The Soundtrack of the Independence Referendum

One of the most fantastic things about the independence referendum has been the creativity unleashed.  From the posters and memes, to the theatre produced and the artworks created, the past couple of years has seen an outpouring of Scottish creative talent.  No less creative is the music that has provided the backdrop to manys a canvassing session, strategy chat or fundraiser.

The Scottish folk revival of the early 70s informed much of the music produced at the time.  With their oversized beards, fairisle jumpers and traditional instruments you could think of them as the first generation of Scottish hipsters, although the funny continental post-modern irony hadn’t kicked in yet. Time to dust off some old 78s (or should that be 79s) to get us in the mood.

Scotland’s unofficial national anthem, albeit officially adopted by some sporting teams is a good place to start.  I’m not all that keen on Flower of Scotland.  Although its a pretty good rousing tune, commemorating ancient battles is somewhat backward looking, but given that the official anthem for Great Britain talks about crushing us for sedition, it seems fair enough that we get the right of response.  Although why should we ask God to save Lizzie, when there’ll be nae Lizzie wan, nae Lillibet twa in the Scottish Breakaway.

Also from the Corries again in the same era, comes The Dawning of the Day, rather nationalist for my internationalists tastes, but it starts to make the modern political case for Scottish Independence – highlighting the lack of ownership of land and industry and the squandering of our resources then makes a valid point, that “too long we have blamed the foreign oppressor, too long have we hoped for our hero’s return” and calls for us to take action to rectify the situation.

A similar theme emerges in  No Gods and Precious Few Heroes where Dick Gaughan makes the case for taking matters into our own hands before there’s nothing left to save. Although this song is over 20 years old, had has a remarkably contemporary feel as the rather rotund Gordon Brown takes to the stage to tell us how proud he is of being Scottish and the BBC declared no surrender to the truth, and as we all put our shoulders to the wheel to get that YES vote, the fear of the establishment became palpable.  At the same time the Proclaimers were highlighting the dependent situation of Scotland with Cap In Hand

Moving forward onto some newer stuff, the Scottish Hiphop scene has blossomed in recent years, and the independence referendum has kicked some of our finest MCs into action.  While we’re on the theme of No Gods and No Heroes, perhaps an honorable mention is in order for Loki’s Tommy Sheridan is Dead.  Set twenty years hence in an austeritarian distopia, it appeals to Tommy Sheridan, celebrity misogynist, to save the people from their future.  As Tommy Sheridan death is announced, a reappeared Madaline McCann becomes commercially sexually exploited ….which is what comes of relying on tartan messiahs.

The future distopia which forms the backdrop for Tommy Sheridan is Dead is expanded upon in Stanley Odd’s Winter of Discontent, which also looks back: this time to the 80s, when Scotland suffered under Thatcherism.   Written around 2011, with the Arab Spring, the indignatos and Occupy providing the inspirational backdrop it points to independence as an escape hatch from a system which is so clearly broken. In Government Issue, Loki asks us carefully to look at what we’ve become – at the capitalist realism we live in, and puts the blame for the alienation and its consequences in modern Scotland squarely at the foot of the Union, imploring us to look beyond the shite we’re fed, Western hegemony as pushed by London.

Werd and Seabass also ask us to take another look at Scotland in City of Stone: to raise our hopes, ambitions and sight, to seize the opportunity offered by the referendum.  He manages to capture the spirit of the referendum – a renewal of the pride of the downtrodden and of the solidarity of those struggling for a common cause. In contrast to Loki and Werd & Seabass’s subtlety, Stanley Odd contrasts the psyche of Scotland and the UK through the oft used indyref metaphor of marriage, where opening a conversation about rights, dignity and autonomy is met with insults, accusations and insistence of dependence.

Its unusual for dance tracks to be overtly political, but Dance for Freedom pulls it off really well, encapsulating the desires and hopes of the independence movement within a catchy tune.  Another catchy wee tune is Make Alba Shine, by while Gemma Roffet’s very sweet and tender Scottish Independence Song implores us to look to embrace a future independent Scotland.  In the meantime, Callum Baird has produced a somewhat unusual love song Better off alone.  Citizen Smart is also looking for Something Better: an inclusive Scotland with hope for the future.

Humour was also evident throughout the musical contributions, from the originally No voting Lady Alba stuck in a Bad Romance in love with nuclear weapons and Tory MPs, through to her final conversion to Yes by the time she hits The Morning After dreaming of freedom as she hits the polling station.   Also campaigning for a no vote are Racing Minds, who remind us that You wont get away Scot Free. However the rest of us are signing along to  We’re A’ Voting Aye along with Andy Clark with many serious points along the way. In more serious moments, we’re explaining why we made this decision as Stanley Odd in Son, I voted Yes encapsulates so perfectly – the leap of faith that so many late converts to the movement took in putting the cross in the YES box – that for all our future was uncertain, during the campaign the confidence that we could build a better Scotland for us and the future emerged.

Scottish independence – for me at least – was never just about Scotland, it was about our place in the world and the refusal to play empire’s game, and there is no better exultation of this than Freedom come a ye, linking the struggle in Scotland with the international movement to rid the world of colonialism.  And as we watch the stream of people fleeing war, risking drowning and trekking to reach safety, we should be reminded that they are Coming Home.

There was so, so much good stuff produced that this can only be but a snapshot, but at least it can provide the background ambiance as you quietly sob into your whisky tonight and remember the day that we had the chance to destroy the British State.  It will come again no doubt, and next time we will seize it with both hands.  Another world is possible, and we must take our place within it, in the meantime, may these tunes, both old and new resonate and amplify our demands for Scottish independence and global social justice.

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