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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Castle Douglas the Book

The talk I have written for the launch of Castle Douglas -Portrait of a Forward Town by Allan Wright and Alistair Livingston.

30 June 2016 at The Workshop Gallery 183 King Street, Castle Douglas

The area around Castle Douglas was once described as a ‘paramount centre of power and wealth’. This may seem a slight exaggeration, but the author was actually a  historian describing the situation 2000 years ago when the Romans decided to build the first of several forts and marching camps at Glenlochar two miles to the north of the future town. The wealth and power of the area then is symbolised by the beautiful bronze Pony Cap found on Torrs farm 200 years ago and now in the National Museum of Scotland.

The suggestion is that one of the key tribal territories of the
Novantae as the Romans called the local people, lay along the Dee/ Ken river system with a religious and political centre in the Castle Douglas area. The political centre, the chieftan’s residence might have been the large Iron Age roundhouse built on Meiklewood Hill between the Dee and the Blackpark marshes. The crannog on Carlingwark Loch, near which the Carlingwark Cauldron was fished up in 1868, might have been the religious centre.

What happened next is a mystery, because 600 years later the ‘paramount centres of power and wealth’ in the Stewartry were the Mote of Mark above the Urr estuary and Trusty’s Hill above the Fleet estuary. We have to move forwards nearly 800 years before the Castle Douglas area becomes important again.

This time the focus of power and wealth was Threave Island on the Dee.  It was here that Archibald the Grim, the new Lord of Galloway decided to built his castle. The island had probably been fortified by the indigenous lords of Galloway previously, but unfortunately, the construction of Archibald’s castle has obscured evidence of earlier buildings on the island.

Like the Romans before him, Archibald chose the location for its strategic importance since from it he could control both north/ south and east/west routes through the central Stewartry. The route to the north lies through the Glenkens and into Ayrshire.

The east/west route is less obvious but south of Glenlochar down to Gelston and across to what is now the Dalbeattie road there are still areas of marshland as well as Carlingwark Loch.  Before the nineteenth century these marshes were even more extensive. The  only dry route through this wetland area lay over Carlingwark Hill.

As well as controlling long-distance travel through the Stewartry, Threave castle was also a bridgehead for a major cultural change. Archibald and his successors were Scots speakers but in Galloway Gaelic was still the language of the people and their leaders. The lands around Threave castle were grange lands, growing oats and barley to feed the occupants of the castle. Carlingwark, Blackpark and Whitepark were named by Scots speakers planted around Threave by Archibald and the Douglas lords of Galloway.

We can still see a boundary between Scots and Gaelic. Whitepark is one of the Scots farms but the neighbouring farm of Cuil was named by Gaelic speakers. In 1325. King Robert granted the Barony of Buittle to his good friend James Douglas and the charter defines the boundary. Part of the boundary lay between Torrs farm in Kelton and Breoch in Buittle. Neither Whitepark nor Cuil are mentioned but by 1455 Whitepark had been created out of part of the Torrs lands and Cuil out of part of Breoch.

One of the meanings of Cuil in Gaelic is ‘corner’ and it lies right in a corner of Buittle as defined by the 1325 charter. 600 years ago then, the stream which flows down from Torrs to the Cuckoo Bridge and into the Gelston burn was marked a boundary between Scots and Gaelic speakers.

Where the Roman power lasted long enough, villages grew up around their forts and some eventually became towns and cities. In the Middle Ages, a similar process occurred as settlements grew up around castles.

With Castle Douglas though, it was the Plantation of Ulster which created the nucleus for its later development. As early as 1635, in inn owned by Thomas Hutton  on Carlingwark Hill was  recommended  to travellers from England using the Gretna to Portpatrick route. Thomas Hutton’s son-in-law had a blacksmiths forge at Carlingwark which provided an other useful service for travellers. This Portpatrick route then became a mail route. By 1765 the rough tracks along the route had been  upgraded to create a military road.

The new road inspired Alexander Murray of Cally to start planning what was to become Gatehouse of Fleet. With better transport links the potential for agricultural improvement encouraged  Sir Alexander Gordon of Greenlaw to have short section of canal cut between Carlingwark Hill and the Dee. This was used by barges carrying shell-marl from Carlingwark Loch to farms up the Dee/ Ken river system.

This shell-marl was whiteish clay built up in Carlingwark loch over thousands of years from the shells of fresh water snails and the bones of fish and was a substitute for lime as a fertiliser. It was dug up from the edge of the loch and also dredged up by boats using bag and spoon dredgers. The technique had been invented by the Dutch for their canals and used a large canvas bag attached to an iron ring which was hauled along the bottom of the loch  and then dumped in the boat. It must have been a very messy job.

To make it easier to get at the marl, a cut was then made through Carlingwark Hill into the loch. This partially drained the  loch and ensured a good supply of water for the canal. I used to think that the barges were loaded with marl in the loch, but early maps show an extension of Marl Street leading down towards the canal across the Carlingwark meadows. Where this reaches the canal there is the faint trace of what looks like a loading bay.

Alexander Gordon built houses for the marl workers and hoped to turn the new settlement into a small town. Unfortunately, he was an investor in the Ayr bank which failed in 1772. This scuppered his plans and he eventually sold Carlingwark to William Douglas for £14 000 in 1789. Gordon had also proposed a more ambitious  canal project which would have run from Kirkcudbright parallel with the Dee to Threave Island and then, he hoped, extend north from Loch Ken towards Loch Doon and the Dalmellington coal field. A Glenkenns Canal Act was passed in 1803 but never taken forward apart from a couple of locks which were built at Culvennan to by-pass a shallow section of the Dee.

The Carlingwark canal was still in use in the 1790s when the Old Statistical Account of Scotland was being written. By the time the New Statistical Account was being composed in the early 1840s it had fallen out of use. This was probably because by then a whole set of new turnpike road had been built, including one from Castle Douglas to Palnackie so that it became much easier to import and distribute  lime.

The most important of the new roads was what was to become the A 75 and which replaced parts of the Old Military Road. It can be seen marked as a dotted line on John Ainslie’s 1797 map of the Stewartry running from the Old Bridge of Dee to Auchenreoch Loch and then on to Dumfries.

Gatehouse of Fleet was also on the new road. With its cotton mills and other industries the new town of Gatehouse looked set to become the new town of Castle Douglas’ main rival. Castle Douglas had an interest in the cotton industry, but it was probably no more than a building where several hand-loom weavers were based rather than a spinning mill. By 1831, the shift to power looms had made hand looms redundant so only the name Cotton Street survives from this early stage of the town’s development.

For the rest of the story about how Castle Douglas overtook Gatehouse to become the most successful of Dumfries and Galloway’s 86 planned towns and villages you will have to buy the book.

But since there were a few interesting points I had to cut short in the book, I will mention them now.

One of these is that if Thomas Telford had had his way, Castle Douglas might have remained a small village. In 1809, soon after the Union with Ireland, Telford was commissioned to survey the route of the shortest possible road from Carlisle to Portpatrick. Telford did so and came up with a road which cut straight across country from Auchenreoch Loch to the Boat of Rhone at Parton, then by Lochs Stroan and Skerrow through the hills towards the Cree above Creetown. After crossing the Cree the road headed for Glenluce and then from Glenluce straight across the head of Luce Bay to Portpatrick. Telford reckoned this route would be 15 miles shorter than by existing roads.

Luckily for the new town of Castle Douglas, this road was never built since it would have missed out on the advantages of being on a major transport route.

At this point I was going talk about the Portpatrick Railway, but the I remembered that, earlier this year my friend Sandy Rogerson  set up a Facebook page ’Reopen the  Dumfries-Stranraer Railway’. The page has now had  1782 likes. This has encouraged Sandy. Last week he visited Castle Douglas Community Centre to check the cost of hiring a room- £12.50 an hour. The next step will be to make a booking and hold a meeting. I have offered to give a talk on the history of the local railways.  If there is enough support at the meeting we will form a Railway Committee and start campaigning… so watch this space.

To finish up I will start with a  quote from Allan’s Introduction to the book.

I have savoured numerous views offered from the surrounding gentle hills & gaps between trees & buildings that surround the town. Taken delight also in how on the outskirts, both the agricultural lands and the wilder habitats merge into the dwelling spaces in a respectful way, I reckon kids growing up here are most fortunate to have real countryside to grow up in.

As a kid who grew up here, I have to agree. For a few years after it closed, the most exiting way to reach the wilder countryside was by walking out along the Kirkcudbright railway the past the golf course, the sewage works and the ever smouldering cowp until we reached the Blackpark marshes and the Carlingwark Canal. This was long before the Castle Douglas By-pass was built in 1987, so the area seemed a remote wilderness and we could image ourselves as explorers discovering an unknown landscape filled with the eerie piping calls of lapwings..

Over time it became very difficult to make the same journey but luckily in 2003 the Castle Douglas Community Initiative were looking for ideas which would benefit the town. After discussions with my brothers Ian and Kenneth, we suggested making a path from the town out to Threave Estate along the old railway line.

It took three years, but in August 2006 it was opened from Blackpark Road to Threave. In 2013 the Abercromby Road to Blackpark Road section was opened so it became possible to walk all the way from Burghfield Park to Lamb Island on the Dee or out to Threave Castle.  Then last New Year’s eve floods washed away the footbridge over the Carlingwark Canal.

Thankfully, Dumfries and Galloway Countryside Rangers have been able to get the bridge replaced by a new one and upgrade the path which is now open again.

The idea behind the path was to physically connect Castle Douglas with the surrounding countryside and with the past as represented by Threave Castle. Allan’s photographs provide a visual counterpart to this idea, helping to connect town and country, often blurring the distinction between the two environments.

The railway path plan was loosely linked to an earlier idea. In in June 2000, I wrote a letter to the Galloway News. A row was brewing about a plan to re-open the Castle Douglas abattoir. I suggested re-locating it on the Abercromby Road Industrial site and encouraging other food businesses to  move there as well. The site could then be called the Castle Douglas Food Park while the town could be promoted as Castle Douglas Food Town.

Within a couple of months a steering group had been formed with myself as secretary. Thinking about how to promote Castle Douglas as a Food Town and after much discussion with Ian and Kenneth and others, the idea that emerged was of the Food Town as the shop front for the promotion of regionally produced food.

We knew that Castle Douglas was already a place people came to shop from across Dumfries and Galloway. We also knew that the town drew in visitors and shoppers from the north of England and the south of Scotland. If we could work with Wigtown as the Book Town and Kirkcudbright as the Artists Town it would create a cluster of visitor attractions.

But at the time , the region’s tourist economy and the food economy were seen separate spheres, so the challenge would be to break that division down. The hope was that farmers would start to see visitors as their customers and visitors, worried about BSE and other food scares, could be reassured that locally produced food was not only safe to eat but good to eat-  because it they could see the food  growing or gambolling about in a beautiful landscape. The marketing message would be ‘They say you can’t eat the scenery. In Castle Douglas you can.’

I must have been in touch with Allan at the time, since I have found a letter he sent me saying he would be glad to help with what was then still just a ‘publicity project’. Unfortunately next year, 2001, was the year of Foot and Mouth so everything was put on hold. When the Food Town was finally launched in 2002 it was a less ambitious and more King Street level event.

Coming back to the future, while I am sure visitors will buy it, I hope that Allan’s book will also become an essential purchase for people living and working in Castle Douglas. A familiar place, however fascinating it might seem to others, can easily be taken for granted by those who live there. Allan’s photographs let us see Castle Douglas and its surroundings with fresh eyes.

At the same time, as I explain in my part of the book, Castle Douglas is a small, rural, market town which has survived and prospered by continually reinventing itself. Marl and cotton, foundries and feed mills, stage coaches and steam trains have all come and gone. Each time the familiar and traditional has passed over into history, Castle Douglas has managed to adapt to the changes and move forward.

Since last week the challenge posed by the future has grown immensely. Will Castle Douglas be able to reinvent itself yet again to survive in this brave new world which has opened up before us?

That is a very difficult question to answer tonight.

But what I do know, if we include  the two  standing stones on Ernespie Hill, is that 4000 years of history tells us that the Castle Douglas area is a strategic location at the heart of the Stewartry surrounded by good quality farm land.  Those advantages sustained countless generations before Castle Douglas existed and have sustained the town and its people for the past 224 years. As one of life’s optimists, I am sure they will continue to do so.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Festivalized- buy this book!

Big thanks to John Serpico. Photo shows Root Boot at Stonehenge in 1984, not the Poison Girls in 1979 - as the original photo by Big Steve confusingly said. 

Music, Politics and Alternative Culture
Ian Abrahams and Bridget Wishart

This book is an essential purchase. Even a vital purchase. Buy this book here. Read it. Stop reading it…the resulting excess of sorrow will make you laugh while the simultaneous excess of joy will make you weep. Following this road of excess will lead you to the free festival of wisdom. Because as Mr. Blake once said “You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough.”

I could go on to fill this whole review of ‘Festivalized’ with William Blake quotes, but I won’t. For any one who ever went to a free festival this book will evoke a host of powerful memories. Freaks, hippies, Hells Angels, punks, travellers, squatters, peace campers and ravers- all are here in a psychedelic collage woven from the accounts of over 40 participants.

But if you weren’t there, if the scent of wood smoke doesn’t trigger acid flashbacks, what does ‘Festivalized’ have to offer? The most recent reason I can give is provided by Anthony Barnett who  argues that the pressure for the UK to leave the EU comes overwhelmingly from England. The anti-EU movement, Barnett says, has gained traction because unlike Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, England does not have its own devolved parliament. As he says “England’s frustrated desire for democracy has turned it against the EU rather than the real culprit, the British state.”

In Scotland the same frustrated desire for democracy was able to express itself through a demand for independence. The British state offered a devolved Scottish parliament as a substitute. The demand for independence did not fade away though and had to be bought-off again in 2014 by an offer of a more powerful devolved parliament. Significantly, the Scots have tried to distinguish their nationalism from ’blood and soil’ nationalism through an emphasis on the cultural and civic distinctiveness of Scotland - that Scottishness is an identity of choice rather than one given by place of birth.

For people living in England, it is much harder to disentangle Englishness from Britishness. This makes it more difficult to create an English identity which is not entangled with the reactionary myths of Empire. The Scots, Welsh and Irish all contributed to the British Empire, but can claim ‘the English made us do it’. So long as no distinction between Englishness and Britishness is made,  Englishness remains reactionary rather than liberating.

If a post-imperial English identity existed, what would it look like? The outlines of an alternative England began to emerge in the 1960s, partly through a revolution in popular culture. As a key text of the time, Jeff Nuttall’s book ’Bomb Culture’ (1968) explained, the Cuba Missile Crisis of 1963 shocked his post-war generation into the realisation that, at any moment, everything in their world which seemed so solid could in an instant be vaporised and turned into radioactive air.

As the 1970s got underway, the ‘Bomb Culture’ explosion gave rise to many fragments. One -see ‘Radical Technology’ (1976, edited by Geoffrey Boyle and Peter Harper)- evolved into the Green movement. Another was the free-festival movement.

As Andy Roberts ( Albion Dreaming, 2008, p. 155) put it

Free festival were a response to a variety of emerging needs within the counter-culture. Night clubs and commercial festivals did not appeal to the sensibilities of acid sensitized hippies  who were questioning ideas of profit and control; wanting to be more  than just consumers of what the entertainment industry produced. There was a demand for events self-generated by the counter-culture , which would provide hippies with gatherings where they could live out there life-style with like minded people in a spirit of celebration and purpose. Another factor in the development of the counter-culture was the growth of communes  and the squatting movement in London. By necessity this had led to a more communal way of life; who, streets in London had been colonized by squatters and it was a natural progression from community in the cities to communality in the countryside.

The Albion of Andy Robert’s book is William Blake’s Albion (2008, p.8). Although Blake’s Albion encompassed the whole of Britain, in the same way that his contemporary Robert Burns’ poetry encompassed universal themes from a Scottish perspective , so Blake’s poetry encompassed universal themes from an English one. [Blake 1757-1827, Burns 1759-1796]

As ‘Festivalized’ shows, the countryside of the free-festival movement was the English countryside. Its Albion was an alternative England and the free-festivals by their very existence rejoiced in Blake’s vision of the British Empire’s end.

The morning comes, the night decays, the watchmen leave their
The grave is burst, the spices shed, the linen wrapped up;
The bones of death, the cov'ring clay, the sinews shrunk & dry'd,
Reviving shake, inspiring move, breathing! awakening!
Spring like redeemed captives when their bonds & bars are burst.
Let the slave grinding at the mill run out into the field:
Let him look up into the heavens & laugh in the bright air;
Let the inchained soul shut up in darkness and in sighing,
Whose face has never seen a smile in thirty weary years,
Rise and look out; his chains are loose, his dungeon doors are open.
And let his wife and children return from the opressor's scourge.
They look behind at every step & believe it is a dream,
Singing, 'The Sun has left his blackness, & has found a fresher
And the fair Moon rejoices in the clear & cloudless night;
For Empire is no more, and now the Lion & Wolf shall cease.'
[William Blake, ‘America: A Prophecy’]

But as Philip K Dick knew (VALIS, 1981) and the free-festival movement discovered, the Empire never ended. For the British state in the 1980s and 90s, the alternative England of the counter-culture’s Albion Free State, the post-imperial Englishness of the free-festival movement were a threat to the established order and so had to be eliminated.

Although mentioned only in passing by Steve Lake of Zounds in ‘Festivalized (2015, pp 107-110),  The Mob, a free-festival/ punk crossover group from Somerset, anticipated what was to happen with their song ‘Witch Hunt’ released in 1980.

Stubbing out progress where seeds are sown
Killing off anything that's not quite known
Sitting around in a nice safe home
Waiting for the witch hunt
Idle plans for the idol rich
Knitting the economy, not dropping a stitch
Destroying anything that doesn't quite fit
Waiting for the witch hunt
Still living with the English fear
Waiting for the witch hunt here
Still living with the English fear
Waiting for the witch hunt here
Changing your course for another way
You better stop that or be willing to pay
Never mind son, you'll come around some day
Under pressure from the witch hunt
Killing off anything that’s not quite known
Stubbing out progress where the seeds are sown
[The Mob, Witch Hunt, 1980]

Under pressure from the British state’s witch hunt, progress towards an alternative Englishness was all but stubbed out.
It is perhaps only now, as the British state writhes on the horns of the European dilemma, that we can see what was lost. Without the existence of alternative forms of Englishness, England’s frustrated desire for democracy has become regressive.

There is no future in Ukip’s vision of England. In the absence of any alternative visions of Albion, Ukip’s dreaming will become a nightmare from which we cannot wake. Yet, as ‘Festivalized’ shows, when liberated from the single vision of Empire’s sleep, hundreds of thousands of English people were able to create the antithesis of Ukip’s England.

Yes, as ‘Festivalized’ also shows, under increasing pressure from the British state it became impossible to sustain the free-festival movement. But the very fact of its emergence and existence shows that England already has within itself the dream of a time it must now possess in order to actually live it.

Clifford Harper, illustration for Undercurrents magazine, No. 20, February-March 1977

Friday, June 10, 2016

It's an alternative England

It’s an alternative England

Grab it, share it, it’s yours
Alter your native land
They say they're a part of you
And that's not true you know
They say they've got control of you
And that's a lie you know
They say you will never be
Free free free….

…in an alternative England.

What I want to do in this post is bring together two different things and suggest that they are connected. One of the things is a current political argument. The other is a piece of recent history.

The political argument is by Anthony Barnett. https://www.opendemocracy.net/uk/anthony-barnett/it-s-england-s-brexit It is a rich and complex argument but at its heart is the suggestion that what is driving demands for the UK to leave the EU is a collapse in the equation British = English. The roots of this breakdown lie in the creation of devolved governments for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Before devolution, English people took it for granted that the parliament in London was their parliament. Since devolution the realisation has slowly dawned that it is a British rather than an English parliament. However, since the creation of an English parliament would effectively lead to the break-up of the UK, no major political party has proposed one.

Anthony Barnett’s key argument is that what Ukip and the Brexiteers have managed to do is shift the focus of English anxieties about the post-devolution settlement on to the EU. In other words if there was a more powerful English parliament then worries about the leakage of power from the British (UK, Westminster) parliament to the EU would be diminished. So that buried beneath the noise of the EU referendum debates is a demand for radical democracy.

Buried in the mix is the fear that if encourage to surface, English ‘nationalism’ would be right-wing and reactionary. That Englishness is regressive while Britishness (in England) is progressive.

Barnett argues against this depressing understanding of Englishness. This leads on to ’Festivalized- Music, Politics and Alternative Culture’ by Ian Abrahams and Bridget Wishart. This is an account of the free festival movement 1970-1992, a movement which was primarily an English phenomenon. Buy it here

Connecting Anthony Barnett’s article with Festivalized has the effect of opening up a different perspective on ‘Englishness’. What Festivalized, along with George McKay’s ‘Cultures of Resistance’ (1996),  highlights is that the alternative (or counter) culture which emerged in the UK in the sixties gave hundreds of thousands of young English people the opportunity to create a new  identity, to invent a post-British (Empire) form of  Englishness.

This developed via the free festival movement in the 1970s but was then heavily suppressed during the 1980s and 1990s. The repression had the effect of eliminating a radically alternative England and reinforcing reactionary and regressive England. Or more correctly, made it increasingly difficult to sustain an alternative Englishness.

The Beanfield, 1 June 1985

The mix of ‘music, politics and alternative culture’ is vividly described in ‘Festivalized’ through the first-hand accounts by 40 participants. One of the people interviewed for the book was Steve Lake of Zounds and (pp.107-110) Steve mentions The Mob -‘a punk band from Yeovil’ - as one of the groups which crossed over between punk and the free festivals/ the free-festivals and punk. In the 1980s  I shared a punk housing co-op house with members of the Mob and briefly ran their ‘All the Madmen’ record company. A few years ago now Mark Wilson of the Mob rang me to say All the Madmen was going to be revived. This is part of what I wrote for the AtM website

Punk did not end when the Sex Pistols split up in 1978. It carried on into the 1980s, given a new edge by the impact of Thatcher’s government on a generation of young people. It really felt that we had ‘No Future’…Radicalised by harsh reality, punks realised that they had to work together and co-operate just to survive. A practical example of this was the creation of punk housing co-ops like the Islington based Black Sheep Co-op which the Mob and other punk bands helped to finance through benefit gigs. The Mob also worked to renovate houses for the co-op which (along with Andy Palmer of Crass and members of other punk bands) they later lived in. All the Madmen was based in a Black Sheep Co-op house for two years before relocating to another housing co-op (originally a squat) house at Brougham Road in Hackney. 
Even if most histories of punk forget this hidden history, those involved have not. Against the competitive individualism which has become the norm over the past 30 years, we have held fast to the values of co-operation and mutual aid. But holding fast to a memory of what once was is not enough. Now another generation of young people are faced with a government which offers them ‘no future’.
The revival of All the Madmen as a collective on its own cannot undo the damage done by 30 years of neo-liberalism, but what it can do is offer this generation of young people inspiration in place of despair. The teenagers who created All the Madmen refused to accept that they had no future. Instead they chose to create their own future. And so the seeds of progress were not stubbed out but survived to flower again. 

From  http://www.allthemadmen.co.uk/ 

I had been aware of the alternative/ counter culture and the free-festivals movement ever since discovering Hawkwind as a teenager in 1972. However, it was not until I lived in London (1979-1997) that I became participant rather than an observer. I never went to Stonehenge free festival, but my (future) wife did and after the Battle of the Beanfield in June 1985 she became active member of the Stonehenge festival campaign.

I moved back to rural Scotland in 1997 and as my English/ London accent faded away so I slipped back into a more Scottish identity. Then came the 2012-14 Scottish independence referendum campaign. I was involved in this as a member of the local (Dumfries and Galloway) Radical Independence Campaign.

I gave talks and wrote for RIC, some of which involved going back into local history when, during the seventeenth century, south-west Scotland had been the heartland of political and religious opposition to the Stuart kings Charles I, Charles II and James II/ VII. The now obscure but at the time locally influential Reverend Samuel Rutherford wrote a book in 1647 attacking the belief held by Charles I that kings have an absolute god given/divine right to rule. I dug out these radical roots to counter the version of Scottish nationalism which see the Jacobite rebellions which ended so brutally at Culloden in 1746 as part of a centuries old struggle to free Scotland from English domination/ rule.

My argument was that Stuart absolutism and hence the Jacobite interpretation of Scottish history was part of the problem not the solution. Or, as I put it in 2013 “We are engaged not in a struggle for national liberation, but a struggle to complete a revolution which will finally establish a democratic state in the former United Kingdom.” 

This sentiment connects with Anthony Barnett’s article but I  went on to reflect on why I intended to vote Yes on 14 September 2014. This led me to realise that I would not be voting Yes so that Scotland would become independent. I would be voting Yes in the expectation that the resulting break up of the UK would empower the surviving and embattled remnants of England’s alternative culture. Out of the ruins of  Empire they could then help create a new English identity.

Three years ago I went on to say:

Sometimes the political is personal. I’m not thinking of Scotland any more. People living in Scotland will have their chance to negate the negation and say Yes to a future. No, now I am thinking of England, the England where I lived for 20 years. So many places I have known, from Hackney’s grimy streets to the wheat fields of Wiltshire, from the factories I worked in to the sprawling chaos of a free festival. So many people, passionate, caring, angry, wonderful people. The friendships forged in those years have endured  and so has the shared commitment to a future beyond ‘no future’. Another England is possible. 
From http://greengalloway.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/all-crimes-are-paid.html

On the day, Project Fear prevailed and Scotland did not choose independence. But, as Anthony Barnett argues, the UK’s structural tensions and contradictions have not gone away. Instead they return via the EU referendum and -whatever the outcome -the reconfiguration, the reshaping of  English identity which has provoked the referendum will continue, although Barnett does conclude by saying “In the long term, great danger lies with a vote to Remain, if it is followed by a suffocating sigh of relief that prevents the English from resolving their democratic identity.”

My conclusion is…the eclipse of Britain as a great power began in the 1870s when a newly unified Germany and a post-Civil War USA first began to match the UK as industrial nations. By the 1970s the actuality of eclipse had become undeniable. Entry into the EEC was one response to the eclipse, the rise of Scottish nationalism another. Alongside these economic and political responses to the eclipse, the expansion in the seventies of an alternative culture from its sixties roots was another.

Common to all was the implicit dissolution of a British identity which had developed with industrial and imperial expansion in the nineteenth century. But while ‘straight’ (= mainstream in counterculture speak) accounts like Anthony Barnett’s of what has happened since the seventies include the significant political and economic changes, the cultural revolution documented in ‘Festivalized’ is not.

Perhaps alternative England  is just not very important. And yet…
during the Scottish independence referendum campaign, when British and Scottish identities and nationalisms fought fiercely against each other, the strongest pull I felt was towards my experiences of an alternative England.

As if the cumulative impact of so many senseless acts of beauty means that England already has the dream of an alternative future it must now possess in order to actually live it.