Of communities and belonging

I made an all too brief but nonetheless memorable first visit to Orkney and Shetland last year. Although I was only there for a few days, thanks to the generosity of local Yes groups I got to see a lot of the the islands. And, thanks to the wonderful hospitality, I got to meet a great many people. The Northern Isles are a wonderful part of Scotland. And that’s an important phrase – part of Scotland.

My visit to Orkney and Shetland was one leg of a tour which took me all over the Highlands and Islands. Well, not quite all over. That would take a very long time. Because Scotland isn’t such a small country. It certainly doesn’t feel small when you’re travelling the length and breadth by bus. Looking out the windows of that bus I saw a land that is vast and varied. From rich farmlands to raw moors; from rugged shores to majestic mountains; from silent forests to thrumming cities; from watchful hills to moody lochs – Scotland is a bit special.

What struck me most forcefully, however, was that for all the diversity I always knew I was in Scotland. No matter how distinctive the places – and probably none is more distinctive than Shetland – there was always the sense that this was part of a nation. Always the feeling that the local communities I was privileged to briefly mingle with are part of a community of communities.

For what else is a nation but a community of communities. A collection of localities, each with its own character, but all sharing a common identity.

As is so often the case, politicians prove to be the fly in the ointment. The connectedness of communities can be disrupted by those who seek power through division. Those whose concern is, not the welfare of any community, but personal aggrandisement, partisan advantage and the preservation of a political system which rewards them with status and influence.

People are better served by elected representative who value both the community that they serve and the community of communities that is Scotland. There are politicians who know the worth of the connectedness that makes a nation. A connectedness built from and grown out of mutual interest and common respect and shared commitment. A natural, easy connectedness that requires no compulsion or coercion. A connectedness that stands in stark contrast to the imposed and enforced homogeneity of ‘One Nation’ British Nationalist ideology.

The feeling I got when I visited Shetland and other far flung parts of Scotland was, not that they were remote from the centre, but that the centre was in danger of becoming remote from them. The connectedness is still there, but it needs to be reinforced. Distance need not imply detachment so long as those charged with speaking for Shetland’s communities have due regard for their connection with the community of communities that is Scotland.

I know that the Scottish National Party genuinely embraces the ideas of community and connectedness which make diversity and distance no impediment to a sense of community – a sense of belonging.

I am not acquainted with Tom Wills, the SNP’s candidate in the forthcoming by-election for the Scottish Parliament’s Shetland constituency. But I’m certain he will understand what I mean when I say that Scotland is a community of communities. I’m pretty sure he’ll be aware of just how important it is to maintain and strengthen the connectedness among Scotland’s communities. And I reckon he’d agree that, at least as important to Shetland as its sense of itself, is its sense belonging.

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