Big Country's song ‘One Great Thing’ is an anthem for the Scottish Yes campaign: it was soaring in the background during an item recorded at a ‘Yes’ rally on the Today programme the other day. And since Big Country's bagpipe-sounding guitars were one of the joys of my adolescence and I've been partial to a check shirt ever since, my heart soared along with it.
‘Yes,’ said Jim Lafferty from the Yes campaign's communications office, appropriately enough, when I rang to ask how it had come about. ‘It was suggested by Jim Downie and Will Atkinson of the creative team.’ I understood that they had not, however, spoken to the band, having gone straight through to the record company about the rights. Still, it made an intuitive sense: as I recall, at least half Big Country's original line-up was at least half Scottish and the music has a kind of epic standing-on-a-windblown-hillside-north-of-the-border quality that one might readily associate with wanting to be rid of the sassenachs.
So I was genuinely surprised when I contacted the band and they refused to endorse the Yes campaign. After emailing the official website I heard from someone signing himself off as ‘J’ - Bruce Watson's son, Jamie? - saying ‘the use of the song is not overly appreciated at this point’. Then I heard from Colin Black of Big Country's management that he had ‘spoken to Bruce and he doesn't want to make any political statement’. Though arguably that horse bolted as soon as the late great Stuart Adamson's voice rang out on national radio.
It's all a bit embarrassing for the Yes campaign, I guess.
PS: There is a grand history of politicians using music for their own ends and it going a bit wrong. Bruce Springsteen's ‘Born in the USA’ was used during Reagan's re-election campaign with the president apparently not realising that the lyrics are about a disenchanted Vietnam vet rather than being a rousing endorsement of everything for which the USA stands. Cyndi Lauper had to ask for her song ‘True Colours’ to be removed from a Mitt Romney attack ad during the last US election, though Romney's opponents can take some comfort from the fact that Romney also got in trouble for using K'Naan's Wavin' Flag, only to be told by the singer: ‘If you don't like the poor, don't use their songs.’