As all the best authorities agree, this Orkney Vole is no common beast and so was delighted to chat in his burrow with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, CH, CBE, Master of the Queen’s Music Emeritus just as he was relaxing before a performance of ‘Solstice of Light’ in Saint Magnus Cathedral. We were sharing a glass of the ‘right stuff’, a decent Scapa and the subject of independence came up. I was complaining how the Burnside Hogboon (who was in the kitchen preparing a meal) was a Liberal Democrat and he was saying that the nearest one to him on Sanday had similar problems and in addition had little ear for music.
I nodded sympathetically – few hogboons, although great with housework, are gifted with brains. We clinked glasses and both toasted an independent Scotland enthusiastically. ‘Let us live’, I said, ‘ as if we are in the first days of new, finer country.’ He agreed and asked me if that was my own thought, I without blushing, confessed it was. Voles are not always reliable narrators. And very quickly I moved the conversation onto his reasons for wanting Scotland to be independent.
I fell in love with Orkney and the islands when I first came to Hoy in 1970 and met George Mackay Brown. It wasn’t easy but with close friends we made the St Magus Festival happen. It was community spirit that made it possible.”
‘Democracy feels dead in England. Governments don’t care what people think. I was at the front of the huge marches against the Iraq interventions. Over a million people marched but Blair still mounted an illegal war.’ Max was getting under way now, “Labour has not helped. With student loans, they started to close off the Universities.
“So many things I care about, free musical education and access to the arts for everybody have become almost impossible in England now. Very few young people would have have the opportunities to achieved what I did coming from a working class background. Our only chance of keeping these opportunities here is to become part of an independent Scotland.
The hogboon dropped some pans in the kitchen loudly but we paid no attention whatsoever. Max continued. ‘Making music is the essence of a civilised society. We have managed to keep music making a community activity here and it is a joy to see pieces that were considered difficult, now being performed by community choirs. All these activities are now under threat.’
The hogboon was heard muttering from the kitchen something about music being an elitest activity. Max got quite agitated and pointed out that when his opera ‘Kommilitonen!’ was premiered in New York, the Julliard students took it out to the streets as part of the Occupy Wall Street protests. The Hogboon disapproved of such radical comments and dropped a glass which shattered on the floor.
I looked rather smug and the Hogboon contrite for once. Max then reminded us that ‘Farewell to Stromness’ had begun as a cabaret piece in ‘The Yellow Cake Review’ – ‘people often forget that it was a protest against proposed uranium mining from Stromness to Yesnaby. Its hard to see how something like that could ever happen in an independent Scotland.
I refilled the glasses and suggested we toasted again, “Independence’. I proclaimed. The Hogboon burnt the soup.