Andrew O’Hagan should, by all rights be a Scottish national treasure. A stunningly successful writer he’s won and been nominated for pretty much every major award a writer can be. He’s written plays, fiction – even ghost-wrote for Julian Assange. Yet he managed to get himself in trouble with his essay ‘Scotland’s Auld Injury.’ The essay systematically rips into the myth of a progressive, liberal, open-minded nation, seeing Scotland’s values as tribal, insular, canny and conservative. It isn’t hard to see why it attracted so much ire, but it’s noticeable just how much attention Scotland’s political class seem to have given it, especially in the midst of the campaign for independence.
Both sides it seems, have been paying attention to O’Hagan – we’ve had servile unionists, traitorous Nats, Bitter Together, Project Fear and so on (all SO clever). Both sides of the debate have formed their own canny, tribal and conservative modes of discussion, for better or worse. The problem is that end result – the resulting mainstream political discourse has remained stubbornly, relentlessly, blindingly dull. Independence has for the most part been reduced to a kind of Chinese water torture of economic facts and figures. We’ll be this much better off; we’ll be this much worse off and so forth as if the only thing that could possibly inspire is the thought of gaining or losing abstract numbers. In short, much of the political discussion has seemed to be aimed at those thrilled to their very core by the concept of 5% GDP growth.
Not a bad thing by any means but it can’t have been just me whose been asking for something more from the greatest constitutional moment in the nation’s history.
Finally, after all this time and after getting so close to the end of the campaign for independence, finally there’s a part of this campaign to get excited about. National Collective, a group of pro-independence creative types including writers, artists, poets, actors and musicians have launched a summer festival, touring around Scotland to present and articulate what independence might look like through music, theatre and the arts.
It’s an idea wonderful in its simplicity as National Collective grasp what seems to have eluded others in this debate, namely that economics is not the same as politics and that value doesn’t necessarily solely reside in credit ratings.
It’s easy to dismiss any kind of politics that doesn’t shroud itself in think tank reports and statistics as naïve or unrealistic but the admirable thing about National Collective is the acknowledgement that politics is not just national but personal. Making a new nation doesn’t just involve making new borders but new values and it’s through engagement, creation and art that these can be articulated. Yestival may not heal the auld injury in one summer tour but finally it seems there are those in Scottish politics willing to give it a try.