Fade to Gray


Watching Scots administer a beating to one of their greats is an unedifying but, sadly, not an unusual spectacle. All the more so when it happens in the run up to Christmas and involves Alasdair Gray, a ‘creative polymath’ according to Will Self and a ‘fat, bespectacled, balding, increasingly old Glasgow pedestrian’ according to himself.

Gray’s sin was to pen an essay in a new collection ‘Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence’ and call it ‘Settlers and Colonists’. Apparently, a settler is someone who comes to Scotland to make a life here; a colonist someone who passes through in pursuit of some other agenda. The Scottish arts scene, according to Gray, has far too many senior administrators in the latter category and far too few in the first.

Scotland’s self-described ‘national’ newspaper became aware of the essay and suggested the terms of engagement with the headline ‘Alasdair Gray attacks English for colonising arts’. On cue the modern bovver boot got to work. Twitter had Gray as anti-English, even racist, before the book was widely available or the essay posted on the publishers website, as it is now.

In fact, the essay is a bit of a ramble with some suspect colonial history and as much focus on the Glasgow arts scene as on the national one. Gray unwisely chose the talented Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland which brought us ‘Black Watch’, as an example of a colonist. He seemed to select her reluctantly, his hand forced by his own argument: she ‘may be leaving in 2013 for work nearer London. That is my only reason for thinking her a colonist’.

To her credit, Featherstone responded with a nuanced interview which, in part agreed with him. ‘In terms of the Scottish scene in general’, she said, ‘I think boards are often not very confident about appointing people whose main experience is in Scotland’. This echoed a line in Gray’s essay inviting us to remember that ‘these colonists were invited here and employed by Scots without confidence in their own land and people’. The headline on the interview (‘Exiting theatre boss Vicky Featherstone suffered at the hands of anti-English bullies’) ensured that that area of agreement was lost.

Using Featherstone as an example suggests that Gray got his language and definitions wrong which is something that even-handed commentators like historian Tom Devine and journalist Ian Bell subsequently said. However, it is worth asking what would have happened if he had phrased things differently. If, for instance, he had put it like this:

Another, highly conspicuous niche is the new cultural bureaucracy: in Scotland, the direction and management of theatres, galleries, orchestras, festivals, museums, the Scottish Arts Council and the whole plethora of scientific and conservationist quangos are dominated to a phenomenal extent by non-Scots. This has alienated many Scottish intellectuals, a vocal and unforgiving group.

This is Neal Ascherson writing in 1993 in his customary measured way, to little or no reaction and with arts hiring in Scotland continuing on as before. The last line, however, looks like prophecy though it is remarkable that it has taken the best part of twenty years for the ‘vocal and unforgiving group’ to speak up, at least in a way that persuaded anyone to listen to it.

It is not just that Ascherson and Gray said the same thing in a different way, but that time and context have changed. The Gray furore comes on the back of a 400 artist petition questioning the working culture of Scottish Arts Council successor-body Creative Scotland and the subsequent resignation of its head Andrew Dixon (Gray’s second and possibly more convincing example of a ‘colonist’).

There’s a wider setting too, beyond the arts: Andy Wightman’s work, for example, on the scandal of land ownership in Scotland or the observations of journalist Iain Macwhirter who recently wrote of how ‘giddily altruistic the Scots were in the 1970s and 1980s – giving their oil away in exchange for the Barnett handout and a couple of savage industrial recessions’. Scots, it seems, are finally noticing the fine line between altruism and being mugs.

These, like Gray’s Scottish arts argument, are the areas in which resentment is supposed to breed and where those who hope to find it search most assiduously. However, Scottish civic nationalism is sticking to its ‘inclusive’ narrative and even those who oppose it are starting to suspect that it might actually be true.

As the search for the stubbornly elusive dark heart of Scottish nationalism gets ever more desperate, the supposed sources of it become ever more unlikely. Pace Gray with his shambolic genius, sandals and holed socks in the middle of winter and his Manchester-born biographer and secretary who he may have had in mind when he said ‘some of my best friends are English’ and, of course, made matters worse.

While Gray’s – let’s call it – immoderate language will sell a lot more copies of ‘Unstated’ than would otherwise be expected (no publicity stunt says the publisher), the obvious downside is that it allowed the debate to be dragged into the blind alley of anti-Englishness. As a result, the real issue is now occluded. It lies where Gray and Featherstone meet: that Scots think themselves unworthy of top arts administration positions and Scottish hiring committees agree with them.

In other places a little healthy self-promotion is allowed, even encouraged. In Scotland there are still powerful voices against it, and they are not English but Scottish. The most succinct expression of the ‘hopeless’ Scot was provided last September by Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont when she described her own country as a ‘something for nothing society’ and her counterpart in the Scottish Tories provided some dubious statistics in support of that notion.

Nobody would deny outsiders the right to take up influential positions in Scotland when they are offered them. Scots have done that for centuries furth of here. Instead, we need to decide if we are prepared to step up to the plate or accept the stereotypes that other Scots want to assign us. Bet on the first.

And while on the subject of betting, the odds on a Scot replacing Andrew Dixon at Creative Scotland must be narrowing by the day. If that happens, expect a mass denial that the hiring was anything to do with an essay by Alasdair Gray.

Comments (50)

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  1. “Scots think themselves unworthy of top arts administration positions” — really? Who asked them? Couldn’t it simply be the case that there isn’t a sufficiently established career ladder within the Scottish art scene so Scots choose to operate within a wider UK/European/World market?

    Gray was certainly wrong to target Featherstone, not least because — having been the Artistic Director of the National Theatre of Scotland, where else could she go but elsewhere in order to further develop her own career?

  2. Doug says:

    It should be noted that the publishers of Gray’s essay have made the full text available online: http://www.word-power.co.uk/viewPlatform.php?id=610 so i am not sure how that squares with the implicit ‘sell more books’ line.

    I was one of those who discovered Gray through ‘Lanark’ and was fortunate enough to share a drink with him and mutual friends more than once when I lived in Woodlands back in the 80’s. And yes, occasionally he likes to be provocative. It is the privilege of the artist to hold up a mirror to ourselves, and when the blemishes are apparent, we cannot blame those holding the mirror.

    It was very clear from the reporting that most of those with an opinion, and certainly those making the loudest outcry, had either not read the essay; or more kindly, had failed to understand it. The real criticism was of Scots who were ‘too wee’ to look to their own countrymen. ‘Colonists’ cannot be blamed for doing their time in the wilderness of Empire before returning home to receive their just rewards, but what Scotland needs are ‘settlers’ who are happy to add their expertise, insight and experience to the cultural pool and don’t believe themselves to be merely ‘doing time’ before returning ‘Home’.

  3. Gray was also, in my opinion, totally wrong to target Giles Havergal and his 34 year reign at the Glasgow Citizens’ Theatre. I have raised this several times and no one else seems to be willing to take it up. Giles was not a ‘colonist’ whatever that is supposed to mean. Is Gray and others really saying they would have preferred something/anything more “Scottish” than the world renowned, internationally acclaimed, cheapest theatre in the country, than the Citz under Giles, Philip Prowse and Robert David Macdonald? Two of whom, if you BLOODy must know, were born in Scotland! This example is the anomaly in the argument that shows its fundamental flaw. I’ve also come to think that the other side of the coin of Gray’s branding of settlers and colonists is Macdiarmid’s branding of Alexander Trocchi as ‘cosmopolitan scum’… Now I must go reply to the cheeky comment about me below the National Collective essay you applaud…

    1. Ray Bell says:

      Trocchi and MacDiarmid got on very well. in fact, they wrote to each other. You never hear about that, but you always hear about the PEN conference. Since both of them were controversialists, it wouldn’t surprise me if this was a stunt set up beforehand.

  4. It may well be a “privilege” for an artist to hold up a mirror to ourselves, but with that come responsibilities too; I’m afraid I’ve lost real respect for Gray as a writer, not least because of his misuse of language in that rather self-centred essay. If he’d been honest enough to refer to “carpet-baggers”, I’d have respected him a bit more, even if not agreeing with his views.

    1. Doug says:

      Sometimes it is necessary to announce that the Emperor has no clothes. Unfortunately this usually offends those who have been admiring his codpiece. I also don’t see how the essay could be described as self-centred. As far as I can see it makes the valid case that importing ‘talent’ runs the risk of placing a cultural strait-jacket of a mono-culture on a diverse arts scene. Now it could well be argued that the strait-jacket is less of a national variety than of class, and the establishment in Britain (including Scotland) is already that mono-culture. For amusement, I suggest you revisit the Yes Minister episode in which Hacker wishes to sell off a museum to fund a football stadium, and consider whether the people Gray is referring to might be those who have Glyndebourne as their ‘works outing’.

      1. I can’t see how you fail to recognise that the essay is blatantly “self-centred” given that Gray himself clearly states that much of its content is based on his personal experiences, as “a writer in Glasgow”; indeed he clearly notes, the “immigrants” he chooses to focus on are “all associated with literature and the arts” as a result of that. I must emphasise that, in itself, that’s not my problem with the essay; what I did find slightly distasteful are the particular examples he then gives. An unkind eye might consider he describes the late BBC producer Michael Goldberg as a (bad) “colonist” only because Goldberg didn’t agree with Gray’s choice of using Bill Paterson for a reading of Five Letters from an Eastern Empire (for, I’m assuming, BBC Radio 4), while publishers David Knowles and Sharon Blackie are (good) “settlers” because they published two of Gray’s novels, presumably, as he wanted them to be published.

        I repeat; that’s an unkind reading of the essay, but it’s NOT a groundless one, given the tone and content of the essay. Which, I have to say, is by no means his best work.

  5. orpheuslyre says:

    For paulfcockburn:
    What makes you think there is no ‘sufficiently established career ladder within the Scottish Arts scene’?

    1. Just speaking with a few people working with small theatre companies in Scotland, who have to go elsewhere if they’re looking to make the leap into production/administration with larger organisations. A far from wide sample, I admit, but I do wonder if Scottish people don’t get the top jobs in part because they don’t have sufficient experience if they choose to remain in Scotland.

      1. orpheuslyre says:

        As you say then, Paul, the evidence for your assertion is at best anecdotal. But the reason I’m asking is because it struck me that your assertion appeared to be an example of the Scottish cringe.
        Would one so readily assume of Denmark (pop. similar to Scotland) that it had an insufficiently established career ladder in the Arts, I wonder.

      2. Would one so readily assume of Denmark (pop. similar to Scotland) that it had an insufficiently established career ladder in the Arts, I wonder.

        I have absolutely no knowledge of the arts scene in Denmark, so wouldn’t want to make any assumptions either way — given the similarities in population size, though, it could well be useful to investigate, so thanks for the idea!

        However, in so much as it has a correlation with Scotland, I guess the immediate question would be about who fills most of the top posts in Denmark’s arts (creative and administrative); if they are primarily from Denmark, that might just suggest they do have a more effective and established career ladder within their own borders, compared with Scotland which has been part of the UK sector.

        Incidentally, while my assertion about career paths in Scotland’s arts is certainly anecdotal rather than statistical, I don’t think it’s right for you to dismiss out of hand the experiences of other people. Unless, that is, you have some better evidence to the contrary.

        And, frankly, resurrecting the “Scottish Cringe” is a pathetic non-argument that’s beneath you. Or should be.

  6. paulfcockburn – could you please give us an example of Gray’s ‘misuse of language’?

    1. colonist: (from Latin “colonus”, a farmer) a settler in or inhabitant of a colony
      settler:(from Anglo Saxon “setlan”, to reconcile) a person who settles in an area, typically one with no or few previous inhabitants.

      Given the close similarities between the definitions of those two words, I simply feel that, as a writer, he could’ve chosen more distinctive terms. That’s all.

  7. David Smillie says:

    I find it interesting that unionists have often accused the SNP of packing quangoes with their placemen. Well. if you look at the Arts quangoes, are most of their placemen English?

  8. James Coleman says:

    “…that Scots think themselves unworthy of top arts administration positions…”
    I don’t believe that to be true for one minute. Scots are not known to be self-effacing. They are just not considered because “…Scottish hiring committees…” for whatever reason usually prefer to look to London or even to Norfolk as someone in another place has suggested.

    1. Could it be that the hiring committees are (shock, horror) only looking for people like themselves?

      1. James Coleman says:

        “Could it be that the hiring committees are only (shock horror) looking for people like themselves”

        So you approve of that then. No jobs for Weegie or Burdiehouse, or even Doric accented people?


      2. James Coleman says:

        paulf: at 01.09 31 Dec 2012
        I note from a later post of yours that I may have misinterpreted your reply. It would appear that you were not supporting the case that hiring committees should look for people like themselves when they make appointments. That’s the problem with irony it can sometimes be taken to mean the opposite of what you intend.

        appear that you were being ironic

      3. Ray Bell says:

        “Could it be that the hiring committees are (shock, horror) only looking for people like themselves?”

        That’s certainly a valid criticism. I think part of the problem in the Scottish arts is that there are also a lot of people involved who are not artistic. There are bankers, and corporate folk etc. This is reflected in the output.

  9. douglas clark says:

    I would have thought that the correct target for Grays article is the interviewing panel. Who sits on these panels and what is their general background? It might also be worthwhile to try to determine what relative weighting is given by the aforesaid panels to commitment to the Scottish Arts scene, relative to a general commitment to the arts. Also, I would assume that, in ballet say, it is very hard indeed to see a career ladder – within Scotland – to the top job that does not involve working your way up in Scottish Ballet. Is that even possible?

  10. bellacaledonia says:

    What’s most telling about the whole episode is that between Neal Ascherson in 1993 and today what gas changed? Not the essential truth of what Neal or Alasdair describe but the visceral reaction of the mainstream media to that reality.
    Because now we are in a time of upheaval and change where the established order feels under threat.

    Responding to Paul’s point I dont believe for a second that ‘there isn’t a sufficiently established career ladder within the Scottish art scene so Scots choose to operate within a wider UK/European/World market?’
    Scots work abroad all over the place – but more to the point much of the work done here is world class. This is about the provincialisation of our own work and culture. Nothing less. It’s sometimes unconscious and at times systemic.

  11. Barontorc says:

    No matter what Alistair Gray writes; be it in the most precise terms or not, one thing’s for sure; independence for Scotland will cause one almighty confused situation for hitherto ‘travellers’ having Scotland as a staging post for onwards journeys.

    The confusion of course being centred on their ‘travel agents’ who will be dislocated from the normal hubs and I suspect the question of who will sever ties is the one that goes unspoken – for the moment, that is, until the heavy hitters raise comment.

    Cosy arrangements may become just a little upset. Interesting, isn’t it?

  12. MacNaughton says:

    Harry MacGrath,

    Alisdair Gray is right to call a spade a spade; Neil Ascherson’s “non-Scots”, is more polite but essentially misleading, viz, the problem is not that the chief posts in culture are held by “outsiders” as you put it, but that these posts are occupied specifically by a) people from the Metropolis, or b) with a Metropolitan outlook (Scots included), which is to say, people who see any cultural or political expression in the “colony” as important to the extent that it relates to London, and use London as the yardstick to judge the arts in Scotland, and hence do not value the arts in Scotland on their own terms, but only to the extent that they relate to the Metropolitan canon in RP English.

    This is not because they evil colonial plotters, but because they do not understand Scottish culture and are not familiar enough with it, and do not speak the other two languages of Scotland.

    The status of Kelman in literature is paradigmatic in this sense. He is just as talented a writer as the Amis, McKewan and Julian Barnes clique, but because he deviates from Metropolitan parole he is relegated to the sub-status of a “Scottish writer”…regional, marginal, peripheral.

    Anybody who has lived abroad, knows how long it takes to learn a foreign culture, at least ten years, probably twenty. The idea that these handful of top arts jobs are like just any other job is wrong-headed. These are posts which must be filled by people with an intimate knowledge of Scottish culture, and the most likely thing is that people who have been working for many years in Scottish Arts are best qualified to run them.

    It should be stressed that we are talking about a handful of arts jobs here. There is no prerequisite of a knowledge of Scottish culture in 99% of the other jobs which people from England, Europe or further afield might want to do here.

    1. The problem is, Gray doesn’t just call a spade a spade, he also includes a range of other gardening equipment under the same term.

      Incidentally, I was born and raised in Edinburgh (of Scottish and Northern Irish parents), lived and worked in Glasgow for 22 years and am now based in Leith. Given that I speak English (albeit with a Scottish accent and vocabulary), and view Gaelic as a language chiefly belonging to the Highlands and Islands with very little relevance to me… does that mean in your book that I’d be unsuitable for a top job in Scotland’s art culture?

      1. KOF says:

        ” and view Gaelic as a language chiefly belonging to the Highlands and Islands with very little relevance to me… does that mean in your book that I’d be unsuitable for a top job in Scotland’s art culture?”
        I’d say so. If you already regard gaelic as an irrelevance to
        you, why would I want to give my hard earned tax money to you to promote Scottish culture. Why would you want to have a job that promotes the relevance of gaelic ( and Scots’ and Doric and all the rest) to Scotland, if even you don’t believe in it’s relevance to yourself?
        The best person for the job is one who actually cares about Scottish culture, not just because they are getting paid to
        care. I’m sure there’s a fair few people out there who are more than capable and I’m damn sure they’re all Scots, whether here by birth or choice.

      2. Ray Bell says:

        Gaidhlig is where it is, because of hundreds of years of deliberate persecution. (Which predates the union with England as well)

    2. Braco says:

      Beautifully put. Thank you MacNaughton

  13. MacNaughton says:

    I think that a knowledge of Scottish Gaelic would be a plus for an arts chief in the Scottish Arts sector, yes, though not a pre-requisite given the current number of people who speak the language.

    I don’t know you or how well you know Scottish culture or international culture, so I couldn’t express an opinion on whether you’d be the right person for one of these jobs, Paul.

    On the other hand, if Gaelic culture is “of very little relevance” to you, then that would suggest to me you aren’t particularly interested in one of the most important parts of Scottish culture, which is Gaelic culture. Sorley MacLean described the vast repertoire of Gaelic song and music as Scotland’s single most important contribution to world culture, bar none.

    1. I’d hazard a guess that Gaelic culture is of very little relevance to a lot of Scots, because (given it’s historical and geographical roots) it’s not been a part of the world in which they have grown up. I’d say the same about the Doric. That’s not the same as saying it’s worthless, though, and I apologise if I gave that impression. I’m all for supporting indigenous languages, but find it frustrating that some people (not yourself) insist on it being a fundamental part of Scottish culture. It’s just one aspect of “Scottish Culture” and, frankly, that means a lot of different things to a lot of different people.

      Sorley MacLean was (of course) somewhat biased his opinion. Quite rightly, of course. 😉

      1. macnaugton says:

        I’d hazard guess you know SFA about Scottish culture, Paul. which would make you prime candidate for one of the jobs A Gray was talking about…

      2. Ray Bell says:

        “I’d hazard a guess that Gaelic culture is of very little relevance to a lot of Scots, because (given it’s historical and geographical roots) it’s not been a part of the world in which they have grown up.”

        Apart from the fact that… a lot of the place names, in southern Scotland comes from Gaidhlig, a lot of the surnames come from Gaidhlig too (not just the “Mac” ones) and a lot of local words come from Gaidhlig too. Trainspotting has Gaidhlig words in it (albeit anglicised spelling) and in Newhaven, they used to call a crab a “partan”…

      3. Stuart Vallis says:

        I would hazard a guess that it is more important than you think. You really never wondered when you were travelling through Scotland what the place names mean? or where the word “Ceilidh” comes from or “Slàinte mhath” or why we use “loch” instead of lake? I am a lowlander with previously no connections to Gaelic, but out of interest I went to Sabhal Mor Ostaig for a year. Was really one of the best years of my life. At Sabhal Mor there was great musicians, poets, story tellers, it was a real experience of learning for me. I go back to Skye every year with my family and last year we went to Fèis an Earraich, the musical ability of the children was great, and encouraging was to hear them speaking Gaelic. The Fèisan program is fantastic i think that many lowland people would love to have the chance that their kids get such exposure to language and music. BTW if you are getting annoyed at how poor radio Scotland is at the moment you might like to know that Radio nan Ghàidheal is a good station for news, discussion and comment about the whole of Scotland and they also have better international news in the morning.

  14. Juteman says:

    What a storm in a nip glass.
    Words are dangerous, as they often lead to thinking.

    1. And you know what they say; one idea only leads to another. 😉

  15. PaulF – let’s presume that Gray gave some thought to his use of the words ‘colonist’ and ‘settler’, and was content that they contained the meaning he sought. In that case, do you maintain that you’ve lost respect for him ‘as a writer’ – wouldn’t it be more accurate to say that you’ve lost respect for him as a person?
    I’m not having a go here, and I’m not splitting hairs – we all struggle with language (or we should) and take pains to make sure these unwieldy things convey the thoughts we want to communicate. It’s easy to choose the wrong word, or be unaware of one which may be more apt, but we’re discussing work by a long-established author who has a lot more experience than most on the whole process of getting thoughts out of one’s heid. If he did pay due attention to the vocabulary he was using, and if he decided that those words best conveyed what he wanted to say, we should respect that choice, and any discussion about the substance of his essay should proceed from that point – if the substantive content happens to be controversial/distasteful, that’s when we get into the ‘mature, meaningful’ debate that the likes of Hassan and other fence-sitters keep imploring us to have, and from which they are conspicuously absent.

  16. MacNaughton says:

    By the way, the idea that Gray inadvertently chose “the wrong words” is an unlikely one; he is a writer, an internationally recognized writer at that, and writers choose their words with great precision and care.

    Gray chose the word “colonist” because England is one of the historical world colonial powers – and Britain still is, see the recent land grab in the South Antarctic, much to the outrage of Argentina, which has been named after Queen Elizabeth because of the jubilee (ohhhhh, isn’t that lovely) – and for the last four centuries Scotland has been ANGLIFIED, first and foremost by the Scottish bourgeoisie; not Frenchified, not Germanized,, not Hispanisized, ANGLIFIED! To the point that Gaelic is almost dead and Scots relegated to a secondary language, which is how you kill any interest in, say, the Gaelic repertoire, or the Border Ballads and Scottish culture in general, other than when expressed in its ANGLO variant. Which is what Kelman means when he throws up his hands and says, “what’s the point, nobody knows the tradition”, or the precedent as MacDiarmid preferred to call it.
    Those that come to work in Scotland in the top arts jobs from the south may be brilliant, talented, nice, decent and thoroughly worthy people, but that does not mean that they are not aiding and abetting that process of the systematic undermining of Scottish culture. They may be unwitting colonists, but they are colonists none the less, because their references are in the Metropolitan centre, not the “colony” where they have come to work.

    If the

  17. I’m a journalist. I’m well aware of the pitfalls of language, the challenge of finding “le mot juste” within a living language which is constantly evolving.

    I’m also quite capable of distinguishing between a human being and what they do.

    So, no; I have just as much respect for Alasdair Gray, the man, as I had before I heard of this essay.

    But as a writer… well, that’s a different matter.

    1. Fair enough. We agree to differ. I don’t know Alasdair Gray so I couldn’t say whether or not I respect him as a human being, but on the basis of what he’s written (including that essay) I do respect him because he’s prepared to state what he believes at a time when far too many people are keeping their counsel out of fear and/or self-interest. I don’t include you in that grouping – you are prepared (and well equipped) to state your case, and deserve credit for that. But let’s face it – a lot of people would much prefer that these discussions were not happening and dread the prospect of appearing to take sides. Many of those people have huge experience across a broad range of disciplines, and the ‘mature’ debate is impoverished without them. If this controversy has done nothing else, it’s exposed an element of intellectual cowardice in folk who know better than to indulge in ad hominem attacks – I’m not getting into the name-game, but they know who they are. Shame on them.

  18. Juteman says:

    In the words of the great Rab, i’m scum and proud of it.
    So, faced wi some o that Shakespeare shite, or The Mill Lavvies, it’s a hard choice. 🙂

  19. vronsky says:

    I worked for a very high-flying engineering department in the ‘sunrise’ sector, and our manager (after some painful experiences with jiggy-in-the-mooth twats) announced that he would henceforth only hire people with Glasgow accents. What a rascal!

    I don’t know what side of the argument the story serves. Handsome is as handsome does, perhaps?

  20. ich bin ein burdiehouser says:

    I’d just like to point out that Paul F Cockburn is a very capable writer who would make a great addition to the Johnston Press roster of Journalists.
    He really would, so if you’re out there and you’re reading Mr Johnston, please give Paul some work – i’m sure he’d be ever so grateful.

    I loved the Scotland tonight debate – like watching two newcomers on their first day in the Priory, the denial was immense and to be fair, it must be astonishingly hard to wake up to.
    Nobody’s said anything about Giles, but it’s not about Giles or even A.Gray.
    It’s about seeing some equality and having the the slight sense that you live in a meritocracy. Not one person on the unionist side has endorsed that, instead we’re proferred some version of the Highland clearances, transposed to theatres and galleries, with angry mobs chasing the directors over the border.

    What would you call the Scottish equivalent of Swift Boating ?
    Renfrew Ferrying ? – I’m not quite sure, although in a few months we’ll be seeing Alex Salmond releasing Willie Horton.

    I’ll say this again – not one unionist in response to Gray’s article has endorsed even the slightest suggestion of equality.
    It’s the way the Art world works, the way the mop flops – a coincidence as likely as the stars aligning to form a union jack.

  21. jake says:

    Lanark was a terrifying book. I haven’t had the courage to re-read it.
    It was a long book and the chapters were all mixed up. Those were the least of its challenges.
    It was a big book.
    Settlers and Colonists is a much shorter essay. Big too though. (Some haven’t had the courage to read it the once).
    Terrifying? Challenging? Sounds like it, eh no? And if you’ve read twice…why? Who are you trying to convince that you didn’t recognise yourself?
    Who me?
    No way!
    Aye, right.

  22. Ray Bell says:

    If you want colonialism, look at archaeology in Scotland. Seems anyone can swan in and spirit away artefacts as they please.

  23. annie says:

    Are the ‘colonists’ capable of seeing the ‘thistleness’ of the thistle? Or do they see ‘weed’ and compare it with the rose…

    1. Ray Bell says:

      Annie, I think a lot of them aren’t really aware that we are a separate country, and culture. The other thing is, that I’m afraid, south of the border, a lot of “patriotic” manifestations tend to be ugly and hard right wing. (Billy Bragg is one of the few to try and address this)

      We’re also a *minority culture*. Scotland consist of five million people, outnumbered ten to one by those in England. That’s before we even discuss matters like the media, minority groups within Scotland, and what’s left of older Scottish culture.

      1. I may be relying on stereotypes here, but isn’t it possible that someone growing up in Govan might have more in common, culturally, with someone in Liverpool or Manchester than Edinburgh or Inverness? In my opinion, those campaigning for political independence do themselves no favours relying on such simplistic generalisations like “Scottish” and “English” culture. Or are you suggesting that the “cultures” found in Devon and Northumbria are precisely the same?

        To be honest, I wonder if most of the UK would be much happier if London went it’s own way and left everyone else to govern themselves?

  24. annie says:

    Well, aye, I recognize that my working class Scottish culture (what’s left of it) has more in common with Yosser Hughs than Janet from Dr Finlay’s Casebook, but I’d really like that to be acknowledged and ‘honestly’ portrayed by the high heid yins in charge of ‘our’ Scottish Arts.

    And aye, you may well be relying on stereotypes there, as the working classes of both Edinburgh and Inverness,would no doubt confirm. The difference between Scotland and Liverpool is that we Scots have a chance of going OUR own way.

    Gie us a joab, ah can dae that!

  25. Ray Bell says:

    “isn’t it possible that someone growing up in Govan might have more in common, culturally, with someone in Liverpool or Manchester than Edinburgh or Inverness?” – It’s also possible that they have a lot in common culturally with people in Edinburgh. Edinburgh’s got a long established Irish community, old industrial sites etc. People in Craigmillar probably have more with those in Easterhouse than they do with people in Colinton… that’s as much to do with class and economy as culture.

    Part of the reason that people in southern Scotland have more in common with northern England than northern Scotland sometimes is simply because there’s been a deliberate policy of anglicisation.

    “In my opinion, those campaigning for political independence do themselves no favours relying on such simplistic generalisations like “Scottish” and “English” culture”

    Those campaigning against independence seem to be talking about “the nation”, “our country” etc, and they mean Britain. Unionism is essentially a form of monoculture.

    1. Ray Bell says:

      I’d also say… as a p.s. that I’m sick to death of Central Belt culture being presented as “Scottish culture”. It may be right that we’re not all Highlanders or Gaidhlig speakers, but it’s also true, we’re Borderers, Gallovidians, from Moray and Argyll, Fife and Caithness, the Hebrides and Perthshire etc, as much as the small part of the country in and around Glasgow with all the sectarian and one-party state problems. Scottish actors barely seem to recognise this, and try and change their accents for the different areas. See Rebus, in which obviously Glaswegian actors play folk from Edinburgh, or plays in which I’ve seen “Sunset Song” done with Central Belt accents.

  26. annie says:

    Yes, you’re right, of course. I just saw ‘stereotypes’ and went off on one (I’d been ladling in tae the gin!)

    The father of my children was born and brought up on farms in Angus, my children were born and brought up in rural Dumfries (all doonhamers!) and I was born and brought up in the mining villages of South Lanarkshire, with a mother who kicked with her left foot and a socialist/marxist father who kicked with his right 😉 But we are ALL first and foremost SCOTTISH! The ‘settlers’ recognize and embrace this ‘thistleness’ of ours, whichever part of Scotland they find themselves; the ‘colonists’, well…
    PS I find it astonishing that anyone could speak Lewis Grassic Gibbon’s words without naturally falling into a beautiful Scottish lilt – they must have been very bad actors!

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