17 dec Pride above greed: the Scottish dilemma
The island of Islay is the place to go when you are trying to measure the temperature concerning the independency aspirations of Scotland as a whole. People here are used to hard work, under difficult conditions, being helped by no one, including their fellow Scotsmen on the mainland. Here you find the proud and independent men and women for whom London is as far away as, say, New York. Farmers and fishermen who have fought for their existence, adding a few pounds to their tiny income by distilling whisky. It is also the place where you find the equivalent of total silence and emptiness. This paradise of lambswool is haunted by misterious winds, grey clouds chasing each other above a wild sea, the few people around sitting next to their fire covered with a checkered family plaid. Going outside is senseless. The work on the land is done; the peat is in the storages of the Malt factories. One white cottage every three miles or so, a rare hunter with a black Labrador, the inevitable lighthouse, but that’s really all. No lights, no movement, no directions, just the smell of coal coming out of a chimney. The huge red and golden coloured fields are the exclusive grounds of sheep and Angus cattle. They graze peacefully under an almost continuous drizzle. What starts as an oppressive climate turns out, after a few days, to be a healing surrounding for urban souls. No sound, no honking, no sirenes. Everybody waves at you and you find yourself waving back and smiling. The Middle Ages, as it were. You discover how you missed the horizon, the gulls and birds of prey, the sound of waves beating black rocks. The hobbits and monsters wait in the hills for you to come and say hello. Where did we put our Ring?
Not to talk for a couple of hours, having just a conversation with yourself, feels like an enormous sense of relief, emerging from the depth of your memory. In the pub you talk to men you hardly understand and just say ay, ay and drink another shot of peated gold. Dinner is at five, bed at nine. Up in the dark, in the absolute silence of the Islay womb.
In 2014 the Scottish people will be able to vote for or against continuing being part of the UK. According to my little investigation the result is not yet clear. Independence they want, but poverty, more poverty they don’t. So the choice is between pride and greed? That is a Scottish dilemma, par excellence! As far as I can predict (with a touch of self interest), pride will win. The Republic of Silence could become a fact – and a welcome new member of the European family.