My football writer friend Jonathan Northcroft recently told me a fabulous story about the great Celtic striker Henrik Larsson. The legendary Swede was a famously challenging interviewee but a colleague of Jonny’s had finally managed to get him to agree to a full interview. Despite his misgivings, the conversation went really well. “The King”, far from being the obtuse, guarded figure of repute, was engaging, witty and effusive.
It went so well that the journalist felt emboldened enough to ask his famous subject about something that had always intrigued him – the “Ramalda” alice band that Henrik wore during matches in his trademark dreadlocks.
Was it some nod to his ethnic heritage? A quasi-religious piece of iconography? A subtle political statement?
“Come close and I’ll tell you”, said Henrik, conspiratorially, “and you must promise to tell no-one. Not a soul”.
“It is……to keep my hair out of my eyes”, he deadpanned.
The reason for telling you this – apart from the fact that I love the anecdote and the fact that I think Henrik Larsson walks on water – I watch far more Larsson footage on YouTube than can be healthy for a guy deep into his forties – is that the story makes, I think, an important point. There isn’t always a hidden agenda. Sometimes an alice band is just an alice band. Sometimes things are exactly as they appear.
I thought about when out at drinks reception at my local golf club recently, when a member took mild exception to a small saltire I was sporting on my lapel. You shouldn’t bring your politics here, was the suggestion. You had your vote four years ago. You lost. Respect the result. Get over it. Move on.
There was a time when I might have made more of this. I’d have pointed out that things change and every single promise made by the terrified unionist establishment to win a plebiscite that they were looking like losing has been broken. That it was rich of him to lecture me about respecting results when his own party had brought about a Brexit which had brought about a constitutional crisis that has seen an attempted power grab that utterly disrespects something that Scotland did vote for – devolution – as well as beginning the end of Barnett and undermining a fragile peace in Ireland in a process Scotland has no control over.
In previous times I’d have pointed out that the people who really should respect the results of referendums aren’t the losers, but the winners on whom it falls to fulfil each and every one of their promises, not betray us and call us grievance hunters when instead of “better, faster change”, we get EVEL and Brexit and power-grabs.
I’d have pointed out that if the people who actually won the 2014 referendum had fulfilled their pledges we wouldn’t even be having this conversation. Because, make no mistake: the momentum for a second, final vote on self-determination is being driven almost entirely by the broken vows of an establishment that hubristically believed that the Scottish question was settled. Now is not the time.
I’d have suggested that if he truly believed that UK rule was the genuine, settled will of the Scottish people then we should maybe have a second vote to settle it, and that maybe the reason he didn’t want it is because he’d lose and that deep down he knows that the union is toast.
That’s what I would have said in the past, but I’m a bit older and time is running short and we’re not going to win by wasting our time and energies arguing with folk who will never, ever be persuaded to the cause of independence. So I took the Henrik Larsson approach instead.
“It’s just a badge”, I said, and headed for the bar.
It sometimes feels that it isn’t just our powers that are being diminished but the very symbols of our nationhood, whether that be folk greeting about Gaelic road signs or whisky and shortbread rebranded as “British” or carrots from Auchtermuchty or Turriff bedecked in union flegs.
It feels like a co-ordinated campaign to remind Scotland to know its place and to remind us that everything we do is crap. It seems that even baby boxes go up in flames when you torch them with a flamethrower. Who knew?
The march in Glasgow last week was predictably largely ignored by the media, but in the rare occasions when it wasn’t the tone was largely dismissive. It remains remarkable that in a country where support for independence is roughly 50/50, only one newspaper supports self-determination (unlike Catalonia, where a similar split is reflected in its grown-up, diverse media).
It’s slightly tragic to be lectured about flags by people who are already decking themselves in bunting ahead of the Brexit-diverting nuptials of two fabulously privileged A-listers next week: a day that will remind me that, while I’ve never been proud to be “British” there was once a time when I wasn’t mortified to be so. Nationalism is fine as long as its soundtrack is Rule Britannia.
So where are we and what is to be done? Some things are exactly as they seem. A badge is a badge. A hair band is a hair band. And if it looks like a power-grab, and feels like a power-grab, then it’s probably a power-grab. Because make no mistake: the amended withdrawal bill now states that Holyrood’s consent to a Brexit deal will be defined as a) Holyrood agreeing, b) Holyrood not agreeing or c) Holyrood not doing anything. In short, we will be ignored.
The EU powers are not going back because a post-EU Britain cannot achieve trade deals on health and farming when these issues are devolved, so devolution must be undermined or removed and completely destroyed. And this isn’t some nutty conspiracy theory and it’s not some inspired guess. It is what it seems – and is happening, right now, in plain sight.
So now an independent Scotland is no longer just desirable but essential to head off a focussed and ferocious effort to end not just our parliament, not just our democracy but our very nationhood. We can’t afford to be cautious. The mandate we have to call a second referendum runs out in May 2021, after which there may not be a pro-independence majority in the chamber and the chances of getting a second section 30
Order in such circumstances are slim to none. So we must use the one we have and when Westminster say now is not the time, we do it anyway. After all, the EU vote isn’t legally binding but it happened and the result means it has to be addressed – as will the vote for independence that will soon be delivered by the Scottish people. Failing that, make the 2021 a plebiscite election – so a SNP / Green majority in Edinburgh becomes, in itself, not a mandate for a vote but a mandate for independence itself.
And, finally, I’d go easy on the Brexit rhetoric. Many Yes voters have concerns about EU membership which events in Catalonia mean haven’t gone away. But the noises from Brussels are that they’d be happy to see Scotland stay within the single market and customs union, after which we can decide what any relationship should look like. And that’s it in a nutshell – for the first time in 311 years, it’s our call.
But we need to act now. If we don’t address what’s in front of us; if we don’t call it for what it is, if we don’t stand up for ourselves, then we have only ourselves to blame. It brings to mind the words on a tee-shirt that Henrik Larsson wore after winning his first Scottish title. It was a maxim we could do well to employ.
No excuses, it said.