Thursday, 21 May 2020


(Note: Any performer of the piece should feel free to reassign the appropriate gender pronouns as they see fit)

There are two of us

He is always watching me
As I start to feel anxious or happy
He tells me what's happening to me
He can read the signs
He’s clever that way

I don’t know which of us is saying that
It doesn’t sound like me.

One of us knows he’s going to die one day
No, better!
One of us knows that both of us are going to die

I am not sure if we both have names
Or if it’s the same name.

Once, when we were young
And didn’t know that there were two of us
We used to weep together
When we thought that God was angry

He’s our Father
We didn’t know then
And don’t know now
don’t know if there were two of Him
then or now
There may have been…

We learned before we knew there were two of us
That there is no way to tell what anyone else is really like
We’re our own company
Our own best friends
It’s better that way

I don’t know which one of us said that.

There is no doubt a kind of safety in it
Being locked down and alone, just the two of us
A security and a community, suddenly.
When we go out for a walk in the park,
And see other people seeing us
When we see that they are as alone as we are
Swerving to avoid us, trying not to be seen to.
Avoiding being looked at.
We appreciate their agility
And wonder for a moment if they feel now the way that we do
The way we feel
Alone in our rooms, these few, comfortable rooms
With all our books and ghosts for company.

Father , son and holy ghost.

I can hear a voice
It could be my voice
Or his
He could be hearing my voice
Or I could be hearing his
I used to be very sure that it was my voice he overheard
And not his voice that I overheard
That we spoke
Whether he wanted to or not
Looking at me impatiently in the mirror
When I took my heart medicine.
I don’t know as it matters much whose voice it is.
I don’t know if he feels the same.
He reads me better than I read him

It doesn’t sound like my voice
I can hear a voice.

There is nothing else for me to hear
I used to like music and old movies on TV
Or I told myself to like them
But I never really did

I’m ashamed of myself now
Of my old enthusiasms
For games of doubt and conjecture
Infinities and such, journeys…
I look on myself now as I was then
With affectionate contempt.

Or is that him? Is that how HE sees me?
The other one.

I remember when I first discovered him
Or he discovered me.
I was unwell, and feverish
I did not feel like myself
I had been reading
In the way that I used to, before I stopped reading
Before all these books, these voices trapped in them
Started only to appal me, shouting at me for attention
Vulgar whores, exposing their ideas at me
Tempting me
Till I saw him watching me
Or he saw me looking up at him
Sweating there in bed while he looked down on me
Passive, maybe secretly smiling in a way I didn’t like
Knowing things I didn’t know
Understanding the course of my illness
Clinically. Scientifically, like he understands everything

Not “knowing” - he would eschew the pseudo religious etymology
Of the idea of knowledge –
But observing me as a subject within the evolutionary paradigm
Me and my virology, as equals,
Worthy co-inhabitants of this fleshly envelope
Bacteria and myself being coeval phenomena
in the sweated torture of limbs
my harsh breathing, my fear and conviction
that I would never breathe alone again

I spoke of him, of course
To others
To parents, God and doctors
I asked who that boy was who floated above my bed,
So wise and assured of his uniformitarianism
I was told he was an hallucination and would go away
But no, they were wrong
He has been with me ever since
A constant reminder of my inconstancy
All through my recovery
Past the point when I came to see him
See his face was mine. See he has my face

I don’t know any more about him now than then
Not really

I do not know which one of us is saying that about us.
I do know that recently I’ve been seeing more of him
He’s been easier company now that I no longer resist him
And I no longer pretend to any life without him

There is
No activity he does not mock
No learning his very presence in my life
Does not belittle
Nothing about me he does not make small.

I hate the other one secretly sometimes
I don’t know who said that
But I know he heard me say it.

Good!  Good , then!
If I am to subsume myself to him, let him subsume himself to me
Especially now that illness everywhere
Has made him and me so commonplace
When I see it in the eyes, when I catch the eyes, of the people in the park
They know now what I have known for years
They’ve discovered that they are haunting themselves

You know too.
You do know.
You know I’m not crazy.

Even so, it was a thing to do,
To undertake becoming
To silence all the noises I once used to use
To distract myself from myself. 
To lose them all, the books, the music
The flavours of food
To abjure all that
Deny all that to myself in order to hear him, see him properly
It wasn’t easy.

There were times I even thought I was wrong.

I wasn’t wrong.
It’s so clear to me now
I feel so light and free
Unburdened by pain or hope
In the present tense forever
No memory, nor future
Living here and now
Just the two of us!

Is this a state of mind?
An observable phenomenon?
You’d have to ask him.
For me it is pure experience!

I do not even doubt myself anymore!
I leave that to him!

I have always been this way!  This is the way I have always been!
That is the key to this revelation!

You wouldn’t understand.
I can see that

But sometimes when I see the eyes of the strangers in the park
Lidded and terrified, struggling with their own secrets
The desires and fears that define and confine them
That they don’t understand
That they can never see, not themselves
Then I can see that the despair I felt as a child
Helpless as the illness raped me
Shamed me, exposed me
To him, to his gaze
And that when I opened myself to him
When I left off my reserve
Left the last shred of dignity
In my soiled pyjamas
That it was freedom
Freedom to surrender myself to him

I know what you’re thinking
And there is a superficial resemblance between
Religious epiphany and my inevitable embrace of the other
I understand your confusion
And I forgive you that you know not what you do.
When you insult me and degrade me so
As to compare my new understanding of the cosmic duality
With some mere Pauline revelation.

My sickbed was not my road to Damascus!


But I can see why you were thinking that.
Surrender to some all-knowing deity
Has been relief to many a tortured soul
But this is not that.
There is no relief to my despair
Of the burden of a meaningless, purposeless life.
There is merely the acknowledgement that
Meaning and purpose are not MY problem
They are HIS problem

That there is no soul or self as there is no God
What life may mean or what its purposes may be are no longer my concern.

I can see him, or rather, not see him
Smile at me in his secret way of his
when I say something as naïve as that!
As gauche as that!

I can just see him.
I love and hate him all at once

Like it or not, he, like God, or the soul or self
Or any such notion of that which is beyond
Immediate experience
That which cannot be touched but which sometimes felt
Like a holy ghost on a darkened stair
I found him, all of him
When I looked up when I was ill and saw his face
Which was of course, my face
But which was part of the world, the universe
Outside of me
My unconscious, lived, animal experience of being.

He was the wanderer and wonderer, not me.
He was the one who looked and saw my illness
As some Darwinian contest of atoms and quanta
Of the virus and myself.
Him, not me!

He was the one to whom it mattered what it meant.
And I don ‘t think that my giving myself to him
 was too high a price to pay for my recovery.
Me!  My recovery! My taste, touch, sensation!
My joy! My love!  My music! My poetry!

And if he has demanded since
That these should all fall silent and tasteless to me
Then that too is part of the price
Of this continuing.

If all I can see is see his face
Which is, of course, my face
If all else is silence and darkness
Going forward
Save his secret smile
Benign or maleficent
Then that too is the price of recovery.
And if for him, there is nothing to see but me
This fleshy envelope of impulses and competing bacteria
This empty universe of death
This mere appetite
This mere instinct to cling to palpitation
That I can no more wish away than I can wish away wishes.
Then that is his burden
That is what he accepts from me
That is his peace which passes understanding

I do not know which one of us is saying that.
I do not know which one of us is saying that.

Friday, 15 May 2020

After the Darkness, Should There Be a New Deal for Scottish Theatre? We'll Need to Make Sure We Deserve It.

Whisper it. The closure of the Lyceum in Edinburgh until at least the spring might be just be the start. You see that “New Normal” everyone keeps talking about being just round the corner?  This might be it. It might already be here. The Titanic may already have hit the iceberg.

I’ve just started work on a long promised commission of a script for the National Theatre of Scotland. I’m one of the lucky ones.  I’m hugely grateful for the faith and support.  I also have to face the fact that I might be writing an adaptation of a well-known Scottish novel for a cast of eight to ten actors who will NEVER perform the play in front of a full, live audience. They might have to tell the story on a studio set, sitting and standing at least six feet apart from one another.  I suppose there MIGHT be an audience of some kind there, at about one fifth of capacity, who’ve all signed an indemnity form and got their temperatures taken as they went in.
Or maybe the audience will consist solely of three or four television camera people on a set no doubt brilliantly designed and lit, but never to be seen by a live audience at all.  What I might be writing is a 100 minute television feature, perhaps played “as live” but all shot in a controlled, socially distanced space that in six months’ time, or a year’s time…or TWO years’ time…be what “a theatre” is.

Now I can do that. I might even get quite excited, artistically, by the prospect of doing something like that. But, and this is the real point I’m pursuing with this daydream, who the hell is going to pay for it? It won’t make any box office income…and even the budget of the National Theatre of Scotland is going to have to deal not only with that restriction of income, but also the recession which is already accompanying the epidemic and which right now has shut down a third of everything without anything resembling, as far as I can see, a realistic plan for eventually re-opening restaurants on an economically sound basis, never mind theatres that people might actually want to go to for a good night out.

We don’t KNOW anything for sure, of course, our destiny, like everybody else’s, is not in our own hands.  But even if it’s only for the next six months, this is what the world of theatre, TV and film production, is already ACTUALLY like. This IS normality.  And even if a political decision is made now that means theatre DOES still exist in Scotland next year, it’s going to be under wholly different economic and societal circumstances to those that prevailed ten weeks ago.  And what those circumstances are…a universal and trusted vaccination programme being underway or not…is radically uncertain.

Therefore, I am arguing that right now we in theatre need to make the case for ourselves collectively as a public good.  We may very well need to break the fiscal and organisational structures created after World War 2 to do it. If we insist on doing so from our own separate islands of funding and governance, very few of us are going to make it.  It’s not just the Lyceum.  And it’s not just an echo of what is happening in theatre in London or the English regions.  We already have a distinct corporate identity, and it is time to use that identity to tell government and people in Scotland their own particular story.

We need to make sure that live performance is part of a sustained and collective effort to revive the educational, retail, tourism and leisure sectors of our economy and well as entertainment.  We won’t make it on institutional special pleading. I also believe we will respond better and with more agility if we respond together and we respond publically and early.  And that we might be a damn sight more successful at attracting corporate sponsorship, for example, if we get a bit corporate ourselves in the demonstrable public interest.

Realistically, I expect a whole series of “New Normalities” of which where we have been and where we are now…EMERGENCY and CRITICAL…are the only two stages of recovery we can yet begin to describe…for the theatre as for schools and shops and everything else.  Even if we are lucky enough to escape CRITICAL shading back into EMERGENCY once or twice, I think we still have the CONVALESCENCE and RECUPERATION Stages of Recovery to come. I think we’re going to have to adjust ourselves to each new normal in turn for I don’t know how long …and nor does anyone else.

But if we want the “new normality” to be healthy when it DOES come, maybe even healthier than normality was when it died forever ten weeks ago, then we need to involve everyone with a stake in Scottish Theatre in what Scottish Theatre becomes.  That’s more than just the writers, directors, designers, actors, crew, front of house staff and administrators. That’s audiences. That’s everyone who pays tax or buys a Lottery Ticket.  That’s funding organisations locally and nationally. That’s the governments who pay the funders’ wages and set their parameters. Whether you know it or not yet, and whether you like it or not, this conversation includes you. We are either part of an integrated new vision of society, just as the Arts Councils were in 1947, or we can put our heads between our legs right now and kiss our ass goodbye.

If we really are as necessary to society as we like to think we are, we’d better start making the regional, social and national case for ourselves now. Or reconcile ourselves to a future entirely consisting of posting stuff on YouTube. And longing for a gig on Shaftesbury Avenue.

Friday, 8 May 2020

Plays in the Time of Corona - Some Reflections and a Possible Framework For Discussion of How We Might Think About Theatre While Theatres Are All Shut

I’m one of the lucky ones.  I have got an active commission for a script, even if I and the producers have no real idea when if or how any production based on this script can be contemplated. I can work at home, like I usually do.  Nonetheless, working with NTS, the Scotsman and Pitlochry Festival Theatre etc on the wee emergency bits we can currently produce for online and TV broadcast recently has got me thinking that it is incumbent on me, as a freelancer in this wonderful business we call “show”, to attempt to intrude upon conversations that I am sure are already happening within and between organisations.

To wit…after the “critical” phase of shutdown in response to the pandemic, what happens next in Scottish Theatre?  I know that these conversations are happening in London.  I am unaware of similar coordination here.  I am more than happy to be told that thinking is already collectively well advanced.  I merely want to point out that nothing any institutions or organizations come up with that does not take the freelancers and, most importantly, audiences along with them, are unlikely to be effective.

It is of course more than possible that dramatic production, whether for stage, screen and radio is effectively not going to happen at all if and until there is an effective vaccination programme, and that our future planning, personally, organizational and collective, has to face that distinct possibility. If this is to be the case, then we will need to look at governmental and sectorial choices predicated on there being SOMETHING we can do somewhere down the line in whatever circumstances are allowed us by the circumscriptions of whatever the vaunted “New Normal” turns out to look like.

While there is a certain comfort in throwing a duvet over our heads until someone comes to makes us all better, I would argue that we need to respond to our circumstances publically and collectively in a coordinated way so that audiences, artists producers and governments ALL come to a shared understanding and consensus of what a total shutdown in new dramatic production across all media means, and what baby steps we need to take us through the next period…possibly quite a LONG reach whatever the “new normal” turns out to be.

This is urgently the case if the path we choose is one of a tentative and gradual lifting of emergency lockdown.  It has to be said that there is an emerging management consensus within Scottish Theatre that we should declare a uniform shutdown right now, probably until the New Year…and await developments. I am not sure that’s right.  I’m not sure that’s sustainable or practical.  I’m not sure that there is going to EVER be a vaccine universally available or we are going to reach the dreaded “herd immunity” without one for a good deal longer than that.

I think we might have to progressively re-invent the entire economy and cultural/political justification of Scottish Theatre.  And I think its touch and go whether we can do that or not. This is, I feel, the critical phase in this pandemic in which we find out.

In any case, being neither a doctor not a prophet, I am writing this letter openly because I believe whatever approach we adopt in the short, medium and long terms will need agreed and understood guidelines…and that these guidelines and parameters once again require a coordinated strategic understanding, at least, of what’s involved.  And that the basis of this understanding is that it is MOST likely that a staged and cautious lifting of lockdown conditions for drama production and attendance need to be planned for in the various stages that will almost certainly FOLLOW current emergency conditions but which will NOT be a restoration of the status quo, either now, six months from now or a year from now.

It seems certain that at the very least that drama production on stage and screen is going to be circumscribed for some time. Minimal cast, crew, locations...and theatres and TV studios operating, if at all, at very reduced capacity. We need to examine and agree those terms with unions, funders…insurers…and freelancers …as well as managements.

Up till now, in the “emergency” and "critical" phases of this epidemic, it seems to me that we in the "business" have been limited, more or less, to waving frantically to assert that we still exist. But I think we are increasingly aware that we will need to have strategies for the "convalescent" and "recuperation" phases too...and that we're not going to "get back to a fully healthy normality" any time soon. Indeed, it may well be that what we mean by "normality" will be something very different from the situation six weeks ago...and that right now we have no way of reliably predicting what "the new normal" will look like. But it will be upon us before we know it.

If we are going to have a chance to shape whatever happens THEN, we need to find the people NOW with the imagination and honest grit to think about what convalescence and recuperation might look like in terms of performance, live and broadcast. I think we need to find and recruit people in broadcasting as well as theatre.
I think the Scottish government are going to have to be involved in making any economic modelling beyond the “critical” phase of furlough and grants to the self-employed etc.  I am among those waiting with bated breath for what HMRC come up with in the SHORT term for the self-employed. But what I am also doing, among other things, is making my own isolated theoretical stab at thinking about what comes next for the public facing industry I work in.  And I want to see who is out there to talk to about getting practical.

I realise that the shell shock of the first critical stage of the pandemic is still with us, but I do think we need to get a bit strategic as well as to think about how to look after ourselves in the convalescent and recuperation phases too…we cannot simply WAIT for the new normal to come along.  We need, however clumsily, to try to shape it by how we handle what comes before it. What I'm talking about applies to me, of course.  But it ALSO applies across the board to production companies, and agencies as well as “freelancers.”  Current emergency measures will not and cannot last forever.  We need to look at what happens next.

What I am saying is as true of the tourist industry, for example.  Bars, restaurants, clubs, museums etc etc etc. Conversations will be had and are being had about all of these. I think it likely that the more public those conversations are the more likely they are to find support in institutions and local and national government, as well as, in our case, with the public who come who came and watched the shows once upon a time, and paid their taxes to make the shows happen.

This is why I’m sending this out to folk I know now.  And will be looking to find a way of publishing it shortly. It might well be that we’re just shut, not just for weeks or month, but for years.  But I think that is a counsel of despair and I hope we can do better and we should ACT, at this moment, AS IF WE HAD FAITH that we can do something now, and in the medium term…to prepare for the long term.  This, in rough draft, is what I have tried to set out below.

Quick note: I say “we” quite a lot in what follows.  What I mean by “we” is those who want a future for publically supported theatre (and broadcast) making in Scotland.  That this “we” matters at all culturally, let alone politically and socially, is the most flimsily imaginable working hypothesis.

Illness is our guiding reality at this moment. So I am going to borrow its categories for a first attempt at prognosis for theatre…and performed drama…in Scotland in the wake of the continuing pandemic. I’m going to start by using this framework to think about where we’ve been and where we are…and then where we might go next.

First Stage – Emergency

The social and political priority at this stage is to protect the health service from being overwhelmed. Everything else is subordinated to this aim and can wait to even be thought about.  Hence the economy, including, of course, theatre, TV and radio drama production, abruptly stops. And our government, temporarily, and only because, for the moment, this is a rich country, plug the gaps…and put everything in deep freeze.
But everything is frozen as it was.  The health and basic supply “functions” of our society are kept going, but we ACT AS IF the rest of the life that we knew until six weeks ago can simply be restarted as if the pandemic would be “over” before we knew it…as if there were such a thing as “over”…and as if a return to “the old normal” was possible.

But it isn’t going to be like that, and the more used to emergency conditions we get, the more we come to understand that we are going to go through a whole SERIES of crises …that each of what I have called “the stages of recovery” is ITSELF a crisis where everything we used to take for granted about how we did everything has to get reinvented.

ALL of the government’s loan and furlough schemes, for example, presently scheduled to take us till the end of June, are likewise predicated upon a return to the world of the beginning of March.  As if that were what’s going to happen when the “lockdown is over.”

It isn’t. And we know by now it isn’t…which indicates that we are moving into the next stage…which is, in every sense of the word, the “critical” one.

For theatre in Scotland, our first response to the emergency was to wave and shout that we weren’t out of our depth, that we could cope…but all of it was waving with a deep fear that we were actually drowning. There are companies and institutions already going to the wall.  Ironically, the more reliant on Box Office they are, and hence often the more popular, the worse they are getting hit.

Meanwhile, the NTS, Pitlochry Festival Theatre, and the Scotsman newspaper have all, in various ways, insisted on “aliveness” as our Facebook Status. The Scenes for Survival, PFT’s reaching out to its audience by phone and to writers by way of mini-commissions, and Joyce MacMillan’s efforts at the Scotsman website, at a limited “substitution” for small scale work (like the tour of my own “Signalman” play with Tom McGovern that was supposed to be happening now) are all basically gestures towards survival as a wish, rather than strategies towards securing it.

This is not to knock any of these organisations and initiatives. I have happily and enthusiastically contributed to all three initiatives. And there are probably things going on that I don’t know about…But we should not mistake any of them for being more than what they are.

What we decide, what we argue about in the NEXT phase, is going to be decisive.

Second Stage – Critical

This is where I think we are now. Key industries only are being opened or are about to be opened piecemeal. Precautionary lockdown and social distancing measures effectively remain in place.  We are glancing very uneasily at the finances of what happens next…and theatres and broadcasters are no different from everybody else. Except that we are uncomfortably aware, and must now openly face and acknowledge, that like tourism, the bars and hotels and restaurants, our business only exists through discretionary spending, not as a necessity…and there are huge, ungainly questions that no one quite dares ask yet about what we do next.
And make no mistake, the same basic questions are going to be asked right across society.  What really matters? What are the values upon which we can take agreed, necessarily political choices as to how we try to attain the “new normality” where we will inevitably arrive, now that the Old Normality is a train that has definitively left the station and disappeared round a bend.

The thing about being in the critical phase of an illness, is that you might THINK that you’re okay.  But actually, you could still die at any minute. Even now that the NHS has been saved from immediate calamity, It will STILL take a value driven policy decision to decide our individual fates…whether you get onto a ventilator or not…and the way in which Scottish Theatre proves that it deserves saving can only be by thinking very, very clearly about what comes next…in the CONVALESCNCE and RECOVERY stages that will come before, finally, the “new normality.”
Make no mistake, in order to influence that normality, however long it takes to arrive…six months, a year, two years…is not just going to be decided by, say, the timetable for the availability of a vaccine or effective treatments (there is no vaccine for AIDS…which was the last “plague” to hit showbiz this hard) and is going to be determined by how we act right now.

Now that we have checked that we are still breathing, we are starting to look around at each other in the shared understanding that our future can be measured exactly by how immediately and urgently we screw on our thinking caps right now about what we think those next stages will be like… and if we are to EARN our survival at all.

My instinct, I think widely shared, is that if we simply “leave it to the market”…or pull the duvet over our heads and wait for whatever comes to get us…to use the model of Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life,” we are going to find that Bedford Falls has come under new ownership and is to be re-named Pottersville. Even forgetting the lovey’s film reference, those with the deepest pockets and the smallest consciences will control everything even more completely than they do now as small businesses go to the wall, as mass unemployment cripples trade unions even further and standards of safety and hygiene are jettisoned along with any last symbolic attempts to arrest climate change.
That is a path we could take, but I don’t think Trump World is a real option for the future. I think it will ensure that this future is nasty, brutish and short. I think it is decisions we make now, made in this second, critical phase of the pandemic that will shape our recovery, should we be fortunate enough to make one, in a progressive…or at least not too painfully REGRESSIVE, a direction.
If this is true of society as a whole, it is VERY true of Scottish Theatre as a microcosm. If we are EVER AGAIN looking to have our public spaces open to as big an audience as we can get, with that audience happy to come to mass events where they are going to hear someone coughing two rows behind them and not think about leaving immediately…at ANY point in the future, I think we have to DECIDE TO SURVIVE and to make concrete plans right now for what we do next.

INTERLUDE – a putative timeline

This timeline is necessarily contingent. Of course it is. But I think we need to put rough estimates in place, based on the dribs and drabs of information and rumour available to us, in order to think realistically about keeping our “performance culture” alive. The periods also, of course, overlap as well as being only guesses. These are where we’ve been and where we are, as explored above:.
I am suggesting that there are three “stages” or “phases” of what comes next…with no firm predictions as to their duration, but some indications as to their nature. Here they are with a tentative timeline which may be realistic, pessimistic...or optimistic.  Your temperament may well determine your response. I briefly reiterate the two first stages before moving on to numbers three and four.

EMERGENCY – March to May 2020.

 “Stay at Home and Save the NHS.”

Emergency is what we’ve just been through.  But it’s basically deep freeze followed by an understanding that we can’t stay frozen forever…and that the rules of the game have changed forever.

CRITICAL May to August 2020.

The question everyone in the whole country is asking is basically this : “How do we stay alive under severe mandatory restrictions WITHOUT necessarily the same level of direct government economic support to employees, including the self-employed, now that “the lockdown has been lifted” but that many kinds of work and economic activity remain impossible.“

I can’t pretend I know what the answer is, but I do know this is the time for a prognosis and a suggested plan of treatment.  I think we have to face reality.  And that the reality is that we simply cannot WAIT for a vaccine or a miracle. We are passing through one crisis into another crisis…and there are least two crises still to come.

CONVALESCENCE (August 2020 – April 2021?)

“Convalescence” as a medical concept involves an “imitation of life.”  It means flexing your muscles so they don’t atrophy because you CAN’T do the real thing for a while. In this particular instance, it means theatre people doing what they can do to work their creative muscles…but that ISN’T theatre…but hopefully doing some work that is valuable in itself and will put us in a good place to do what comes next.

The basic assumption I’m working from is that nothing resembling theatre as we’ve known it is economically possible or plannable for a considerable period to come. And that it will be some time after THAT that we start getting audiences who are comfortable to come back…if they do…and perhaps initially under circumstances of “social distancing” which are hard to envision when one thinks of those dear distant days of a few weeks ago crowding the bar at the Traverse or the Tron.

(I have heard talk of opening for Christmas…and that MIGHT be possible…but the economics of running a Christmas show on a box office capacity of a socially distanced 25% (for example) don’t merit more than a cursory glance. The logistics of schools going back will likely preclude block bookings…etc etc etc)

So in the immediate future…maybe for six months, maybe for a year…our choices range between a bottle of whisky and a duvet on the one hand…or making some kind of plan on the other, however tentative.

And that means, in this case, using theatrical skills to make material of BROADCAST quality and potential to be shown online and/or broadcast.  It probably means work featuring small or even very small casts.  But it should be substantial in terms of content, challenging, niche…possibly elitist…and, in broadcast terms, extremely CHEAP but nonetheless do things to a broadcast quality for showing on TV or online that exploit the strengths that WE have that standard TV production doesn’t.

In terms of what that might be, as a playwright, of course I have some ideas. Scottish Theatre has a deep talent pool of designers, directors and builders as well as actors…and it should not be beyond the wit of ANY of them to be producing new work (or imagnatively and excitingly recycled OLD work) under these challenging circumstances. All we need, I suggest, is broadcasters willing to take it on, and that means producers, TV and Theatre producers, who are willing to take a punt on it…and funders and sponsors willing to back it.

This in turn means institutional backing…from government, from broadcast management, from institutions like Creative Scotland…but it is hardly rocket science. If I can see how it might be possible to produce work of genuine quality that would be an exciting and challenging experience to watch…even if it isn’t theatre and cannot aspire to be theatre, even if it’s a whole new art form, and if I find the prospect exciting rather than daunting…then the same is surely true for my colleagues and for a wider audience of which, after all, I am a member. I am not interested in making anything in the theatre or on any other medium anywhere I don’t want to watch.

I think we should be getting designers and scenic artists and lighting teams to create sets for extraordinary individual performances of extraordinary and substantial work that is tailor made for what we might call “guerrilla” studio production. I think we should be thinking of each of these shows as unapologetic low budget films for immediate broadcast.  Monologues spring to mind, of course, but so do small scale plays.

We need to take over a space…or spaces…theatrical or otherwise…and make ourselves a place where we can write and direct and design and act without ANY sense that this is an apology or second best.  Rather, that this is a dramatic form especially invented and curated for the express purpose of keeping our creative talents limber.

The real test, of course, is whether or not we might want to keep this kind of broadcast/online production going AFTER the pandemic does finally, definitively ease.  That it’s not just a substitute, not second best, but a new, evolved dramatic form…the TV studio play reinvented for the 2020s…
The rule of thumb, as with all that I’m suggesting for this “stage” and the next…is that if we don’t think we should do it when it’s NOT an emergency, we maybe shouldn’t do it at all.

But in the meantime, if we can invent a new form that might actually survive, we should absolutely go for it while we can.

And to do that, I think we need to pool resources as a whole, collectively.  That “we” I’ve been using is possibly rhetorical.  But I honestly believe that if we don’t want to all hang separately, it is imperative that we hang together…and that we take a deep breath and accept that this means leadership, collective and consensual if at all possible, but essential without peradventure.

There are also already instances of theatre spaces being used not with the aim of a full house at 7.30pm , but as spaces where you can welcome a rotation of smaller audiences (maybe fifty in a space which normally seats three hundred) for maybe 30 minutes at a time to a space that’s open all day…for exhibitions, installations, maybe even short performances…all in spaces that can be made all the more extraordinary in lighting and design BECAUSE they’re not full!  Numbers can be limited on and off stage and the safety of this new form can be advertised. 

The theatre is a public space where art is made before your eyes…and there is no real reason why that has to mean cramming in 600 folk at 7.30pm…when you might pull in the same crowd over a twelve hour period.

A group of designers convened by Tom Piper is already working on an idea like this.

RECOVERY (April 2021-April 2022?)

Proceeding with the necessary caveat that the further we get away in time, the mistier is our crystal ball, if and when we do open our theatres…or however many of them are left, it is likely to be for a restricted audience and with restricted resources for putting stuff on, we will need the same collegiate or collective consciousness mandated and supported politically and institutionally as we move from convalescence to recovery.  Again, in medical terms, the recovery phase is when you start to do the things you used to do, and possibly go through the learning process of doing them differently from the way you did before. My instinct is once again, towards a collective value driven approach.  

Which requires, among other things, some agreement as to what those values are or might be. Hence talking about it now, once again.

Anyway, I think we should treat this period, (which I suppose MIGHT be coming as soon as Christmas…if the epidemic doesn’t flare up again…although I doubt it) as one for experimentation…because we sure as hell won’t be making any money.

But if and when it does come, like the “convalescent” stage before it, there are two essential pre-conditions, two sets of criteria.

First, it has to be “good,” not just “good, considering.”  And second, it will need a different financial structure to what is asked even now of theatres like the Lyceum and Dundee Rep. Indeed, as I observed previously, it is exactly those companies who have followed recent funders’ injunctions to be more reliant on box office and sponsorship, the most successful venues by those criteria…who are in the most trouble now.

This of course is leading us towards the even murkier mists of defining now in these early days of the crisis what the “new normal” (with or without an active virus) is going to look like aesthetically and economically.

I would argue that it is still worth looking now at what an “interim” theatre …or “live performance culture” might look like…on the assumption that social distancing will still apply on stage, as well as back stage and in the auditorium.

What kind of public space we’re talking about and with how many people in it, what time or times of day…these are the logistical parameters within which we can present…well…present what?
There is an impulse, of course, to put on in 2021 what was supposed to go on in 2020.  This is both honourable and laudable…but it may not at ALL be practical. It may represent a wish for normality more than it does a practical forward facing plan.  And normality left the station six weeks ago and has since disappeared round a bend in the rail track, I suspect never to be seen again.  At least it seems very unsafe to simply assume that this is a hiatus after which everything will resume exactly as it did before.

I think that the theatre that we find and invent to work for our audiences under the new set of circumstances will be the theatre through which those audiences regain the theatre going habit, if they ever do.

And what kind of shows will go on?  What will be popular and cheap and easy to produce? Perhaps in unconventional spaces?  Perhaps in a year’s time. And perhaps for another year?

I think we need to talk about it.  I think designer, writers and actors have to day dream a little.  But we will also need to deliver something which our funders think it is essential we produce.  I think it will involve much more education and outreach.  I think it may involve new media…and I think may be being performed for an audience who are economically as well as socially challenged by what is happening to all of us.

The live theatre, live storytelling…these arts will have to prove themselves and earn their corn and their place to eat it.  I don’t think it’s rocket science.  I think we can do it. But we need to be planning it now and setting up the political and institutional networks of support to enable it.

The New Normal April 2022 – whenever.

On a personal note, the “New Normality” on this schema corresponds to my sixtieth birthday. I should face the distinct possibility that I have already retired, but will act, for the moment, as if I’m going to live forever.

On the same theme, if he have to do some necessary dreaming about the immediate, short and medium terms of our stages of recovery, perhaps when it comes to the new normal, delivering world class live performance and storytelling to the full social and geographical range of the people who live in this country…and beyond, telling our stories to the world…maybe “effective dreaming” is where we can afford to be for a little longer.  I think I know some of the features of the “new normality” I’d like to see. I think it would involve regional hubs in our towns and cities.  I think it would involve a regular and reliable touring circuit. I think it would have a regulated proportion of the cake available to the new and untried and the risky as well as a far more flexible responsiveness to audiences than seems available to us now in the era of the well filled form as the highest and most useful form of “story telling.”

But maybe that really is a conversation for another day.  Except to say, on the one hand, that is precisely the values of that “Scottish Theatre that is yet to be” that will get us through the accidents and alarms of the next couple of years, and that the brutal truth of this epidemic and its economics are that not everything or everyone is going to come through it in exactly the same shape. That there are going to be job losses, and fights…and blood on the carpet.  There is a job to do with our cultural and political infrastructure before we can even BEGIN to day dream effectively.

None of it means we shouldn’t make a start.  And, literally, there is NO time…there will never BE a time…like the present.

Sunday, 26 April 2020

"Progressive Survival"? We need a BIG conversation!

WHAT  I want to do here, for myself at least, is to move past mourning the theatre we can't have anymore and trying to come up with a model for what kind  of Scottish Theatre we CAN have under the conditions with which we are going to find ourselves confronted and conditioned by for the foreseeable future...before we get to the "unforeseeable new normal" that is going to be our future.  

I profoundly believe that we have the chance of fashioning a sectoral and strategic plan for our own small country...But I as strongly believe that if we leave responses simply to the individual initiative of individuals and producers, we might miss out on our own collective survival.  As with the virus itself, it is only concerted collective action that can protect some...perhaps most...individuals. But that this collective effort needs to be led. And it is leadership I think, however uncomfortably, we need to think about.

We know what the problems are.  If and when public spaces do re-open, it will have to be with social distancing on and off stage. We are not going to be re-opening the Tron or the Lyceum or Dundee Rep at full capacity for some time well beyond the immediate "fire-fighting" that the Westminster and Edinburgh governments have put in place for different kinds of employers and the self-empolyed who make up most of the workforce of the media...printed, broadcast, theatrical.  This may last a may last two till a workable universal vaccine is in place. 

(We hope!)

We will need a strategy that goes past "fire-fighting."  And sector by sector, as we partially lift the lockdown, it is those who work WITHIN parts of our economy, from farming to tourism to Eden Court...we need to inform how it's done...

This will mean, of course, the Scottish Government, among others, making a selection...more or less painful choices about which institutions to preserve and protect for the happy day, however long hence, that they can fully re-open their doors. 

We could, of course, leave it to the marketplace...SOME form of selection is surely coming...but I fear if we don't get organised NOW, Rupert Murdoch will end up owning whatever is left...

(Mr Potter buying up Bedford Falls after the Wall Street Crash springs irresistably to mind...which makes us the Bailey Building and Loan, if you follow the torturous movie reference)

Anyway...I think it is important that we establish a set of agreed social and artistic "values" around which this selection can be organised. Without those values, without leadership, without agreement...then I'm not sure survival can be done...or at least not done "progressively."  

It could be that "progressive survival" is the descriptive phrase for what I want to talk about for Theatre in Scotland.  But that it is exactly the notion of “progressive survival” that we need to coalesce around in the WHOLE economy…from housing to health to manufacture to fishing to the “Bide a Wee “ B and B. And that those who WORK in those sectors must inform the knowledge base for the recovery, as collectively agreed values inform the rationale.

In the meantime, back in MY area of expertise, if "sold out" means that the Lyceum has sold 125 tickets,  or the Tron has sold 50...(and the decison is made by local and national government that these economics are bearable in the meduium terms for a limited number of spaces) we also have to think about what that means for the sector as a whole.

Longer runs of hit shows?  More performances? A core ensemble of actors at maybe six or seven high profile venues? Employing otherwise unavailable telly and movie stars?  A change in the balance of organisations directly in receipt of government support...and thus no longer reliant on the increasingly bust looking "reactive" model of Creative Scotland for strategic arts provision?

I think one way or the other, one way or the other, the centre will probably hold...given a few mortgage holidays...and maybe a hike in already uncomfortably high ticket prices. 

BEYOND that, culturally, socially and and geographically...BEYOND those spaces whose importance to the great and the good will probably ensure some kind of survival...I think the NTS "Scenes for Survival", the Scotsman's short filmed performances and Pitlochry Theatre's commissions of monologues ALSO point a way forward that I think needs to be explored STRATEGICALLY in the wake of the immediate impulse to stay alive.

This is where I think "vlog-casts" might come in.  Where I think we might get Sam Heughan or Karen Gillen to do fifteen minute story reading slots for download on mobile phones and broadcast on BBC Scotland, where "pop up theatres" might perform "survivors' cabarets" in NON theatrical venues, where we look creatively at the spaces and technologies that are available...rather than longing for the creative spaces that are not.

In order to monetise and promote and pay for these activities...these opportunities...we need to think beyond our own all I'm saying. We need to look at pooled advertising revenue as well as government funding...and to do BOTH of those things, I do not believe it is possible NOT to act collectively.  

Or indeed without the broadcasters...

It may well be that these conversations are already happening in the hierarchies above and beyond my paygrade as a freelance playwright with a drawer full of delivered and now un-performable scripts…. And that some folk who read this you are among the ones already doing the talking. But I have been inspired by being lucky enough to be involved in all three of the initiatives undertaken by Pitlochry, The Scotsman and the NTS.  I have also been hugely moved by some of the personal stories that I've been hearing on radio and TV and online. And all of these experiences have made me at least START to think positively about what the hell comes next?

Also, I have to say, the way that Nicola Sturgeon's admonition to treat the public like adults has found a resonance, and the way that this line is now being parroted all over the UK, gives me hope that the leadership the likes of you can offer is going to find supportive echoes in the corridors of power. And her piece in the Herald on Sunday 26th April is a general call to which this open letter is a response.

Our conversations in the theatre isn Scotland, as elsewhere, need to be adult, wide, democratic and inclusive...and involve artists AND audiences.  To survive at all, let alone survive “progressively”, we are going to HAVE to get our heads together. 

Then just maybe we can make something better than a Survival, and make something we're proud of...that puts in a good place for the day after the day after tomorrow.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Lifting the Lockdown and the Veil of Ignorance

It is now a notorious truism that it is a lot easier to impose “lockdown” than to end it.  You don’t need to understand how society works in order to shut it down, you just have to shut it.  But it turns out that you cannot re-open it without considering in what order in which to do that…and that the order of opening implies an understanding, even a consensus about the ordering of the things that make a society work.

This potential re-ordering of what is important actually started with the lockdown itself.  The lockdown was never – of course not – anything like total. We have already made value judgements between the rate of infection and societal coherence. To give an obvious example, the Health Service was not shut down. The National Health Service underpins, it transpires, absolutely everything else.The protection of its workers, facilities and capabilities turns out to be a good to which all other goods must be sacrificed.

(Not that this is surprising, necessarily, but the revelation that hospital porters and cleaners outrank everyone except doctors and nurses in societal - if not finance of indeed immigration - status, has, or bloody well ought to have, occasioned a bit of a rethink.)

Rather less comfortably, but illustrative of priorities that we are now forced to actually LOOK at, it transpires that the effective protection of the GENERAL health service also trumps the safety of those who live and work in care homes for the elderly and vulnerable. In order to make room for a potential “tsunami” of Covid patients, hospitals had to be emptied of patients who were not at that moment in need of critical care.  And if the consequences in our care homes were tragic, then the Darwinian pragmatics of the ordering of society and its priorities were disquietingly exposed as a consequence.

Similarly, it turns out that people who work in delivery and food retail are actually “essential” to all those bankers and playwrights who can work from home.  And as lockdown is eased on the deceptively consensual idea that “the economy needs to get going again,” similarly brutal realities are exposed. Such as, you have to open schools or provide childcare before people can go to work. Thus, according to the Daily Mail, “teachers (and children) must be heroes.” To which the predictable responses of teachers, (as well as children and their parents) is “you first, mate!”

hat we are doing in the easing of lockdown, in putting our societies back together in a specific order of re-openings is that we are making conscious, practical choices about how those societies actually function, in the order of what we actually value most. Postal workers and delivery drivers are modern aristocrats by this measure. This understanding was quite impossible when we were stuck in the Trumpian universe we used to live in, where handing out free money to people who were already rich was the answer to all of life’s little difficulties. But it is, however briefly, possible now.

As I write, it appears too that it is currently the judgement of the Prime Minister that it is more important to the nation that he hangs on to his personal focus group Svengali than the entire public health strategy of the last ten weeks is fatally undermined. All of which goes to show that one consequence of the beginning of the end of lockdown, or at least the end of the beginning, is that value judgements about what matters in the ordering of society and what matters most to us, indeed, who “we” are, is no longer a simple matter of vapid rhetoric about all being in it together. We are bound to get a bit controversial.

"The Veil of Ignorance" might be a useful thing to think about as we plan to lift the lockdown. The idea, associated most with American thinker John Rawls, is that, as a mental exercise and way of judging what happens in the "real world," you set about designing a social system with no foreknowledge of your own position in it.Given that "normal,"for a lot of people (as in the phrase "back to normal") was and is pretty crappy, the idea is to imagine a just economy (in terms of housing, health, cultural activity etc etc) where you and your ethnic or social group have NO guarantee of being at the top.

Most people who get to design societies, from Solon to Solomon or Jefferson to Lenin, (let alone UK civil servants) have imagined themselves to be in charge of their dream projects...because, through violence or the inherited benefits of violence, they WERE. But we live in a democracy, and in a democracy, we theoretically get to debate and agree how we want to live: what matters most and in what order.

I suggest that we are in the the "Vale of the Veil of Ignorance" right that we know everything is going to change, but none of us has the first idea to what. We are getting to debate and agree on some of this stuff right now...from the explosion of food distribution charities, to clapping for carers and as we come out of lockdown, we have a limited window of choosing what we actually WANT from the New Normal, of speaking aloud the unspoken consensus we are actually already using to make decisions.

To illustrate the uncertainty personally, playwrights and others have been asking Arts Councils and government ministers for years to consciously and openly decide whether they really want a professional theatre sector in Scotland or not, and to act on that choice. Guess what? Something like that decision about whether the kind of theatre we have been making in the kind of way we've been doing it actually matters is actually GOING TO HAPPEN in the next year or so! As the Prime Mnister will no doubt learn this week, the answers to your questions may not be what you thought. I only hope my bcolleagues and I can make a better case for ourselves than he did.
Less myopically, lifting lockdown on a whole society brings, I think, an obligation to at least partially articulate the principles on which we can agree to its functioning. And that we MAKE those choices without knowing where in the new hierarchy we ourselves will end up! And if it turns out that the "new normal", is lazily indistinguishable from the rotten, corrupt old one, well, it will turn out that that is who we are, that is who we choose to be.

It may well be that this is already happening. Maybe we should be talking about it.

Monday, 24 February 2020

Postcard from London...from A Foriegn Correspondent

Scotland is SUCH a foreign country here now.  Folk here are INTERESTED in Scottish poilitics, getting vague echoes of "something going on with Nicola Sturgeon" but in the same way as they might quiz a Hungarian visitor for their views about Victor Orban.  As something happening somewhere else.  

The Union is already dissolved…but like The Death of God, this has yet to be announced officially in Church. 

For Scotland, the consequence is, paradoxically, that now, for the FIRST time, it is ONLY possible for London to rule us as a colony.  For our institutions and cultures to be politically neutered and rendered harmless to the imperial centre by means of collaborators at home and threats from elsewhere…or, alternatively,  for our relationship as EQUALS occupying areas of these islands to finally be recognised. (But given the way twerps like Toby Young still think about Ireland, let alone Kenya, I wouldn’t hold your breath, my people.)  

The strange thing is that what was once a self-serving caricature of the Union from 1707 to 2019, of the Scots as “the oppressed” rather than as “salaried employees of the oppressors” has become, accidently, a valid description.  There is NO WAY for a the Brexit Britain I am visiting to accommodate a Scotland with any degree, however limited, of political self-determination. One need only think of what a UK-EU trade deal will mean, if one is even possible at the same time as a UK-US deal with contradictory terms. Is Boris Johnson really going to undermine his precious “hostile” points based immigration system to help out hotels in Invernessshire or potato farmers in Fife?  Or fish processors in Fraserburgh?  Don’t be silly! 

You can have Brexit or you can have Devolution.  There is no way to have them both.

Brexit Britain means that the cartoon version of Scotland as an erased and colonised culture…which was bullshit till now (apart from the Gaels up till about thirty years ago)…is now going to come true for everyone who thinks of Scotland as distinct.  It may be that it was only while we were part of a Britain as an externally facing PROJECT of first, resistance to “Catholic Europe” and then an Empire and finally a Welfare State paid for out of the surplus value of international exploitation, that a Britain as an inward looking COUNTRY, as a “community” and a “culture” was coherent at all.  

The latest draft of “British” self-definition, a strange brew of John of Gaunt’s “sceptr’d Isle” and George Orwell’s “Airstrip One” so deliberately chosen when Johnson got his eighty seat majority in December, feels like entirely someone else’s business. Except that, with no reference to our distinct identity whatsoever, it is about to be imposed on us too.

The alternative, however we engineer it, is going to be some form of Independence.  Indeed, I think we will DEFINE what independence MEANS in the 21st Century (as opposed to the 19th Century version of sovereignty we blurred over in the dress rehearsal of 2014) exactly by the degree from which we can make our own path in 21st century Europe “independently” of whatever England chooses for itself in the meantime. If there has been no other achievement of the Sturgeon "era" of the SNP, (Indyref 2 before 2021 always having been a pipe dream for the birds) , then re-defining the Independence MOVEMENT as an avowedly pro-European outward facing one, then that (hopefully!) lasting achievement is, all by itself, an enormous cultural advance.  What it means to be Scottish NOW as opposed to the White Only Heather Club of  my youth, is, all by itself, a transformation we should be profoundly grateful for.

We will define our independence, I think now, unlike in 2014, NOT with reference to “Britain” or “England” primarily, but with reference to Europe and the world, as world citizens with a distinct Scottish profile which may never get acknowledged by the Toby Youngs of this world, but which may well be marked and appreciated in the much wider world beyond the London media village. 

Which APPEARS, to this visitor anyway, to be being run by an anonymous cabal of refugees from mummy’s basement with a part time and possibly alcoholic clown haired front man occasionally dragged out as a distraction.  Which is INTERESTING of course, but in the same way Victor Orban is interesting. As the chap who is unfortunately in charge of another country’s capital city I’ve had great times in, where I know some great people…but whose dilemmas…about Lisa Nandy and Kier Starmer, for example… I no longer feel I share.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Shit Got Real

Last Thursday, as the Americans say, shit got real.  That is, to be slightly more “European” about it, reality got real in a subtly different way.  History, politics, everything.

Like Scottish Independence in the months before September 18th 2014, before last Thursday, Brexit was a threat or a promise, depending on your preference. On Thursday December 12th 2019, unlike voters in Scotland in 2014, voters in England made it real.  In retrospect, it turns out to have always been clear that in order to become a real process in the UK as it already was in Brussels, it needed BOTH the mandate of the 2016 referendum and a parliamentary majority to lift leaving the EU from the category of abstraction to that of “Oh Crap, this thing is really going to happen.” For the first time in the whole process what Brexit actually means in terms of the practical management of trade, of the economy and of the politics of the Union, is actually on the table. Till now, it was a game. On Thursday, as the Americans say, shit got real.

The other shit that just got real, of course, now that the issue is done and dusted in England by the electoral will of the people…twice…once as an idea and again as a willed practical process, is that we in Scotland need to decide properly whether we’re going along for the ride. It was always the case that it was only when one piece of shit got real that we would find ourselves having to get real about the other one.

Now it’s here. What was a bad joke in 2014, that Prime Minister Boris Johnson, armed with a ten year majority,  would drag Scotland out of the EU and make devolved government a functional impossibility in the process…is no longer a half-baked threat of a worst case scenario for a No vote …it’s actually going to happen.  It’s actually already happening.  Shit, undoubtedly, got real.

Everything with which one might make a progressive case for the union, the prospect of a UK labour Government before 2030 and of meaningful federalist constitutional reform in the context of the necessary centralisation without which it is inconceivable that Brexit can happen coherently seems to be for the birds. Though it seems entirely possible this weekend that the Tories will bring forward some palliative constitutional tinkering next year in order to head off the threat of independence, I for one simply cannot see how even the limited “principle of consent” within the devolution settlements of Scotland, Northern Ireland , Wales and even London can be honoured within the context of having to make comprehensive trade deals (with the EU and the USA just for starters) that will absolutely demand renegotiations of the health and welfare markets, let alone farming, fishing and retail.  In short, I can see it being possible for Scotland to take a full part in Brexit, or to have an effective devolved government. I cannot see it having both.

The “half way house” of devolution and full participation in a Full English Brexit simply cannot live together.  We are either fully and whole heartedly on board the good ship Brexitania or we are in the lifeboat of independence. This has been the case in the abstract since 2016, of course.  But shit, as I may have said before, just got real.

One of the consequences of this altered sense of reality is that you suddenly see your own history differently.  For example, it was May 2011 when the election of a majority SNP government suddenly made the prospect of a independence referendum a really possible future event, and not just something for individual daydreams and wistful collective longing in the pub. But in retrospect, the immediate test back then was of devolution itself, not yet of independence. Would the result of a Scottish election be taken sufficiently seriously in Holyrood and Westminster for a referendum to actually happen?  That was the question then.  Up until the last few weeks of the campaign in September 2014, Scottish Independence itself seemed, like Brexit until last week, an abstraction, a threat or a promise, depending on your point of view. In practical political terms, the real priority for the Yes campaign was to ensure that the seemingly inevitable victory of No Thanks or Better Together or What You Will was not so overwhelming as to remove the threat of independence altogether for the foreseeable future.  After all, for both Labour and SNP administrations, the name of the game from the seventies onwards was to extract concessions from Westminster with the use of a prospective threat to the status quo of the British order of things, and if Indy had been defeated 70/30 as seemed entirely possible in the early days of the campaign, then Scotland as a political entity within the union might well have been fatally compromised. If anyone had offered me 55/45 at any point before August 2014, I’d have bitten both their arms off.

That result, though it was a decision not to make the Indy Shit real just for the moment, kept the leverage real…and the electoral success of the SNP since, with a wobble or two, has maintained that reality of Scotland as a political entity, a factor in the calculations of any UK government, with a majority or not.

What really makes the difference is the vote;  what England has just done. All those Labour voters who either stayed at home last Thursday or actually, unbelievably, voted for the Conservatives…have just done something very analogous to what the Scottish electorate did in 2011.  They have killed the Labour Party stone dead as a serious electoral force for the foreseeable future (though as in Scotland then, the Labour party in England, left and right,  will spend probably the next ten years in denial) and they have crucially decided that their democracy, their referendum, expressed though Brexit, is more important to them than anything.  Than Party loyalty or the Union or any other comparative abstraction. In closing one story, in “getting Brexit done”, they have knowingly opened up another door, another pathway which only seems to lead one way.

Like I’ve always said, Breaking up the Union has always been a job for the English. 

And now that Belfast has got three out of four nationalist MPs, now that Scottish voters have once again, and with a renewed sense of purpose, entrusted the SNP to navigate our way through the stormy weather to come, (can I take it that the subterranean mumbles about the SNP leadership will shoosh for a while?), we are faced in a subtly different way with defining, asserting and protecting our identity in these islands. And, as in May 2011, I would argue that here and now in the real world, the choices to be made are not yet about independence, they are once again about devolution. Is devolution a real thing or not, is Scotland at THIS moment a real entity within the UK or not. If Boris now has a real mandate for a real Brexit, can it possibly be argued that Nicola Sturgeon doesn’t have one too?

I don’t think so. I think, once the mince pies are digested, and at least SOME of the civil service can be dragged away from the all-consuming process of Brexit, that even this Tory government will settle on a consensus that, in the event of an SNP/Green…and maybe even LABOUR super majority for a second, binding Indy Ref after the elections of 2021.

And this time, unlike in 2014, the referendum will be different. This time, right from the outset, with a real possibility of winning, the real possibility of real independence will be on the ballot paper. Shit will be real next time. So everybody on all sides had best be ready. 

And despite online assertions to the contrary, I don’t think anyone on either side is nearly ready yet. Getting ready, getting all the real arguments in place for a real world future as either an independent country or a fully subsumed status as a region of Boris’s Brexit Britainnia Inc. is the real job for 2020.