I drove on the hairpin roads by Innerleithen on Sunday, narrow enough that they were although not quite single track. However when cars approached it was tight enough that one was forced to stop. Then as the cars passed on and my hand went to rise, blank stares over the steering wheels met me from every driver that went by. And so I drove on more agape, turning to my friend in the passenger seat in disbelief. I cannae believe they won’t acknowledge me and why will they not let me acknowledge them? The Fordism of our societies has driven us further from one another but in the intimacy of rural roads, that human connection continues. Or so I thought.
On the west coast you’d ae be met with a wave, a nod or a flash of the rear lights. And though it’s easy to see how this culture is threatened, you see how it can be nurtured. But it’s tiring for a local to have to wave ten times a minute as tourists fill in the passing places and clog up the infrastructure, in the height of summer particularly. It creates a tipping point as that friendly familiarity gets replaced by a temporary uncertainty from drivers who will be there for a day and replaced by a new rental car the next. It fragments community and it is evident how that can lead to frustration that can lead to isolation that can lead to fear.
That affable nature of the highlands cannot be taken for granted. It’s partly that warming notion of hospitality that endears people from around the world to visit Scotland and makes the living there more purposeful. That hospitality should not be taken advantage of because in an age of instant gratification, this element of affable authenticity is under threat from saturation.
So where do the aspirations of those who wish to preserve the substance of local culture, whilst bringing the world a little bit closer find themselves able to go?
I fear that in the boundary lines of Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale the sorry effects have taken hold. For I’m driving on, with frost on the hills and ice in the Volvos. My companion is uninitiated in the etiquettes of slender Scottish roads so cannot quite understand my astonishment. Though I insist it should be enough, he points out that for the first two cars I merely lifted a finger. So I endeavour to raise my arm to the near point of smashing my hand through the window. Nothing. I pull in to allow a car twenty seconds to pass me when every judge in the land would have ruled me my right of way. And still they stare on, no observance of my existence at all.
And I think it’s a shame. Because the roads are near empty and driving is such an individualised pursuit for creatures of social habit. I think of the landing strips of California where piles of lane pound with the drum of thousands racing the same way, trapped in their own metallic prisons, severed from the land and the people around them. And I think it’s a great fortune of circumstance not to live like that here. So I wonder why it is that on every occasion, despite my increasing pantomimic gestures, no one dares look at me, even for a bewildering glance.
Is it too much of a stretch to point out that since this electoral boundary was created in 2005, the share of the Conservative vote has increased each time to 49.4% in 2017? It is important to note that in Argyll where I take my inspiration for waves, the Tories rose to 33.2% then too. But this is important because if Argyll, Scotland and the rest of the UK should take note of anything, it is of the perils of what a victorious Conservative culture can bring to a place. Not in policy, not in the wretched self interest of a 1% but in the minutiae of interaction. The imagination seems diminished when what is mainstream is to ignore whilst in another part of the country, the opposite is true.
There’s no doubt that in Argyll, there are Tories waving on the road but that’s in a place where their beliefs are part of a tapestry and not dominant. That’s where those with a conservative mindset needs their ideology to be. There’s merits to such thinking but it’s hard to argue for when steeped in the continual misery of millions and a colonial history not yet fully recognised.
In a polarising country, it seems like nothing can be bridged. For all the shoutings of the evils of the right, their failure to address the needs of the poor, the immigrant or almost anyone marginalised, the propping up of the rich, the results are going to be as they are tomorrow and self satisfaction of position won’t change a thing.
It’ll take a better person than me, but try and find what it is that’ll get those who vote Tory to start looking beyond themselves to give a wee wave. Or see why they don’t. That might be the starting point to shift opinion and build towards that better place that seems so far yet so obvious to be.