Professor Joe Goldblatt
The musical Camelot first appeared on Broadway in 1960 and was often used to describe the presidency of John F. Kennedy. In the post war years, there was boundless enthusiasm and unprecedented economic growth in the USA and in many other countries the world. The election of a young handsome U.S. President and his beautiful wife created an image of boundless hope and optimism.
Sixty – three years later, Aaron Sorkin, the creator of the popular television series entitled The West Wing has re – conceived Camelot as a story that is about the promise of democracy through future story telling. The original production focussed on monarchy and magic, however, the new multi – cultural cast version dramatically shifts the focus to our aspiration of creating a better future destiny through the inspiration we receive from our leaders.
I was inspired by Nicola Sturgeon MSP from our first meeting in 2013 when she confidently waved and called my name aloud as she took giant strides across the room at the Fountainbridge Cinema in Edinburgh’s west end. The small VIP holding room was wall to wall with dozens of the good and the great including the actors Alan Cumming, Brian Cox, former first minister Alex Salmond, along with a video camera man and host interviewing the guests. Among these Scots was a then “newish” Scottish professor who had only arrived on these shores five years earlier.
Nicola welcomed me to the assemblage and said “You will need one of these!” as she placed a small “Yes” badge upon my lapel. I was astonished that the deputy first minister of my new country had recognised me from among the millions of folk in our land and secondly that she had personally welcomed me to this growing tribe of independence activists.
A few minutes later we were ushered into the cinema theatre where we viewed promotional films about independence and then Alex Salmond welcomed us and introduced the other speakers including movie stars, politicians, and many others who all encouraged us to join them in achieving independence for our country. I sat in the second row eside Scottish Government cabinet secretaries and directly behind John Swinney MSP, Nicola Sturgeon MSP and the movie stars. I was completely gob smacked.
The programmed ended with an invitation to sign the Declaration of Scottish Independence and as Brian Cox affixed his signature I asked the event organiser if I could also sign this document as I myself was a beneficiary of independence in the land of my birth, the USA. I immediately received permission to add my signature and proudly joined many others in declaring our desire to create an independent country.
Throughout 2014 I travelled all over Scotland speaking to anyone who would listen in small and large rooms. Sometimes I was jeered and more often I was cheered. Throughout this time I received constant encouragement and occasional words of appreciation from Nicola.
The period between 2013 and 2020 was for me a seven year period not unlike the Camelot title song lyrics what celebrated a time where “In short, there’s simply not a more congenial spot for happily-ever-aftering than here
in Camelot.” However, once the Corona 19 virus made a surprise entrance from stage right, to my surprise, our happily – ever – aftering suddenly began to grind to a sudden halt.
For the next two years I looked to our First Minister for confidence, information, and encouragement through her weekly and sometimes daily television briefings. Her transparency, candour, and even the hilarity invoked by comedian Janey Godley in parodying these announcements, helped me and millions of others get through what was one of the most uncertain times of our lives.
Despite the many attacks upon her personal character, her appearance, her accent and more she followed the mantra of the late USA agony aunt Ann Landers by “Expecting trouble as an inevitable part of your life and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say ‘I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.”
Whether testifying before committees or saying on behalf of her government that she was sorry in the the Scottish Parliament, she never once failed to hold her head high demonstrating in her public life what the poets such as Rudyard Kipling have long known.
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
As the first female leader of Scotland, this poem of course must be amended to reflect that she has conquered our heids and hearts as a woman, our daughter of Scotia with relentless courage. The Hollywood movie star Ginger Rogers once said “I did everything Fred did, only backwards and in high heels.” Nicola also fought against injustice and discontent and along the way she inspired and emboldened millions of young women, many of whom have followed her into political activism.
During the past ten years of my life with Nicola Sturgeon I have observed up close and personal how her integrity, compassion and kindness has created a legacy that I believe will be cherished for a long time to come. When my Scottish – American grandsons came along, she wrote personal letters welcoming them to Scotland. Earlier, when I hoped to give birth to a Jewish cultural centre building to protect, preserve and grow the Jewish people, she quickly agreed to a meeting at Butte House offered encouragement (although no funding) to me as I pursued this project. When I and others later raised the funds to erect a large plaque in the Usher Hall to honour the Jeiwsh founders of the Edinburgh International Festival and the 200th anniversary of the first Jewish community in Edinburgh, she proudly unveiled the monument.
As the creator of The West Wing continues to reimagine Camelot for the twenty – first century, I believe we Scots must now do the same thing through the prism of the unique era of Nicola Sturgeon as our former first minister. We must now tell anyone who will listen that one person with talent, tenacity, integrity, and compassion can in fact help foster a better society and that we must encourage them to tell others so that the legend of this memorable era will be told and re – told to encourage future generations to aspire to even greater democratic ideals.
The title song in Camelot begins with “It’s true! It’s true! The crown has made it clear. The climate must be perfect all the year.” We know all too well as citizens of Scotland that our climate is far from perfect. However, perhaps our future leaders will learn from the example of Nicola Sturgeon and work with others to seek a more enduring civic perfection through their unwavering commitment equality, fairness, and justice for all our citizens.
Professor Joe Goldblatt is Emeritus Professor of Planned Events at Queen Margaret University. His views are his own. To learn more about his views visit www.joegoldblatt.scot.