I had an odd sensation at SNP conference in Aberdeen last weekend; like being at the top of a rollercoaster, waiting for the thrill of the drop. When next we meet as a party, the referendum will be over and Scotland will be changed forever. It’s almost overwhelming to consider the implications, but the sense of excitement amongst activists at conference was very real.
The emotions of conference felt particularly strong to me – I’m always mindful that on this journey to independence we carry the hopes of those who have passed along with the opportunities of those to come. Yet, I was deeply moved by conference’s applause for Margo MacDonald, brought to tears by the very heartfelt and personal reflections of Elaine Wylie, and felt the soles of my feet prickle in anticipation when Margaret Ferrier asked us to close our eyes and imagine what we would feel like the day we won a Yes for the people of Scotland.
There was, of course, a more practical side to conference: I enjoyed hearing from the academic Clodagh Harris at the Electoral Reform Society fringe on the Irish Constitutional Convention. It was good timing, with Nicola Sturgeon recently announcing that there would be an interim Scottish constitution released in the summer. The Electoral Reform Society have set out their views on their website. A constitution is a precious thing and will set our course as a nation – I hope that there is room to hear from the public (if not before the referendum, certainly after) in a meaningful way about what they would like to see in there. The Irish experience seemed to show that there may well be matters which politicians or constitutional scholars might not put on a list for consideration. Securing the rights of our citizens and holding to the highest principles of equality and justice should be in there; I’m sure a crowdsourced constitution could come up with some interesting ideas.
It was pleasing to hear Alex Salmond announce in his speech that with the very well deserved elevation of Shona Robison and Angela Constance, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet would be 40% female. It’s an important statement of intent, and like the constitution, will serve as an example to boards throughout Scotland.
Away from conference, I was bemused to see that Blair McDougall, the head of the No campaign, had tweeted a photo putting the positive case for the union: £3 a pint in the UK as opposed to more expensive beers in Sweden, Denmark and Norway. It’s hardly a professional, serious debating point, and he was quick to claim he was just sharing it because he thought it was funny. National Collective were just as speedy in finding and publishing the far more significant point that average salary levels in the Scandinavian countries are far above the UK. I’ll drink to that!
Jimmy Halliday’s contributions to the Cause
Jimmy Halliday – lifetime Nationalist
To put matters into context, in 1955 the SNP contested only two Parliamentary seats in Scotland. Dr Robert McIntyre fought Perth and East Perthshire and Jimmy Halliday fought Stirling and Falkirk Burghs. Jimmy then became the youngest ever SNP Chairman and served 1956-70; in 1956 the entire SNP Conference delegates were photographed on the steps of the Allan Water Hotel, Bridge of Allan.
There will be a Referendum for Scottish Independence this year, which was unthinkable in the dark days of 1955. Jimmy died on 3rd January 2013 at the age of 85, and we will be publishing all his articles in the Scots Independent, all those we have electronic input for. It is anticipated we will publish a book with all his contributions over many years but this will have to wait until after the Referendum.
Music and songs and political history – SI December 2008 – James Halliday
When like minded people assemble singing can be spontaneous.
Nations have their anthems because people find in music and song the means to enthuse, to bond, and to celebrate all the loyalties which bring us together. Political causes and movements too provide expression of their views and aspirations in song, and through these songs we can arrive at an understanding of their history.
Songs and music can also be a weapon.
“One man with a dream, at pleasure
May go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song’s measure
Can trample an empire down.”
So the poet tells us. It’s not quite as easy as his lines suggest but they hold more than a grain of truth. The 17th century street ballad “Lilliburlero” was said to have the tune which “sang and whistled a king out of three kingdoms”, and James VII and II certainly fell victim to the effective musical propaganda of 1688.
Winnie Ewing remarked at the Conference that her deep affection for Moray and its folk was well-justified because, “They sing in Moray”. So they do, and when like-minded people assemble singing seems to happen spontaneously. Student debates, as I well recall, would end, while voting went on, with rival outbursts of singing. A frequent alliance in my time greeted victory with “Scots Wha Ha’e”, “The Soldiers’ Song” and “The Internationale”. There’s a Popular Front to reflect upon.
Waiting for the result of Robert McIntyre’s by-election in Stirling, time passed in song. And I recall with pleasure sharing duets with Anthony Kerr with “Die Wacht am Rhein”, with Hugh MacDonald with “The Foggy Dew” and with Eoin Grant and “The John McLean March”. We were ready to fight another campaign all over again by the time the choruses had ended.
Then there was Hampden Park on International Day. Community singing was officially organised. Mr Elliot Dobbie would climb to his rostrum on the centre spot, and lead us in our patriotic repertoire. We sang “Hail Caledonia” and “Scotland Yet” and many Harry Lauder classics.
One especial favourite I remember, deeply appreciated by those nearby, eyes shut, heads back, bellowing with fervour, was “The Wells o’ Wearie”. In the years between the wars, for no reason that I ever heard explained, this song, even though it is set in Edinburgh, was the anthem of choice of Rangers supporters. One journalist of the time described a meeting at which the Chairman said “We will now stand for the Scottish national anthem”. According to his report “The band played Scots Wha Ha’e and the crowd sang The Wells o’ Wearie”. On the whole Scottish football supporters were better served by “Hail Caledonia” and “The Wells o’ Wearie” than by much of the unsavoury doggerel which has taken their place.
Unfortunately songs can provide occasions for bad feeling and we seem currently to be in such a situation. The lyrics can give offence, but intent should be considered before offence is taken. Lyrics often refer to events centuries ago, and really people might consider a kind of Statute of Limitations on taking offence, unless the words are even to-day offensive and carry the intention to provoke. In such circumstances the police can deal with any incitement to breach of the peace.
What really ought to be challenged is the readiness to take offence when not a word has been uttered but when even the melodies can be used to justify petulance and hostility.
For instance, around 1862 Chaplain Cameron of the Army of the Confederate States of America, wrote words and music to the title “God Save the Southern Land”. The tune was pilfered and used in England to accompany the words of “God Bless the Prince of Wales”. A geographical sidestep took the same tune to Ireland where it acquired new lyrics about “Derry’s Walls”. Is Chaplain Camerons tune to be forever silenced along with the lyrics?
Henry Clay Work wrote “Marching through Georgia”. Probably no one is ever tempted to whistle it anywhere between Atlanta and the sea. But of course the choral fame of Mr Donald Findlay and others has put the tune on the banned list here as well.
Some ill-considered parodying of original lyrics is now threatening to make unacceptable the fine ballad “The Wreck of the Sloop John B”. It has been a delightful item in many a folk concert and we must hope that it can be allowed to survive Dr John Reid’s recent and current campaign.
Unwisdom is at its most obvious at football grounds, and behaviour there is most frequently loutish and offensive. But in the wider society we should wish to retain the freedom to remember tunes and lyrics alike, enjoying the knowledge that they have brought to their hearers over generations. References to events long gone should be valued as history and no longer be inflammatory to calm and reasonable minds.