In just the space of 24 hours, one of the brightest lights of the pro-Yes movement here in Scotland went completely dark as Bella Caledonia closed down, seemingly with no return in sight.
It was just yesterday afternoon when editor Mike Small posted a short, and rather unusual, goodbye on the site – signing off with the statement “Just couldn’t do it”. Bemusement and confusion soon gave way to sadness and loss, though, as a statement from the site’s board indeed said that due to lack of funds Small had resigned and the site would no longer run.
The Bella Caledonia Twitter account now runs the forlorn message “Bella Caledonia was an online magazine project which ran from 2007-2017” and the site itself was even briefly removed from the internet this afternoon, its pages seemingly lost to history.
Bella Caledonia’s demise was all-too-quick, but it’s role within Scotland’s drive for independence should never be forgotten.
Bella’s formation and links with the radical independence movement meant that it lead the way in allowing thinkers and writers from across the Yes side to voice their opinions and come together to discuss which way forward would be best for an independent Scotland.
It’s on Bella where many of the most prominent voices of the movement first made their efforts to speak up, and without the platform to do so it’s entirely possible that many of those who campaigned so hard for a Yes vote in 2014 would have lacked the enthusiasm or support to do so.
Throughout the independence campaign, while some sections of the media did its best to turn negative – on both the Yes and No side – Bella rarely did; it aimed for a message that showed Scotland in its best light and with a rounded optimism for what an independent Scotland could have been.
Scotland did vote No in the end, but Bella Caledonia was a place where independence supporters posted their opinions on where things went wrong and, more importantly, sought about fixing the holes in the independence argument so that more people might be persuaded next time around.
And it does appear that there will be a next time around, which makes it all the more sad that the place where so much of the heart of the Yes campaign was displayed might not be around to see it.
Another area where Bella shined was its commitment to Gaelic and Scots publications. While both languages suffer the indignity of being largely ignored by some sections of the public, or worse by others, Bella allowed a range of articles to be published on all sorts of topics to allow the language its space in Scotland’s cultural mindset. These articles, in Gaelic at least, came from some of the most prominent voices we have, such as Wilson McLeod, Aonghas Phadraig Caimbeul and An t-Ollamh Ùisdean MacIllInnein, and showed some of the best of Gaelic writing in a shop window alongside other articles of a similar, but English-language, vein.
This visibility is crucial to the maintenance and uptake of Gaelic as a welcome and valuable part of Scottish cultural life, and Bella’s attitude towards the language showed beyond doubt that its intentions for its corner of the online media was positive.
It’s my sincere hope that Bella Caledonia can grace the internet once more, as it’s benefits to Scottish media, both pro-independence and not, far outweigh that of its problems. There’s no other hub online for Scots to share their progressive vision of their future, and without such a forum it is impossible to continue the flourishing and nourishing nature of the independence debate and the quest in search of a fairer and more prosperous nation.
In an age of alt-right, post-truth and pro-hate politics, now more than ever we need public and commons spaces – online and offline – to show that our society is at its best when it is open, inclusive and respectful. It’s just such a shame that one of the beacons that heralded those values has taken its bow before the real battles ahead have been fought.