J’espere

Just back from France…did I miss anything? And please don’t say the SNP conference. These events are the dullest, most choreographed bit of media tap-dancing you’ll ever come across, no matter how many cheering delegates and how many tambourines. Something must have happened.

Meanwhile I was literally in the geographic centre of the country in a non-tourist, farming area where there are endless hedge-lined fields, broadleaf woods, Limousin cattle and rustic hamlets with half-beamed houses and a million crumbling wooden barn doors. How many barns are there in France and what’s inside them?

You could drive all day and not see a soul – quite eerie. Everything looked shut even when it wasn’t. The pace of life isn’t so much slow as hibernatory. At this time of year Limousin is one long yawn as if saying summer is over, get ready for the winter sleep. Ah, the longueur.

It was a visit to Oradour-sur-Glane that brought me round. It’s the village targeted by the Nazis for eradication in June 1944 days after the Normandy landings. Over 600 were rounded up, moved in sections to different sites and machine-gunned before being burned. The women and children were crushed into the church and suffocated with smoke before the doors were held open to allow the SS to fire into them. There were six survivors. They laid waste to the village which was on a tram line from Limoges and was a popular spot for fishing with cafes, restaurants, fabric makers and hair dressers. And it’s all still there. De Gaulle asked for it to be preserved as a reminder and a new village was built nearby. You walk through the streets past the garage where one group of men were sprayed with bullets. The rusting hulks of 1940s Citroens still sit inside. In the blasted front room of a house where calcified remains were discovered, there is a sewing machine. In the market square where the SS held them before execution, the mayor’s car sits where he left it. There is the church window through which the sole woman survivor escaped and the impossibly well- preserved confessional box in which the bodies of two little boys were wedged, both shot in the neck.

It is a visit to recalibrate your compass. What does real terror feel like? When your eyes meet your mother’s as you are led away, do you reconcile yourself? When the black smoke fills the building do you lift the baby out of the pram to hold it or drape yourself over to protect it? (The pram is there in the sacristy). What happens to humans when all normal protections of law, security and understanding have gone? It was from the ashes of Oradour and other sites like it that an idea was born. Amid the fury and recrimination came the realisation that this was avoidable – that war itself could be pre-empted through treaty which is the formalisation of friendship. The early Franco-German alliance and the European Coal and Steel Community led to today’s EU. It was what we usually call a dream, an aspiration or, in modern political parlance, hope.

All this is a long way from our debate and you can’t walk through Oradour and think of politics as local government reform and tax policy, of personalities and polls. Much as we sometimes deny it because it’s good sport, politics is directly tied to people’s aspirations. It’s what they want for themselves and, as we asked in the indyref, what kind of country do you want to live in? I doubt if anybody of any party would fail to list safety and the pursuit of happiness and, if it were possible to ask villagers of Oradour, they would agree – to be safe and to be happy. Define, according to taste.

What war teaches us is that we all have the capacity for cruelty and the infliction of death but the construction of alliances and laws improves human relations and reduces the risks. France knew the route it must take after 1945 and in seeking those new friendships and pacts, it created a new age of optimism – and prosperity – across Europe. In short, it deployed hope not vengeance.

Sometimes the actions of men are inexplicable, occasionally so grave as to overwhelm our rational responses. That’s when we look beyond the conventional to the ethereal. We search for a reaction that is greater in force than the events that triggered it and there we find it in hope – a desire for, and belief in, better.

Beyond all the politicking of the economy, the health service or land reform, striving humans need a sense of hope. Not because Scotland faces imminent 1945-style attack but because it is a fundamental of the human condition that drives us forward and gives us a reason to continue. Your hope may be different from mine but it will have the same effect.

In catching up since my return, I see pieces by writers puzzled by on-going SNP success when (apparently) they are mired in sleaze. They are impervious to our smears and slights, might be another way of putting it. But I don’t find it surprising at all. They have a simple idea summed up in one word – Scotland – that anyone can make their own and they have a message based on debunking the old ways to create a better country – in other words, hope.

It is an idea that lies at the heart of all marketing and, indeed, is at the root of religion. No other party in Britain has fashioned a way of linking itself so successfully to the idea of hope. In Labour’s case, it has fallen into the trap of ridiculing it in the belief that an attack on high-flown aspirational rhetoric amounts to an attack on the SNP. This is just wrong. Listen to the voices on Billy Kay’s series The Cause on Radio Scotland on how they feel about their country and the future. From my own disbelief at how one group of Scots disparaged their own country in order to win, to others who’d do it all again tomorrow so hopeful, excited and inspired did it make them. People are sick of cynical, tired of the manipulative, hungry for positive. It doesn’t matter how much it’s just politicians’ talk, it’s important that it creates the mood music against which people make their judgments. It means that every time the SNP mess up, they are more likely to be forgiven. Voters aren’t daft. They know what politicians are don’t expect the SNP to be any different. But they believe they are trying to do right, are convinced they want better. You don’t have to like all the policies – who does? But since your government is tied directly to your happiness, don’t you want one that has a convincing line in hopeful language, one that shares your belief that there is a way to make things better? The opinion polls tell us a story the journalists cannot. The SNP have cornered the market in all-Scotland voting intentions and now they have taken out the copyright on Hope. They will own it for a long time to come.

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24 thoughts on “J’espere

  1. Oradour-sur-Glane is a reminder that when Pandora opened her box all that remained inside was hope.

    But Yes stuck its collective hand into Pandora’s box and pulled hope out for the whole world to see.

    I still hope – for, as the saying goes, without hope we have nothing.

    Glad to have you back Derek. It may not always feels like it but some of us appreciate what you write.

  2. How many years did the Labour party have control of Scotlands hope chest, when the need to open it and make use of what was inside nothing was found because nothing had ever been in there and it was not good

    The SNP have the hope chest now and they are doing something with it, a wise country would learn the lesson of not looking for the previous encumbents to do a Paul Daniels and produce now what they never brought forth before

    Time for a new act on stage with a brand new box and better magic

  3. You missed half of Gourock being evacuated when a diver found an unexploded torpedo. Then again, so did I, because I was at the media tap-dancing cavalcade in Aberdeen!

  4. Most Scots realise that the SNP will always put Scotland first and that the London based parties will not.

  5. On a visit to Oradour sur Glane last summer, my husband sat on a wall in that dreadful place and quietly fumed about several media commentators and blinkered unionists likening the SNP/Yessers to Nazis. He was disgusted that they should compare people wanting to build a better society to such an horrific regime.

    Along with their doom and gloom, unionists thought nothing of hurling such insults and untruths in the direction of the Yes campaign as witnessed when a grandfather pushing a child in a pram gave the Nazi salute in the direction of our Yes stall near the end of the campaign. Such was their terror and lack of vision.

    That we have a party which can still see the possibilities and is prepared to work for it, even in the face of such opposition, is truly heartening and I cannot see a reason why we would trust any of the unionist parties to put our best interests first. It looks very much like I am not alone.

  6. You missed McWhirter and McKenna hoping their sermons of morality a la Michelle (following your own) would somehow shine a light on the Truth. You also missed Adam Tomkins P.P. (professor of pish) hoping his bleating rant in the Spectator would somehow be read as being credible.Hope shines eternal.

  7. A good read Derek. Hope is a feeling. A belief in something. Today i look at our current vehicle to indy and i see the SNP as at the very least a proper governing party, of course they will make mistakes and of course so would any other party in power in Scotland. Now that i am happy that i know we have the talent to run Scotland. Today my YES credentials know that i dont want indy for some shallow reason i want it because i want my country back, i want my Scotland firmly in my pocket. It belongs to me and every other living human that walks and works and retires and lives in it because i feel the trust bond with every other Yesser because i know we can all work as one for the benefit of all. Scots are amazing people, we built the Empire for an ungrateful master, we gave the world TV, tarred roads and penicillin, imagine what we can achieve working together for the benefit of all not the few.

  8. I’m more than sick and tired of politicking and political games Derek.

    And you’re right, people aren’t daft. They do know that politicians have clay feet sometimes. I’m past giving a shit what any commentator or journo writes in the msm, for I know who will aspire to better and who believes in their electorate’s abilities. I know who put their trust in the electorate in a historic referendum and who’d do it all again at the drop of a hat should the public demand it.

    This was part of a post I wrote this over a year ago, but I believe it still holds true today.

    ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?

    That took courage for any party of government. They put the power to change an entire political system, the course of a country’s future in the hands of the electorate and declared a people’s referendum. And make no mistake, that’s exactly what the current Scottish government have done. They have given the people of Scotland the power to choose their own system of government. Not same chair, different hats, but different chair, wardrobe, room, house and street. Think about that for a minute. That is the opportunity that has been handed to the Scottish electorate. All those times you’ve wished you had the power to clean house and set things straight? Well now you’ve got it in the palm of your hand.

    Faith and trust, two very important words and I’d forgotten all about them and their meaning for such a long time. They rely on reciprocity, an exchange, a two way street. I believe that the Scottish Government and the YES campaign aren’t just asking us to have faith or trust in them though, but also in ourselves. They are asking that we put our cynicism to one side and have faith in a possible future and each other, in our families and communities to make that possible future a reality.’ (ends)

    So no, I really couldn’t care less for the political games played by parties, the media or the corporate world. I simply want my public servants to do a job of work. That they administer and steward effectively our resources and economy. That they do so with transparency and truthfully. That those out of government represent their constituents effectively and at every opportunity work with those in government to improve our lot in life. That those in government care for all of their electorate without fear or favour and from the least able to the most fortunate. Finally that they see to our needs and yes aspirations.

    No more ‘games’. No more direction and manipulation from on high with their media megaphones, their sociopathic focus groups and spads. They are neither needed nor wanted.

  9. I really do enjoy your unique way of writing and use of words.

  10. I was at the conference. Yes the main arena was a bit circus-like, but it is not all that goes on by any means. Some of the Fringe events were very interesting.

    I was not interested in the BBC event, since I expected them to use it as a weapon against SNP – especially after I saw the article about them being afraid of being subjected to abuse. I gather they did get some, but then as far as I can see they deserved it. The event was a set-up designed to get the result that they predicted. They only had cultural and entertainment people there. There was no-one from the political or news reporting at the BBC present.

    I was present at the Liberty event (chaired by a Guardian journalist) that was also manipulated to provide grist for the press mill. I do not think that the director of Liberty Sami Chakrabati has any idea of damage that has been done to the reputation of her organization by what went on there. I, for one will be reporting back to my branch about what transpired and I suspect that a delegate from a neighbouring branch in a different constituency will be doing the same.

    • Steve Asaneilean

      Bjsalba – do tell more about the Liberty event…

    • Steve Asaneilean

      My gripes with the BBC go way back. They have always treated Scotland as something of an irrelevance.

      I remember in the early 70s as a young school child being really peed off that I had to wait 2 weeks into the school holidays for holiday programmes to start when schools in England went on holiday.

      And of course it carried on well after Scottish schools were back and I have still never seen the final episodes of Flashing Blade or White Horses or Belleville and Sebastian or The Singing Ringing Tree.

      Trivial I know but utterly symptomatic of how the BBC regarded Scotland and still does.

      And then there was the tokenism. A token Scottish character in a sit-com or drama who usually fulfilled a typical Scottish stereotype (mad, bad or dangerous to know ). And quiz shows would have token Scottish contestants who seldom if ever won anything.

      And nothing has changed. Look at prime time Sunday evening viewing where the Antiques Roadshow pays a token once a year visit to Scotland or Countyfile which comes to Scotland once in a blue moon only to then trivialise and mis-report a serious issue like land reform.

      It’s all part of the “and now for the news where you are ” syndrome.

      Some will say that London being the HQ of the BBC and having a population almost as big as Scotland and functioning effectively as a state within a state thenot we shouldn’t be surprised at how the BBC treat us.

      That’s probably true but it doesn’t make it right or acceptable.

      It is time for the BBC to become truly federal utility don’t hold your breath.

      • Steve Asaneilean

        Typos – sorry – Belle not Belleville and I don’t know how utility appeared in the last paragraph when it should have read but

      • Travelling home from Inverness to Skye yesterday and trying to listen to the Scotland V Australia match on Radio Scotland reminded me just how even our “national broadcaster” is treated by London. Reception disappears pretty qiuickly for RS, although it takes much longer for Radios 1-4 to go, and they return much sooner as well.

  11. An inspired piece Derek. You say it like it is. Please never give up writing. Many thanks.

  12. You missed Alex Salmond’s “no more war” speech at the conference. Stage managed or not, that’s something you will never hear at any other party conference.

  13. Derek when you mention SNP mired in sleaze! Part of the reason the SNP vote is not affected. Is because we are a month into the Michelle Thomson case, and zero evidence has been bought against her.

    People can see it for what its is. Mud slinging , but the mud has dried and fallen off. I expect they will move onto their next victim shortly.

  14. The unionist media, including the bbc, knows it is losing Scotland, hence its increasingly hysterical attitude towards the SNP. We should expect even higher levels of unionist hysteria in the run-up to next years election and the forthcoming referendum.

  15. Better together didn’t just disparage Scotland to keep it in the union – they used their precious union as a wedge issue. 55/45 was the worst possible result for both sides but more so for them. They drove so many folk who once voted for the UK into an adversarial position, that meant these former lab/lib/con votes had no option but to vote for the SNP. The constant state of attack by the main WM parties in Scotland and the UK MSM are largely responsible for the success of the SNP. That is the real achievement of Better together and very ironic when you consider the 24/7 Hate that the SNP and the average SNP voter has to endure. They simply don’t seem able to make the connection between their present behaviour and the growing strength of the SNP.

    They’re like a wounded beast lashing out at anyone who comes near. They can’t move forward. They have no idea of how to deal with the situation rationally. They never planned for a narrow NO win. They had no plans in place for reconciling themselves with yes voters. It was clear that they never expected their campaign to have driven so many to the SNP. And having used their britishness as a dividing issue, they had no means to win any of them back. The liberals have collapsed. The tories are still dying slowly and Scottish labour is no longer a political party, it’s simply a braying mob.
    The MSM is uncritical in its support of these parties while looking to turn anything into an attack on the SNP. Subsequently the credibility of all is lying in tatters.

    Their new attack of “one party state” is simply laughable. At this point they are simply trolling Scotland and those who voted SNP. And you know what? I’ve stopped listening. I have stopped paying attention to them. I don’t read the papers. I don’t watch them on TV. I have never heard Corbyn speak – I don’t even know what he sounds like. I don’t click on the links, I don’t watch them on youtube. I’ve heard enough already…I don’t need to listen to them anymore. At this stage I couldn’t be less British unless I was from timbuktu.

    This was the result I feared the most. One that simply ensures that the death agonies of the union are going to be dragged out to intolerable levels.

  16. David I agree. All British means to me is Tory millionaires, House Of Lords, Royal Famiy and The Orange Walk. Nothing I aspire to be a part of!

  17. Next time you’re in my neck of the woods (La Creuse) feel free to drop by!

  18. RevStu told JK Rowling to do one…MSM Lapped it up.

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