FOUR generations have now passed since Scotland began its modern journey to state and nationhood. Now we are witnessing the passing of that fourth generation of men and women who dedicated their active lives – and spirit – to this cause.

Alas, we are watching yet another generation leaving the political stage with their task unfinished: Scotland remains unfree. Why have we failed? What can the next generation do that its predecessors failed to accomplish?

The First Generation were the Home Rulers at the beginning of the raucous 20th century. These were giants. Their names are legendary: dour Keir Hardie, miner turned journalist; the exotic gaucho Cunninghame Graham, first elected socialist and a founder of both the Labour party and the SNP: the great John Maclean, revolutionist and educator; Jimmy Maxton, the lion-headed agitator; even brilliant, flawed Ramsay MacDonald (below), first Labour prime minister turned apostate, but in his time a fiery advocate of Scottish self-determination.

The National: The first Labour Prime Minister, Ramsay McDonald

For this generation, Home Rule meant Scottish sovereignty within the British Empire, on a par with Canada, Australian, New Zealand and South Africa. There would be a Scottish Parliament with every sovereign power yet part of the British family of nations.

Call it white supremacist if you will but in the context of simultaneous Home Rule for Ireland this model foretold the break-up of Britain itself. Amazingly, a Scottish Home Rule bill was passed at Westminster in early 1914, only to be binned at the outset of the great carnage that August. The moment had come and gone. Henceforth the space for a negotiated deconstruction of the Anglo state had disappeared. The first generation of Scottish advocates exhausted themselves in the dimly lit corridors of the Palace of Westminster – to no avail.

In the late 1930s, a Second Generation of titans emerged to carry the banner of Scottish statehood forward: the Poets. As the politicians faltered so, the writers, bards, artists, and playwrights took their place. If Westminster and the Anglo elite had shut its face against Scotland’s right to statehood, then the poets would create a nation of the mind and spirit.

The National: Hugh MacDiarmid in his home in 1968

Here came the likes of Hugh MacDiarmid (above) and Hamish Henderson to put into flaming prose the desire of Scotland to once more control its own destiny. But this generation were no mere scribblers. MacDiarmid and Henderson were communists and saw Scotland’s desire for statehood as the urge to rejoin and reshape a greater world.

The nation responded. In the early 1950s, two million Scots signed the National Covenant calling for a Scottish parliament. Promises were made but never delivered – a routine, cynical response by Westminster. The decades rolled on. Scotland was safely in its constitutional cage.

Yet the work of the poets – and then the anti-Polaris folk singers – was not lost. Scotland had been reborn in the imagination. Now a new, Third Generation appeared in the 1960s to advance the cause: The Intellectuals.

Here came the likes of social theorist Stephen Maxwell; writer Isobel Lindsay; economist Gavin Kennedy; the late and great political philosopher Tom Nairn (below); and the incomparable propagandist Margo MacDonald.

The National: Scottish political thinker/writer Tom Nairn at his home in Livingston...Picture by Stewart Attwood.

There were many more because as Scotland’s traditional heavy industries collapsed from under-investment and neglect, a mighty mass movement emerged that saw independence and statehood as the only rescue from economic catastrophe. But in this Third Generation, it fell to the intellectuals to write the first detailed case for how a new nation state could operate. These Third Generation intellectuals were fearless.

Not for them the cautious bean counting of the Growth Commission. Not for them the courting of international finance.

They envisaged a new, fresh Scotland that combined traditional values of community and love of ideas with a radical reconstruction of the nation: devolution of political power to localities, self-management of industry, local control over Scotland’s land and natural resources. Suddenly the idea of statehood had an agenda and an urgency.

But this intellectual tide was turned when Westminster deliberately ignored the Yes majority at the 1979 referendum.

It fell to a Fourth Generation, starting in the 1990s, to seek to turn aspiration for Scottish statehood into reality. These were the Activists, my generation. There was Salmond, Sillars, the Ewing clan, Russell, Sturgeon, Swinney (below), Cunningham, and an army of volunteers.

The National: Deputy First Minister John Swinney

They fought elections tenaciously. They knocked on a million doors. They held raffles and manned windy stalls. They went to the Scottish people with a message of hope and – eventually – the Scottish people responded.

This Fourth Generation – who won power in the Holyrood mini-Parliament and who fought the 2014 referendum almost to victory – are now exiting the political stage.

The Fourth Generation is laying down its political sword, perhaps in some confusion. We might mourn. But there is also a chilling realisation: their work remains undone. After 30 years of fervid activism, we do not have statehood.

In fact, the goal seems more remote than ever, as the Anglo elite scorns our demand for another referendum and our movement languishes in division.

There are lessons to be garnered from this history. First, our movement has never succumbed to the cult of a single leader. Each generation has thrown up a group of talents to service the struggle for statehood.

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A team approach is the Scottish way. It is less fallible, more collegiate (even when personalities inevitably clash) and less error prone. Second, each previous generation reacted to events with imagination. We cannot meet the present political impasse merely with exhortations to patience, localism, or more undirected activity. We need politics.

Third, our historic failure has been to base the movement on negotiating with or seeking to placate the Anglo political establishment. The British Establishment has nothing to gain from negotiating with us over Scottish statehood except to procrastinate and confuse.

To lose Scotland would be a loss of face that exposes the core weaknesses of the ailing Anglo state, economically and politically. Premising our struggle on placating the Anglo state is to imagine you can satisfy a hungry lion with a ruffle of its mane.

What is the task of the coming Fifth Generation of the modern national movement? Home Rule is a chimera. Our poets and intellectuals have already furnished us with the justification for statehood – forget the Anglo establishment and its media lackeys, they will never be convinced.

The latest generation of activists have all but exhausted constitutional avenues within the arcane, anti-democratic British prison of nations, for achieving Scottish statehood. What next?

The answer might lie in answering some other questions. Why are we still propping up Westminster? Are we really going to attend another thousand useless parliamentary debates while continuing to swallow the indignities showered on our MPs?

Have we no pride? Are we really going to go on paying the BBC licence fee so the Anglo state can refuse to accept our FM on UK televised “leaders” debates? Are we going to pay taxes to Westminster so a government of a party rejected by Scotland can spend and borrow unwisely, then brazenly accuse Scotland of running a deficit?

What is to be gained from playing within the rigged rules of the Anglo state for yet another lost generation?

Scotland: we are only on our knees because we refuse to stand up.