I watched last night's leaders debate bobbing on my coracle in the middle of a corrie-loch, whose hollow was scooped from the side of old Ben Tom-na-Weir by glacial action thousands of years ago. The lip of the tarn was corked by terminal moraine - this water is going nowhere. So I sat, meditatively, sure that any motion I made would be firmly within the brutal stone grip of the watersides. As the debate slid to its end, my portable telly sputtered and fizzed as the media commentary exploded. Much of it was merely fatuous, but it was frenetic - these debates have clearly got them wildly excited. To them is attributed any number of good things - a chance to engage in an extended discussion of policy, a chance for voters to engage with politics, quite literally staged in a dispute between "the" three leaders. A trial by encounter, an existential ordeal laying naked the essential substance of each man before the scrutinising gaze of the public. Each theory, whether charismatic, substantive, psychological - each had its expressive turn in somebody's comments.
My overwhelming feelings were summed up in 140 characters or fewer. "To be honest," I said, "the slow burning anger I feel about all of this is almost eclipsed by how depressing I find the whole thing." Carking crows flapped darklingly overhead, their cynical cawing seeming to form the taunts any Scottish Nationalist must get used to - "chippy Celt", "moaning", "gripe", "grievance", cark, cark, cark! Corbies can be a corrosively cynical lot - and hide the fatuousness of their disdain behind their black-velvet-air of lofty good conscience. They take too much pleasure in looking down. Cark, cark, cark! Hearing so many of those gravel voices from the luminous gloom last night merely tightened the melancholic noose knotting my throat. Since, I've been trying to work out why.
I think I may have uncovered the answer. Or at least, my answer. Fundamentally, I want to make a positive case for independence. I want to look before us, say these are the choices we can make, the possibilities we can realise. The wonders we can perform, the more virtuous Republic we can bring into being. At the margins, this obviously shades into critical observations on the current dispensation - its wars, its bombs, its pandering to racism, its air of vilification and suspicion towards the vulnerable and the down on their luck. These are arguments we can pursue, should pursue, and any soul who tells you that honest disagreement in politics should be transcended is hawking bunkum. They're merely rising above politics for political advantage, and we should be wise to their tricks. These arguments may be critical, but they're not, to my mind, the elements of an acute negative case. They're views held in an open, democratic sensibility that takes as its primary concern the labour of making political connections where now reigns silence. To point at the gaps in the webwork of our state and politics and cry possibility, naming the unnamed "mebbes". That is what I understand to be my primary political motivation. Independence and autonomy opens up those fields of possibility.
All that being so, in my innocence, I don't think I quite anticipated the extent to which the London-based media just doesn't care about what it is doing to our democracy, just doesn't recognise its own agency as it glorifies a withered paradigm of pre-devolution politics. Others will detect the dead hand of conscious Unionism, working away in the shadows. The psychology those critical nationalists impute to broadcasters will not be misunderstanding of post-devolution politics but more or less conscious attempt to screw Salmond over and silence the SNP's message. The malevolence of the coverage isn't just in the debates - isn't perhaps even primarily the debates themselves - but the discussions which follow. These endless reactionary gobsworth encounters, and the persistent use of the words our, the choice, the options. The strangling, constricting feeling derives from the precise sense that the media garrotte is looped everywhere, about every throat. It tells in the three-way rasp of every sentence, in every mouth, from every commentating tongue. It throttles our Green friends as they bravely strive to elect their first MP in Brighton and in Norwich. We well know the sensation of its chafe in Scotland.
I've been using lots of violent metaphors, but my mind is full of the parallels of asphyxiation. And what depresses about that is that I lean towards the explanatory school of indifference. This whole escapade seems to be better accounted for by the want of circumspection, a lack of understanding by our broadcasters - a culpable shrug that isn't much bothered what happens in the unknown political bogpatch of the Scottish political Other. They don't get it, and aren't really interested in finding out. Some of you will no doubt believe that I'm naive to attribute more agency to limited imagination and limited concern than the malicious hand of conscious manipulation. Ultimately, however, it matters not a jot either way. Whether the injury is done by negligence or by intent, whether you show yourself to be persistently aggressive or simply persistently indifferent to the fate of your fellow man - the same conclusions follow. You put both the red man and the negligent man out. You move on, for your own health and happiness.
That is why, although these events can exercise a depressive force on Nationalists like myself, who envision even a British state with the imagination and ethical sensitivity to realise a decent, honest democracy - such gloom should be resisted. So too should the temptations of negativity. The skallcrows are always perched at our shoulder, quick to carrion-caw. The heart of the appeal of independence for me has always been in the positive substance of possibility, peaceableness and a prosperous, sincere politics and society. Faced with that vision, the dulcet crooked birds can only blink, uncomprehendingly, their rasps diminishingly poignant, decreasingly sure of their cynical appeal. That is one very good reason for the SNP to be cheerful.