what you get here

This is not a blog which expresses instant opinions on current events. It rather uses incidents, books (old and new), links and papers as jumping-off points for some reflections about our social endeavours.
So old posts are as good as new! And lots of useful links!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Greatness and local heroes

Lists – best 25 novels, films etc - are always enjoyable and useful exercises. They not only remind us of artists who have perhaps slipped a bit in our memory but, more importantly, they force us think about the criteria we use to judge what is useful/beautiful etc. So I was intrigued when my favourite E-journal – Scottish Review - reported at the beginning of the week that 'Who's Who in Scotland' was celebrating its 25th anniversary with an opinion poll conducted among the 4,000+ inhabitants of its pages. The Who's Who in Scotlanders were asked to nominate the greatest Scot of the quarter century of its existence. For the purposes of the poll the word 'Scot' was interpreted loosely to include anyone living partly or exclusively in Scotland, irrespective of nationality, the only qualification being that they had played some part in the life of Scotland since the book's foundation year (1986).
As my readers come from all around the planet (I kid you not!) I will not bore you with the details of the top 25 names which emerged – save to say that Sean Connery, Billy Connelly and JK Rowlinson were not amongst them and that there were a remarkably high number of writers, poets and politicians amongst the nominations from the nominated great and good. True to its philosophy, Scottish Review decided to take a lightning poll amongst its readers – and ask us to select our nominee (encouraging us to add new names). Various contributions were duly printed today (including mine I'm glad to say) and I have amended it to make more sense for a wider readership -
Greatness can be defined in two ways – first elevation to the highest accepted positions of politics, literature, business, etc. This can be measured in terms of position, awards and accolades or turnover. It's not difficult to measure. But such people (almost by definition) are rarely great in the more profound sense – of touching the human heart and influencing people and events (eg Gandhi and Luther King). I have met and talked with nine of these (Gordon Brown and Robin Cook (Labour PM and Foreign Sec respectively but, in an earlier life, both on the left of the party), Donald Dewar (who forced through the Scottish Parliament and was known as an honest politician); Winnie Ewing (a nationalist who spearheaded its breakthough), Jo Grimond (Liberal leader), Mick McGahey (Communist trade unionist), Sorley MacLean (poet), John Smith (Leader of Labour party until his death in the early 1990s) and George Younger (Conservative Minister for Scotlland in 1980s) and only Jo Grimond rates as a person who inspired me. Despite my being a Labour regional politician in a Liberal stronghold (Greenock) he chose to work with me and local people on a community project (ignoring his local political colleagues) and showed great charisma and humility. Those who fall into the second category – of touching hearts and inspiring lasting change are rare indeed. They operate at a different level – more serene and less concerned with occupying positions of business or political power. I can think of quite a lot of “local heroes” I knew in the West of Scotland (not least my father) . But two in particular spring to mind - a charismatic Minister Rev George MacLeod who established a radical voice in the Iona Community he created within the Church of Scotland. And also a social policy activist, Kay Carmichael, who helped shape Scotland’s unique social care system in the late 1960s and early 1970s and was always a quiet voice of sanity and support. But she was perhaps too early for this time schedule.
And there is probably the rub! That the generation of the last 25 years have no genes of real greatness!! What about my readers doing an exercise on the "greatest" 5 individuals of their country in the last (say) 40 years?? With reasons? And, as a bonus, what they learned from doing the exercise?
The painting is one I picked up in a lot here recently for a song - unframed, unknown (said to be Vulchev Vasil)and unfashionable these days with its socialist realist touch and memories of partisan activities. But it has real drama to it

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