In this outstanding article Gareth Wardell, aka Grousebeater, interviews himself. No holds barred, he deals with the most difficult of topics, including his own terminal cancer prognosis. I had not known Gareth well until the last year but have been a fan of his essays, long before we met. We have cooperated in the past, most recently with the excellent series of articles published on Yours for Scotland from Professor Alf Baird which I was delighted Gareth volunteered to share on his site as well. I am honoured and privileged to share this brilliant and innovative interview. I particularly like his use of humour in such challenging circumstances. Proud to call him a friend.
Given months to live and no change in the prognosis since, this year has been a momentous one. There was priorities to see to, write and sign a Will, choose where to die, who gets the car and who gets the servicing and repair bills. You ponder on who is a valued friend, who is an acquaintance, and who one loves above all others, unconditionally, though they can still annoy the hell out of you now and again. You regret shouting at the ones you love.
The high point was given an honorary membership of ALBA by the Right Honourable Alex Salmond, MP., and the ovation from patriots, a thank you for services to Scotland, or at least that is how I want to think of it. Sadly, there was no cheque attached. (Laughs) I joked that I thought the honour was from the SNP making a magnificent gesture of reconciliation to an indigenous person. (Chuckles) If I am still here this time next year I might feel obliged to hand it back. I wouldn’t want folk to think it was accepted under false pretences. (Smiles)
Time passes. October, melancholy autumn, the crisp chirrup of the fearless, territorial robin, woollen scarves and hats, cold winds and windy bus shelters, birthday month told I would not see. Time passes too fast now. Did the boy ‘done good’ or is he a figment of his imagination? Worth asking the grizzled old sage to shake his glass snowdome and tell us what he sees inside – a Scotland free, or should we move to enjoy our days in an independent country? Questions, questions, questions.
Interviewer (IN): Thank you for agreeing to be interviewed.
Grouse Beater (GB): This might be the equivalent of meeting your lawyer proposing to ask a couple of questions, and he answers, “Sure. What’s your second question?” (Chuckles) Please call me Gareth.
IN: In the arts world you’re regarded as a low-profile professional. Why?
GB: I avoid the spotlight. It took Roddy MacLeod almost six months to entice me to join a discussion panel on his always excellent broadcast Through a Scottish Prism. In this instance, I trust you to publish exactly what I say and not interpret what I say, or produce a ‘personality’ piece full of cod psychology. (Chuckles.) Everything ‘entertaining’ is actually vacuous celebrity these days, academic ability ignored or belitted of no worth. Which reminds me, I’d like to see political parties governed by a small group of elders, but am forced to admit people want the ‘big personality’ to lead them.
IN: Compared to other bloggers, you appear to be jaunty about the future, not much depressed by Scotland’s current situation under an SNP administration facing a far-right Tory government?
GB: To me ‘blogging’ is writing a diary, or running a themed site, like cooking, or what I did on my holidays. I write in the long-form to be read and I assume my readers are bright folk. To answer you, yes, I am concerned. The SNP is as wobbly as a jelly and not as nourishing. Asking the UK’s prime minister to allow or reject a legal referendum is evidence of a colonial mindset; not using an election as a mandate is dereliction of duty.
IN: I take it you’re a fan of Alex Salmond?
GB: That’s a sly segue. I admire what he has done for Scotland, and knew he would be crucified for it, but not by his own side. The SNP is doing their best to offer anti-Scots the head of their worst enemy, a crime none have paid for – yet. Like Boris Johnson buying water cannon to beat off Londoners participating in street protest, our elected representatives want to silence the streets where Edinburgh folk rioted against the signing of the Treaty. I do not see a difference between Boris and the SNP in this regard. I’m reasonably optimistic about Scotland’s destiny because of our 1,000 years of history as a nation. And I know there is no stopping a revolution. You can delay it or deflect it for a time, but revolutions grow bigger and angrier if repressed.
IN: In recent essays you castigate the SNP for not concentrating on independence.
GB: Not quite. I rebuked the SNP for not educating doubters of the great benefits of running your own country cut loose from an authoritarian interloper, quite a different thing from demanding a referendum tomorrow. The SNP turned off educational propaganda back in 2015. On referenda, the evidence is there to tell us our First Minister has not got the skill to poach an egg let alone steer this nation to the ideal. So far its all selfies, and draped over a comfy sofa reading Mills and Boon. She has surrounded herself with poor advisers, the chronically incompetent and infiltators, disciples of her shortcomings.
IN: So where is Scotland politically, Indy-wise, in this decade, in your view?
GB: We are England’s poodle if we do not do something dramatic to show we mean business. Currently, we are no threat whatsoever. By throwing away the easy route in 2014, we’ve added a third existenial threat to the two already existing, two on top of the reprisals from the British state for our audacity in daring to seek reinstatement of free will. We are undergoing a profound loss of rights, powers withdrawn, quasi-direct rule from Westminster established with Tory councils, on top of dramatic changes in our climate and the infrastructure damage it brings. The third threat is war.
IN: War? In what way?
GB: Starting a small war somewhere is the classic Bishop’s Move, as I call it, (the church usually endorses a Christian war), a war to concentrate the public’s mind away from their government’s anti-democratic policies. A war whips up the wrong kind of patriotism. If your popularity is waning, a call to patriotic ferver usually works. We stop being Scottish to become British. Thatcher’s star was falling when the undeclared Malvina’s war, a wholly contrived affair, boosted her Boudicca image no end. Boris Johnson doesn’t know whether he wants to be Thatcher or Churchill but he will reinstate conscription as a way of uniting the UK. He has an excuse now – Brexit chaos, the army driving delivery HGVs. The press whip up anti-foreigner fever. Very hard keeping up with who is this month’s enemy, Iran, China, France, or perhaps Russia, the Hate Putin campaign and by association, all Russians. That implies a nuclear war where only the last man standing wins.
IN: You mentioned the Treaty. Do you believe in UDI?
GB: That’s the extreme question, thrown in by those claiming to uphold law and order and not have us fall into anarchy, when in reality they are doing the opposite, they are keeping Scotland in economic chains and people’s aspirations suppressed. The colonial is a pacifier. They chant ‘UDI’ knowing it has an unthinking emotional reaction – Ian Smith and Rhodesia. They say, “Look what happened there”, forgetting Harold Wilson refused to send in the troops.
IN: What do you mean?
GB: We could withdraw from the Union tomorrow. A treaty is a treaty is a treaty, that is, a document understood in international law to be a mechanism by which the signatory entities can withdraw at any time. Understandably, honorable nations try to uphold treaties, but normally only if both are benefitting to an equal extent. Scotland is the all-time loser in this corrosive, grossly extended tryst with England. And when the Treaty was signed, this nation was under coercion, threatened with invasion and trade blockades. That’s a good argument to put to any international body of judges, that and how few were allowed to vote for the sale of this nation’s wealth. In fact, we are effectively blockaded from trading with other countries now, with Ireland in the west and the EU in the east, an intolerable, repressive situation. It is an echo of 1707. The British state is suppressing the development of a neighbour. But as I said already, we have an SNP administration that is ‘frit’ as Thatcher would have said, to confront the British state. They forget sovereignty lies with the people, not with Westminster. The SNP has failed miserably to assert that sovereignty.
IN: So you see things getting worse?
GH: The longer this currest stasis continues, the more frustration will increase. We have to decolonise Scotland. As that process gathers momentum, people will get angry. They will see how their lives are controlled, how we remain an underdeveloped country. Brexit has accelerated a perception we are unable to alter or solve what’s happening to us. What has the SNP done to counter this alarm? Nothing. “We won’t let it happen”, promise our Westminster MPs – and then it happens. The SNP doesn’t seem to understand a referendum is now the weakest route to freedom, to a new Accord with our neighbours, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, aye, and the Republic of Ireland too.
IN: Are you referring to who should vote in another referendum?
GB: Employing a franchise of residential status alone is dangerous, guaranteed to lose independence. That’s a parish conception. No country uses that process to decide its entire destiny. In a country where we cannot even control our borders, Scotland, agreeing to a vote for residents, is a colonial trap.
IN: One of Wings’ parting shots, the site closed by its editor, Stuart Campbell, argues anything less than redsidential status is repulsive. He wants nothing to do with what he terms ‘blood and soil’ attitudes.
GB: I think Stuart has lived in Bath too long. He should come live in Scotland and meet English folk who bought a house cheap and brought with them their colonial baggage. Or meet a few of those in charge of our institutions who consider their role part of an English franchise, their next job promotion down south. It is not a matter of ‘hating English’, another cheap gibe to make political opponents suffer guilt. We have to formulate a plan that outwits our colonial masters. Voting to restore Scotland’s rights is too much to ask of them. Scotland has been England’s backyard for generations. All they will do is drape it in Union Jack bunting.
IN: Wings seems to feel we must convince incomers to vote for Scotland.
GB: Are you suggesting an entire nation delays its liberty so as not to upset Stuart Campbell? His site did sterling work in its early years pointing up the duplicity of our press, and unionist politicians. That was his prime motivation. He admitted he would not know what to write about “if it wasn’t for our newspapers”. For that he will always be thanked. But his ‘blood and soil’ gibe is uneducated, a prejudice he has acquired espoused as if a moral imperative. An invitation to everybody and anybody to vote is an accommodation with our colonial masters. David Cameron spotted our imprinted deference, confident we would vote against our interests.
IN: I think I should change the subject.
GB: Look, for the last year and more Wings site has been a bleak read, pushing a defeatist outlook, one man’s view, ‘independence lost for years to come’, even to the point it found no one worthy on the Yes side to whom the remaining donations Wings holds should be distributed. (Wings lost £220,000 on a miscalculated libel case.) Leadership, takes aconstructive path.
IN: You don’t hold a good view of the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon. Your own essays this last year have a few highly critical of her.
GB: Two essays, one on the SNP, one on her nefarious, unscrupulous husband, CEO of the SNP. I concentrate on policies, not personality. I have two others from 2015 talk of her approach to things in glowing terms. They have not aged well. There was a high point when she went to the Irish Republic’s parliament, the Dáil Éireann. I covered it fully in an article. She was warmly welcomed and gave a good speech, but it has been downhill thereafter. The trouble is her competency. I thought she’d gather experience. She has no state craft. She has no agenda. She has no vision. Her marriage to the desultory Scottish Green Party is only to bolster her personal power base. Just believing in Scotland’s constitutional rights is not enough. Her civil servants must wonder why they bother going to work each day when she calls upon their advice so little. Alex Salmond handed her a gift at the expense of his political career: a landslide victory, the potential of a 58% vote for Yes, and six mandates so far. SNP will soon have the whole set.
IN: So, what do you think she should do?
GB: Step aside or resign, but that is not up to me. Like any person in any job, when people feel you have not got the skills to accomplish the tasks appointed to you, you are given a different brief so someone more qualified can fill your old job. That’s the dignified exit. That said, I still put up positive news on my site from SNP, and from the First Minister’s office, but now they compete with the ALBA party, and the ISP. When revolutions are delayed or betrayed, new independence parties arise.
IN: How do you answer those who say criticism of the SNP is divisive?
GB: We are sitting ducks – or should I say grouse – for Westminster’s guns. Johnson heads the most right-wing UK government since Thatcher. It’s called neo-liberalism. The Fifties and Sixties saw what some call ‘regimented capitalism,’ where wealth was spread reasonably well across our infrastructure, roads, social security, hospitals, libraries, and schools, an egalitarian growth making advances in social justice, and so on. By the Nineties the neo-liberals had managed to convince governments, via placemen and bribery, that less democracy frees people, a clever myth. It does the opposite, it leaves us exposed to robbery and theft and loss of rights. Noam Chomsky warns us: “The main principle of neo-liberalism is undermining the mechanisms of social solidarity and mutual support.” The right-wing seeks to remove participation in the democratic process. For example, a Tory neo-liberal will be quite happy seeing demonstrations banned around our parliament building. They see the people as the problem. Now we have an SNP aping Tory ideology, a colonial mindset.
IN: Surely freedom means freeing us from too much bureacracy, too many laws and contraints?
GB: The ‘freedom’ you talk of is a subordination to the decisions of concentrated, unaccountable, private power. That’s your ‘freedom, the neo-liberal notion of freedom. Of the kinds that could allow people to participate in decision making – those are weakened. When we lose participation in political decision making democracy is weakened. This is the source of my wry riposte, “Scotland gets too much democracy!” Tories and Labour might as well adopt that slogan because blocking our independence, ignoring our sovereignty, robbing us of our wealth, reduces our freedoms dramatically. Just on a social level, we used to be able to go anywhere for our holidays. That is now severely limited.
IN: What’s the antidote?
GB: An engaged public. Activism. Marches, protest rallies, petitions to parliament, badgering our MP and MSP, until our usurpers poop their pants out of fear and anxiety. Agitate, refuse to conform, refuse to accept what’s offered. Refuse the role we are forced to take, a menicant, bowl held out for more of what they stole. Do not betray the working class of Scotland who voted in toto for Scotland’s liberty. For lots of good reasons some of us cannot manange physical activism: illness, caring for someone, working long hours. That’s fine, so long as we are informed, which is my chief gripe about the SNP – they decided good governance was all that’s needed to sway a vote to Yes, the indolent route. They are content to draw salaries until doomsday if we leave self-governance to them.
IN: You want Scotland to rejoin the European Union. ALBA want us to join EFTA.
GB: Scotland has a long noble, illustrious history of working with European nations, their universities too, until dragooned into regiments to fight two world wars. But I am also a member of DiEM25 agitating change in the EU. There aspects of the EU that await democratisation. Economic decisions are made by three institutions that govern economies as far as loans and payment of loans is concerned, what the respected economist Yanis Varoufakis calls the troika: the European Commission, unelected; the IMF, unelected; and the European Central Bank. They must change, and soon! I guess this is the Age of Resentment, anger against socio-economic policies which have harmed us. The cure for an ailing democracy, is more democracy.
IN: Looking back through your political writings since 2012, is there anything you feel proud of?
GB: A few essays hold up well, mainly because they are historical recounting, not base opinion, and they have an elegance that pleases me. I am proud of my Constitution for Scotland, a building block, an intellectual exercise I almost filed away. I wanted to create something easy to read and easy to pass one person to another. It was published in the superb iScot magazine. I wrote for iScot in its inaugural year. I’m proud of that. The 2014 Referendum gave rise to a terrific output of communication sources, releasing a ton of creativity, a genuine free press, iScot magazine is top of the list. Bizarrely, SNP saw fit not to reward innovation, but to hand £3 million of public money to private enterprise, to the unionist press who want to bury the SNP. The SNP has learned to love our captors.
IN: Finally, a sensitive subject – may I enquire about your health?
GB: My terminal cancer? There is no reprieve. I told my medical consultant I am against the party lead by Death the Unreasoner. The Reaper will never get my vote. In any event, I have three big projects to complete, two books and my final landscaping challenge, a Roman Garden, on Roman ground. Like Scotland’s independence, they are works in progress. Anyhow, I have no towel to throw in. (Chuckles)
IN: Still game?
GB: Game until the end. (Laughs) I will fight for Scotland’s proper place in this world, confident others will lift up the flag when I fall still holding it in my grasp. Onward, onward, onward! Each time I convince someone to vote for Scotland’s liberty I regard it as a tiny revolution.
IN: Thanks for the interview, Gareth, and the coffee.
GB: You’re welcome. Now, if you don’t mind, this interviewing game is an indulgence; I’ve work to do. And so have you.