In the SNP party political broadcast issued at their conference, we heard a familiar list of the many different types of Scot. It’s always difficult to find an SNP citizen-category to identify with – as soon as one of the pastel-coloured kitchen-and-bathroom-paint-slathered storage units is approached one is overcome with a great nausea, a sense that this is a high-radiation or asbestos zone.
“The carers and do-ers” droned the orator, (no, we’re certainly not those, we thought), “innovators and dreamers” (bleaugh), “and yes, the occasional stumblers” (wait, what?), “they are the people of Scotland, who move Scotland forward, who –” Hang on. It’s not perfect, but stumblers, yes. Only not just the occasional stumbler, as the SNP would have it. What about people for whom life is just one colossal stumble? ‘Maybe this is the term we’ve been looking for’, posited one of us, on our group chat, ‘forget the working class or the people or the multitude: The Stumblers. The people for whom reality itself as presently constituted is a perennial obstacle.’ We have been known to very slightly over-analyse SNP PPBs, so we left the concept by the wayside and settled back into our usual existence. We stumbled between reading groups, stumbled over our words at panel discussions, stumbled over fences into private gardens, stumbled through 16th century ideas about assassination. The SNP’s legitimising and kind words had allowed us not to arise from our stumbles, but to relax into them.
As we stumble towards 2017 there is not so much little time for reflection, as little to reflect on. This year we published a book (an ideal last-minute Christmas present for your enemies and lovers, it’s very versatile), and in the much-maligned fourth chapter, we discussed the question of how to live. This section of writing has been very reasonably described by Justin Reynolds as ‘curiously stale’, ‘frustratingly abstract’ and ‘romantic and sentimental’. We three stale sentimental stumblers of Orient are undoubtedly not up to the task of talking about how to live, or perhaps indeed of living, but we can’t help grasping desperately towards the answer; our final, fatal, stumble will be an uncontrolled recalcitrant attempt to clutch at something resembling The Good.
We can write our sneering sentences and adopt a Machiavellian exterior at the appropriate moment, we can chair meetings wholly concerned with pretended democracy – these quotidian radical tasks are not difficult, but they also swing wildly between the poles of being relative and being instrumental, while never coming close to anything that appears valuable. In our book, we described our communism as negative, as arising from criticism of the existing order. We implied that the committed radical should be committed to absurdist critique of the quotidian, all day, every day. The radical we described was a wild-eyed creature, snooping around looking for weak points in the system, cackling as it blew up switch boards and smashed traffic lights. It’s an interesting animal to consider, but can only be a small part of the stumbler, who has to spend a great deal of time picking itself back up, and helping the other stumblers to avoid the boxing gloves on sticks that are wildly swinging towards them. The pessimistic communist we described was only part of a person, and can’t help but to back away from the full force of it. Our Edinburgh book launch, on the eve of Brexit, was titled “Expecting The Worst”, but already at the Glasgow launch in the STUC we felt the gloom had cleared, as we stepped down from our shuddering wagon to find the ground beneath our feet, and to discover people around us who, armed for the worst, are the keepers of a spirit of friendship worth fighting for.
Just as we abandon the purely negative identity, the unadulterated pessimism of our early-20s that we so unfalteringly evangelised for years, everyone else has arrived at it. We find ourselves in the increasingly familiar position of seeing the people around us turn to a doctrine we espoused mere months before its popularity, and which we are now in the process of deserting. It’s not so much that we’re ahead of everyone else, as that our reaction to events seems curiously and sometimes sickeningly off-kilter. As the liberals and radicals have turned to hopelessness in the face of Brexit and Trump, as the Labour Party has become somewhat naturalised to having a mediocre socialist leader, at Roch Winds we have turned to a comforting ideal of armed friendship, and it’s a vision we hope to present to a disgusted public in the near-future.