Robert and Nicola

I was taken to task over my last post for not being sufficiently critical of the SNP. The reader pointed to specific policy shortcomings in investment and taxation, health and education—all of which, he added, are given a free pass because of the ‘indolence of journalists and incompetence of opposition parties’.

It’s hard to argue with that. The SNP’s record over twelve years in government does not lack poor decision-making, missed opportunities, wasted spending and poverty of vision. It would be extraordinary if it did. Running a country in the 21st century is a massively complicated business. 

The absence of forensic holding-to-account is also a problem, one that in part reflects the nature of enquiry in this high speed, digital, fake news age. Criticism is  essential, and it carries most weight when offered by someone occupying, as my reader did, ‘a broadly supportive position’. 

But with less than two weeks to go until the most important general election of our lives, I would respectfully suggest that we suspend criticism for a short while and focus not only on the urgency of the need to be free of Westminster, but also on why that freedom is so attractive.

Landing in a 21st century UK, he would be horrified by austerity, homelessness, child poverty and food banks.

Don Roberto would have been familiar with both propositions. The times have changed but the principles have not. He came to support independence for Scotland partly as a means of addressing the appalling living and working conditions of Scots, both highland and lowland, in the late 19th century; partly, the other side of the coin, as a response to the arrogance, condescension and disdain shown towards Scotland at a Westminster with which he was only too familiar.

But there was plenty in his background that predisposed him to these views, long before he entered parliament. On both sides of his family there was a tradition of radical, independent thinking. His maternal grandfather, an admiral, had assisted in the South American wars of liberation. His Graham forebear, Robert Graham of Gartmore, served as Whig MP for Stirlingshire and introduced a Bill of Rights.

 In his travels as a young man, particularly during the years he spent in Argentina in his early twenties, later in Texas and Mexico, Robert found a natural affinity for the oppressed indigenous peoples, the poor and disadvantaged, which was equalled only by his detestation of the overbearing swagger of the colonisers and exploiters. 

On his return to Britain, that sense of injustice found its focus both on the broader canvas of empire and imperialism, and in domestic issues including the case for Scottish home rule.  

Landing in a 21st century UK, he would be horrified by austerity, homelessness, child poverty and food banks. Brexit and the growth of British nationalism, with all its harking back to empire, would leave him dumbfounded; while Westminster attitudes to Scotland would seem dispiritingly familiar. 

But what would undoubtedly gladden his heart are the values which the party he helped to launch in 1934 so clearly espouses in 2019: tolerance, inclusion, social justice—the intention, however challenging, properly to look after everyone who lives in Scotland irrespective of age, wealth, health, occupation, social standing, belief, ethnicity or nationality. 

As an early champion of universal suffrage he would especially relish the thought of a woman as first minister.

As an avowed internationalist he would applaud Scotland’s global outlook, our wish to engage with our neighbours and play a greater role in world affairs, to rid ourselves of the obscenity of weapons of mass destruction. As someone deeply connected to nature and the natural world he would celebrate our aspirations for sustainability, the planting of trees and abandonment of fossil fuels. As a champion of decent living standards for all he would laud our respect for people’s right to a decent wage, a viable work-life balance and dignity in illness or old age.

And as an early champion of universal suffrage he would especially relish the thought of a woman as first minister. He would delight in Nicola Sturgeon as someone who, according to Suzanne Moore in this week’s Guardian, ‘reads, laughs, connects and does not suffer fools gladly’. He himself was widely read, possessed of an incisive wit, a formidable intellect and an ability to speak from the heart. 

Robert Cunninghame Graham and Nicola Sturgeon, the founding president and second first minister of the Scottish National Party; two people comfortable in their own skins, distinguishing themselves from their counterparts by their intelligence, curiosity and easy humanity, both in their own ways embodying those values closest to the hearts of independence-minded Scots everywhere.

Flamboyant as he was, acerbic as he certainly could be, Don Roberto was, I’m coming to understand, an essentially kind person; and the Scotland he wanted, like the Scotland we want today, is an essentially kind place.

There is no doubt at all that the United Kingdom Boris Johnston wishes to govern will be an essentially unkind place. We cannot, we must not, allow ourselves to be part of that. When, on the other hand, we gain our independence, we have what it takes to shine like a beacon of decency and sanity in a troubled world.

3 thoughts on “Robert and Nicola

  1. I believe you have your finger on the very spot when you identify the likely future options of a) A kinder Scotland with Independence or b) A reduced kindness quotient in a post-Brexit, imperialist nostalgia UK.

    We all need to take a clear sighted view of these 2 possible ‘futures’. I know which one I want to see come about. Here’s hoping sufficient numbers of my fellow Scots (New Scots and born Scots) feel the same and choose ‘Bairns Not Bombs’ as the old (but good) slogan has it. Thanks for a good read, Ludo

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve hit several nails on their heads. I so enjoy your accounts and reflections on Robert Cunninghame Graham, of whom, as a new Scot, I knew nothing till well after I moved to Scotland 30 years ago. Let’s hope all of us will choose, and uphold, that kind place.

    Liked by 1 person

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