Kirk Elder is Life President of The Peebles Showboaters Amateur Dramatic Society. For many years a columnist on The Scotsman newspaper, he is currently "in recovery" from the experience. He enjoys parma violets, cloudless winter nights, and the films of Mr Burt Lancaster. He is currently writing his autobiography, "And Not For the Better".
Oddly enough, I feel the need to apologise for my silence. I am not sure why, given that I was always raised by my mother, Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) to remain mute except in case of emergencies, at which times I was permitted to raise my hand until an adult noticed, or my arm withered (whichever came first). The young are different. They never stop communicating: sending texts or having "sext" on their phones; typing and skittering on their computers; shouting Superdry inanities with their clothes - when they remember to wear any; inking advertisements for their own vanity on their skin, wearing more tattoos than a Japanese yakuza. Mostly, as I understand it, they are saying nothing, loudly. At best, they are paraphrasing the pre-fabricated pop group, The Monkees, who were fond of declaiming on behalf of the "young generation" that they had something to say, without ever getting round to explaining what that something was. Perhaps that was the point.
Mr Brian Cox: the real Brian Cox
So what has changed in my absence? Well, the world remains hellbound in a handcart, though that is scarcely novel. The nimble Chancellor, Mr George Osborne, has U-turned on a Cornish pasty; always a dangerous manoeuvre, especially in Church shoes. And the country has gone gaga for the Olympic torch, which just goes to show that though Hitler was, as Lord James Douglas-Hamilton once noted, "the naughtiest man in history",the Nazis knew a thing or two about ceremony.
But whither Scotland? As I type,the nation stands blinking at the Pelican Crossing of its own destiny, unsure whether to take to the road while the green man is flashing, or wait for the lollipop lady. As a Peeblean and sometime resident of Edinburgh, I am agnostic on the question of independence, because a Borderer is quite unlike a Glaswegian or a Highlander or an Orcadian in temperament and values. There is, of course, a logic in nationalist propaganda, and it is based on geography,with only a faint smattering of culture, lest the minorities should take offence,but I find that when I substitute the word "Peebles" for "Scotland" it works just as well. When the proposal is "local politics for local people", then my loyalty as a Peeblean must surely be to Peebles, and not to the Palatul Parlamentului in Holyrood.
Culture: National Theatre of
Scotland's Black Watch
It was, then, with an air of melancholy that I surveyed the launch of the "Yes"campaign from an Edinburgh picture house last week. The location, I thought, was odd,since the Senior Retainer, Mr Salmond, is not a noted aficionado of cinema, or indeed culture, unless it is theatre about Scottish soldiers for Scottish soldiers by Scottish actors speaking like Scottish soldiers (a genre which proved unattractive in his lusty wooing of Mr Rupert Murdoch). But, I suppose it may have been a reference to Sir Sean Connery, who famously delivered milk on Fountainbridge, before the street became a model city filled with outsized bank buildings and bantustan housing for people who work in Glasgow but can't face living there.
There are better buildings on Fountainbridge, more suited to civic symbolism: the Dundee Street library is a small masterpiece of Art Deco,though symbolically it would be hard to beat the derelict Mecca bingo hall at what is now called Port Hamilton. It was there, in its guise as the Palais De Danse, that Mrs Elder first submitted to the advances of my father, Mr Elder, though he told a different story on the rare occasions when he was permitted to speak. Until a few months ago, the Tartan Club at the old Scottish & Newcastle brewery might have proved a suitable venue,though the brewery is now rubble, despite the ghostly smell of hops in the air around the Union Canal, a waterway which stoically resists gentrification.
I do not want to discuss the substance of what was said at the "Yes" launch, largely because there was none. This was a faith-based event, and curiously nostalgic for a gathering of visionaries. I was pleased to see that Mr Salmond took it seriously, sporting what Mrs Elder (or Ma'am) would have termed a "richt balder", and I commend any politician of broad popular appeal who chooses to bestride the digital age with such an analogue haircut. (Larry's of Leith used to do a similar job for Mr Mick McGahey, the leader of the Scottish mineworkers, though he was a thinner man, less prone to grinning, and those were different times.) It was good, too, to see Mr Brian Cox, the real Brian Cox, back in the city where he made his name. I trust that the teenagers who run the SNP's internet campaigning division were similarly enthralled with the sight of a great Uncle Vanya, and were not expecting a pop-star astronomer. And I was surprised, but not unhappy, to discover that the star of the event was Mr Alan Cumming, who performed with such distinction as half of Victor and Barry, the cravat-wearing patrons of the Kelvinside Young People’s Amateur Dramatic Art Society. Appealing to Kelvinside Man is precisely the challenge which faces both sides of the referendum campaign.
Why, then, do I feel so wan? Well, try as I might, I cannot see Mr Salmond as he sees himself, as a saviour of a downtrodden people. It's true, he may be the most effective member of the Scottish parliament, but that is, by any reckoning, a modest compliment. (Modesty not being a word that usually exists with its cheek next to Mr Salmond's admittedly impressive jowls). He is closer to Dr Finlay than he is to Dr Martin Luther King, and, now that we get down to the details, his version of the Promised Land is something of a placebo. An independent Scotland will, it seems, keep the monarchy, remain in NATO, be subject to the whims of the Bank Of England while not making it any easier to spend a Scottish fiver at Tebay services. EastEnders will still be on the television, and there will be more Scottish news broadcasts, even if there is no more Scottish news. It is a vision, not quite a dream.