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Norman MacCaig

First Minister Alex Salmond <em>Picture: Scottish parliament</em>

First Minister Alex Salmond Picture: Scottish parliament


This address was given to the Scottish parliament by Alex Salmond on his re-election to the post of First Minister for Scotland, 18 May 2011.

When Donald Dewar addressed this parliament in 1999, he evoked Scotland’s diverse voices: “The speak of the Mearns. The shout of the welder above the din of the Clyde shipyard. The battle cries of Bruce and Wallace.”

Now these voices of the past are joined in this chamber by the sound of 21st-century Scotland. The lyrical Italian of Marco Biagi. The formal Urdu of Humza Yousaf. The sacred Arabic of Hanzala Malik. We are proud to have those languages spoken here alongside English, Gaelic, Scots and Doric.

This land is their land, from the sparkling sands of the islands to the glittering granite of its cities. It belongs to all who choose to call it home. That includes new Scots who have escaped persecution or conflict in Africa or the Middle East. It means Scots whose forebears fled famine in Ireland and elsewhere.

That is who belongs here, but let us be clear also about what does not belong here. As the song tells us, for Scotland to flourish then “Let us be rid of those bigots and fools / Who will not let Scotland, live and let live.”

Our new Scotland is built on the old custom of hospitality. We offer a hand that is open to all, whether they hail from England, Ireland, Pakistan or Poland. Modern Scotland is also built on equality. We will not tolerate sectarianism as a parasite in our national game of football or anywhere else in this society.

Scotland’s strength has always lain in its diversity. In the poem Scotland Small, Hugh MacDiarmid challenged those who would diminish us with stereotypes. “Scotland small?”, he asked. “Our multiform, our infinite Scotland, small? Only as a patch of hillside may be a cliche corner. To a fool who cries ‘Nothing but heather!’”

The point is even the smallest patch of hillside contains enormous variation – of bluebells, blaeberries and mosses. So to describe Scotland as nothing but heather is, said MacDiarmid, “Marvellously descriptive! And totally incomplete!”

To describe Scotland as small is similarly misleading. Scotland is not small. It is not small in imagination and it is not short in ambition. It is infinite in diversity and alive with possibility.

Two weeks ago, the voters of Scotland embraced that possibility. They like what their parliament has done within the devolved settlement negotiated by Donald Dewar. They like what the first, minority SNP government achieved. Now they want more.

They want Scotland to have the economic levers to prosper in this century. They are excited by the opportunity to re-industrialise our country through marine renewable energy, offering skilled, satisfying work to our school leavers and graduates alike. But they also know we need the tools to do the job properly.

This chamber understands that too. My message today is let us act as one and demand Scotland’s right. Let us build a better future for our young people by gaining the powers we need to speed recovery and create jobs.

Let us wipe away past equivocation and ensure that the present Scotland Act is worthy of its name.

There is actually a great deal on which we are agreed. The three economic changes I have already promoted to the Scotland Bill were chosen from our manifesto because they command support from other parties in this chamber.

All sides of this parliament support the need for additional and immediate capital borrowing powers so we can invest in our infrastructure and grow our economy. I am very hopeful that this will be delivered.

The Liberal Democrats, Greens and many in the Labour party agree that Crown Estate revenues should be repatriated to Scottish communities. We await Westminster’s reply. Our leading job creators back this government’s call for control of corporation tax to be included in the Scotland Bill.

The secretary of state for Northern Ireland – a Conservative – supports the devolution of this tax, and the cross-party committee of this last parliament agreed unanimously that if the principle was conceded in Northern Ireland then Scotland must have the same right.

But these are not the only issues which carry support across this chamber. There are three more constitutional changes we might agree on. Why not give us control of our own excise duty? We have a mandate to implement a minimum price for alcohol. We intend to pursue that in this parliament come what may.

However, our Labour colleagues agree that it is correct to set a minimum price for alcohol, but they were concerned about where the revenues would go. Gaining control of excise would answer that question. It means we can tackle our country’s alcohol problem and invest any additional revenue in public services. So I ask Labour members to join with me in calling for control of alcohol taxes so that we together we can face down Scotland’s issue with booze.

Another key aspect of our national life controlled by Westminster is broadcasting. All of Scotland is poorly served as a result. If we had some influence over this currently reserved area we could, for example, create a Scottish digital channel – something all the parties in this parliament supported as long ago as 8 October 2008.

We agree that such a platform would promote our artistic talent and hold up a mirror to the nation. How Scotland promotes itself to the world is important. How we talk to each other is also critical.

These are exciting times for our country. We need more space for our cultural riches and for lively and intelligent discourse about the nation we are and the nation we aspire to be.

Finally, many of us agree that, in this globalised era, Scotland needs more influence in the European Union and particularly in the Council of Ministers. At the moment that is in the gift of Westminster.

Sometimes it is forthcoming, more often it is withheld. We in the Scottish National Party argue for full sovereignty – it will give us an equal, independent voice in the EU.

However, short of that, the Scotland Bill could be changed to improve our position. When the first Scotland Act was debated in Westminster in 1998, there was a proposal, as I remember, from the Liberal Democrats, to include a mechanism to give Scotland more power to influence UK European policy. It was defeated then, but why not revisit it now? Let Scotland have a guaranteed say in the forums where decisions are made that shape our industries and our laws.

I have outlined six areas of potential common ground where there is agreement across the parliament to a greater or lesser extent: borrowing powers, corporation tax, the Crown Estate, excise duties, digital broadcasting and a stronger say in European policy.

I think we should seize the moment and act together to bring these powers back home. Let this parliament move forward as one to make Scotland better.

Norman MacCaig observed that when you swish your hand in a stream, the waters are muddied, but then they settle all the clearer. On 5 May the people of our country swished up the stream and now the way ahead is becoming clear.

We see our nation emerge from the glaur of self-doubt and negativity. A change is coming, and the people are ready. They put ambition ahead of hesitation. The process is not about endings. It is about beginnings.

Whatever changes take place in our constitution, we will remain close to our neighbours. We will continue to share a landmass, a language and a wealth of experience and history with the other peoples of these islands

My dearest wish is to see the countries of Scotland and England stand together as equals There is a difference between partnership and subordination. The first encourages mutual respect. The second breeds resentment.

So let me finish with the words of Andrew Fletcher of Saltoun, who addressed this parliament in 1706, before it was adjourned for 300 years. He observed that: “All nations are dependent; the one upon the many.” This much we know. But he warned that if “the greater must always swallow the lesser,” we are all diminished. His fears were realised in 1707.

But the age of empires is over. Now we determine our own future based on our own needs. We know our worth and should take pride in it.

So let us heed the words of Saltoun and “Go forward into the community of nations to lend our own, independent weight to the world.”

Want to discuss other issues? Join the debate on our new Scottish Voices forum

Photo by: Colin Campbell

Photo by: Colin Campbell

By Betty Kirkpatrick

A recent correspondent mentioned that the word fantoosh was a particular favourite of the late Norman MacCaig, Scottish poet extraordinaire. This made me start thinking about my own favourite Scots words. Undoubtedly, one of these is stravaig.

I like the sound of the word. There is something airy and carefree about it and these qualities are reflected in the meaning of the word. Stravaig, pronounced with the emphasis on the second syllable which is pronounced like vague, means to roam or wander around, often for pleasure and frequently with no particular destination or aim in mind.

The notion of wandering around, going where the fancy takes us, is particularly attractive to many of us in this day and age when we are chained to desks and computers for most of the week and attending to domestic chores for the rest of it. Some of us do go stravaigin in the country when we are released from the daily grind, but, for many, this remains a romantic notion. In any case, it is less arduous to spend a day under the duvet fantasizing about going roaming than actually to go rambling through the countryside.

Stravaig can also mean to go up and down a place and this action sometimes does have an aim. For example, members of a family might spend hours stravaigin the streets looking for a lost dog or you can spend ages stravaigin a place looking for a street name or house number that does not seem to be where it should be.

Many people use the word stravaig approvingly, but this is not always the case. Ramblers may love to stravaig across the country, but farmers and landowners do not always share their enthusiasm. If they use the word stravaig, they often do so in censorious tones. For farmers, stravaigin can suggest gates left open, livestock running loose or crops trampled. For some landowners stravaigin, if they have heard of the word, can suggest supposed interference with their precious privacy or seclusion. For worried parents, young people stravaigin the streets suggests trouble.

You will find car drivers accusing pedestrians of stravaigin when they cross the street while the pedestrian crossing lights are red. Incidentally, you rarely find people with children stravaigin in this way because children generally are sticklers for waiting for the green man before they cross the street.

Stravaigers mostly do their stravaigin on foot, but stravaigers can also turn to other forms of getting around. The word has been applied to the many Scots who travelled from these shores to foreign parts as explorers, missionaries, engineers, mercenaries, etc. The stravaigin of the likes of Mungo Park and David Livingstone was far from aimless.

The word stravaig made its appearance in Scots in the later part of the eighteenth century. It is thought to have its roots in an obsolete Scots word extravage meaning to wander about or to digress, when used of speech. This, in turn, is derived from Latin extravagare meaning to wander or to go beyond limits. This is related to the English word extravagant.

As I write this it is a sunny, crisp autumnal day, perfect weather for a stravaig in the country. Alas, I am chained to my computer. I will have to make do with opening a window.

Reviewed by Tom Morton

<em>Picture: Quercus Books</em>

Picture: Quercus Books

Does a bog-standard ten-year-old Glenmorangie go well with a cheese described only as ‘nippy’? I would suggest something a bit heavier and boggier, like an Ardbeg or a Lagavulin.

Still, I wouldn’t have minded finishing off a bottle of the tame Tain dram, and a munching a chunk of Seriously Strong Cheddar with Andrew and his pals, while camping on the shores of a midgy lochan during a Sutherland summer.

Just as long as we didn’t have to get personal, in that stiff-lipped, middle-class, middle-aged, male, Scottish kind of way. Better to play with the Trangia stove, the fishing rods, the whisky and the corpse of milk; to talk pop and politics, catch a fish and then go home, in that road-hugging, six-year-old Audi Greig clearly has an affection for.

Poets and novelists need more, though, and this beautifully wrought memoir uses the fishing trip – a search for an elusive trout in a remote loch, set in motion by the late poet Norman MacCaig – to frame meditations on Scotland, language, poetry, MacCaig, land and the somewhat tortuous life of Andrew Greig himself.

Such is the deceptive power of Greig’s prose, and the ease with which he wields it, that the book becomes difficult to release yourself from. You want to go to Assynt, take up fly fishing, know the glorious reprobates MacCaig so loved. You want to catch a fish for him at the Loch of the Green Corrie.

That was MacCaig’s mission for his friend Greig: to find the supposedly mysterious loch (it’s on the OS map, albeit in Gaelic) and catch a trout in the great man’s memory. But Greig is casting for bigger quarry. His own life, his own country. His own identity as a writer. Lover, husband, son, mountaineer, outdoorsman – even, in a brief but compelling section, would-be pop musician.

His encounters with the Incredible String Band producer and manager Joe Boyd, and his attempts to break into the sixties music scene, have an appealingly plangent tone of nostalgic self-deprecation. But I confess to feeling uneasy about the detailed description of his love affair with a late doyenne of English folk music. She is never named in the book – only ever ‘J’ – but easily identifiable.

A tendency to go into embarrassing personal detail stalks both Greig’s memoirs, this and Preferred Lies, his moving story of recovery from a life-threatening brain injury through love and golf. But that disinhibition is nothing new in his writing. From Electric Brae onwards, through The Return of John MacNab, to Romanno Bridge, the male characters in his novels want to talk, long to make contact, bond with their scratchy-sweatered brothers, take risks on big hills, and shag for Scotland.

Past lovers and friends, beware this book. As a friend grunted, in the totality of his review: Too much back story. And does Greig presume too much on his friendship with MacCaig?

I, personally, can forgive Greig almost anything because of his prose’s sinewy, shaded precision and its irresistible, rhythmic power. He is one of the great Scottish writers of the outdoors, and can involve you in the processes of activities such as golf and fly fishing to the extent that you find yourself surfing eBay for a cheap rod and a set of clubs. At least I did.

Perhaps I quibble too much. This book possesses the confessional qualities of a midnight, tent-bound conversation between friends, high in the Assynt hills. Me, I’ll just say thanks for the whisky, but I’ve got a room at the Culag Hotel in Lochinver.

At the Loch of the Green Corrie, by Andrew Greig
published by Quercus, 2010
ISBN 978 1 84724 996 8
x+322pp, £16.99
http://www.quercusbooks.co.uk/book.php?id=9781847249968