I was at the opening event of Celtic Connections Yesterday, to hear a commissioned piece inspired by the Declaration of Arbroath and played by the Grit Orchestra which seems to include almost every musician in every genre in Scotland. Words by Liz Lochhead were included: ‘A declaration is a clear and open statement about who we are, and what we stand for. And what we do not stand for.’ It was quite a striking statement, but I was more moved by Greg Lawson’s words later: ‘Don’t just tolerate difference and diversity – welcome it, explore it’ and ‘Freedom that comes at the expense of other people’s freedom is not freedom at all. It requires inclusivity, tolerance, kindness, forgiveness, empathy – and then freedom becomes about your identity, and it is global.’
This was about as political as it got, and if it was fair to say that independence supporters were, on average, likely to be more comfortable with it than the embittered unionists who complain so much, it was a useful corrective to the kind of people who want ‘freedom’ to mean ‘I’ll do as I like and you can just take a hike if it doesn’t suit you’. It is also a spin on what I understand as ‘identity’. It isn’t just who you are, or feel yourself to be; it’s who you recognise as being like you, who your peers are, who you feel you have obligations to, or common interests with. It isn’t something monolithic or pure and self-contained, your sense of identity shows and shapes your connections and relationships with the rest of the world. In my case, as regular readers will know, this extends to all the ‘more than human’ beings, down to the wind and rocks and rivers.
I feel that we are increasingly being exhorted to see ourselves as individuals, sold a package of liberties and choices that are supposed to be uniquely our own, exhorted to see our destiny as entirely our own creation, regardless of truth, physical reality or community. And the only outcome of this atomised conjunction of insecure and aspirational individuals, is a social media characterised by anxiety, anger and shame, and a politics of naked greed, narcissism, aggression and fantasy.
Which is where I come to the purpose of this blogpost. In view of the isolationist decision of Britain to leave the EU, and in the light of the Scottish preference for a national identity defined by inclusion, openness and connection with our neighbours, I have decided I don’t want the .uk suffix to my domain name. As of the 31st of January, this website will fly under the .com label. There will be a redirect for a good long while, so that anyone using the old address will still find me, and plenty of warning.
I would also like to give you the first intimation of the publication of the new book. Thanks to the kindness and generosity of Sheila Wakefield (without whose faith in me I can’t imagine having come so far), Burnedthumb is due to be published in February of 2021, by Red Squirrel Press. It is a reflection on the many kinds of knowledge and connection which go to make up our awareness of ourselves as ‘persons’, and the the kinds of conversations we have with external reality that make it possible. And the Burnedthumb poem, which you will probably have seen on the front page of my site, will take its place there. It deals with listening and diversity and patience – and the accidental gift of being able to do it – and it is my personal ‘declaration’.