Today I went to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I saw Alan Bissett’s (fantastically titled) play – The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant. The premise is that a demon, a bogle, a banshee and a selkie are all together for Hogmanay when the subject of the Referendum comes up. The demon, Black Donald, is of the opinion that the fairy folk should resolutely be on the side of the Union- the logic going that under the current rough deal that Scotland gets it is forced to retreat to a make believe Scotland (upon which the mystical creatures thrive) and don’t have a real one. The banshee, the selkie and the demon all have much to gain from the misery and frustrations of the Scottish people. The bogle’s not too sure but he goes along for the ride.
Subtle it isn’t.
It’s raucous, down to earth and cathartic. At a Festival bursting with pretension it is remarkable that a play about magical creatures discussing politics was so earthy and accessible.
It took me a while to warm into it as it kicked off bordering on panto with knowing looks to the crowd and mugging expressions. As the show developed though I grew to realise this broad atmosphere was a great place to drop home truths. It was a release to laugh as our experience of being badgered by the performers mirrored our experience of being badgered by the campaigns. At one point a woman with a seeing eye dog was told that if she didn’t vote No the SNP would eat her dug. It was a vibe that was cleverly subverted at times. Panto villains don’t usually talk about slave ships leaving the Clyde. It was crude, disarming and challenging.
There are several twists and turns along the way and a sweet conclusion. A point raised towards the end struck me – why are are we so preoccupied with being the best? Surely it’s enough to be better?
Being the best sadly doesn’t always mean being better, just better than all the rest. But being better always asks more of us. Yes sometimes wanting to be the best in say a competition is a good drive – as the competition pushes us all to strive further. But maybe on the global stage our days of wanting to be the best are past their best. Maybe we should focus on being better.
A lot of the threats that are being made about leaving the union are possibly blessings in disguise. Do we want to be major players in an old game of pride and prestige or significant players in a newer much more collaborative game?
We should be better and in fact we can be better together. The rest of the UK and Scotland can be better together as separate nations than as part of an increasingly past it imperial project. We no longer want to be the best at something just for the sake of it. We want to be better people.
It’s time to remember what’s pure about Scotland, what’s dead about Scotland and what’s brilliant about Scotland.