How would you build a nation?

If you had the chance, how would you build a nation? What qualities would you want your people and communities to have?

Courage, certainly. To decide in a split second that the right response, the human response to extreme adversity is to turn and face it, not run from it. Just as Jim Murphy MP did when he found himself passing the Clutha bar in Glasgow just as a terrible incident occurred. He could have stayed in his car, called 999 and waited for help to arrive. Instead, he and others, acted to save others, walking into an unknown situation, compelled to do so by some unbidden sense of duty and willing to set aside notions of risk in order to help people in need.

Also, prescience of mind. The ability to make a judgement call and make the right one. Thus, it was not enough for Edward Waltham to simply bless his luck at staying in a neighbouring bar to finish his pint, thereby not being in the Clutha when the police helicopter fell from the sky to land on the pub. He could have stayed away; instead, he put into action his years of training as a firefighter and helped lead the volunteer recovery effort. A human chain was formed to pass injured customers out of the bar to safety: it sounds like the kind of thing a retired firefighter might think to organise.

You’d want your people to be calm and collected in tough situations. Like Wesley Shearer who was one of the first to bring the incident to everyone’s attention, sharing his eyewitness account, posting a photo on twitter which alerted the world’s media to an extraordinary, unfolding situation. He shrugged off suggestions that he should expect media outlets to pay to use his image – there is no doubt that they should and he shouldn’t have to ask. But more than that, he was clear-headed enough to ensure that all who knew him, his mum and their friends knew they were safe. And all from a man aged only 21.

Loyalty would feature highly. In perhaps one of the most heartrending stories to emerge overnight, John McGarrigle was the man who mounted a faithful vigil at the edge of the cordon, staying put all night, poorly dressed for the elements but refusing to go home until he knew what happened to his dad. As he told one of the many reporters gathered alongside him, he’s my dad, where else would I be but here. Sadly, so, so sadly, it does not seem as though he will be rewarded with a happy reunion.

The ability to act quickly would be needed. The speed at which the emergency services responded was astonishing. The way the long rehearsed planning for a major incident kicked into action was impressive. There is no doubt this, coupled with the quick thinking of customers and bystanders, helped to save lives. Add to this mix a dogged determination to give just a little bit more, to stay the course until no more can be done and you have police, fire and rescue, and ambulance services to be very proud of.

You’d want the people employed in such services to have a deep and abiding sense of responsibility. People like Frank McKeown, not just a firefighter but also a part-time footballer with Stranraer FC. He was on shift at the tragic scene all night until 8am and then headed to Clyde to captain his side in a Scottish Cup tie. No one would have minded had he chosen to go home and recover after such an experience, but his sense of duty to both his vocations meant it probably didn’t even cross his mind to ask.

And you’d definitely seek stoicism. Bad enough that police officers were involved in a search and rescue mission for innocent civilians, but they were also searching, hoping to save though it was to be in vain, their colleagues in the helicopter. Then, there’s the health professionals, some of whom no doubt showed up at their hospitals as soon as they heard the news, not bothering to wait to be called out. As the rescue and recovery missions wind down, their work will continue largely unseen, to mend the physical, emotional and mental breaks in the survivors.

Solidarity would be key. Thus, not just a city in mourning but a country. And more besides, with police forces all over the UK and even, the world sending condolences to Police Scotland on the loss of three colleagues. Football matches holding impeccably observed minutes of silence across Scotland. The Holiday Inn Express across the road from the Clutha opening its doors as an emergency reception centre for survivors and also providing those working through the night with refreshments and somewhere to rest. Businesses too arriving unbidden with supplies today. Even politicians setting aside rivalries to unite in leading a city in condolence.

You’d want your nation to be imbued with a sense of the right thing to do. Not just all those incredible customers and bystanders who gave not a thought to their own safety to help others, but for others to engage in small acts of thoughtfulness too. Such as the STUC which at the earliest opportunity called off its annual St. Andrew’s Day anti-racism march in Glasgow as a mark of respect to all those affected by the tragedy, but also because the emergency services were already operating at full stretch. You’d want adversity to make comrades of us all and so it has proved.

But you’d also want resilience, a capacity in your people and their communities to get on with getting on. For time not to stand still but for people to pick up the pieces by carrying on with ordinary, everyday tasks, all the while mindful of the sorrow of others and thinking of how to respect their bereavement and grief.

We can and should after all, only gawp for so long. Those directly affected by such a tragedy need the support and resources that can only be generated by strong communities, which reach out with love and care when needed, but also provide for the practical necessities. We might all be sharing in stunned, terrible surprise right now but what bereaved families who have lost livelihoods as well as loved ones also need is material assistance to help them get through the dark months ahead. Strong communities with resilient, compassionate individuals know that and know how, when and where to show small kindnesses and also, to dig deep.

And you’d want your nation to know how to have a good time. Fun is a necessary part of all our psyches and finding moments of joy a key part of recovery. It would be compounding a tragedy if the young, energetic ska band playing in the Clutha felt they could not carry on. If the owner of the bar couldn’t recover and continue to provide a much valued service. If the Clutha itself, so long an institution on the banks of the Clyde and the birthplace of many romances, friendships and successful music careers, could not – in time – rise from these black ashes.

All these qualities and more you’d want in your nation. You’d want your people to realise how fleeting life is, how the most terrible of circumstances can snatch it away. And to realise what really matters in life and to redouble our efforts and energies to find it and rejoice in it. Black, white, gay, straight, Protestant, Catholic, Yes, No and everything in between. When adversity strikes, ultimately we are one and the same. Human beings first and foremost, members of the family of Scotland.

On this, the darkest of national days, we can share solace in knowing that our people, Glasgow’s and Scotland’s, have all these qualities in spades. We are a nation to be proud of, indeed.

A flutter on Friday 3rd December

Something old….

Brrr.  The big snaw has now been followed by the big freeze.  The schools have been off all week and to stave off cabin fever and death by Johnny Cash, the burd decided it was time to acquaint the Boy Wonder with his inner soul man.   And I am delighted to report he has embraced the lesson with gusto.   Much grooving and boogying accompanied this choon.  It’s not even close to pure soul but it ‘s a perfect TGIF track.  Enjoy.

….something new

Well I think I might just have found my track of the year, or at least one of my top five.  I picked it up from the wonderful Mad Mackerel music blog, who has just this week posted his November round up with 26 free and authorised tracks to download.  And nearly every one a winner.

And the Wiremen is a kind of uber indie supergroup, featuring former members of a fave burd band, Cordero.  I’m liking this choon so much, it’s been played 43 times since I downloaded it on Tuesday.  I’m sure I’ll eventually wear it out….  You too can join the frenzy by visiting their MySpace page and listening to Lines.  And don’t forget – if you like it/them, go buy some!

Something borrowed….

The beginning of December is witness to many important commemorations.  The 1st December marks World Aids Day and the 3rd is International Day for People with Disabilities.  Both of them worthy causes deserving of our support.  And for all that my heart in particular belongs to the latter of these, my favourite at this time of year is that 1st December is the date on which Rosa Parks, with her decision to refuse to sit at the back of the bus, began the Freedom Rides that were to lead the USA on a remarkable journey towards racial equality.  Rosa was already a civil rights activist but her brave stand captured the imagination and from that fateful day in 1955, she devoted her life, in a typically modest and humble way, to securing far reaching change in the treatment of and attitudes to Afro Americans.  A fine woman whom we and our daughters can look up to.  And proof that to be an effective warrior does not necessarily mean being a noisy one.  Read more about her here.

…something blue

Of course, this week also saw St Andrew’s Day.  And my favourite shade of blue is definitely saltire.  I blogged on St Andrew’s Day lamenting our failure to acknowledge our other, female patron saint, Margaret.  But I am very fond of the male one too.  In particular, I like the fact that both my children have grown up celebrating him openly, being taught about him, Scottishness and Scotland at school.  A far cry from my schooldays (uttered by one on the verge of grumpy middle age…)

Many celebratory activities for Scotland’s national day were cancelled due to the adverse weather.  But it’s not too late to spend a little time this weekend wrapping yourself in the Saltire – in an entirely positive and edifying way of course – and contemplating what Scotland means to you.  The burd for one delights in being Scottish and while I dream, particularly in weeks like this, of life in sunnier climes, I know this amazing, wonderful country of ours will always be home.

In praise of Scotland’s other Patron Saint

Today we trip the light fantastic to celebrate Scotland’s Patron Saint, Andrew.  Sadly, the heavy snow put paid to many of the planned festivities but it’s clear that we Scots are growing to love our national day and to indulge in ostentatious displays of patriotism.  Hurrah!

But Scotland is a male dominated culture, so it will come as no surprise that in whipping up a ceilidh for Andrew, our other patron saint languishes unloved and unacknowledged.   But actually she – and yes, it is a she – has much more claim to Scotland’s hearts than he does. 

St Margaret was declared a saint in 1250, particularly for her work on religious reform and her charitable works, and was declared Patroness of Scotland in 1673.  She is also patron saint for learning, against the death of children, for parents of large families, of Queens and of widows:  a quintessentially female saint then.  But she is also not without controversy, for key amongst her achievements as Queen to King Malcolm III Canmore of Scotland, was the effective modernisation of the Church by resolving conflicting interests to bring the Church in Scotland back to conformity and also the anglicisation of the Scottish court,  Such was her influence over her husband, that Margaret succeeded in introducing English style feudalism and parliament.  Yet, she was a benign influence, achieving all this with little rancour or bitterness, and considered an exemplar of a just ruler.

Her legacy to Scotland is huge:  the introduction of Benedictine monasteries, the construction of St Margaret’s chapel at Edinburgh castle, the restoration of Iona Abbey and the instigation of the Queen’s ferry to enable pilgrims to travel more efficiently to St Andrews.  She also ensured the observation of the Easter communion and the abstinence from servile work on a Sunday.  Her patronage of the arts and education was important, as was her fondness for all things European (she was after all born in Hungary).  The side benefit of the adoption of European fashions and habits was the growth of trade and economic ties with the continent.

Above all, Margaret was pious and devoted to her faith.  She fasted often, ate frugally, and devoted herself to prayer.  She visited and cared for the sick, built hostels for the poor and held feasts for commoners at Advent and Lent. 

“In an age where the role of women in our society has only recently been seen as emerging to a truly equal status it is a matter of some wonder that nine centuries ago Margaret was to wield such an enormous influence in the life of her people on so many different and yet powerfully important levels.”

So why has she become Scotland’s forgotten patron saint?  Why is her feast day, on 16 November, ignored?  We not only celebrate St Andrew but wrap ourselves in his flag, yet his connection with Scotland is tenuous.  Margaret’s is much more robust and her works and influence are with us still.  Indeed, they are all around us, even in our attitudes to social justice.

But then Scotland’s track record at celebrating and lauding the women in its life is lamentable:  Margaret is not the only nor likely to be the last woman pushed to the margins when she should be at the centre.  Sadly, most children today won’t even know she exists. 

We are getting better at affording equal status to women who achieve but there is still a long way to go before the promotion of a woman author, artist, entrepreneur, politician or musician before a man goes unremarked. 

So let’s resolve to change all that.  And today, as you raise a glass to toast Scotland’s patron saint, raise it again in praise of St Margaret.  It’s time Scotland embraced both its patron saints.