I’ve been walking round the river at the end of a long day, wondering what to write about. It’s a still, clear evening and the water’s low for the time of year. Normally we’d be expecting the stormy weather that comes with the lambing, and the Tay would be roaring. But thanks to the recent prolonged cold, dry spell, it’s not.
The trees are still leafless, and across the water is Eastwood House, where Beatrix Potter stayed as a young woman and wrote the Tale of Peter Rabbit in a letter to the children of a former governess. Every time I look at the walled garden, sprawled along the opposite bank, I think of Mr McGregor chasing Peter out of the lettuces.
But today I had rabbitry of a different kind in mind. I’ll be at Merton College, Oxford this time next week with my partners, John and Stuart, running the third Dark Angels masterclass. One of the tasks we set everyone, including ourselves, in advance of the course, is to read a novel that has an Oxford connection, then write a piece of dry financial services literature in the style of that book. In previous years I’ve drawn Zuleika Dobson and Three Men In A Boat. This year I drew Alice in Wonderland.
It’s a wonderful exercise in rendering absurd the pompous, self-congratulatory waffle that pours forth daily from banks and building societies and other financial institutions the length and breadth of the land. With the Cheshire Cat and the Caterpillar, the Mad Hatter and the Queen of Hearts, the Gryphon and the Mock Turtle to hand, the scope for comic surrealism is boundless. I’m looking forward to writing it this weekend before I set off.
Were they not so alarming there would be something almost as comically surreal about the images we’ve been seeing from Pyongyang this week. Watching the grimacing young leader, spluttering newscasters and goose-stepping soldiers is like having disappeared down another rabbit hole, of an altogether more sinister kind. And then, in the very week that the North Korean nuclear sabre is being rattled more loudly than ever, David Cameron chooses to visit Faslane and make his defence of Trident – a deterrent which, at least according to the SNP, the great majority of Scots feel they never asked for and can’t wait to be rid of.
And so, via rabbits and rabbit holes, I seem to have ended up where I started last week – the Independence question, which gives me the opportunity to respond to Steve Rawson who commented on last week’s post. That the economic question is not the right one to be asking, I agree. Independence would be for a long time; economic forecasting is accurate for a few months at best, and whatever the great oil carve-up might produce, Scotland would still be better off than practically any other country that has ever struck out on its own.
But on the question of kinship, I disagree. To paraphrase, Steve suggested that if Scots and English feel they are kin, they should stick together. The theme for this blog, A Few Kind Words, has its roots in that same place, of kindness in its original sense of being kin, or of the same kind. I’m all for the benefits of kinship, and kindness, and hope that sentiment would persist whatever happens in 18 months’ time. But when it comes to it I don’t let my kin determine my life choices.
Hi Jamie, I randomly came across your blogs these past few weeks and enjoyed your comments on the independence question. I often here from the bettertogether camp in response to me stating an independent Scotland could care for the poorer in its society better, but if I vote Yes then it is an abandonment of the poor in england and the rest of the uk and that I should care about the poor people in England as well. Well, frankly, I do care. In fact I care about people in poverty all over the world, including those in the United States but it doesn’t mean I want the US to decide Scotlands foreign policy and defence matters. And this is what independence is really about, transferring those remaining reserved powers back to Scotland. In addition I hear that if I vote Yes then the rest of the UK becomes instantly foreign to me. It’s rubbish, I have an English father and many English friends but my relationship with them doesn’t hinge on where Scotlands welfare policy is made and I find it offensive to suggest otherwise. My relationship with people across these isles depends on my personal input with them and how I communicate with them. Do people really look at the Irish and think ‘foreign’? Who is really drawing up the barriers here? It’s certainly not the Yes side..
Given your reminder that kinship and kindness are the inspiration for your few kind words, Jamie, you might be interested in this review of a recent book about ‘intelligent kindness’ as the foundation for healthcare: http://www.internationalfuturesforum.com/s/421 It makes the same kind of points that recur through your blog posts – about the challenge of bringing our humanity to the large institutions we have created ostensibly to serve it.
The idea that independence would make us ”foreigners” tells me more about the folk who make that shallow argument and the type of petty prejudices that linger not too far below the surface.
They use the term foreign as some kind of stigma in much the same way as terms like gay,black,feminist have been used against others in the past to marginalise and imply some kind of deviance from the norm. It is of course ridiculous and kinship isn’t dictated or determined by the passport in your pocket.
I enjoyed your latest blog installment and I look forward to reading more in the future.