Montrose is built on a peninsula, like Scotland dipping its toe into the water. A lagoon on one side and the North Sea on the other, the town forms a port and harbour for fishing, transport, trade, oil and gas.
Writers of the Scottish Renaissance once met here in fashionable studios; Helen Cruickshank, Edwin Muir, Fionn MacColla and Hugh MacDiarmid amongst others. This was the beginning of a reawakening, a raising of national consciousness through art, literature and provocative argument. Without these people no seeds would be planted for a modern movement, and we would all be poorer for it.
The morning papers show similar headlines, reading: “A No vote will settle Scotland’s future once and for all.” The Secretary of State for Scotland outlines the case for a heavier Government presence in Scotland after a No vote. The British Government must be more present, more visible, he says – remind folk who’s in charge. Remind folk they’re British. This is a blueprint for the Government’s influence in Scotland, not Scotland’s influence in the Government. In the town of Muirs, MacDiarmids and Cruickshanks the thought of it seems lost and regressive.
The proposed solidifying of the United Kingdom after a No vote tells us something important; that the idea of Britain as the bedrock of our civilisation, of our functionality, is still prevalent in the minds of those who govern us; that it is the Government, not the people, who hold power.
We pull into the roadside in front of the Links Hotel, our venue for the evening, and the eager faces and voices entering through the doors suggest another thing altogether. This is a country coming into its own, rediscovering, revitalising itself. We set up the Airstream trailer and a great wooden ‘Vote Yes’ sign, painted white, leant against a nearby wall. An Englishwoman on holiday stops to offer her support. “Go for it,” she says, “I would if I could.”
Inside, the poet, islander and NHS worker, Morgan Downie, opens the night. “I don’t believe in nationalisms,” he begins, “I believe in people. I believe in the will of the people.”
He draws threads between the knowing of the self and the knowing of the community, and how that enlivens and empowers people. “I would like to see a greater spectrum of education in Scotland. I’d like children to be able to go outside and know the names of the trees and the birds.”
A poem about learning and memory ends with the words: “We are bright, and ready.”
Later, a musician by the name of Esperi performs an intricate and complex one-man-band, with all shapes and sizes of instruments recorded live and played on loop until finally a tune appears, like a whole orchestra in miniature, loud and electric. In the country unfamiliar its own voice comes a tremendous noise like the shifting of the earth.
A man at the back of the room reaches for his phone and dials the number of a friend. “Get along here,” he says, “You’ve got to see this.”
– Andrew Redmond Barr