Thursday, 18 September 2014


Waiting here, not knowing, not kenning where we are,
who we are, what we are, what we have said.
Waiting is hardest.

Tomorrow, we will know, and we need to know then
that we will work together, that we can still
take hands, whatever we did today,
and that the work of thinking, of hands and minds
of making this thing work
(whatever ‘this thing’ is)
starts then.

To all my friends and kin, with hope and vision
I promise now, to work with you, where I can,
how I can, where I can.
To create Scotland’s wealth and futures
whatever these may be.

(JB 18 September 2014, at 22.30)

Autumn evocation: A poem for the turning seasons

Not about the referendum! This was written for an event to mark the autumn equinox, this weekend. As with everything else, still draft really :)

Turns the year, turns the wheel

Scents linger, rose and honeysuckle
and perfumed herbs, now flowering,
late summer blossoms, nectar bearing
as asters bloom, actea spikes now whiten,
giving their glory to the tiring bees.

Winter skeins streak paling skies
calling ahent their echoing evocation.
Autumn beckons, nights lengthen, balancing days
as hedgehogs rustle, garnering their fuel
of small beasts, insect prey for winter sleep
And in the hedgerow, Robin sings
a winter song.

And small frogs, growing, find their shelter
in stone cairn, or in wood-pile, as the bright
colours form, of fruiting apples,
squashes, orange of pumpkins, and now, drifting,
first leaves, brown, or redden,
or turn to glowing gold.

(JB, 2014)

Monday, 1 September 2014

To my good English friends and kin

(Most of my English friends have shown quite a bit of support for the Scottish 'Yes' campaign. I would like to thank them - and to make a wee statement about this.)

I know that you know, when I vote for Independence,
that this is not about you, or your hopes or aspirations.
I am not against you,
I remain your friend.
I know, that you know, the visions for my country
I know, that you know, the way we’ve been portrayed -
the downplayed hopes, the jokes, mistaken images
(even the ‘best thing’ being the road to England):
I know that you did not believe these.

I welcome your support, your friendship beyond value.

And on September eighteenth, I know and will remember,
that you think then of my country, and you may even measure
your hopes, your aspirations, by success of mine.
And so, I look to futures still to be created,
in knowledge that you and I will continue friendships,
in separate countries, with still shared aspirations,
to freedom and justice, equality of all.
And we will talk, then, and share our mutual interest
and know we talk as equals, across a wee bit border,
in countries each with their determination,
with voice, with heart, with soul, with mind.

I know that you know, that when I vote on that day,
my hope is for creation of something that will last,
of something that enables reciprocal affections
through our so different histories,
to learn, discuss, create -
respecting each the other, with no predomination:

Scotland and England, each of us sovereign states.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

It isn't the Economy (stupid)

'It's the Economy, stupid', said Bill Clinton during his presidential campaign. Well, some people would like us to think that the Scottish Referendum is about 'the Economy' or more precisely about 'what's in it for me' (as shown in a ridiculously biased TV programme the other night) with in particular the misguided query 'but can we use the pound?' There is also of course a fear of sudden change and a number of people who are thinking that if we vote 'Yes', we will wake up on the 19th of September in a different county and with nothing - financial or otherwise - working.

This is of course quite wrong. The 19th is when the serious work of negotiation will start - changes will be worked out by people of goodwill (and there are a lot of these around, despite the extreme polarisation shown on TV) and the detailed plans will be made for the eventual transition in 2016. This vote really is not about 'the Economy' or the currency, but the current economic situation has MADE IT POSSIBLE to imagine, vote for, plan for, implement new futures in an Independent Scotland.

So, a couple of weeks back, I made a little poem that some friends have already seen. So here it is now, with a little revision. (Like everything else I write, it's still 'draft'.)

It’s not the economy (stupid)

It cannot be about ‘Economy’.
The siller matters, yes, in what it shapes;
the way we’ve gone - like others of the west -
creating worlds of trade and bold adventure,
through works of skill, of measurement and making,
of hand and brain, to make a wealthy nation,
(resourced by wind or oil or electronics)
has caused some things to happen. That is so.

Which lends, now, possibility: A choice;
that chance that so few other lands may take,
a vote enabled, not compelled, but free.
that’s where we are now – where we’ve worked to be.

To take a place to stand,
to choose, make a decision,
place a cross on paper, cast a vote,
so many things are possible.
Three hundred years ago, it was not so.
Scotland, bankrupt, betrayed by ‘allies’,
one outcome only, union. The economy ruled.

But that is past, three hundred years ago.
Time and tide move, turn and change, return
By Solway, or by Firth of Forth or Tay
we come to vote on who we are, today,
and who we could be, with so many, shared,
histories we’ve made with lands abroad
and lands so near -
India, France, Ireland, England, Canada -
we travel still, cast nets of words and wit,
explorers of the globe, we look beyond
to new horizons or to weel-worn paths
to each shape our new meanings.

Because you vote now:
not for a government, or a budget spending,
not for a generation, or a small line seeing,
but for three hundred years, or more, your visioned view:
of lives, of futures, dependent now on you.

Monday, 18 August 2014

Head, heart – or both together!

I used to say it was a ‘Head or Heart’ thing. I don’t think, any more, that it is. For, not only Heart, but Head says, weighing up the arguments – it is possible, so go, YES.

If you haven’t already guessed, I’m talking about the Scottish Referendum.

At first, I thought it was romanticism versus pragmatism, but knew that ‘romanticism’ – the ‘heart’ bit – had for me a good grip. I remember my father once saying, to some friends of mine very many years ago, that I was a practical romantic, that being the ‘worst’ kind. Not worst in terms of anything negative, worst in terms of trying to talk around.  But today, having seen what I have of both campaigns, head and heart are pulling together.

Head says, this is possible. Head says, the figures, the economy makes it possible. Head says, check out all the figures, all the possibilities, all the political arguments on both sides. Head says, look at what you don’t necessarily ‘like’ – look at the debates from the right and from the left. Look at the levels of detail given, in places you may not expect.

Heart says, the economy should not be the main reason to vote, simply because the economy does make it possible. That’s possible, not necessarily easy.

Head and Heart together say that after a YES vote, there will be work. Not everybody will be better off, certainly not instantly. But the main argument for me is that having choice, having the chance of change, having the chance to create a more equal society, opens an opportunity that has to be taken. And that is now, for me, at least as much Head as Heart.

I’ve just been watching the BBC news, and was rather disgusted by the (to me) ‘No’ slant placed on Salmond’s new Declaration at Arbroath: disgusted not just because the news was spun that way, but more because the ‘no’ campaign – as reported – is so intensely negative. Why?  The parties who claim we are ‘better together’ cannot agree, for reasons which are historical and political, on what their vision of Scotland is. Many, alas, in these parties (south of the border) appear to see Scotland as an irrelevance, and add-on, and this view appears shared by much of the so-called ‘national’ broadcasting. During the time I lived in England, the only time Scotland – one tenth of the UK population and very considerably more of its land-mass – was mentioned in ‘national’ news was when there was some kind of problem. At least, the referendum has changed that somewhat. But even today, we are bombarded with ‘national’ things which turn out to be English things; as, this week, discussion of English/Welsh/Northern Irish A-levels results. This was in turn mostly about English students – all this being fine and dandy (if the potential student populations of Wales and N. Ireland agree they had fair representation?) except that one-tenth of the university-headed population of the ‘UK’ had been doing something else, with results already posted, which had been reported as a ‘regional news’ thing.)

But back to the ‘no’ campaign. If ‘no’ predominates, what happens then?  We do not know. However much they talk about Salmond (who is not my favourite politician, by the way) refusing to articulate a ‘plan B’, there is no sense that I can make out of what would happen to Scotland following a ‘no’ vote. One party – one only – supports a Federal system, and has done so for a century or more. But it’s too late for that. If we drift back, conceptually, to the time of the Act of Union, a Federal Union seems to have been the favoured version within Scotland – but it did not happen, instead of which we had an incorporating union with some caveats and modifications – reassurances about the Scottish legal system and the Scottish Kirk. At the time of union, a federal system might well have worked, with a ratio of around 1:3 between the populations of Scotland and England. Even 272 years later, at the time of the 1979 Scottish Assembly referendum (at which a Yes vote predominated but was discounted) a devolved Scottish Assembly had potential to lead gradually to a federal system. But what followed that vote was an increasing focus on London, the drawing off of young Scots south, the continued depletion of our country, despite the resources that had become evident.

I think that we cannot now go back. A federal system is not a possible goal, or at least not through a ‘no’ vote. The main English parties do not favour this, and the ‘powers’ promised need to be regarded with great caution. After all, we have that model of the failed 1979 vote and the promises made at that point that ‘something better’ would be proposed if we voted ‘no’ then. How long did it take! How many people did not vote because they were led to expect that ‘something better’?

So for me, today, ‘head’ says that an independent Scotland is possible – and that there are a range of views within the Yes campaign, people from different positions in the political spectrum (yes, including conservatives), who are presenting their approaches. After a YES vote they are pledged to work together to enable and negotiate the ‘first version’ of our Scotland. Then, an election in 2016, in which the different political stripes argue their cases, but all based in the terms which have been negotiated after September 18th 2014 by the joint team, we vote for who we want to represent us in Edinburgh. 

And, ‘heart’ cautions me that there are many people who do not wish to be separated, in a ‘different country’, from their children, their siblings, their cousins who are now in England for jobs and have their families there. I can feel this, sympathise. But the phenomenon of ‘The Scot Abroad’ is one that has lasted for many years and we have kin in many places – in my own case most closely in Canada, but also in Australia and New Zealand, in South Africa and India, as well as those now in England. So, we may need to find a way to deal with Heart, while knowing, from financial evidence and from the lack of cohesion of ‘no’, that Head says a resounding YES.

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

I don't know how to be 'a poet'

This is one of the mysteries, to me, on how a person declares themselves to be 'X', whatever that 'X' may be. From various research findings, men are better at this than women - it may be something about learnt confidence and entitlement. Some things are more clear than others, as in having a degree in something, being employed to do something (teacher, sociologist, etc.)

But anyway, this is a piece I wrote the other evening. It is a wee thing changed from the version I sent to a friend then, but not much, so is still rather 'draft'. And though it's in part about the above, it's also much about those who have expressed their meanings and now are not heard, and the fear of 'death' disturbing me ('timor mortis conturbat me') is about their, my, our, silencing.

The friend I sent the first draft to assured me that some people do still remember Henryson, Dunbar and the others.... but do you? Who now does remember the Makars, if it is not your trade or practice to so remember them? (And for all you English friends, have you ever heard their names?)

Anyway, here it is -


I don’t know how a person is named ‘poet’
respected even, acknowledged in some sense,
as giving something which encapsulates
meaning, politics, humour  - poking fun
as social critique, of their own seen bent
creating something that then grips
imaginations, feelings, knowings, senses:
yet words promoted, told to us as gold.

So what separates poetry from myth?
(And so much myth is poetry.)

I don’t have a degree in poetry
(other things, yes, worked for, not in that)
so I continue, in my small way, weaving
words, wit, maybe wisdom of a kind
where I can, where it may be heeded,
to bring meaning, focus, assonance,
alliteration, where it matters -
or even rhymes -
to tease a hearer’s response with their own words…

(maybe it matters not, as who would read or speak this stuff?)

Yet in this place, the echoes fall
older hearings, voices silenced
time and death wait for us all -
by what (or whom) is poetry licenced?
or is that licence so constrained
that only they may speak who’re trained?

So now, I bring to mind the Makaris,
the shapers, sounding rhyme and words before,
who spoke to Scotland’s people, from their knowledge,
their hearts, their being, springing from the land,
within their words of weaving, crafting, making,
piecing honour, spinning webs of history
to lords or bishops, kings or commons, all.
I think on those who, hearing, gave devotion
I echo words respecting craft and grace…

But who speaks for them now? Who will recall,
Henryson, Lindsay or all else? When Dunbar wrote
he mourned the loss of many gone before.
Their words are not remembered: so for us,
words die in breathing, some deserved, some lost:

and as a Makar of this latter day,
timor mortis conturbat me.

Friday, 3 January 2014

A new venture

Today I spent a couple of hours writing ‘interview’ responses for the Wild Hunt Blog – they are now up there at  The reason – I’m planning to teach an online course for Cherry Hill Seminary, starting this month. This will be on landscape, Animism, Heathenry, delving a bit into the Eddas and into seidr.

So, something different, and yet based in the research I’ve done and my own understandings of landscape. I would like students to start with where they are, looking at what is around them and how they relate to that context.  I won’t say more about the course here just now though.