Dumfries is broken. It’s a Netto Ghetto, Lidled into submission by German market economics, charity outlets and pound shops. Sometime soon the charity shops are going to eliminate the middle man and start handing out their takings to anyone walking past. The Loreburn Shopping Centre is full of damaged people with limps wearing beige polyester and combovers as they make for the ranks of mobility scooters parked outside the perma-shuttered branch of HMV. Saturday virgins in panstick makeup sashay down faux-marble shopping centre catwalks in spray-on clothes; teenage boys with gelled hair and spots swagger in Bench and Superdry, looking almost but not quite completely unlike the chisel-chinned blue eyed photoshopped Hollywood heroes they aspire to be. They have the same number of limbs and heads, and that’s where the resemblance stops.
I’m reminded of Charlie Brooker’s comment about humanity—six billion farting skittles with their haircuts on. Over by Specsavers, the auto-doors let you out into the drumming rain with a hiss that sounds like an old woman’s rebuke. A busker plays Mandy, badly; in the street the women come and go, talking of Barry Manilow. Outside Superdrug there’s a kids’ carousel wired up to a generator. Most mothers ignore it, because it’s £2 a go. The owner is wise, however. He’s priced three goes at a fiver, which is just about long enough for the mothers to smoke a cigarette and scratch their misspelt home tattoos before heading off to Greggs for a pasty. There’s a Greggs either end of Dumfries’s pedestrianized High Street and one in the middle, appropriately sited next to the Heart and Stroke Foundation’s furniture shop which offers plywood and MDF starter-packs to those pregnant teenagers lucky enough to have been given local authority accommodation in the boonies on the floodplain beyond the Whitesands. Broken bottles and jacked-up cars with the wheels gone.
Ah, the humanity.
My wife’s in New Look taking clothes from a hanger, my daughter’s in Waterstone’s checking out Manga. You read it from the back, evidently. This also works for Murakami, I’m told, but I don’t speak Japanese and the insipid translations always put me off. I’m sitting on a graffitied bench with my mobile waiting for the Hay Day paddlesteamer, and when I finally stand up and catch my reflection in the window of Poundland I realise I’m broken too. Fifty years of pies and lager, forty years of twenty-a-day and no exercise other than a vague and uninterested stroll to the nearest field to empty the dogs. Lard, booze and fags, Scotland’s new triumvirate of narcotising pharmaceuticals. They’ve done for me, rendered me shapeless, uninteresting and uninterested. They’ve done what all drugs do. They’ve killed the pain and made me love Big Brother, even when Jim Davidson wins. I look like the sort of man who lives alone, of whom neighbours would later tell reporters “you know… quiet… you’d never have thought it of him…” I’m a fat bastard in a stained t-shirt and joggers. I blend in perfectly. My wife and daughter appear from different shops and I’m absurdly glad to see them because they love me.
Up above the shower passes and the sky turns a bluer shade of autumn. The trees, stunted and cowed in their squares of dried earth and dogpiss set in High Street concrete, are going the colour that makes autumn my favourite season. A brace of Easyjets, crossing as they head for Glasgow and Edinburgh airports, leave a perfect saltire vapour trail scratched across the blue. A perfect sky-cliché that reflects the more earthbound Scottish cliché of life in Dumfries on a Saturday afternoon. Smile, at least you’re not in Kilmarnock…
The sun’s come out and the day’s grown windless and warm, but the trees in the frost hollow at St Anne’s Bridge have gone that autumn colour. I’m driving home in the last aircon of summer. My wife is dozing, nursing a can of Vimto (I’m thirsty so I debate taking the can from her slackening grasp, but I couldn’t possibly drink anything that was an anagram of vomit). My daughter’s nodding to music that sounds like white noise and roaring reproduced through the moody set of Dr Dre headphones I got her from a Porto Pollensa market stall in Majorca last year. It sounds like there’s a small bird trapped inside her head trying to get out. A useful metaphor for Scotland, I think.
It is of course, not fair. I’ve just spent the afternoon shuffling through the political and social debris of what it means to be British these days. But five hundred years ago Scotland gave England a king. He was James the first of England, although we’d already had five previous Jameses up here, so he was the sixth for us. As such, it seems a little unfair that we’re having to beg to be set free from England. It should be the other way round, really, considering we loaned them a whole royal family. We should be cornering England behind the bike sheds every morning and stealing its pocket money. We should be beating the shit out of it on the sportsfield, in the science labs, on stage and on screen, round the back of the pub on a Saturday night armed with Stanley knives and fuelled by lager and aggression (hang on, I’m reliably informed that we do in fact have that last one covered…) But generally speaking, we’re forced to abide by decisions made in parliament four hundred miles away in another country; we were the experimental field for the Poll Tax, we’re a Tory-free zone governed by Tories who look at us in the way a retired colonel looks at his pet Labrador. We’ve been England’s bitch for a few centuries, and we’re comfortable with it now. But if Scotland is an oil rich state and the United Arab Emirates is an oil rich state, how come we don’t have their wealth? Why isn’t Glasgow like a slightly chillier Dubai, all skyscrapers and students learning how to base-jump in their gap years? Scotland should be minging with MILF shopping at thousands of Waitrose branches the length of the land. Scotland should be awash with Italian supercars and upper crust shoe-shops where you can slip into something less comfortable for the price of a small car. Dumfries should be a little southern Scottish outpost for Hermes, Chanel and Jimmy Choo. Instead its herpes, River Island and Shoe Zone Direct. We go shoplifting in Primark when we should be drinking double latte decaffs in the upstairs bistro at Harvey Nicks.
So really, what the fuck? Where is our money? Well, here’s a clue: the vast majority of high profile politicians in Westminster are Eton-educated millionaires who are currently putting on their serious faces and pretending to give a fuck about what they consider to be five million or so barely continent knuckle-scrapers north of an imaginary border the Romans built a couple of millennia ago. These politicians have all read Machiavelli, possibly even in the original Italian at Cambridge. “Men have imagined republics and principalities that never really existed at all. Yet the way men live is so far removed from the way they ought to live that anyone who abandons what is for what should be pursues his downfall rather than his preservation; for a man who strives after goodness in all his acts is sure to come to ruin, since there are so many men who are not good.”
Ah, Niccolò, never a truer word…
But however we live, we deserve some kind of say in it or democracy is lost, and we might as well be the thirty million Indians who starved to death in the eighteenth century while their British rulers feasted on imported delicacies, or the millions of native Americans slaughtered by the Manifest Destiny policy of the conquering heroes of the west, or the twenty million people who died during Mao’s Great Leap Forward, or the other twenty million who died during his Cultural Revolution, or the thirty million that died from Stalin’s purges, or the seven million Jews in World War II. Whatever we might think about our Blairs and Camerons and even our Thatchers, they’re positive saints compared to the peoples’ champions of socialism who grabbed the reins in twentieth century Europe and beyond. But the idea of actually being ruled by Tories is akin to being adopted by the sort of people who pick the disabled kids because they’ll be able to spend their DLA. We’d quite like to slouch towards Bethlehem on our own hands and knees to be reborn, if that’s OK with everyone else.
So of course, in this issue concentrating on the power of change, it’s Scotland that springs to mind for me. Cradle of literature from Walter Scott to Irvine Welsh, our identity calls us home like Caledonia. The main problem for me, of course, is that I’m English, but given that I married a Scotswoman (it’s a bit like marrying an Italian girl except with less reason or accountability, more bruising and much bigger tits, in case you’re ever tempted) and have a half-Scottish daughter that talks like a native and swears like one, I hope that after nearly twenty five years I’ll be allowed to stay.
England probably wouldn’t want me back anyway.
But in the morning when I look out through my window over the fields to the low hills of the Southern Uplands, I realize I’d like to have a bit more say in how things are run. These same mist-covered mountains I’m staring at are probably owned by Lord Cunt of Cuntshire, who grows pines or plants windfarms and hides his income in the Maldives so that we can’t have it. But like Icarus ascending on beautiful foolish arms, we can reclaim this land. We can be owners of all we see, not just the curtains. Oil reserves, natural resources of wind and wave power, tourist income from all the shortbread and jimmy-hats, and some form of national heritage that incorporates stab wounds, ginger people, alcohol and a national musical instrument that’s as close to actual violence as music gets without amplification.
It’s Wednesday, September 17th, and it’s in our grasp. Here, the local farmers have big “No Thanks” signs in the backs of their Range Rovers and the housing estates are covered in “yes” posters sellotaped into grimy windows. There won’t be an election more important than this, there probably won’t be a British political decision as important as this in my lifetime. We can bring it all crashing down. Cameron as “the man who lost Scotland”, the Tories as a spent fizzle like a damp firework, sad and ridiculous in their postures of spurious concern for pretty much anything north of the M25. For our children’s sake, if not our own, for their free health care, for their free education even unto university, for a welfare state that’s not run by millionaires bent on breaking it. In the final analysis, for a country that’s a little bit distanced from the really dangerous loose cannons, the politicians pretending to be hapless buffoons: Boris Johnson and his haircut, Nigel Farage sipping a pint of real ale outside the Bigot’s Head. Independence is a vote against the UKIP fools who stood up as one and turned their backs on the European president at the first sitting of the European parliament a month or so back, a vote against burgers and fries and 51st state politics, a vote for the calm waters of Europe, seaside icecreams, wine and mañana, French food, the architecture of Florence, the art of Spain, the scenery of Switzerland and whatever good things the Germans have.
We’re in the last chance saloon. If we say no we’ll be punished severely, like a wife who dared to have an opinion of her own, we’ll be walking into some doors soon if we don’t run, now, over the hills and far from this abusive relationship we’ve endured for so long. Now, for the sake of the kids, while the highway’s jammed with broken heroes, grab your opportunity and run like a bastard…
They say that to vote for change is harder than to vote for the status quo. It’s a leap of faith, with unknown consequences. That’s the only possible reason I can give for the outbreak of cowardice that gripped the Scottish public yesterday. It’s Friday September 19th. Scotland is still broken, limping and lame, but the wound is self-inflicted this time around. It wasn’t even close in the end. Bits of Glasgow and Dundee said yes, but that was about it. So next time anyone Scottish moans on about the Tories or the government 400 miles away that doesn’t care, just tell them to shut the fuck up and fuck the fuck off (unless they’re bigger and drunker than you are). We had our chance and we blew it. They can do what they want to us now. They’ve taken the oil and given us their nuclear weapons storage facilities in return; they’ve played political experiments with us and now we wanna be their dog, willing victims begging for more. It’s depressing, demeaning, dispiriting and disappointing.
There is of course a school of thought that says it’s better to subvert from within. That school of thought probably never witnessed Britain’s slow, methodical abandonment of Scotland—the shipyards and the coalmines gone, the heavy industry and the trade gone. If people were frightened that English businesses would leave Scotland if it gained independence they’ve only to look at the last forty years to see that a precedent has already been set. So subversion from within is the only option now. Salmond’s going, Sheridan and Galloway are walking political cartoons and there’s no solid opposition, the road is clear for UKIP and an extension to British Nationalism under one flag. There ain’t no tartan in the Union Jack—just underneath it. This is something we’ll need to struggle against constantly and slowly. They say it’s impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, but that’s not strictly true. Someone once said (it might have been Terry Pratchett, it certainly sounds like one of his) that it’s entirely possible; all you need is a blender, a fine-needle syringe and a great deal of patience. That’s what we’ll need now; patience is our only option, but in the meantime the nightmare stalks the land and there’s no lights. Bagpipes are droning down into silence all over Scotland, we will not in our lifetimes hear them squeal again. Hey, every cloud. In the meantime, there’s a road in Lockerbie called Cameron Close, and someone has scrawled a message under the street sign that reads “He fuckin is now”. David Cameron is a happy man. Well, come away in, Dave, you’ll have had your tea.