Samuel Best: ‘Rememberin’ the past, no’ celebratin’ it, an’ lookin’ tae the future’

Aye Have A Dream

To begin with, a disclaimer: apologies for the blatant plugging in the following column, but we’re all just trying to make a buck, aren’t we? Or should that be a pound? Or a groat? Or a merk? Whatever currency floats your boat. My understanding is that we can use whatever we fancy.

I recently released my first novel, Shop Front, on Fledgling Press. The basic gist of the plot is; a graduate can’t find work so he moves home with his mum and dad to work in Asda, and his life spirals into a mess of drinking, violence and hospital visits. One of his new mates, Niall, is massively passionate about Scotland. He straight up loves it here. At times I’ll admit he gets a bit too passionate and veers into a cringe-inducing ‘we’re braw cause we just are’ mentality, but by and large he likes it here because of the passionate culture and the sense of belonging, the same way a lot of people feel about their countries.

“See, I hink – an’ this is probably mair relevant now than ever – if we’re gontae be a strong, independent nation, we need tae shape up a wee bit. I mean, dinnae git me wrang here, Scotland’s no worse than maist other places, but it’s also no better, eh?” – p146

I recently saw a T-shirt with the slogan ‘I’m not perfect but I’m Scottish and that’s as close as it gets‘ and that makes me squirm more than when people sing ‘And sent him homewards tae think again’ louder than any other bit of our non-national anthem. I’m totally with Niall in his wee rant above. I’m a passionate believer in the average-ness of Scotland. Of the average-ness of all countries, for that matter. There is no bit of rock on this planet that being born upon bestows any kind of magic. And I like that. I like knowing that if I get talking to someone from South Africa, or Sweden, or Australia, they will have been born the same and will die the same as me. It’s an even playing field, in my eyes.

The sad thing is though, worldwide, it’s the bit in between being born and dying that isn’t an even playing field. Someone’s Mum gets them a job in her company, someone’s Dad comes from money, you know the story. People will always find ways to help out their nearest and dearest. And to some extent, that’s fine: I enjoy helping my friends out, and I will always be passionate about giving other writers exposure to the best of my ability. Where it’s not fine is when people who, frankly, aren’t very good at the thing they want to do get to do that thing just because of who they are.

Example: I’d love to be a barber. I’ve always loved cutting hair and there’s nothing as makes-you-feel-fancy than an old fashioned straight razor shave. But the reason I’m not a barber is because I’m not trained as a barber. I might be good at snipping my own quiff, but if I was actually let loose on the public there’d be blood and bald patches throughout every town and village in this average nation. The same way I wouldn’t ever have a bash at being Chancellor, or Secretary of State for Education. Because I’m not trained in how to do those jobs. But there are men – and they are almost all men, aren’t they David? – in extremely senior jobs in the UK government who aren’t qualified to be there. They’re there because of school ties, or family ties. And that’s dangerous.

See, my favourite thing about the Yes movement, perhaps even more than the possibility (or probability, am I right?) of a Yes vote, is that throughout Scotland, throughout the UK, throughout the world, even, I have seen people put aside their differences to come together. Yesterday I was at Croy train station and I saw four Yes badges. One on an elderly deaf man, one on a very posh looking businessman, one on a woman in her 30s, and one on me, a 24 year old writer. Throw us together in a room badge-less and I reckon we’d struggle to find common ground. But with the badges on we can nod to one another as we jump on the train to the Capital. I don’t know you, and – to go on appearances – you live a very different life to me, but we have something in common. Take a look at the Yes groups: Labour for Independence, Women for Independence, Academics for Yes, Radical Independence, Green Yes, the list goes on. Christ, even the Tories are getting in on it with Wealthy Nation, and good on them. We’re all different and we’re all the same.

I remember being in secondary school and receiving a visit from Nicola Sturgeon. At the time I wasn’t up for one drop of independence, seeing it, wrongly, as a grudge held by petty nationalists against a union that brought prosperity to these islands. But looking back on it now, not only do I see her logic in arguing for a Yes vote (petty historical nationalism is quite rightly absent in the Yes campaign), but I can also appreciate the gesture of her visit. Sigh, to think that I once asked the Deputy First Minister of my country why our vending machines were so badly stocked when I should have asked her about reasons Scotland could cope on its own. What a wasted opportunity, but what an opportunity anyway. I don’t ever remember any other politician taking the time to visit my school and speak to the pupils (certainly not when I was there, anyway), and now I can appreciate that that attitude – the idea that everyone should be welcomed into politics because politics is there for all of us – has grown and is rampant in the Yes camp as a whole. They’re the ones turning up to debates, holding meetings with regular people, and spreading the word through grassroots channels.

To leave you with another Niall from Shop Front quote, here are his thoughts on The Corries and, by extension, Scottish culture in general:

“The Corries are aboot rememberin’ the past, no’ celebratin’ it, an’ lookin’ tae the future. Bein aware ae the Scotland behind ye while ye look at the Scotland ahead. Nuthin’ wrang wi’ identifying wi’ yer ain culture” – p243

And more and more I am identifying with Scottish culture. Not in a Royal Mile tartan shop kind of way either, but in a more relaxed form that means I actually no longer look at books and see Scottish books, or authors and see Scottish authors. I see books that were written in Scotland, or authors who live in Scotland, and by doing what Niall suggests – by looking to the future, looking to an independent Scotland – I’m not even seeing Scottish people anymore. I’m seeing people who live in Scotland. And by doing what I have seen countless No voters suggest we are doing by voting Yes and by “making ourselves smaller”, we can actually make ourselves better, more outwards-looking. And that excites me. The world is our oyster and everyone on it is just as valuable as the next person. Westminster is busying itself sending vulnerable people ‘back home’ and debating whether we have too many foreigners here, but we don’t have to be a part of that any longer. Vote Yes and change things.

Samuel Best
National Collective

Photograph by Alex Aitchison

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About Samuel Best

Samuel Best is a Glasgow-based writer and also runs Octavius, a literary magazine for students studying in Scotland. Samuel's début novel will be published by Fledgling Press on March 24th, and is about Scottish national identity, violence and running away. He tweets at @spbbest and has more stories available at samuelbest.weebly.com

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