circles of motives, fears, desires and dreams. We need debates and arguments that cover all the angles for all of these  circles if we are to persuade 51% that it is time to stand upright as a nation.

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