Sunday, 3 November 2013

Why does Our Lady wear blue?

If you go into virtually any Catholic Church anywhere in the world there will be a statue of Our Lady. "Holy Mary, Mother of God" as the Ave Maria has it. Now, as I've already long since confessed, I'm not personally absolutely convinced of the literal truth of that.

But the one thing of which I can be certain is that in each, every one, of these statues, Our Lady will be wearing blue. For blue is the colour of the Virgin.

There is no biblical justification for this, even in the apocrypha. Nonetheless, if you take yourself off onto the internet you'll find any number of explanations as to its rationale.

The bizarrely rational: That blue was "traditionally" worn by "virgins" in first century Palestine which would make sense except that it has no basis in fact whatsoever; or that she wears blue because her wean was a boy (where to start)

The simply nonsensical; that blue is the colour of the sky, as indeed it is, and......; or indeed of the sea (of which she is the star), as indeed it is.

Or even the attempted theological. That blue is the colour of serenity (why?) or virginity (chickens and eggs are now coming to mind).

No, the real reason is altogether more mundane. The reason Our Lady Lady always wears blue is that in Italian renaissance art she was easily the most revered female figure. She had to wear something and, according to the thinking of those commissioning art at the time, surely there was no more proof of their devotion than to clothe her in the most expensive colour available? And there was no more expensive colour than blue, which could then be derived only from crushing and then making a paste from the semi-precious lapus lazuli stone.

Thus, from Giotto to Caravaggio, via all points in between, Our Lady wears blue. And,  since these images came to dominate all Catholic iconography by virtue of their connections to the Papal See in Rome, in time she wore blue everywhere. Even in Germany and the low countries where, to start with, (in painting) she had often worn red.

Now, you may be asking, what relevance does any of this have to politics? None at all except for my reference to those who seek to invent explanations or connections and simply end up making things up (or guessing) to justify conclusions they themselves have already reached.

The SNP has always been a broad church united by a belief in Scottish Independence, even if not quite in the definition of what is meant by independence.

And long term Nationalists generally accept that your "other" politics can be right, left or centre and you yet be entitled to support the "greater" cause. Some even believe, alongside Stephen Noon, that there would be no long term function for the SNP once independence was accomplished.

But the referendum has brought to the forefront a curious new group. Many seem to me to be late converts to their own cause and, a bit like many converts, they bring with them a particular, often an irrational, zeal. Their particular obsession is to try and establish that there is some natural connection between their (self perceived at least) wider leftist view of the world and their support for independence. This is not, for the avoidance of doubt, the longstanding view held by some that independence would serve the interests of the left. That's not a view I agree with but it seems to be one that can rationally be held and defended. No, these people I write of are ones who have come to  believe that independence is per se a left wing project and thus that those of us on the left who do not support it are somehow traitors to our own cause.

The problem with this is (and here, I accept, this is possibly due to their later arrival to the argument) this is not only to misunderstand the history of the Labour Party it is also to misunderstand the history of the SNP.

When the founders of the National Party of Scotland split from the Labour Party in 1928 it was precisely because they had been unable to persuade their former comrades of the virtues of Independence (as opposed to what was then called "Home Rule") for Scotland. And the National Party of Scotland was an avowedly left wing organisation. But when it merged with the equally avowedly right wing Scottish Party to form the SNP in 1934 that was in recognition that Nationalism had no wider colour. And indeed, to the extent that is true in Scotland, we should be grateful for it. For Twentieth Century European examples of left wing nationalism are, at the very least, hugely outweighed by some particularly nasty right wing ones. While the SNP under Donaldson and Young undoubtedly dipped their toe in that water, thankfully they never dived in.

But, more to the point of this argument, the Labour Party and the wider Labour Movement in Scotland have never been in favour of Independence and it is therefore entirely in keeping with our history and traditions for that to be our position in 2014 as much as it was in 1928 or indeed when the original Scottish Labour Party of 1888 dissolved itself into a wider UK movement immediately on the formation of the (then) Independent Labour Party in 1894.

Now it seems to me perfectly acceptable to argue, even if I do not agree, that the Labour Party is no longer a left wing party but it is difficult to maintain an argument that it never was. And even though I would equally disagree, it is also even sustainable to argue that the Labour Party "ought", for whatever reason, in 2014 to be in favour of independence or even ought always to have been. That is presumably what the departees did before leaving in 1928.

What is not acceptable is to try and re-write history. And yet this is not just confined to the wilder fringes of cybernattery. My particular bete noir of the moment is an organisation calling itself the Jimmy Reid Foundation. Now, I do not deny that, at the end of his life, Reid became a convert to independence. But, unlike those who would appropriate his memory for their own ends, I have a more rounded view of his life. Jimmy Reid came close to being elected to Parliament only once. That was in 1979 when he stood as the Labour candidate in Dundee East. And he failed entirely because the SNP incumbent and his Party ran a vicious red scare smear campaign against the "ex-communist" that would have caused hesitation even, I suspect, within the editorial ranks of the Daily Mail. All justified "in the cause of Scotland". Not one acknowledgement of this has ever been given by those now running a foundation in his name as they tour the country giving leftier than thou lectures to the rest of us. Indeed although the Dundee candidacy is mentioned on his potted biography on their website, no mention is even given of the Party who beat him, let alone the tactics that they used.

My point is only this. Scottish Nationalism and progressive views about other social issues are no more automatically connected than Our Lady is automatically connected to the colour blue. No matter what specious arguments are advanced to the contrary.