I try very hard to keep out of disputes between independence supporters. They’re unproductive, all too often puerile, and only serve to benefit opponents of independence. But sometimes you just want to scream at people. There is a strain of puritan middle class self-righteousness within certain sections of the Scottish independence movement which would make John Knox seem like a louche libertine. They say that they want independence in order to improve the lives of working class people in Scotland, but they are sneery and dismissive of any manifestations of anything that working class people actually enjoy.
The latest wee stushie has been provoked by the decision of the organisers of the Hope Over Fear Rally in George Square on Saturday to show the movie Braveheart on a big screen as the rally begins. I have no time for the movie Braveheart, even less do I have time for it on a big screen in George Square where you won’t be able to hear any of the dialogue and will have to stand in what may very well be the cold and the wet in order to catch a glimpse of it over the massive saltire that the guy standing in front of you is carrying.
Braveheart is a Holywood romp with a Holywood romp’s understanding of history. As a symbol for the Scottish independence movement it is deeply anachronistic, harking back to those days in mid 20th century when Scottish independence was characterised by big hairy men who put on plaids at weekends and ran about the hillsides pretending to be Pictish warriors. We have moved on. We have moved on in no small measure because a violent movie starring a right wing American with a history of antisemitism, religious fundamentalism, and who has been subject to several allegations of violence against his partner, and of making racist and homophobic remarks, isn’t really such a great advert for the kind of independent Scotland we seek to build. Braveheart might be a good epic movie if you’re into that sort of thing, as a manifesto for an independent Scotland it epically sucks.
There are lots of other Scottish movies that I’d have far preferred to have seen, movies made in Scotland by Scottish directors which reflect a Scottish and not a Holywood sensibility – movies like Local Hero, or Gregory’s Girl, or That Sinking Feeling, or The Angel’s Share. But I’m not going to deny that many people do enjoy Braveheart, and I am not so snobbish that I can’t recognise that working class people in Scotland are just as capable as middle class socialists of enjoying things ironically and knowingly.
Many working class independence supporters enjoy Braveheart precisely because they know that it is cheesy. They enjoy it because they know that it annoys opponents of independence and middle class hang wringers. They’re enjoying it precisely and consciously because it annoys those people. They enjoy it for the precise same reason that certain middle class left wing supporters of independence loathe it. They enjoy it because they know that it gets up people’s noses. They enjoy it because they know that opponents of independence stereotype independence supporters as Bravehearts. They’re taking the stereotypes thrown at us by opponents of independence and they are revelling in them, and by doing so they are destroying those stereotypes of their power. It’s not just middle class university goers who are able to contextualise and deconstruct popular culture you know, working class people can do it too. The difference is that when working class people do it those middle class people accuse them of literalism. The middle class hand wringers are reinforcing the strength and power of those stereotypes, the working class people in the independence movement are saying, “We don’t give a toss.” And they’ll look back at you with their blue painted face and say – “Your point is, caller?”
Is anyone going to be converted to the cause of independence because they’re showing Braveheart on a big screen in George Square on Saturday? No. Absolutely not. But equally if someone is claiming that they have been put off voting for independence because Braveheart is being shown on a big screen in George Square on Saturday, then the chances are that that individual was never going to vote for independence in the first place, certainly not if they’re put off by something so trivial. Getting upset because the organisers of a pro-independence event are showing the movie Braveheart is a bit like getting upset about Brexit because Boris Johnson doesn’t comb his hair properly. There are far more important things in the world you could be bumping your gums about. Grow up.
Apparently it’s all over social media that I am due to speak at the rally on Saturday. Which is nice, only no one organising the event has told me about it. None of the organisers of the rally has been in touch with me about speaking at the rally in George Square on Saturday. I only found out that I was supposed to be speaking at it when someone asked me about an advert for the rally they’d seen on Twitter which has my name and face plastered all over it.
Maybe there would be a smidgeon less controversy on social media if the organisers had thought to spend a wee bit more time organising the list of speakers they claim will be there – and you know, actually doing us the courtesy of contacting us to ensure that we’re going to be available before sticking our names and faces on an advert and putting it all over Twitter and Facebook – and spent a wee bit less time on organising the showing of a movie that celebrates Scottish male machismo. Just sayin’.
Update 11.35pm: Seems there was an issue with an email going astray. I will be speaking at the rally in Glasgow on Saturday. But won’t be getting there until well after that movie has finished.
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