THE exhibition Landmarks: Hugh MacDiarmid’s Brownsbank has been on show at the Biggar and Upper Clydesdale Museum for the last few weeks and will close on Sunday. Portraits by Alexander Moffat, landscapes by Ruth Nicol and a selection of my poems are on display in a state-of-the-art gallery beyond which the museum extends, tracing the history of this small Lanarkshire town through the

19th century to the earliest human habitation of the territory.

When the museum was opened at Gladstone Court, on May 25, 1968, Hugh MacDiarmid, who was then living with his wife Valda at nearby Brownsbank Cottage, said this: “Some people are inclined to brush aside the past as no longer relevant to the present let alone the future. That is a great mistake.

“A host of things of which we may be completely unconscious are nevertheless determinants of our beings and only to the extent to which we learn something of these things are we able to evaluate our impulses, come to some understanding of our natures and potentialities and how these have evolved.

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“‘Man know thyself’ is a profoundly wise injunction and only in the measure to which we develop that kind of knowledge can we really begin to know anything at all. ‘The eyes of the fool are in the ends of the earth’, and local knowledge is apt to be despised as trivial, parochial, and of no general consequence.

“That is all wrong. There is nothing so universal as the local, and it is a healthy sign that today more and more histories are concentrating on what can be gathered from parish records, private documents, from field-workers and research people, all that type of material which does not appear in standard history texts.”

Acknowledging the tireless work of the museum’s founding father, Brian Lambie, MacDiarmid went on: “This is the kind of thing that Mr Lambie has undertaken here. He has confined himself to what is for the most part almost within living memory, but at no previous period in human history have there been such tremendous changes as within the brief period of a century or a century and a half. We live in what has been called the technological age. The pace of modern life is tremendous and human nature is changing in accordance with it – or, where it fails to do so, is driven into mental and other illnesses.

“I am myself old enough to remember little shops in small Scottish burghs 60 years ago where if one wanted sugar it was chipped off the sugar loaf with a hammer and chisel, and if one wanted treacle one went with a jug which was filled from a barrel with a tap.

“How very distant these days seem now when we are already familiar with supermarkets and all manner of packaged goods. Our grandparents or great-grandparents would feel pretty much at home in the little shops and workshops Mr Lambie has reconstituted here, but they would be like fish out of water altogether in present-day Biggar.

‘WOULD they feel that things had improved – that life had become easier, happier, and more secure?

I doubt it. It is this sort of question, probing the very basis of our lives, that this museum evokes from us, and it is a healthy and desirable thing that we should be forced to ask such questions.

“We take progress far too much for granted. Vast changes there have been, but have they really been for the good? There is another way of looking at the matter. Professor Carstairs of Edinburgh University in his Reith Lectures on the BBC, a year or two ago said that it was highly desirable that we should retain as much as possible of our local idiosyncrasies and traditions and that to the measure in which we do so we will be the better equipped for the new world-community on which we are entering.

“He was underlining the danger if uniformity at the expense of the rich variety of humanity – a danger accentuated by the great mass-media of making people everywhere as like as each other as peas in a pod.

That is why the great problem today is the problem of identity, when the great masses of people are rootless.

“The methods, concepts, and styles of exploring and explaining the past are necessarily rooted in the whole pattern of a community’s culture. So far as national community is the most intense and self-conscious in the modern world, history must indeed stay nationalist.

“So far as wider communities are also real – in the sense that there is a level of culture common to the English speaking world, or to the Latin peoples, or to ‘Western Civilisation’ as a whole when compared with Indian or Chinese Cultures, then historiography too can become rooted in these wider cultural patterns and so can expect to reach some consensus of opinion about the past, but try to press synthesis beyond this level, and in the manner of 18th-century rationalism or 19th-century positivism attempt a universal synthesis, comprising European and Asiatic, liberal and communist, Christian and Islamic, understanding of the past and it soon becomes apparent that the Muse of History has outreached her grasp.”

That’s as good an argument for Scottish independence as any I’ve ever heard. It aligns with the social ideal of democratic accountability through breaking up and ending the British Empire’s toxic legacy and all its assumptions of superiority, centralised power and exploitation.

The Labour Party’s great betrayal could yet be corrected by supporting independence. In the current world context of the early 21st century, the urgency is compelling. A great deal has changed since 1968 and all of it only emphasises the strength of the argument.

That urgency is measured in the crisis of ecology and consumer capitalism, the latter surely the biggest winner at COP26. Big businesses run on with their suicidal intent to prize money over everything else.

Their practice is a disease of astronomical size and global application. Extinction is what they deserve. But of course, businesses fight for their desperate, fatuous lives, and flourish at the expense of ours and all others.

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And the extinction they bring about is not only of flora and fauna but of the human work the arts have done for millennia and continue to do. The murderers of the world have only grown more powerful.

In his book, A Writer of Our Time (2021), Joshua Sperling describes John Berger’s articulation in the first decade of the 21st century of the destructions wrought by our civilisation: “The blunting of the senses; the hollowing out of language; the erasure of connection with the past, the dead, the place, the land, the soil; possibly, too, the erasure even of certain emotions, whether pity, compassion, consoling, mourning, or hoping.”

And: “‘It is not only animal and plant species which are being destroyed or made extinct today’, he [Berger] wrote, ‘but also set after set of our human priorities. The latter are systematically sprayed, not with pesticides, but with ethicides.’ There were hollow words: freedom, democracy, terrorism. And then there were real words: Nakbah (catastrophe); saudade (longing); agora (forum); Wag (the woodcutter’s path).”

And for me, the most haunting word of all: duende, the word made known most through the work of the poet Federico Garcia Lorca, before he was murdered by Spanish fascists. It means the song that comes from the wound that never heals. And that is what we sing today.