For now, I am living a double life, most of the time I live in Block Island, USA, but I have just returned for a brief visit to Edinburgh, Scotland, which is where I have lived for longer than anywhere else. I first came here in 1990. What is it like to be in Edinburgh, in May 2014? You can search the web for “Edinburgh” and find lots of pictures, the castle, the monuments, tourist town. Or you can search my blog – an eclectic collection, one person’s life in Edinburgh at various times of the year just behind the scenes. Both these places are stunningly beautiful, people come to both to be on holiday, to renew, to be somehow enriched. And, in both places, there are others who live there, and do whatever it is that they do, live life entwined with but different from the surface scenery and culture.
I had not forgotten, but had not fully registered, here in Scotland 2014, is the year of The Independence Referendum. It has certainly registered now, it is in the mailbox, on the sides of the buses and the adverts, everywhere. In September, vote YES and Scotland will become a country, a nation, separate from the United Kingdom that will thereafter be England, Wales and Northern Ireland, no Scotland. Vote NO and The UK remains as it is, as the No campaign says: Better Together. So here there is a very local national politics, with profound implications, high on the agenda, not so visible elsewhere in the world. I thought I was a NO, because I believe we are One World, never mind One Nation, and I am only Scottish because this is where I am registered as a UK citizen, since 1990, but within a few days I am uncertain, swayed by the negativity of “better together” and the positive common sense of the YES. The independents are campaigning on a kind of “We can do it” caring socialism. Whatever socialism means to you, to me it means everyone matters and is respected for their capabilities or lack of capability. People work and pay tax and government spends. If that sounds crazy, think on. Government would not get elected to govern if they had not first said, not only where they would spend, but how they would enable the finances to do so. Above all they say that most of us do work and are adequately but not idiotically rewarded (at either the high or low end). Society knows there are those who cannot work, children, ill or elderly. These are cared for as dependents of us all, until they can become contributors, or become well, or because their contribution has already been made. Society cares because each person knows that childhood matters, misfortune strikes at random, and old age finds us all if we are still here. So the YES sounds more certain about its direction towards the sort of society I would like to live in. The NO sounds like no change anywhere, although the stay with UK are a cross-party grouping, they try to say it is all right the way it is, but anyone can see that it is not all right. The UK, including Edinburgh, has beggars on the streets and children being fed from food-banks even when their parents are working. How is that “all right”?
Now I do not know what to think about the referendum, though I am sure that I wish far more people, everywhere, thought in terms of socialism.
However, there is a more obvious difference in my double life. Edinburgh is an international city, rich in arts, science, culture, heritage and things to do. There are also a lot more people with whom to do things, whatever takes your fancy. All seem just a step away from the door (no boat journey required). On Saturday, I took this photo of the Meadows activity, where kids are out playing football – soccer to those from USA – and they do this every Saturday. I am not a football fan, but I can see that every child in Scotland lives and breathes teamwork from the day they can toddle, as they see and absorb this game whether they actually play it or not. The Riker soccer camp will try to teach Block Islanders “teamwork skills” this summer, trying to convince them that you can’t actually play football as an individual – unlike games such as American football or baseball or English cricket. However brilliant the individual player in “fitba” – it is played, won and lost, by the whole team. I speculate idly how much stuff like this has to do with Scottish people’s innate capacity to believe in “Society”, where everyone has a place, rather than believing the american dream, individual success, individual excellence?
I will find some more arts or science culture next week before I find myself getting ready to leave again. The weather is OK, but a bit cloudy, some great skies looking across the Forth in North Edinburgh on Sunday, and sunshades not really necessary at the Botanic Gardens Cafe on Monday. However, the Rhododendrons and azaleas are out there, so who needs to be sorry they have missed most of the cherry blossom?
Step outside. Enjoy life in Edinburgh.