Always be a Poet, Even in Prose

Ah! You want to know why I hate you today…

An interesting opening gambit – though one unrelated to how I am dealing with the rejection of an idea very close to my heart by the Scottish electorate. Instead, in honour of National Poetry Day, I use this by way of rejecting an idea we often hear in politics, and one I heard a lot over the campaign. ‘Campaign in poetry, govern in prose’ it goes. Sounds about right – until you meet a sad person like myself who happens to know a bit about prose poetry, seen in the opening line by Charles Baudelaire.

The campaign aftermath, to extend another unnecessary literary metaphor, has been a bit like a gritty detective novel for Yes people of a forensic disposition. The Edinburgh results looked like something Rebus should be investigating (not in the sense they were rigged,mind) . Reading the breakdown of Fife and other parts of Central Scotland was like reading one of these torture scenes from a Val McDermid novel – and the less said about the blood on the walls in rural Scotland, the better.

Did we somehow mistake what people in these parts of Scotland wanted? The poetry (more the metaphorical rather than literal) of the Yes campaign may have stirred us into action, and allowed many people to dream – but while you cannot shoot butterflies, you can catch them in a net composed of a million questions, and woven with the thick fibres of uncertainty. Project Fear will now be calling themselves Project Butterfly Net.

The opening line of this piece is from Baudelaire’s Les Yeux des Pauvres – a jaunty morality tale, set in Baron Hausmann’s rapidly transforming 19th century Paris, where the medieval streets which had for ended the revolution were giving way to the modern city of broad avenues, famously devoid of public squares in which to protest. A couple sit at in a new café, lit by the wonder of electric light. Their view of the future is somewhat spoiled, however, when a wretchedly poor family comes to gawp at the beauty from outside the glass, causing the partner of the narrator to ask the maitre du café to move them on – incurring the wrath of the narrator, as witnessed by the opening line.

Now, my moral is not quite the same as Baudelare’s: just as modern Scotland is not as unequal as 19th century Paris – but you’d not know it from listening to those critical of No voters on September the 18th. ‘One Scotland’ should be one in which everyone benefits – and where we realise that independence is not once-size-fits-all. Gerry Hassan recognised this last week: ‘The politics of Scotland’s future has to entail getting into the heads and hearts of the middles classes, with all their varieties and different sub-parts.

Could it be that these middle classes, with so much to gain from independence – in terms of jobs, opportunities and status – were put off by the radical sales pitch? Was a 19th century approach to class outdated in a Scotland where 50% of school leavers go onto university, and ‘working with your hands’ means clicking a mouse? The natural allies of the Yes campaign, as has been explained to me many times, are the people in the ‘bought hooses’ of middle Scotland, the type of people who, like myself, find their roots in the working class, but not themselves. How do we get into the heads of these people?

This is where the point about prose poetry comes in. We must gain their trust, not through beautiful words, but through our deeds as a government: using the powers of the Scottish Parliament (whatever they may be, whenever they come) to continue to make the case, that a Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh is the one that will make the best decisions for Scotland: let’s be radically competent, and revolutionarily good at getting things done – this is the way we will build on the very real victories won two weeks ago.

It’s a view put forward by Marco Biagi: ‘Such a view can inform and guide the decisions we take with the limited powers we have, as well as giving the public a clear idea of who we are’. Or, as Baudelaire might put it ‘Sois toujours poète, même en prose’ (‘Always be a poet, even in prose’).

Beyond a government in Holyrood continuing to forge a radically competent path, we must do our bit too. We have to make sure the energy created in the debate does not fizzle out: as Lesley Riddoch said in her podcast this week, we must go out and continue to be the change we want to be: start our community projects, make our alternatives work: achieve through deeds what the beautiful words of the campaign could not.

Finally: the Baudelaire prose poem ends in a way which underlines the imperative all in the Yes movement now have – to reach out to those who voted No, many of whom are our family, friends and even partners, and to try and understand why they did so. If it is indeed true that 47% of No voters voted so because of the fears of what independence could bring, then we must listen to these fears.

How difficult understanding is, my angel, and how thought is incommunicable, even between lovers.

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