Thursday 18 September 2014

Positively No

This looks set to be my last poetic offering before the polls open in the referendum. Should Scotland be an independent country?

Positively No

No is a powerful word.
It stood alongside my grandfather and fought the fascists
as opportunistic nationalism swept through Europe.
It did not appease; it did not acquiesce.
No knew that the right answer is not always yes,
no matter how convinced and optimistic other people are.

No is defiant word.
Not afraid to make waves,
it teaches us to swim against the current to reach surer conclusions.
No knows that going with the flow exposes us to greater danger downstream,
obstacles, turbulence and passing predators,
where the banks become less secure
and our footing can be readily washed away
at the mercy of rapid fluctuations.
No is prepared to direct its energies upwards
towards broader channels and temperate pools.

No is often a kind word.
Gifted in an embrace, it holds the hand of those we hold dear
when it would be cruel to stand aside.
It does not idly scaremonger
but it alarms when there are real risks too important to ignore.
No has the strength and composure to resist initial resistance
and insist that facts should be checked,
that assertions should be challenged,
that consequences should be considered.
It does not deny choice
but it does not desert its duty of care.
No is not about scoring points.
It seeks to avoid “I told you so” so long as any friendship remains.
If it is not believed,
and it turns out our loved ones have been deceived,
it will at least make it easier to sleep while we grieve.

No can be a positive word.
It can look your partner in the eye and see a way forward through the tears.
It does not write off three hundred years
of give and take
in favour of giving up and taking umbrage.
Neither does it condemn irreconciled parties to a closed sentence –
rather, it invites a new conjunction: no, but...; no, and....
It is not the end of the story
but the turning point.

To turn to the question at hand, do we want to erect invisible barriers
that change partners into neighbours, neighbours into strangers,
strangers into rivals, rivals into enemies?
Do we want to abandon our place on the world stage
and leave our diminished commonwealth to be scavenged by big business?
I choose not to “make a difference” by withdrawal.
Subtraction is a negative operation.
No is a positive answer.

Wednesday 17 September 2014

The New Religion

I performed an edited version of this yesterday evening, between 6.30pm and 7pm, on BBC Radio 5 Live. You can hear (and see!) the abbreviated poem here. The full text is below.

The New Religion

Is unpleasant reality getting you down?
Do you feel that your life’s in a terrible mess?
Well, hey!  There’s a new religion in town:
whatever the question, the answer is yes!

Independence, dear flock, is the way and the truth:
there’s a book full of words with the weight to impress.
It is self-evidential; there’s no need for proof.
If you will but believe, then the answer is yes!

We must hope with our heart and not fear with our head,
with uncritical fervour our credo profess.
For doubt is offensive to those who want led
into absolute certainty.  Good folk vote yes.

Because they love their children.  I ask you: do you?
Do you care about all your successors’ success?
Are you not on “Team Scotland”?  I’ll give you a clue:
unless you’re a traitor, the answer is yes.

We are not anti-English, except when we are.
Northern Ireland and Wales?  Where are they?  I digress.
We’ll cooperate fully – la-la-la-la-lah –
I can’t hear what you’re saying while I’m shouting yes.

We must stay in Europe!  So that’s why we’ll leave.
For our rebates and opt-outs we won’t have to press.
They will wave us back in with one rule-waiving heave.
Spain will toast us in Catalan Cava, oh yes!

If our allies say no, they don’t mean what they say.
If we can’t hear them scream, it means foes acquiesce.
We know what’s in their interests far better than they.
They will crumble like Jericho if we trumpet yes.

We will keep Scotland’s pound – you can bank on my word
(though I have a plan B that I’ll leave you to guess).
Need our own central bank?  Why, the notion’s absurd.
Independence is about freedom, not responsibility.  Vote yes!

We’ll stay culturally British – although we are not.
Institutions won’t change; though they will, I must stress.
Why should Scotland pay in to the BBC pot
to get Radio 5?  That’s no loss!  Just vote yes.

Though I’ve led Scotland well, I’ve no real power at all
over devolved matters like courts, crime, police, NHS,
education, arts, transport, local government.  My stall
is that we can’t do our jobs properly so you have to vote yes.

All this British austerity’s evil, we’ve learned.
Let us borrow our way out of debt!  More for less!
Failing that, who needs liquidity when there’s oil to be burned?
All our weather will be warmer if we choose to vote yes.

If you’re normally socialist, liberal, green
or right-wing, you’re in luck – for our hopes coalesce.
Every vote that you cast hereinafter will mean
that you get what you want.  Hipsters, bigots, vote yes!

To vote yes or be wrong is for you to decide
in this positive debate on how righteousness should progress.
We’ll build national consensus by civil divide
into goats who vote no and the sheep who vote yes.

True believer or not, you must follow the band
and proceed in whatever direction we go
to spend wilderness years in an overpromised land.
There’ll be time to worry later – unless you vote no.

Thursday 11 September 2014

Fresh poetry with fresh people

Edinburgh University Literature Society and Soap Box together, tonight, present the Freshers Poetry Slam from 7.30pm at the Pleasance Cabaret Bar. I will be among the competitors. This year I shall feel slightly less of an interloper, having recently collected my own student card, albeit at a different university. Now, how topical do I want to be...?

Tuesday 2 September 2014

I am genuinely worried

Lots of my poetry and arty chums are passionately pro-independence. The basic concepts of freedom and change are noble, attractive, seductive, and it can be tempting to see ourselves as following directly from Robert Burns in his more idealistic moments, as if the intervening centuries had not occurred. However, as Burns himself noted, the best-laid schemes o' mice an' men gang aft agley — and the Scottish Government's plans for negotiating a post-Yes settlement do not seem to me to be particularly well-laid. I know of other poets who have been keeping their heads down for fear, ironically, of being branded "scaremongering" for raising genuine concerns. The following poem (recorded last night at Sammy Dow's) — which is probably not my best work and certainly not my shortest — is a small attempt to balance the argument. (Please excuse the audio; I have provided CC/subtitles should you wish to activate them.)