Written in 1989, Border Warfare chronicles Scotland’s history from the clan system, to the on-again-off-again Union, and ends during the rise of Thatcherism and the infamous introduction of the Poll Tax.
John McGrath: Englishman by birth, and ultimately Scottish by death, he was a busy old bee during his time on this blue and green marble. One of the founders of the theatre company 7:84, or more specifically a ‘Scottish left-wing agitprop‘ theatre company according to Wikipedia, McGrath’s focus invariably revolved around that of Scottish independence.
I had been meaning to share this almost as soon as I had read Border Warfare, and as the 100 day countdown to the referendum began last Monday, now seemed like a good time to share some favourite lines from the play. I’m also currently doing what I can to avoid any media outlet (social network news feeds included – I’ve had to remove people from it until September arrives). That is a hint on my stance on the subject in general, not my voting persuasion, and that is all you’re getting from me.
Westminster, anyone? What makes this play as funny as it is really does lie in Scotland’s history with the Union. And it really was on-again-off-again (and probably will continue that way until some nationalist numpty discovers a method of crowbarring the countries apart at Hadrian’s wall, and even then, some equally ludicrous unionist numpty will just build a bridge in the gap only for another nationalist to burn the damn thing).
And, in a nutshell, the play was essentially a reminder of what senior school history lessons felt like; a summarised book of revision. Let us begin.
Once upon a time, we all live in a series of clans (origin in the Gaellic for clanna, meaning children) run by the male or female Chief, but with connections to other clans that only a Scot could fathom. Then the English didn’t like that, so war. Then Scottish royalty happened, except they were English royalty in Scotland. The Scots didn’t like that, so war. The Scots had the audacity to speak a native language that wasn’t English or French, because God forbid you had to learn another language. The English really didn’t like that, so war. Then Scottish-English royalty with a bit of French and German happened, and something about religion. The English seriously didn’t like that, and the Scots didn’t like that the English didn’t like that, so war.
The other gem in this piece lies in the stage directions. This play in no way looks as though it was written to be read, rather performed, and then written down. As a result, it’s quite a challenge on the eyes, and I’d imagine it’s even harder for those who are new to the nation’s history. So with that in mind, why else would this very niche descriptor be included in the stage directions if it wasn’t dictated to the scribe?
I love it. Hands down, the best I’ve ever read, shortly followed by “Exit, pursued by a bear“.
So, I guess what I’m proposing is that even if independence does happen, if history has shown us anything, it’s only a matter of time before it all swings back round again. La-dee-da. Only this time, we actually get a choice. I think there’s a word for that… Dremel… Dermatitis… Demos… Democracy?
Fun fact: the Paterson clan is somewhere in my genealogy. Never been a huge fan of their tartan; at school, it was either a Deans or Black Watch deal.
However, there is something quite entertaining about the clan’s motto: Huc Tendimus Omnes (We all strive for this). It almost seems fitting to me. And this post. Funny, that.
Given the recent passing of David MacLennan, brother-in-law to McGrath and an equally busy bee in the theatre world (another founder of 7:84), I couldn’t post this entry without at least him. I was fortunate enough to meet David in February during my placement at Òran Mór (remember the fans?), a man who was the catalyst for making the Play, a Pie and a Pint season in Scotland (and now a growing global franchise) what it is today. Long may his passion live on and the PPP season continue, giving the much needed hope to new writers everywhere. Boy, do we need it.