Throughout this book, the poet Douglas Dunn provides epigraphs and quotations. His final contribution occurs in the last section, 'Epilogue: The Last Day', a sort of diary of what Tom Nairn did and felt on the unforgettable rainy Thursday of 6 May 1999. It was the first polling day for the reconvened Scottish Parliament. As Nairn drove back from Fife, where he had gone to say goodbye to a dying friend, he passed through some shaggy badlands country and was reminded of Dunn's
Among bracken, in his hideouts of fern -
Gaberlunzie, half-life, national waif,
Earth-pirate of the thistle and the thorn.
The image, used again and again in Nairn's reflections on Scotland here, is of Scottish social and political identity reduced by the Union to a rough-sleeping fugitive, a marginalised wanderer proper-thinking folk have learned to ignore. But now times have changed, and the way is open for the 'national waif' to repossess his home once more. As Nairn leaves the polling station, he has a quiet sense of arrival, of repatriation after a more than life-long journey or exile: 'now here we were, returned from the hill and into the house at last - no longer gaberlunzies, the unclassifiable waifs of a half-forgotten realm.' He writes that with unmistakable feeling, and in fact his own life has been something of a gaberlunzie existence across the forty years or more since he began as a political thinker.
LRB 17 February 2000 | PDF Download