One of the more satisfying activities I have ever been involved in was helping to chronicle the start of the Makars’ Court beside what is now the Scottish Writers’ Museum in Lady Stair’s Close.
The court with its stones dedicated to great Scottish makars is a fairly recent innovation in Edinburgh’s many memorials, and it has become one of my favourite places in the city.
When Makars’ Court started, I had a brief to cover the arts for The Scotsman at the time back in 1997 when the Saltire Society chose the first 12 quotations to be inscribed in stone. I was there when Ronald Harwood unveiled the first stone dedicated to the 14th century poet John Barbour, author of The Brus.
The words on his stone I can quote from memory: “Fredome is a noble thing.”
Fast forward to 2014, and in this febrile topsy-turvy post-referendum Scotland we see the current Scottish makar, Liz Lochhead, pilloried in the most snide and vile terms by the opponents of the SNP, the Scottish Government, Creative Scotland and the Yes campaign which, lest we forget, came very close to winning the referendum and attracted 1.6 million votes for independence.
As an SNP member, I suppose I should be angry at all the nonsense being spoken about Liz exercising her freedom and joining the SNP. She has done a noble thing, admitting her allegiance when so many others – including some of our more unctuous Unionist political commentators – never openly state which party or cause they support.
Other public figures weighed in, suddenly concerned that a supposedly “non- political” post funded to the tune of £10,000 a year was being filled by a member of the SNP.
Jings, crivvens, help ma boab! A poet with a political brain? How could a makar not have such? For instance, should Carol-Ann Duffy resign as poet laureate because she wrote a brilliant poem against the bedroom tax?
Should JK Rowling return the Scottish Arts Council grant she got as a fledgling writer because she donated £1 million to Better Together?
What would they have said to Hugh MacDiarmid, a candidate for the SNP and the Communist Party? “Sorry, you might be our best poet but you can’t be makar because you’re political . . .”
The most disgustingly hypocritical call for Liz to “relinquish her post” came from composer James MacMillan, Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire, the openly Unionist prominent Roman Catholic who shamelessly tried to drag religion into the referendum debate when he complained about the hounding of “Catholic MP Jim Murphy”.
If you follow MacMillan’s logic to its conclusion, then anyone who takes a publicly funded post and develops a party political affiliation should resign.
Interesting view, given that MacMillan is himself a turncoat, a former Labour Party member who admitted to voting for the Tories at the last general election. There’s freedom for you . . .
More pertinently, MacMillan’s Cumnock Tryst music festival gets public money from East Ayrshire Council and, ahem, Creative Scotland.
If he really believed his own statement, then the overtly political MacMillan would return that public money so that he can be a Tory supporter without the people’s cash weighing on his conscience.
Liz Lochhead has exercised freedom and done a noble thing. MacMillan and her detractors are but carping goblins.
Put the brakes on homes plan
Stuck at both the Maybury and Barnton junctions for many minutes on Sunday lunchtime, the thought struck me that there is no way whatsoever that the city council should even contemplate giving planning permission for a single house at Maybury or Cammo, never mind more than 2000 of them.
Unless there is a wholesale redesign of both junctions – paid for by the developers – with flyover walkways and separated grades of the roads allowing free flow of traffic, no more houses should be built near these disastrous bottlenecks which are the result of years of craven road planners’ mismanagement.
CUT AND RUN
I am writing this column before last night’s live summit on the council budget chaired by Evening News editor Frank O’Donnell. If you didn’t take part, don’t come greetin’ to me when
the cuts affect you.
See no EVEL, hear no evil . .
The point about whether or not the Smith Commission delivered on the “vow” with its truncated and apparently much-influenced-by-Westminster recommendations is not about the Scottish people’s view of the result.
No, it is absolutely all about how the English, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs in the House of Commons react to further devolution for Scotland. You can’t find a bookie to give you odds on that one, which says a lot about how uncertain the outcome will be when it goes before the UK parliament.
The Labour attitude to “English votes for English laws” could end up being more evil than EVEL for Scotland. After all, why should they back Smith’s report which David Cameron will shamelessly use to stuff them?