I am fortunate in having a gorgeous teenage daughter, but Eleanor and I don't always agree. I am obsessed with Scotland's future. Her preoccupations are musical theatre, boys who look like Justin Bieber and the quest for the perfect black eyeliner. Despite these differences, (though we do share some common ground on the eyeliner issue), Ellie has developed a serene accomodation with her mother's politics, smiling through numerous meetings over the last couple of years. She'd rather be elsewhere... ie on facebook, jamming with her pals on guitar, or exploring the Boots make-up counter.
But this week Eleanor thought the SNP - or rather the Scots Independent newspaper - had come up trumps.They decided to give her mum an Oliver. Wow, an OIiver! She immediately perked up at the thought of attending this particular ceremony. Never mind the SNP majority at Holyrood, Ellie goes to Hollywood! Would there be red carpets, Valentino gowns and diamonds hired from Tiffany? Alas, though the Terraces Hotel in Stirling is beautifully appointed and serves a delicious Chicken Supreme with Stornoway black pudding, Brangelina stayed away. The only similarity with the Oscars was her mum's gushing acceptance speech.
Despite this disappointment, Eleanor had a marvellous time at the Oliver Brown Awards, and is now calling the hilarious after dinner speaker, Fergus Ewing MSP, the SNP's answer to Michael McIntyre.
It was a marvellous day for both of us. It was wonderful to sit with so many lights of the national movement, such as Jimmy Halliday, Jim Lynch and Oliver Brown's daugher Una, who gave a very amusing speech herself. I cannot quite believe I have been given the award, whose previous recipients include Winnie Ewing, Paul Scott, Billy Kay, Iain Anderson, Elspeth King, Murray Ritchie, George Rosie and so many more distinguished and cultured people.
Oliver Brown himself, who died in 1976, was a leading figure in the national movement, a fine orator and writer and a real individualist who was not hidebound by party lines. As someone whose roots lie in Antrim as well as Argyll, I was delighted to hear that he once stood as an anti partition candidate (ie against the partition of Ireland)
In advance of the ceremony today, I was lent original copies of his books by Jim Lynch, the editor of the Scots Independent. There was the Wisdom of Oliver Brown, which contains many of his contributions to the paper. I also adored the 1953 book Witdom, a collection of his “essaygrams” - that to my very great excitement had a foreword by Hugh MacDiarmid.
Oliver Brown’s work has been described as a cross between Eric Linklater and William Hickey. Having read the books, I would suggest a Scottish Benjamin Franklin - like the great polemicist for American independence, Brown was master of the aphorism, the pithy political pamphlet and the pointed epigram.
The thing that really struck me was how relevant much of his writing remains.
For example he had some very sobering advice to new politicians: “I have never heard a speech which would not have gained force had it been condensed into five minutes." Come to think of it, that's probably good advice for established politicians too...
In Witdom there is a paragraph that reads like it was an analysis of the May 2011 result:
“The SNP is accused by poison-spitters of being separatist, greedy and narrow-minded," mused Brown, who then advised:"A positive policy is the only answer, and the best is an active advocacy of an Anglo-Scottish alliance which will follow the era of English domination.”
This has always been the primary aim of the Scottish national movement. We just want our country to be normal: not superior, nor dominating, just an equal partner.
Brown's commentary on a previous Secretary of State for Scotland could have been written last week, given the present incumbent's recent gaffes.
“The Emperor Caligula made his horse a Consul. One Russian Emperor made a flea chancellor. Mr Wilson made Willie Ross Secretary of State for Scotland...."
What does this say about Michael Moore!
That one would probably breach the rules for positive campaigning in the new SNP - But as Hugh MacDiarmid said, the most brilliant minds contradict themselves.
Even when the quotes are very much of their time, they are useful. For example, Brown had a fantastic reference to Norman Buchan MP dismissing the idea that Switzerland was a country that Scotland could emulate. “We would be making cuckoo clocks instead of steel,” said Mr Buchan.
Of course we no longer have a steel industry, despite electing Labour MPs for many years.
Something Jim Lynch said at the awards today made me think of Norman Buchan. Jim spoke of our shared admiration for the play, The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil. It was performed at an SNP conference in the 1970s, he recalled, but he was perplexed by the fact that its producers, the 7:84 company, were not nationalists.
Norman Buchan, an honourable man, and 7:84, fall into the same category. They promulgated the story of the Scottish people. They believed Scotland could flourish inside the UK if socialism prevailed, and always put loyalty to Labour first. Buchan did so much to encourage interest in Scottish culture, particularly folk music, and played a leading role in its revival in the 50s and 60s. As a school teacher he nurtured folk talents such as Gordeanna McCulloch. I used to live opposite his widow Janey in Partick. Her home was crammed with the most amazing collection of Scots literature, including rare broadsheet ballads. She knew I was a nationalist but was not sectarian in any way, always keen to point out political writings in her collection that would be of interest to an SNP supporter. Donald Dewar falls into the same category - his personal collection was full of works about Scottish history and literature.
But this category of Scottish Unionist died with Dewar and Buchan. The current generation see assertions of national identity as means of encouraging the SNP. They are therefore anti-Scottish, a magnification of the old cringe, dismissing our own history and culture as provincial and secondary. Today's youthful equivalents of Norman Buchan would not join the Communist Party or the Labour Party, they would be attracted instead to the SNP. Because as well and having Scottish self determination at its heart, the SNP also believe in the social justice that has long categorised popular Scottish politics.
This will be critical in the years ahead, as we work towards Oliver Brown's dearest wish. And as we reach out across Scottish society to those who have only recently been converted to the cause, let us not forget that earlier generation of activists, such as the publishers and readers of the Scots Independent, who kept the flame alight.