Time to Summon Smeddum

Spirit and drive sorely needed at both Wembley and Westminster

Having long ago forsaken Caledonia for California, I’m sure my auld aquaintance Paul Pender won’t be producing any sequel to his memorable 1990s documentary series about our recurring fate in international football tournaments – Faith, Hope…and Calamity! That saidI can just imagine him propped on a barstool in Joxer Daly’s, nervously stroking a cool glass of locally-produced Chardonnay as he watches the satellite transmission from Wembley this Friday evening (midday in LA). Going mental about a soccer match is in our national psyche, he’d tell any native Los Angelenos who think they need to dial 911.

Even when Malibu Beach beckons, emigre Rangers as well as Celtic fans would much rather masochistically endure a clash with the Auld Enemy on a flickering plasma screen in some dim-lit Oirish bar. Better still, reflect morosely on the match after another glorious defeat. As a fellow emigrant to Hollywood, the Greenock-born screenwriter Alan Sharp observed in the aforementioned series, we Scots have no difficulty handling defeat. “It’s winning that scares the shite out of us!” 

Sadly, in the political as in the sporting arena, there are still all too many Scots who can stand only so much faith and hope. If the nation’s aspirations prove preposterously unjustified (as in Argentina) or simply premature (as during the 2014 Scottish Spring) that’s perfectly fine by them. Far from a sinking feeling, it’s strangely restorative for some of us.

Calamity when it comes can even be strangely comforting after getting carried away for a wee while. ‘We Are the Nearly Nation’ is not something they’d ever chant on a football terrace but it is the subliminal soundtrack to their semi-fulfilled lives.

The late, great A. A. Gill captured this common trait among his compatriots in a sketch he filed for the Sunday Times in the immediate aftermath of the referendum:

When it happened in the early hours and we realised the fight was lost, it evoked an odd familiar feeling — a sort of reflex acceptance — “Ah yes, this is it, this is what it feels like”, what it always feels like for Scots. A comforting, familiar disappointment, great expectations, the daring of hope followed by brave defeat and collapse and dropped shoulders. Of course, that’s how we do things. Why did we imagine that this time it would be anything else? This is the Scottish way. This is the lesson of history. You dream, you fight, you lose. You have your celebration the day before the match, because after that you’ll just want to go home to your bed.

I could have quietly wept when I read those words on a campus in Cornwall, where I was heading up a journalism school at the time. Unlike Adrian Anthony Gill, I was a lot older than six when I left Edinburgh to go gallivanting around the Anglo-Celtic Archipelago and Asia. Nevertheless, like him, I didn’t have a vote in that plebiscite. It was also geographically infeasible for me to return regularly from the toe end of England to contribute to the Yes campaign. And I wouldn’t have had the effrontery to blog about it from Falmouth. Unaware that one of the most eagerly followed Scottish political bloggers was winging it in not-too-far-away Somerset.

Now here I am back in the auld sod and making the case for real independence around-the-clock. Just when others who first came to the fore during that campaign, especially the inimitable minister, have fled the Scottish blogosphere. And poor Craig Murray is struggling to keep himself out of prison. Am I aff ma heid? No more than other members of the newly-formed Scottish Free Media alliance.

It’s when this proud and prickly, ancient nation is being being written off or ridiculed, especially by metropolitan pundits, that enough of us always manage to marshal a steely determination to wipe the smirks off their faces. Who can forget that breathtaking goal Archie Gemmill conjured out of nowhere against Holland in the 1978 World Cup? I believe there’s some of that defiant spirit and magical flair lurking in many Scots. Tragically, it can take a hell of a long time to demonstrate it sometimes. Two decades it took from the 1979 referendum defeat before we endorsed devolution. But, when we finally did it, we did so in emphatic fashion. 

There’s a fine Scots word for what I’m talking about – smeddum – which means spirit, energy, drive, vigorous resourcefulness. I have it on the guid authority of mither tongue expert Dr Maggie Scott that Burns used this noun in 1787 in a letter he wrote to Willie Nicol to describe two women with:

as muckle smeddum and rumblegumtion as the half o’ some Presbytries that you and I baith ken

A character in Jean White’s little known 1932 novel Moss Road gives out:

Ye poor smeddumless stock, all ye can do is to scare a bairn.

That’s possibly the most crisp and colourful denunciation of the combined ranks of SNP parliamentarians at Holyrood and Westminster I’ve encountered to date. Time and time again, their phoney chieftains have proven themselves to be little more than 90-minute nationalists. (Naturally, Nicola shared a video of herself standing for the national anthem ahead of yesterday’s match against the Czech Republic). Consequently, those of us who genuinely aspire to full self-government are going to need to do a Gemmill. Even more than the Scotland squad bound for Wembley, we must figure out how to outmatch our English overlords – and their satraps in St Andrew’s House – to emerge triumphant from a geopolitical endgame. It’s time to remind the world Scotland is not always the nearly nation. 

32 thoughts on “Time to Summon Smeddum

  1. When living and working outside Scotland, I always found that escaping the juvenile and asinine Scottish obsession with fitty (not seeing Rangers and Celtic tops, and hearing their dull sectarian whining was glorious!) was one of the best things about not being in the country. 🙂

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  2. There must be way more people out cycling than playing fitba. However, the only coverage of the Giro d’Italia was in Welsh. In Scotland, one of the greatest sporting events in the world didn’t even exist. We have a whole local BBC radio station half devoted tae fitba presented entirely by Glaswegians. If you live north of Cowdenbeath you feel pretty removed from ‘Scotland’ when it comes to pretty much anything. ‘Smeddum’? Eeh? ‘Scots language’? Eeh? Fuck off – we’ve got our own language.

    If you want to see a team from Scotland beating a team from England, watch cricket, or curling.

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    1. Strange then that places like Banff and Buchan have lang been Scottish nationalist strongholds. Don’t you know the Doric (or are you referring to Gaelic?) for f*** aff or do you prefer to use your “own language” very sparingly?

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    2. The North-east speaks Doric, noels, which is a dialect of the Scots Language, having more Gaelic, Norse and Germanic derivatives than Lowland Scots – many more Gaelic/Pictish derivatives(it is thought now, by some, that the two languages may have had a Common Celtic thread).

      Football is popular there, as are cricket and curling, golf, rugby, tennis, hockey and many other sports. As for not being part of Scotland, who told you that?

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      1. There isn’t such a thing as ‘the’ Scots language. ‘Scots language’ is pushing it, but Scots languages is accurate. Deep ignorance will kill them off and they will be potted into a government gubbins that naebiddy spiks.

        Have a look at the Scots language website if you are unacquainted with the obvious.

        If you are not familiar with the almost blanket central-belt bias, which has gotten much much worse of late, you must live in the central belt. It often feels like the rest of the country doesn’t exist.

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  3. I love a bit of emotive magniloquence. We all know and love (or loathe) the ‘freedum’ scene in Braveheart where Wallace addresses his bare-arsed army before the Battle of Stirling Bridge. Rousing stuff! Pish-poor history. Everybody knows Y-Fronts were invented by a Scot fully thirty years earlier. But William Wallace had some thing that gave substance to his rhetoric – a plan. He didn’t rely solely on his ability to use words to provoke the fighting spirit of his troops. Not did he depend on that spirit alone to carry the day. He had a plan.

    Without a plan, the finest speech Hollywood’s best script-writers can contrive will be mere speechifying. Empty words. All talk and no trousers. Despite trousers having been invented by a Scot. The speech delivered by Mel Gibson in full plaid and woad conveyed the reason to fight rather than. It gave the why of the blood-letting and blood-shedding ahead. Had Wallace not also figured out how to win the battle that address would have been all bluster and bombast. Like one of Ian Blackford’s speeches in the British parliament.

    Robert Brown has the words. But where is the working-out? He calls up our smeddum as if that alone was enough to ensure the restoration of Scotland’s independence. He summons the spirit. But leaves it without a scheme. He urges us to an effort that will see us “emerge triumphant from a geopolitical endgame”. But when it comes to providing a plan we are told the we must figure out for ourselves how to “outmatch our English overlords – and their satraps in St Andrew’s House”.

    There is nothing wrong with an appeal to emotion. We all have hearts as well as heads. But the intellect must be engaged as well if our inspirational Archie Gemmill stumbles and puts the ball over the touch-line rather than the goal-line. Those who are our heroes for more than glorious failure had smeddum, for sure. But they also had skill. Possessing the will to do something is necessary. But it is not sufficient. Wallace’s men needed the balls to fight. But I’m pretty sure they also appreciated their leader giving some thought to how they might avoid having them hacked off by an English sword. And maybe even come back with more balls than they left with.

    Smeddum is great. But it is useless without a process to which it can be applied. Mr Brown has nothing whatever to say about that process. It’s clear to see why. There is no process by which Scotland’s independence might be restored which is not crucially dependent on the Scottish Government. The SNP Scottish Government. Setting out a plan to complement the smeddum would demand acknowledgment of this fact. Which would not sit well on the page alongside his borrowed but evidently sincere denunciation of the party. And it matters not a jot how deserved that denunciation may be.

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    1. If the SNP government doesn’t get off its a**e soon, Peter, another party will replace it, as sure as night follows day. The recipe is simple: first, you gather your smeddum; then you ask nicely for what you want, independence; if the answer is No again, you then gird your loins for the David and Goliath mother of all battles. Before you do that, of course, you approach the international community – the UN – and you speak to them about Scottish independence rather than about trans (already have) rights and how you are going to remove women’s rights and spaces to achieve it. Nicola Sturgeon chose to talk about trans issues rather than Scottish independence when the opportunity arose to address the UN, or part of it. The SNP leader has shown no desire to actually do anything – whether with or without smeddum – to regain our independence; her focus is now entirely on pushing through trans something or other (it can’t be rights because they have all of those). Indeed, independence has been stalled in order to push through whatever the trans lobby decrees. If you can persuade Nicola Sturgeon to actually do something to bring about independence, then I will laud you to the heavens. If not, Peter, the SNP will be superseded, much like the 2004 GRA that they are trying to keep on life support in order to bring forward reform of it. She will hang on for a time yet, but she and those around her – and some of these are, and were, high held yins of the SNP for decades, and they, too, have let us down badly – will be thrust aside and replaced by those who are willing to activate the ‘smeddum principle’ of independence. That is, if you ask reasonably and you don’t get justice, you get your sling shot out, plaster yourself with smeddum, like woad, and prepare for that mother of all battles – and you don’t even need balls, just stones.

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    2. I have absolutely no faith in this SNP Government, Peter. I might have if our governing party had fought the recent Holyrood election on an independence platform instead of playing down indyref2 whenever the topic got slightly awkward. Sturgeon sought no clearcut mandate to hold such a plebiscite so, consequently, possesses none. That’ll become obvious to even the most credulous among her dwindling fan club about midway through this Scottish Parliament, at which point a genuinely pro-Indy party can sweep the land as happened in Ireland a century ago. Strategy begins with a vision and I will attempt to map out such a vision in the months ahead. For now, I think the main challenge is to critique the cabal that controls the SNP so that people like you finally start to see them for what they truly are.

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    1. Thanks for that correction. Didn’t realise he was back in his kennel and barking away again. Dinnae want bitten so I’ll remove the reference to him fleeing from the Scottish blogosphere.

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  4. ‘Smeddum’ is a book of stories by the great Scottish writer, Lewis Grassic Gibbon. He came from the Mearns in the N.E. and his work , the trilogy ‘ A Scots Quair’ in the long distant past was filmed by the BBC. It featured a predominantly Scottish cast. I recall the famous Scottish actress Eileen McCallum doing a sturdy version of the play ‘Smeddum’, which I believe was made separately.

    Smeddum ( the personal quality, not the story) made me hitchhike from Manchester to Glasgow to vote in the 1979 Referendum. I felt the consternation and disbelief of defeat. A defeat imposed by Westminster and a Scottish quisling’s 40% rule. One that should have never been permitted. That Smeddum feeling and belief has never left me. It is a quality sadly lacking in many Scots today. But it can be ignited and re-ignited with the right leader. We are still awaiting that leader.

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  5. Jaggy: smeddum is one of my favourite Scots words, too. Lewis Grassic Gibbon used it, too, and, oddly enough, he also used it in connection with women – usually in the context of the thrawn indomitability of the female of the species and their attachment to the land.

    By the final week before the referendum, I believe that we had made it; on the night, before the end of polling, I believed we had lost; but not by much. Smeddum at that point would have entailed licking our wounds, then carrying on with renewed vigour and determination. We didn’t do that. Instead, the SNP leadership, carried away by the huge surge of (mainly) Labour left to the SNP, and so as not to offend Scottish Unionists and English Nationalists in our midst, who had voted NO, decided that retreat was the better part of valour. The influx of young ‘wokerati’ also derailed the independence project in favour of ‘liberal’ causes which turned out to be anything but liberal. Now, it is likely that either the SNP will be overtaken by Alba or some other pro Independence Party, or independence will shrivel and die or anger and frustration will erupt into something nobody wants. The first and third options are the realistic ones, so the choice is ours: smeddum or conflict.

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    1. I’ll start the ball rolling by nominating Roddy Dunlop QC, Dean of the Faculty of Advocates, who took to Twitter earlier today to denounce Sturgeon’s televised Covid diktats. He also sent a clear warning shot across her bows after she used a Covid briefing to imply that the jury got it wrong in the Alex Salmond trial. To cap it all, he’s been putting up a stout defence of Craig Murray to try to keep him out of jail. That’s smeddum for me.

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      1. Ay. I wish that more of our professional class had smeddum. The late Professor David Walker and Professor Ian Campbell, legal constitutionalists, also had/have plenty of smeddum, pointing out the true nature of the Treaty of Union (that completely vindicates the two-nation, international agreement) and the pitfalls (for the Scots) of trying to renegotiate it with a sleekit, Anglocentric UKG.

        Did she say that again? She is a lawyer herself, for Heaven’s sake! The trial is over and Mr Salmond was found not guilty. That is that. As for Craig Murray, I am desperately hoping that his appeal succeeds because, if not, we are already on a slippery slope.

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      2. ” The trial is over and Mr Salmond was found not guilty. That is that.”

        Factually and objectively accurate lorncal.

        The problem is that the conceptual framework from which that reality is derived – objective, verifiable and testable evidence of due process standards and principles as the basis for decision making and judgement, innocent until proven guilty, right to a defence etc – is one which is totally rejected by the ‘woke.’ Whether of the self-styled ‘progressive left’ or the right (who have been exponents of that process a lot longer).

        The conceptual framework upon which such utterances (in this case by the SFM) are based is one which rejects any objective reality (like sex based biology) in favour of subjective feeling. Arguing that such concepts and frameworks are the product of language and structural power projection.

        If, in this infantile pseudo philosophy (post modernism), “there’s no knowable reality, then all manner of key principles are eroded – such as the distinction between being accused of something, and being found guilty of it! In recent times we have seen the chickens coming home to roost in new partnerships of ‘woke’ politics with reactionary forces. In Scotland alone think (not only of) Alex Salmond (but also) Craig Murray and now Marion Millar. Elsewhere, think Julian Assange!”

        Which is why those who inhabit Karl Rove’s Reality Based Community have been banging on about it for so long. Including people who live in the West Country.

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  6. Well said Rob, I think Sturgeon has scored more goals against Scotland of late than the Czech Republic ever could, though I am buoyed by the fact that Scots did vote yes in 2014, but the likes of EU citizens carried it for the no side.

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    1. It was actually a majority of rUK voters, Republic, much higher than the EU NO voting contingent. These two NO voting groups formed an alliance with Scottish Unionists to thwart independence. YES voting born-Scots were in the majority as against Unionist NO voting Scots. However, that’s in the past. We must start anew, and many Scots of English heritage and EU heritage will join us next time, I’m certain.

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      1. I am becoming more and more scunnered (another guid Scots word) with each passing day. The heartwarming times of 2014 seem a lifetime ago.
        I’ll continue to try and convince people of the potential benefits of independence but it’s like peeling an onion.
        Every time Nicola Sturgeon opens her mouth, another layer of hope and optimism shears off until instead of feeling hope and optimism one becomes more and more full of despair..

        Not that long ago the terms Nazism and Fascism were taboo because, rightly, it was generally agreed that if you were forced to resort to that sort of language then you had already lost the argument.

        Now these words are tossed about like confetti.

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  7. On the contrary Republic of Scotland, it was the majority of RUK voters that swung the REF, BY a 3 to 1 majority.

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  8. We need a gallus leader who has political genius on a par with political courage. To date we have a leader who would rather confront anything other than independence. We have political cowards representing us.

    Find the right leader and we’ll win back our independence.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Reading the article and the subsequent comments I’m beginning to understand why Scotland is still part of the UK. And probably always will be.

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  10. I think the word you may be looking for to describe the SNPs ‘inability to move’ Rob is ‘petrification’, which is well known in postcolonial literature and where Albert Memmi informs us there are only two outcomes for a colonised people such as the Scots: assimilation or petrification.

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  11. re Top Ten: further nominations – Caroline McAllister, Rev. Stuart Campbell, David Henry, Alex Salmond.

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