Mozart on Debates

The memory-failing spouse and I attended a dementia-friendly performance of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, by Scottish Opera, a few days ago. It was a matinee, sparsely attended, disappointing no doubt for the singers, but for the audience it meant that there was no audience-intrusion to distract us from the top-notch performance, and the unpretentious simplicity of the occasion was overwhelming.

Readers will remember that there are three strands to this opera – the heroic couple Tamino and Pamina, who undergo ordeals, and summon up their courage by playing a magic flute; the nasty flim-flammerie of the Queen Night, whose aim is to plunge all other characters into such despair that they kill themselves; and the earthy clowns Papageno and Papagena, who just want to shack up together and have a million kids.

It’s all underpinned by a fourth strand in the person of the sorcerer Sarastro, who runs what can only be called a think-tank. This is an institution that promotes the same equality-and-brotherhood ideals as those of Robert Burns’ “A Man’s a Man for A’ That”, and more broadly those of the French Revolution (the opera premiered in 1791, two years after the storming of the Bastille). Sarastro’s think-tank holds everything together, brings about the happy ending, and gives us to understand that the other three strands are nothing more than a top-dressing of frivolity.

Sarastro’ aria, “In diesen heil’gen Hallen” is the crunch-point in this fourth strand: the lyrics say, more or less, that in these holy halls we think clearly, and respect each other’s views, and do not turn our opponents into enemies. In this performance our Sarastro delivered the aria with no stage-business, standing more or less still. (You can see a similarly understated performance of it here.) As the melody unfolded, I found myself gasping and snuffling, unable to catch my breath, choking, with surprising tears running down my cheeks. The ideals that you believe in can be complete buggers when they catch you unawares.

Think about that.

Soldiers of the Queen

If you think this post is going to be a rant about unredeemable bigotry among those that fought under the butcher’s apron, think again. We need to be more nuanced than that.

My wife and I had an encounter with a non-indy person after the march, two Saturdays ago, as we were coming out of the Mitchell Library (ah, the arcane leisure pursuits of the Byres Road glitterati!). He’d been leaning on the balustrade by the kerb opposite the outside door, smoking, and walked across the pavement to speak to us, a bearded and tidily turned-out man in his twenties. “See this march,” he said, making eye contact. No doubt he’d noticed the SNP badge throbbing yellow on my lapel. “Ah don’t haud wi’ a’ that.”

We raised an eyebrow.

“See me, Ah’m a soldier,” he said. “Ah wiz sent by Blair and Bush to Iraq, and when I came back, there was no help of any kind for me. Naethin, not from the British Government nor from the Scottish Government. So these politicians, Ah don’t believe anything they say. That’s why I think this Home Rule is a’ mince.”

Home Rule is an endearingly old-fashioned way of describing what we campaign for (is that really what the British Army calls it?), but this wasn’t the moment to take up that point.

“They should have helped you,” I said. “Whether they’re Scottish or British, they’re the government, and they should have helped you.”

“Helped me!… Helped me!!!…..” He roasted them for their failure by producing a content-free stream of expletives, sullying the ears of my public-school-educated octogenarian partner. And with each expletive he reached out and touched her, apologetically, reassuringly, on the arm. “Sorry…sorry…” He really was contrite; they teach you manners in the British Army, and deference towards the posh elderly. “See, Ah fought for Britain. And this Union – it ain’t broke, so don’t fix it.”

My answer needed some thought. This Union is broken – England has exploited Scotland for more than 300 years, sucked the lifeblood out of it, and is still sucking benefit from the husk. But being a soldier is no joke, and someone who’s shown that level of commitment is not going to react positively when told they’re talking nonsense by some toffee-nosed tosser with an Oxford accent. So I discarded, “We never get the government we voted for,” and, “They’ve stolen all our oil,” and settled for, “This is a rich country. We have renewables, oil, water, agriculture. We could be much more prosperous that we are.”

He didn’t look convinced.

“It’s England that’s holding us back,” I went on, “because we don’t have the powers to develop our potential.”

That sounded vague and unconvincing to me even while I was saying it, and not surprisingly he still looked sceptical. But he hadn’t interrupted, so I went for the jugular. “Norway has a one-trillion-dollar oil fund. We could have had that.”

There was a lot of harrumphing, and objections I didn’t quite get, and more streams of expletives – all with the obligatory apologetic touches to the arm, of course. When it subsided, out came his summing-up. “See this SNP.” he said, “If we did this, would they be a good government?”

Gobsmacked, I tried to show no emotion. “Yes, of course.”

We parted on good terms.

Fairness and Accountability

Let’s make no bones about quoting and requoting these words of Wee Ginger Dug:

The lesson from Catalonia is that independence is about the big issues, the big story. It’s about justice and democracy. It’s about representation and political accountability. It’s about what kind of society we want to live in. It’s about fairness, equality, and giving every citizen an equal stake in the country. These are the stories we need to tell in Scotland if we are to achieve our own dream of an independent country.

Tweet and retweet far and wide.