THE LIFE OF PI by Yann Martel is my favourite novel. It really is worth reading as a modern day Gulliver’s Travels, full of metaphor and adventures in tropical lands… and seas. I first had the pleasure of reading it as a medical student in Kerala, India. There was nothing like being in Southern India while reading about a small boy and his family-run zoo in Pondicherry.
It has stuck with me ever since that time, almost twelve years ago. The duality of a boy as both a child of innocence and a man of aggression is fascinating and develops to such an extent in crisis that the aggression can no longer be accepted by innocence and becomes Richard Parker, the family zoo’s very own Bengal tiger.
During a fateful storm that sinks a ship carrying the zoo and the family, only the young boy Pi grasps a life raft and clambers in. After the storm has passed he finds there is someone else in that raft with him: Richard Parker.
In time the two grow close, but not too close. They remain distrustful of each other, and the tiger would surely kill the boy even though the boy provides him with drinking water and food. The boy realises that the tiger is in some way a part of him, determined as it is to assert its own authority it cannot really survive for long alone.
Eventually, the raft came to shore and Richard Parker sloped off quietly into the jungle, never to be seen again. Pi had survived the crisis and the tiger again became part of him.
There is a paradox in Scottish nationalism in a desire and disgust in kinship with fellow Britons that could be pictured as that drowning tiger, taking refuge in a child’s raft. It’s hard for the English (my lot) to understand this duality of Scottish identity when it comes to Brexit though the great author Goethe came very close in his seminal work Faust,
“You are aware of only one unrest;
Oh, never learn to know the other!
Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast,
And one is striving to forsake its brother.”
Heavy stuff but we are in a very serious situation. Our place in the world, our union in the world, is about to change and that affects us differently in Scotland. Will that power concentrated away from London in Brussels be returned to London or will it be spread around the island more?
For Scots, Brussels was not a polarising power. It was depolarising it away from London for the price of us losing yet more of our autonomy. As England grew rapidly after the Union was formed, so Scots have been less and less an equal partner in it. Time moves on but promises made centuries ago are the source rock of the union and it is no surprise Nationalists and Unionists here expect them to be kept.
So what DO we do with this drowning tiger? The SNP are as foreign and unpleasant to me as the Front National. They will stop at nothing to sink our ship and it is absolutely right they are not placed by Theresa May in a position to do so. They are self-declared wreckers.
But try as they might, they do not represent Scotland as a whole. No one does. That does not mean we do not need representation. Our economy and laws are different to England’s. What we export and the subsidies we have are very different to London’s in nature though London’s own subsidies at the UK’s expense rarely attract the vitriol of the Barnett Formula.
We simply cannot let Richard Parker drown. He is a part of us, even when he scowls and growls, and moans and at times bites us when we aren’t looking. Being British, we are stuck with this duality of Scottish identity that a majority of them chose so generously to share with us.
The moment the UK realises Scotland is part of us the sooner we will be seen as a fellow, valued passenger in this Brexit life raft and not as a dripping snarling threat… though we are that too of course. That’s our charm, and that’s going to be part of our Brexit.
Or we’ll all go down the same way that ship did. The European Union is sunk and there’s no life raft able to refloat it. We’re on a journey with a hungry, snarling, dripping wet tiger. What an adventure this is going to be.