Twenty years ago past October, my father, Edwin, died.
I was a young man at the time, in my late twenties, and my dad's death was a major moment in my life; of maturing, of putting life in perspective, and of sadness. In the months coming up to the anniversary of his death last year, his memory came more to the fore as I reflected on his life and influence on myself.
Truth be told, my father had, in his last years, not been an easy person to be in the same room with, and as well as loss I felt a sense of release when he passed away. As 20 years have passed, I am now more able to understand my father and the man who contributed to making me the person I am today. And I think that the values and ideas he represented can shed some light on where we are now and the choices we face this year in Scotland's big debate.
My father was very political: a member of the Communist Party in Dundee in the 1970s and a NCR shop steward when that had a kind of status and power. But he wasn't a very active Communist - in fact, my mother, Jean, was the motivated one in our household; a community activist, organiser of rent strikes and protests, and an editor of the local newsletter (where I began my first writing with a regular music column at the age of 14).
My father had a sense of certainty about how he saw the world: the Soviet Union was good and to be defended despite all its shortcomings. He supported the Soviet invasions of Hungary, Czechoslovakia and even Afghanistan. My father managed in the era of (male) full employment to combine Stalinist politics with a belief that the world was getting fairer.
My parents, despite the above differences and my mother's unstated party politics (she always refused to say how she voted - she even once in the seventies played my dad and myself with the prospect that she had voted Conservative), agreed with his faith and optimism about the future and Britain.
I can just remember, in the mists of the past, my parents having a conversation about how they would vote in the 1975 Common Market referendum. Both were against it because they saw it as "a capitalist club".
Four years later, and my memory is a little clearer as they discussed the 1979 Scottish devolution referendum. My parents were clear: they were against it. Their reasoning was, in the words of my mother, that they "didn't understand why we were going into Europe and decentralising in Britain at the same time". More than that, my father said: "I believe in Britain." It wasn't unusual for those on the left in 1979 to be anti-devolution and believe in the progressive credentials of Britain.
My parents were, of course, about more than politics. My dad loved talking about how, within just a few days in July 1953, he saw his golfing hero, Ben Hogan, win the British Open Championship at Carnoustie and then witnessed his musical hero, Frank Sinatra, performing at Dundee's Caird Hall.
The night of the Sinatra concert was a memory my father used to faithfully recount for years. It had not been an auspicious British tour for Sinatra, the timing of it coming in his lean years commercially after he had been dropped by the Columbia record label. This was before the impact of his Capitol Records work with Nelson Riddle began to have an impact, and his role in From Here To Eternity turned his career around.
Sinatra's Caird Hall concert, like all his British dates on that tour, was sparsely attended, and the singer made a virtue out of the situation at the outset by inviting the entire audience to sit right at the front and enjoy an intimate night with him. That left profound memories with my father for years after.
My father also loved playing golf. Although he was very sociable he also liked his own company and one of golf's attractions was that it allowed him to have time to be by himself. One of his prized possessions in the 1960s was a set of Ben Hogan clubs and in 1963 - the year before I was born - he won the UK NCR Golf Championship. When we moved to the Ardler area of Dundee and a flat in Edzell Court on the thirteenth floor in the late 1960s, he took up a membership of the nearby private club, Downfield Golf Club, but as fees went up steeply in the 1970s and he played golf less regularly, he let it lapse.
The other passion my father had was football, and Dundee United in particular. He used to tell a great story of how he and his father, John, went in 1959 to see United at Tannadice playing, I think, Alloa Athletic. United were then second bottom of the second division and the game attracted a home crowd of just over 1000. My father and grandfather had seen United trundle along in the shadow of city rival Dundee, but thought this poor crowd even more of a humbling - in truth, it was the calm before the storm that was to be the team's golden era.
My father first took me to Tannadice when I was seven, and I saw United completely outplayed by the great Hibs team of the 1970s, who won 4-1. I was bored stiff.
Then United reached the Scottish Cup Final in 1974. On the morning of the game, he asked me if I wanted to come with him to Hampden. It was a rainy day, I had no interest in football, and - as I told my father by way of explanation for my reluctance - The Desert Fox, starring James Mason, was on TV that afternoon. That must have been disappointing to my dad, who went alone and saw United lose their first final 3-0.
My attitude changed during the first season of the 10 team Premier Division in 1975-76. The end of the season saw a tense relegation battle between Aberdeen, Dundee United and Dundee, which went down to the last game, and in which Dundee were relegated.
I was hooked, the "New Firm" was born (with the combined threat of Alex Ferguson at Aberdeen and Jim McLean at United), and power switched in the city, as Dundee, the dominant force since there had been two clubs, never recovered to this day.
Thus began the golden era of Dundee United and it was one I saw at my father's side. We got to a League Cup Final in 1979 at Hampden and faced Ferguson's Aberdeen. This game was a stultifying 0-0 draw, but it was my first experience of Hampden - and my first of a Rangers fan trying to sell me the hard right National Front Bulldog paper outside the ground. The replay was at Dundee's ground, Dens Park, on a damp Wednesday night, and United tore the Dons apart, winning 3-0 and their first silverware.
We won the league in 1983 just before Thatcher won her second election victory. Before her third we got to the Uefa Cup final against IFK Gothenburg. This was a two-leg affair and, after United lost the first away leg 1-0, the second leg at Tannadice saw us manage only a 1-1 draw. But something wonderful happened at the conclusion of the game. It was not only that the United fans applauded both teams off the park, momentous as that was. More amazing still, my father began to cry. I had never seen him in tears before and would never do so again - but in this moment, father and son stood together bonded in the emotions of this moment.
My parents had split up in 1980, my mother leaving my father for another man. It was something my father took badly and from which he never fully recovered. The man who had been both the life and soul of the party and a bit of a loner was suddenly different and difficult to be with.
Slowly he got his life back into some order. In early 1992, he eventually - after much soul-searching and procrastination - decided to buy his council house. With the huge discounts on offer, his flat would cost him £7000. To him, and to a generation of working-class families who knew little about debt or credit cards, this was a colossal amount. But he knew it was too good a bargain to resist, reasoning that the monthly reduction from £160 in rent to £48 for the mortgage allowed "more money for drinking".
He died just over a year-and-a-half later, in October 1993. The mortgage he took out was not paid off when he died, but, in a quirk that my father would have appreciated, he died a month before he had formally retired and was therefore eligible for a death-in-service benefit which paid off the money he owed.
My father's outlook on life had changed in his later years. His Stalinism slowly evolved into a Scottish nationalism of the left, for independence and a "socialism within one country" called Scotland. It was a journey many were to make in the years after. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, he did have the grace to say to me, "looks like you were right about it after all". It did not occur to me at the time, but I now wonder if the end of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and his decision to buy his council house the following month were connected. Had he waited to see who had won the battle of history?
So, where are my father's dreams and hopes now? His interests live on in me in many ways. I am a passionate, but non-tribal football fan; the love of the game interests me more than the pursuit of my own team, Dundee United. My affection for Frank Sinatra's music at least matches my father's and sometimes when I put on a Sinatra record in the wee small hours, I swear I can hear, in the timbre of his voice, my father singing That's Life or One For My Baby.
Twenty years on, I don't know where his politics of certainty would situate themselves. But in the memories and idealism of my father there is something which needs to be remembered and not lost: the power and confidence of people coming together can change society for the better and make them believe they can shape and create the future.
In the decades after the Second World War there was a can-do attitude among working people, an attitude of confidence, idealism and faith in progress. That period of hope and advancement ended in the late 1970s, to be replaced by a rolling back of those gains, and of gains made in social provision, which has persisted ever since. And yet we still haven't completely lost the insights of the post-war period or a faith in the institutions that were created and nurtured during that time - despite the recent implosion of the Co-operative Bank.
Scotland's debate on its future and independence offers us collectively the possibility of adopting some of those qualities - of believing in people's ability to bring about change and to create a better future. To do this we have to broaden the debate beyond dry constitutional change and two competing technocratic visions of Scotland with their economic fixes and pretences of certainty in a world looking more uncertain by the day.
How do we go from recognising the inadequacies of the status quo and the economic, social and empathy deficit which scars so much of modern day Scotland to nurturing that different Scotland into being? It is, after all, going to be a long haul with many difficult choices and painful discussions.
I believe most of us know in our hearts that the kind of Scotland we want to live in and pass on to our children and grandchildren no longer looks possible within the confines of the United Kingdom. For some of us there is sadness in that, but an acceptance. It is a shift my father made years ago.
Maybe it is because I have the sense of hope and positivity bequeathed to me by my parents and their generation that I feel we can do this if we collectively sum up the courage to try.
If we are to embark on that journey this year we will need all our wits, skills and memories, and that means drawing pragmatically and humbly from those who went before us who did so much to challenge power and privilege, change lives and overcome the evils of poverty and hardship. In this, the generation and dreams of my father (and indeed of all our fathers and our mothers) still have something to teach and show us in the times ahead.
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