THIS is a tumultuous period for Scottish and British politics – filled with chaos, confusion, scandal, people in high places and governing parties behaving badly, and voters yearning for a politics relevant to them.

Politics and public life have little of substance about the past – history, traditions, ideas and culture – and instead is shaped by cliches and soundbites. This is tragically as true of Scotland and our politics as it is of the UK and Westminster.

Sunday past was the 50th anniversary of one of the landmark cultural moments of modern Scotland. In April 1973 at Aberdeen Arts Centre, The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil opened. Written by John McGrath and performed by the pioneering 7:84 Theatre Company, it established a set of strands across generations, people and communities, saying something profound about Scotland, its past, present and future. A play which had a major impact in the 1970s and still has ripples today.

This iconic anniversary went nearly completely uncelebrated in Scotland’s media with not one TV programme or reference. The sole exception to this deafening silence was earlier in the month when BBC Radio 4 broadcast What Kind of Scotland? presented by Allan Little, which looked at the play, its impact in the 1970s and its enduring appeal.

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Why did “The Cheviot” matter then and still does today? Little described it as “a transformative piece of theatre”, which “swept away the old kilted, tartan-clad representation of Scottish identity, exposing it as an outdated, even bogus caricature”.

It told the story of 200 years of Scottish history, establishing a powerful thread connecting the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries. It brought together the Highland Clearances, what happened to land ownership and the communities who lived on them, and the story of the discovery of North Sea oil in the 1970s with issues of political and economic powerlessness.

The production did all this at a time alive with political debate, consciousness and upheaval: a Scotland shedding off the old, eager to understand itself, reclaim its history, and look to the future. And it was at a point when working class self-organisation and trade union power were making themselves a major player in UK politics to such an extent that the government and the establishment did not know how to respond.

A number of factors contributed to its huge response. First, it deftly told a story of Scotland which had up until then mostly not been told in public. The story of Scots people being brutalised and feeling powerless over the generations at the hands of external power was not one “official Scotland” wanted to go near, for obvious reasons.

Secondly, it gave voice to an account of Scotland which despite this suppression and silence had never fully gone away. It vindicated and legitimised the folk stories, tales and collective memories of generations of Scots, and of accounts passed down through families, friends and communities. Seeing the folk memories of your community given voice and form on stage was a transformative moment: one of political education and awakening.

Thirdly, the above connected to the major changes going on in Scotland, its sense of itself, identities and nationalism in the 1970s. The old Scotland with its tired, clichéd forms of representation were by then seen as increasingly anachronistic and problematic and part of “the Scottish cringe” – used to limit our self-confidence and self-awareness.

Fourthly, “The Cheviot” was an expression of a wider catalyst of change going on which we are still living with: the cross-fertilisation of the self-government and labour movements. This brought together two political traditions which Labour giants such as Keir Hardie or Tom Johnson in the 1920s felt at ease expressing, but which post-1945 had taken different roads.

This coming together in the 1970s and 1980s eventually produced Scotland’s two devolution referendums, the Scottish Parliament, and a politics and culture which has reflected the people who live here.

Finally, when the play was launched in 1973 it attracted rave notices and sell-out houses who identified with its raucous, rebellious spirit, sense of defiance and resistance in the face of power, and its fusion of the Highland ceilidh with traditional musical theatre. It allowed people to laugh, feel joy and sorrow, and get angry.

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This was path-breaking theatre in the 1970s, recovering lost histories and voices, ignored for too long in theatre and culture. It was a watershed, and part of a bigger set of seismic changes, of a Scottish radical tradition confronting society and even itself with areas long forgotten or neglected.

THE underlying message of the play then and now is about power – who has it and who doesn’t, and the consequences which flow from this. McGrath’s aim was to tell the story of unrestrained capitalism and the uses and abuses of domestic and foreign capital from the Clearances to the oil years.

Its story was relevant in 1973, and equally powerful in the 2015 Dundee Rep adaptation by Joe Douglas, which came out in the wake of the 2014 independence referendum.

This was a class-based, socialist, internationalist take, calling in the 1970s for men and women to unite against multinationals and oligarchs. In those days this fed into a Scottish political and theatrical scene which reflected the debate about social change between class and left-wing politics on the one side, and a nationalist cross-class ideology on the other.

Nowadays a large part of Scotland sees no conflict between class and left-wing politics, and there is a definite feeling that the play has gone from being a radical counterblast to Scottish sentiments to part of the mainstream story of how part of the nation sees itself.

Watching “The Cheviot” 50 years on there are two different ways the play can be interpreted. One is to underline the perennial issues of power and the centrality of land ownership to dislocation and powerlessness. The other is that for part of the audience these issues have been mostly addressed, through the arrival of the SNP in office, the 2014 indyref, and the forging of class and left politics.

Andy Wightman, author of The Poor Have No Lawyers, reflects now: “The play is fundamentally about power. It is a critique of the external control of our resources” – the historic and contemporary reality of land, oil, and renewables, all controlled by foreign companies and wealth.

Thus the lessons of “The Cheviot” are subtle and disconcerting at the same time. That yesterday’s radicals often become today’s mainstream. And that what is seen as dissent and heresy, and giving voice to the voiceless, continually changes.

The play’s uncomfortable message, as relevant today as in 1973, is that ownership and control matter, and that while the people of Scotland have significantly more say through the Scottish Parliament, in terms of economic power, things have progressed little. McGrath then called such political evasion “a woolly, morally evasive movement” and “a serious distraction from the major issues, a hollow laugh in Westminster and a slow grin on the face of Wall Street’s money men”.

Even how the play was met in 1973-74 has resonance today. Then, it toured the length and breadth of Scotland including a special performance at the SNP conference in 1974 where it was met with huge acclaim. But as the applause died down, Liz MacLennan, who was married to McGrath, and appeared in the play, shouted “nationalism is not enough” – to be met by silence.

Those words were true then and are true today. “Nationalism is not enough.” Look around at our threadbare, inadequate politics in Scotland as well as the rest of the UK. Do not fall for the moral vacuum of just comparing the state of Scottish politics to Westminster and thinking we are somehow superior. This was always the wrong place to start, and ignored the difficult conversations we need to have in Scotland about power.

Politics is about power, control and voice. And we are still learning and on a journey about how to use our collective power. Thanks to  The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil we will never go back to the age of silence, but we still have so much more to do – and not just in theatre, but also in wider culture, politics, media, public life and the economy.