I’ve had a few opinions about the independence referendum, here and there, you know. But lately, worn out a little bit from the campaigning gig trail, tired a little bit from my own haiverin guff I’ve found myself returning to a quieter place about it all, and looking for some very old advice.
When I was a wee undergraduate I studied the Tao Te Ching, producing a totally over-reaching dissertation called “A Daoist Theory of Political Practice” (yes, really). The book in a few different translations has stuck with me for a good decade now, and I hope it’ll stick with me for longer. I turn to it when I’m looking for advice — sometimes about life, but more often about how to do politics. (There’s a fantastic tradition of anarchist interpretations I’m particularly fond of.) So when trying to figure out what I think about the independence referendum, and in particular what I want out of the politics of country-building, I can’t think of anything better to read.
The Tao Te Ching offers utopian visions of a small, peaceful country; a country at ease with its neighbours; a country where nobody wants for anything, and where nobody strives for destructive riches. It speaks against the rapaciousness of the ruling classes and career politicians (“cry this the darg o reivers / n no the wey”). It explores what happens when small countries come into conflict with big ones. It’s confused about what the real differences between yes and no are, and speaks for a politics that’s less about control and more about transformation (“the warld’s a cog o speerit / n canna be owert”). I think it has a lot to tell us right now.
So here’s my last artistic contribution to the independence referendum debate: seven poems from the Tao Te Ching, versioned into Orkney Scots. I’m working in Orkney Scots partly because a small, quiet, rural language felt right for the project, but mostly just because it pleases me. The booklet includes an English glossary, and the recording above, from All Back to Bowie’s, has me reading English translations.
aald rede for biggin a kintra
Thank you. Good luck. Take care.