Many of you, particularly those of you from outside Scotland will not know how much it saddens me to write the post on which I am now about to start.
Tonight at around 7pm GMT I received an e-mail from Bella Caledonia editor Mike Small informing me that the online magazine which played such a prominent role in supporting yes vote for an Independent Scotland and has been such a significant part of the Scottish cultural, social , and political landscape for the past 10 years would more than likely be no more.
To say I was disappointed to receive this news would I think be understating my reaction by a county mile. I was and this is putting it somewhat politely absolutely heartbroken. Eventually my heartbreak gave way to rage as I asked myself the question How could we let this happen?
Be under no illusions my friends this is a massive blow for those of us who support not only independence but the vision of a fairer more equal society which attracted us to independence in the first place. For many of us Bella Caledonia represented those values and gave us an outlet which expressed those values in the face of a very hostile print and broadcast media which seemed to oppose any kind of reform to Scotland’s constitutional settlement which it took great delight in telling was the settled will of Scottish people and could never be changed so it impossible was to even consider attempting it.
Thus went the prevailing unionist orthodoxy as we started 2007 and yes the more entrenched members of unionist political class still hold to those beliefs but be in no doubt the stage Bella Caledonia now exits is a very different one from that on which it first appeared 10 years ago.
During this period in our history in which Bella played its part Scotland has changed and changed for good. We are a more confident nation than at any time in our recent history and despite the shrill, almost hysterical whinging from the more deluded unionists we will not be going back in to what they think is our wee parochial box where we can be put away and ignored ever again.
This confidence did not come overnight. Like the best and most beautiful of nature’s creations it took time to grow, and had to be nurtured in the correct and appropriate way and that is what Bella was so good at doing. From its earliest days, it urged to us live as if we were living in the first days of a better nation.
This was much more than a slogan it was a request to the people of Scotland to behave in a certain way. The thinking behind it was that if we act in a manner which is independent then independence will eventually become dominant social and cultural norm. When Bella first started such an idea could and I’m sure would have been considered dangerously radical by our ultra cautious political establishment. It is perhaps one of the magazine’s greatest achievements that this mantra is now part of our country’s political lexicon.
The last 10 years have been a time of tremendous political change in Scotland. When Bella first started many Scots were in the process of switching what seemed like a lifetime of loyalty to the Labour Party to the SNP and they did so in enough numbers to give the party more fanatical unionists such as George Robertson and Brian Wilson claimed would never govern Scotland the chance to do so as the party won the Scottish Election of that year by the narrowest of margins winning 47 seats to Labour’s 46.
On winning the election the outgoing Labour leader Jack McConnell pledged to make governing Scotland difficult for the incumbent SNP administration but in Alex Salmond the SNP had a far shrewder leader than any of his predecessors and while Labour went through leaders faster than I go through after eights at Christmas, Alex Salmond got on with the business of governing Scotland and it came as no surprise to anyone outside the Labour Party when he was re-elected First Minister as the SNP were returned to power in 2011 and this time with a landslide majority.
I bring up this matter of historiography purely to illustrate that after an election which saw the route of both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats it was Bella who provided a voice for authentic political progressives and despite their opposition to its pro independence stance many of the more politically aware amongst their number knew the value of such a liberal left site speaking for many of the more culturally and socially radical voices of the yes campaign. It was a place where principled disagreement could be had without the same rancour of some of more dogmatic yes sites like Wings Over Scotland.
After the referendum was lost by a far narrower margin than many unionist commentators had predicted, Bella continued to represent all the various strands of what had been the yes campaign and continued to give support to SNP government where appropriate and criticism where necessary. Whilst this may not have been appreciated by some within the ranks of my party to those of us who put the long term interests of the people of Scotland before short term party political gain not only welcomed this we actively embraced it.
Unlike others who would hear no criticism of the SNP or Yes Scotland I had realised that however much it may have pained me and believe me it pained me more than you’ll ever know that we lost the referendum and if we were to win the next one we needed not to pat ourselves on the back but examine why we lost what could do to persuade those voters we didn’t manage to convince in 2014 and set about doing it. The fact that Mike Small and his team of writers were able to challenge us to challenge ourselves to think bigger than we would previously have dared to is in my considered opinion no mean feat especially at a time when we could have got too self congratulatory for our own good.
Since reading on the demise of Bella I have read many comments online the vast majority of which have been very positive but one which stuck out for me was from a yes supporter who seemed to damn it with faint praise by stating that we should never forget the small part it played in the 2014 referendum. As someone who though not in the position to contribute to its financial security was a regular reader of the magazine and often pointed others in that direction if they wanted to see the news from a sensible well argued yes perspective I found this comment to be both insulting and infuriating.
to me Bella should be given enormous credit for the role it played in the years leading up to the independence referendum and indeed those in articulating the voices of some of Scotland’s most creative and talented citizens and giving them the chance to air their views on the future of our country.
It is I think a fitting tribute to what was a ground breaking magazine to say that as Bella reaches the end of it’s journey. The future of pro independence media has never been brighter even if I exclude the controversial site Wings Over Scotland whose vision of the kind of society it wants to see in a post independent Scotland is shall we say very different from mine.
With regards to blogs we have sites like Wee Ginger Dug , and the multi media based Common Space to fill at least part of the void which will be created by Bella’s loss. With regards to, the more traditional printed media we now have both The National and the Sunday Herald to put forward our views to those less familiar with the internet.
However in darker less enlightened times than now, before we had these quality news outlets to state the case for Scotland, Bella was the first to stick it’s head above the parapet and encourage us to be bolder in our thinking. In the days when we as a movement were at the beginning of our yet unfinished journey Bella encouraged us to be the best we can be and its call to live as if we were in the first days of a better nation was one I was proud to take up. Speaking from a very personal perspective I owe the team at this amazing magazine a debt of gratitude for giving me ideas above my station and for me and many others like me that will be the legacy of Bella Caledonia.
In memory of and with thanks to
Bella Caledonia 2007-2017
Love And Best Wishes