Republic of Books
There’s quite a commotion about a book – The Claim of Scotland – published in 1968 by HJ Paton. It’s as though some have come across the revelation that people wrote on Scottish independence before even the Reverend Stu. It is good, of that there’s no doubt, but it got me thinking of an independence reading list – for those new to this debate – for those who need some history – or for those hungry for deepening their knowledge. Here then is Bella’s indy canon.
After Britain: New Labour and the Return of Scotland (2001) – Tom Nairn. We could have picked from a heap of Nairn classics (from The Break-up of Britain : crisis and neonationalism (1977) to Pariah: Misfortunes of the British Kingdom – but this recent book is a contemporary classic. Reviewed here.
Towards Independence Essays on Scotland (1991) – Paul H Scott. “The advantages of independence are so great and so obvious that it cannot be long before we demand it in a referendum. At my age, I only hope that I can live long enough to see it.” Scott has been a torrent of energy and imagination with an outpouring of writings over the last forty years. This was one of his finest.
Scottish Journey (1935) – Edwin Muir. Scottish Journey is a subtle and beautifully written account by one of Scotland’s greatest modern writers of prose and poetry. He set out to tour the country, seeking examples of nationhood and difference in a spirit of open reflection. The books a masterpiece of travel writing, but also a quest for the real nature of Scottish identity.
The Scottish Insurrection of 1820 (1989) – Peter Berresford and Seumas Mac a Ghobhainn. An overlooked classic that co-joins a radical political history with Scotland’s struggle for self-determination. It’s a gold mine of nuggets of social history and utterly destroys any notion that there isn’t a Scottish path to socialism.
Cultural Weapons (1992) – Christopher Harvie. A collection of witty and sometimes biting essays. Locates Scotland at the heart of Europe and is scathing of a Union that’s characterised by ‘managed decline’ and terminal lack of innovation and agency.
Scotlands of the Mind (2002) – Angus Calder. Scotland of the Mind is ‘a collection of essays exploring the Scottish psyche through a range of historical, literary and cultural interests that have shaped the Scotland of today.’ Calder who In 1984 helped to set up the Scottish Poetry Library in Edinburgh was a classic Scots maverick and generalist – and republican. His literary studies included Revolving Culture: notes from the Scottish Republic (1994), and an edited collection of Hugh MacDiarmid’s prose, The Raucle Tongue: selected essays, journalism and interviews (in three volumes, 1997-98).
The Evergreen (1895-6) the principal mouthpiece of Patrick Geddes’ celtic revival movement combining beaux arts essays and poetry including the seminal The Sociology Of Autumn. Geddes Scottish nationalism is given its most explicit airing in the Evergreen in his essay-manifesto, ‘The Scots Renascence’, at the end of the first issue (Spring 1895). In an elegy commemorating the death of John Stuart Blackie, the University of Edinburgh professor whose great popularity was manifested in a long funeral procession through the streets of the city Geddes writes: “Coming down the Mound, in full mid-amphitheatre of Edinburgh, filled as perhaps never before, with hushed assemblage of city and nation, the pipes suddenly changed their song, ceased their lament, and ‘Scots Wha Hae’ rang out in strenuous blast; the anthem of a Renascent – ever renascent – unconquerably renascent people.”
On Scottish Ground (1998) – Kenneth White. A superb collection of essays that develops White’s notion of ‘geopoetics’ and opens up great insights into a deeper understanding of history, geography and ecology in and for Scotland. It marked his return from self-imposed exile from Scotland for France.
Blossom, What Scotland Needs to Flourish (2013) – Lesley Riddoch. “It makes a call to Scots to build a more unified Scottish identity, which celebrates more who we are, how we speak, how we connect with one another, and what is good about our society and country. It argues that we should throw off a constraining Britishness” … went the review. This is all true – it’s a concerted plea for more vision and more ambition that manages to combine analysis of issues of gender, land, ecology and community.
The Democratic Intellect (1961) – George Davie. Forms, articulate and defends Scotland’s unique generalist educational philosophy and practice and it’s consequences for democracy, culture and society. An indispensable part of Scottish cultural and intellectual heritage.
History of Scottish Art (1990) – Duncan Macmillan. Scottish Art you say? This was was the first comprehensive on the subject for 40 years when it was first published in 1990.
And the Land Lay Still (2010 ) – James Robertson. And the Land Lay Still is the fourth novel by Scottish novelist and poet James Robertson. Upon publication in 2010 it was widely praised for its breadth of exploration of Scottish society in the latter half of the 20th century.
This is a history of the “political, social and cultural changes that have occurred in Scotland from 1945 to 1999” (in other words, events from the end of the Second World War up to the establishment of the Scottish Parliament).That includes “the wastelands of de-industrialised Scotland, a tour of devastation called Uddingston, Bellshill, Cleland, Shotts, Fauldhouse, Breich, West Calder, all those places nobody outside Scotland thinks of as being Scottish, the Scotland so real it defies the imagination”.
A vast epic novel, it’s almost Russian in its scale and ambition.
As Donny O’Rourke put it in review: “We may no longer believe in the Caledonian Antisyzigy, but it continues to believe in us. Among the binary oppositions brilliantly parsed and polarised in this state of the nation are Armalite versus ballot box, straight and gay, lowland and highland, Catholic and Protestant and, above all, Unionist and Nationalist. It is to Robertson’s credit that ambiguity and ambivalence haunt and problematise these defining dichotomies, a crisply focused dialectic, ‘either or’, blurring into a hazily human ‘but also’.”
The Cultural Roots of British Devolution – Michael Gardiner. Hardly mainstream but Gardiner’s argument suggesting that cultural devolution preceded and indeed forced political change has beome widely accepted. Second his idea that underground cultures such as rave and reggae may have laid the foundations for a post-British culture is
Edinburgh Review 84 ‘The Edinburgh Review has been transforming the critical landscape since 1802′. Issue 84 features an essay by James Kelman on Noam Chomsky that should be required reading for every schoolchild.
Why Scots Should Rule Scotland (1992) – Alasdair Gray. This small book – now republished several times by Canongate is a slim classic. Alasdair Gray defined civic nationalism for a generation and his definition of “a Scot” could not have been more inclusive and welcoming, nor further away from inward looking ethnic nationalism. In this respect Gray, as much as any one individual, helped shape the modern Independence movement as it is today.
Watch this space for an updated version this year.
A Disaffection (1989) – Jim Kelman. What’s this got to do with independence? It represented perhaps the apogee of Scottish literary revival. It’s an extraordinary novel written in the first person in a stream of consciousness style. It covers one week in the life of 29-year-old schoolteacher Patrick Doyle and normalises using our own voice in contemporary story. It’s about a new cultural confidence, self-loathing and the relationship between hope and despair. Inspiring genius.
Off in a Boat (1938) – Neil Gunn. Gunn is described by some as ‘the most important Scottish novelist of the 20th C’. It’s one of several ‘road movie’ novels to make the list, based on the idea that in order to have a nation you need to be able to imagine that place. It’s about the process of change and movement: ‘I had been thinking of it for some time. To be passing out there, where no craft was visible, would be a sailing out of time. To cast our warps, not for escape, but for adventure – into that which all our moorings have kept from us.’
Glencoe and the Indians (1996) – James Hunter. Duncan McDonald was a descendant of the Glencoe McDonalds who were killed in the infamous Massacre of Glencoe. But by 1877 he considered himself a member of the Nez Perce tribe on the Rocky Mountains of Idaho. Hunter’s masterpiece looks at the clearances and social disruption with an eye to Foucault. It’s part of a consciousness raising about our own at times violent past which goes beyond myth and blame to personal narrative and in doing so is so much more powerful.
Kidnapped (1886) – Robert Louis Stevenson. Another of those road-movie novels (see also Off in a Boat and A Scottish Journey) which has helped a people ‘imagine a place’ as Balfour circles the whole country. In order to imagine a country as having some sense of geography you have to have ‘mapped’ it in your head.
The Road to Independence (2008) – Murray Pittock. Pittock charts the shift of Scottish society since the 60s – in particular the institutional devolution of key institutions across that time, without which we couldn’t conceive of independence today.
The Taking of the Stone of Destiny – Ian Hamilton QC. The amazing true story of how the Stone of Scone was returned to Scotland. Here he talks about the fake issue.
MacDiarmid (1988) – Alan Bold. There’d be no independence without MacDiarmid. Read Robert Crawford here.
Stone Voices (2002- Neal Ascherson. Ascherson charts the devolution process as a staging post in the unfolding process of democratisation, with William McIlvanney: ‘We gather here like refugees in the capital of our own country. We are almost seven hundred years old, and we are still wondering what we want to be when we grow up. Scotland is in an intolerable position. We must never acclimatize to it – never!”
An T-Eilan Dubh – Herge. Along with the whole Itchy-Coo series, normalisation and acceptance of our own language and culture are as vital as any learned text or inspiring literary work. Published by Taigh na Teud and, translated by Gillibride MacMillan, will allow children and adults to enjoy Tintin in Gaelic for the first time, while the Scots version, by Dr Susan Rennie, is part of the wider revival.
Small is Beautiful – EF Schumacher. First published in 1973, Small Is Beautiful brought Schumacher’s critiques of Western economics to a wider audience during the 70s energy crisis and emergence of globalization. “Wisdom demands a new orientation of science and technology towards the organic, the gentle, the non-violent, the elegant and beautiful” he said. Schumacher proposed the idea of “smallness within bigness”: a specific form of decentralisation. Perhaps not immediately obvious as an inspiration for independence, but as an antidote to British Imperial mindset, and as an alternative direction for economic prosperity, it’s a must-read.
So what have we missed and what would you add? Email us or leave a comment with your own suggestions…