The swifts have returned to my bit of West Lothian. They turn up round about the same time every year. Not on an exact date but in this first couple of weeks in May. They arrive on a south or south-west wind and bring cheer to the heart and confirmation that the long gloomy Scottish winter is finally past.
My spirits were lifted this weekend not only by the arrival of these aerial visitors from the south but by the news that the so called ‘national anthem’ had been booed by Liverpool football fans at the English FA Cup Final. Fans didn’t just restrict themselves to expressing displeasure at the dreadful monarchist dirge but jeered Prince William too.
Establishment politicians and commentators are aghast. PM Johnson claimed it was, ‘a great shame’. The former bishop of Liverpool said fans were ‘misdirected’. The bishop says that Queen Elizabeth ‘came to the city quite a number of times for the Royal Variety, for the Golden Jubilee’. Well, who wouldn’t be impressed by all of that? The ingrates really need to go back to their zero hours contract jobs and ponder the sacrifices the head of state has made by pretending to be amused by music hall entertainers.
The booing of God Save Queen and the jeering of William Wales delivered tiny moments of welcome relief in the face of the North Korean style enforced monarchist adulation to which we are being presently subjected. These events tell something too of the more mixed views that are found in the wider population.
When I was 9 I went to the top of our street to see the Queen and her entourage pass by on her way from Aberdeen airport to her holiday castle at Balmoral. Nothing really happened. It was by in a moment, even at the more sedate pace of motor transport at the time. I didn’t do it again. I discovered I was immune to the ‘magic’.
My personal relationship with the Windsors continued to develop when in 1977 we had a day off school when the queen visited Aberdeen on her Silver Jubilee tour of the UK. I arrived in the city centre to discover that some students had raised the red flag on Marischal College. Demonstrators were handing out leaflets that proclaimed, ‘Stuff the Jubilee, Fight the Cuts!’. I think I was probably already a fully-fledged republican at that age and I was soon handing out leaflets along with the protestors. I was certainly already an active supporter of Scottish independence and in my experience republican sentiment and backing indy go together.
Most people reading this post will be like me – independence supporters. And most of you will be republicans too. In my near on 5 decades of pro independence activism I’ve only ever met one monarchist on our side, an idiosyncratic individual famous for being a contrarian. This raises some fundamental questions about our movement.
In short these questions are:
Are we being honest with ourselves and the rest of the community about who we are? Are we being truthful about the type of Scotland we want to build? Does it matter ?
I’m not a supporter of Alba. I think the self-expulsion of many Alba activists from the SNP is possibly one of the best things to have happened to that party in recent times. But Alba were at least honest on the question of the monarchy and in this regard they probably represented the views of the vast majority of indy supporters and a large section – possibly most – of the Scottish electorate.
Can’t the rest of us be a bit more like Alba and tell the truth about this issue? Critics will argue that when Salmond was SNP leader he was far more circumspect about the matter. Of course his position was developed for a range of understandable reasons, mainly in order to build the coalition he believed was needed to gain a majority in 2014. And yes, it is easier for insurgents to take more radical positions on controversial subjects especially when they are appealing to an already convinced hard core.
But, honestly, can the rest of us really stay silent about the Versaillesesque scenes of decay we witnessed recently when a golden crown was driven to the UK Parliament in its own car? At the same time as living standards fall to their lowest for decades?
Our faux internationalist Labour opponents used to repeat the tired cliche that Liverpool dockers had more in common with workers on Clydeside than the Scottish haute bourgeois. It was meant to be an argument against independence. But like all clichés its main function was to limit thought and curtail discussion. Having a lot in common with people in other countries doesn’t mean you have to submit to their ruling class or enable the systematic exploitation of your country’s resources, or the denigration of your people and culture.
But today I am thinking about that cliché afresh. I am most definitely on the side of the refuseniks of Liverpool, the people who won’t doff their caps or tug their forelocks to the Windsors. I have a message of solidarity for them – ‘On to a Scottish Republic! Come and join us when we get there!’