Once upon a time there were two friends. Both committed to a cause, their souls burned by the splendid sight.
When they spoke, you could feel the air becoming electrified: Jimmy Reid from the Clyde shipyards and Neil Kinnock from the mining valleys of South Wales. Platform speakers that have elevated the weaving of dreams, through words, to art. Art not artifice.
This week, I reunited the two friends again. On paper.
Neil Kinnock wrote a preface to my Conversations with Jimmy manuscript. Reading the pages overnight, he said to me, “You brought it back to me. Neil’s words about his old friend are forensic, poetic and profound.
Delighted with this honor, I quickly found a cloud in the silver lining. The last preface written by Neil was for the recently deceased Mikhail Gorbachev. Am I the next to cash in my tokens?
Another cloud assails me. The unedifying circus spectacle, from the Palace of Westminster, exposes politicians, like Bojo and “MissTrust”, as players in power games. For them, integrity seems as remote as the dissolution of monasteries. They have all the qualities of a poker, without the occasional heat.
The result? Public confidence in leaders is so low that it is virtually underground.
Autodidacts, like Jimmy and Neil, wrung oratorical flourishes from their ideology and commitment to social justice. Their views diverged, of course, and Jimmy is now the patron saint of the Yes movement. To me, Jimmy offers the most compelling argument for independence.
During the 1992 election, I was a minor journalist for a now defunct municipal newspaper. At Glasgow Central Station, Screamin’ Lord Sutch was offering me my first pint, when Neil and Glenys disembarked in front of a battery of cameras. They were welcomed by the band, Jeannie Maxwell and the Jazzwegians. Inexplicably, Jeannie wore a black top hat and a purple sash, like the chief mourner in a funeral procession in New Orleans.
Then something happened that would be impossible today. Neil and his wife Glenys started dancing on the platform. An act of joyful spontaneity that frees itself from management. Veteran journalists were left disarmed by this formidably clever duo, who spoke of a new dawn for Scotland. Crowds poured in to greet them, while the south of England got excited for nothing. Or John Major, which is nothing.
Danny Coffey, SNP Provost of Kilmarnock and Loudon, possessed the same warmth and intelligence. He had a deep concern for people, using language to galvanize and inspire. It helped that he was a mainstay of the Kilmarnock Burns Club. His untimely death in 2006 deprived Scotland of a civil servant of great humanity.
I once quoted the philosopher William Sinclair to him: “It is better to be within a Scottish mile of where you are going than the exact location of anywhere else.
“Sinclair was from Kilmarnock?” Danny asked.
“Renfrew County”. I answered.
“Ah, well. Nobody’s perfect,” was Danny’s retort.
In politics as in life, cynicism is more enduring than sentimentality. Oh, but to glimpse again this splendid vision, shared by politicians with poetry at heart.
Brian McGeachan is an author and playwright
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