2007 - 2021

Scottish Studies 1

This is the first part in a series on the idea of Scottish Studies which ‘Labour front-runner’ Ken McIntosh described as “brainwashing” and Joan McAlpine describes in somewhat more eloquent terms here (see video).

“My culture and my language have a right to exist and no-one has the right to dismiss that…” said James Kelman after being described by (Sir) Simon Jenkins’s as an “illiterate savage” after winning the (1994) Booker Prize.

As Scott Hames, author of The Edinburgh Companion to James Kelman wrote on the incident: “A large section of the British intelligentsia responded, John Linklater observed, with “a suppuration of racist, xenophobic class hatred”. As Hames pointed out: “Even Jenkins’s colleagues at the London Times were bewildered by the ferocity of Kelman’s detractors. “From some of the English reaction,” Alan Chadwick observed, “you might have thought he had been found in the Queen’s bedroom.” But the Scottish reaction, too, Hames continues, was less than enthusiastic:

“A former lord provost of Glasgow, Dr. Michael Kelly, boasted of having “no intention” of reading the first (and to date only) Scottish winner of the prize but deplored the novel’s language and politics nonetheless. Kelman’s sudden cachet as a left-wing agitant even caught the attention of the shadow chancellor. Eager to shake an already dour public image, but ever wary of appearing too Scottish, too socialist, or too intellectual, Gordon Brown let it be known that he “hadn’t made it to the end” of the book in question.”

It’s this mixture of the exotic other as portrayed by the British establishment and the cultural self-hatred expressed by the Scottish establishment that shows that Kelman must be on to something.

It’s in this context that we celebrate the launch of The Red Cockatoo – see here for full details.

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  1. Swing Hammer Swing could never be a ‘Labour Lovies’ favourite as it exposes the pretensions of Glasgow Labour, the innate criminality of Glasgow Labour, its gentrification away from its Clydeside roots and the crass policy of sending those they saw as the Glasgow ‘untermensch’ into new ghetto’s far away from the city under the pretence of ‘improving their lives’ while isolating them from jobs and education.

    I can quite understand why the Kelly’s and Brown’s of the Scottish Labour world found ‘Swing Hammer Swing’ hard going – Kelman did not miss.

    1. Kelman’s novel was How Late It Was, How Late , Swing Hammer Swing was by Jeff Torrington.

  2. Scottish republic says:

    Joan McAlpine always speaks sense but can she try and speak with a bit more vigour?

    I still haven’t had an anwser to my question…

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      What was your question?

      1. Scottish republic says:

        Is everyone here on premoderation?

        1. bellacaledonia says:


  3. Doug Daniel says:

    Excellent speech from Joan, there. Not least because she managed to get a couple of references to Noam Chomsky in there!

  4. Scottish republic says:

    Fair enough.

  5. A colossal and dangerous reduction of the work of Kelman to a local subject – the plight of asbestos workers in glasgow. How Late it was How Late was was pigeon holed as much for it’s austere formal modernism as it was for its indigenous language. It owes a hell of a lot more to Beckett and Camus than it does to asbestos workers. The people that ‘stand up for scottish culture’ while reducing culture to easily graspable local new stories, are more the enemies of culture than its heroes. There is a lot of this going on in the Scottish Government these days. Only this weekend I heard an MP say that she wanted to hear and see cultural works like those hey-days of 7:84 theatre company and that contemporary art, poetry, theatre and fiction was not speaking to her (and by inference) to the scottish people.

    This is all the wrong way around. Scottish artists should be speaking for themselves in the Scottish parliament, not becoming illustrations for social issues.

    This reductionism doesn’t extend very far, anyway. How absurd would it be to talk of the work of Alasdair Gray in such terms? Does he speak on the behalf of some social group or class? No? Does he represent any kind of recognisable reality? No. Or how about Douglas Gordon? Does he speak about life in Scotland? No. Is he one of the most important artists in the modern world, commanding an international status of which we should all, as Scots, be proud. Yes.

    1. clom says:

      Great analysis.

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