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.

6a00d834516f9d69e200e54f11e0768833-800wi.jpg w=700After 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.

51OFNbgbVLL._SL500_AA300_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.

Required reading.

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-EvergreenThe 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.

Arguing for Independence (2013) – Stephen Maxwell. A contemporary classic by the recently departed and much missed Stephen Maxwell. Reviewed for Bella here.

9781908373694.jpg w=700Blossom, 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_coverAnd 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.

scotsruleWhy 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.

(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!”

tintinAn 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…

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  1. I’d suggest ‘Manifesto – Three different essays on how to change the world’ Preface by Adrienne Rich.

    What could Scotland achieve with a new social consciousness?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks – I didn’t know it

      1. N.B. It isn’t about Scotland. It’s just brilliant.

  2. Douglas says:

    I would add “Arts of Resistance” by Sandy Moffat and Alan Riach. It’s a great, easy-to-read introduction to Scottish culture with an interesting bibliography for further reading.

  3. bellacaledonia says:

    Brilliant, it’s in

  4. Davy says:

    Good selection Bella.
    One I’d suggest is And The Land Lay Still by James Robertson , and maybe also Joseph Knight by same author.
    Is Angus Calder’s book not Scotlands(plural) of the mind ?

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      And the Land Lay Still, of course …

  5. rya says:

    I rate “How the Scots invented the modern world” by Arthur Herman as a primer for people who are trying to shake off the cringe. Of course in the UK it is published as “The Scottish Enlightenment” and I have recently seen it described as a book that shows how clever Scots benefitted from the Union, not how clever Scots built the Union. You can’t win them all.

  6. bellacaledonia says:

    Good shout

  7. From those excellent Polygon books in the late 80s/early 90s, about “The Eclipse of Scottish Culture” , “The Manufacture of Scottish History” and “The Tradition of Scottish Philosophy”?

    In my view, Scottish culture: artists, writers, even pop musicians (!) led the way for many of us to think about Scotland, when politics seemed a dead end; and led to where we are today.

  8. Deirdre Forsyth says:

    Scotland by Douglas Young

  9. Craig Brown says:

    The History of the Working Classes in Scotland by Thomas Johnston was a real eye opener for me and it was a random find in a charity shop without knowing how important a book it is!

  10. Craig P says:

    A central claim in the Beresford / Mac a Ghobhain book (that the trigger for the rising was a stitch up by state spies) has been susequently shown to be unfounded, but otherwise it is a cracking book on a subject I’d never even heard of.

    For a bit of light relief I’d add The Book of Scotlands by Momus.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Momus one a good shout

  11. James D says:

    “The Poor Had No Lawyers” , who owns Scotland (And how they got it) – Andy Wightman.
    Execellent book on a subject that’s off the menu for the moment, but as soon as Independence is achieved Land Reform must be seriously addressed.

  12. Not directly about Scotland, but really useful for understanding the myths around the union, I’d recommend Linda Colley: “Britons. Forging the Nation 1707-1837” (1996).

  13. David Smart says:

    Fufty Shades o Ian Gray; That wid be a best seller.

  14. alasdairb says:

    “Who Owns Scotland Now ” Aulan Cramb 1996
    The use and abuse of private land . This is almost the definitive guide . The younger Cramb’s writings seems to be more altruistic and almost wishful of a better use of our natural heritage.

    “Scottish Voices 1745 – 1960” Professor TC Smout and Sydney Wood 1990
    A wide ranging , and very readable , structured account of the social and industrial development of Scotland over a period spanning 200 years . Changing times from Highland clearances to , sporting estates , city slums and industrial development . An interesting read for those wishing to understand the varied and massive developments which have all combined to the making of Scotland and our present day society .

  15. “A Search for Scotland” by R.F. Mackenzie

  16. I’d add The Road To Home Rule – Images of Scotland’s Case by Christopher Harvie and Peter Jones. An eye opening selection of images not least for including some of Andrew Marr’s cartoons from Radical Scotland (how times change, eh?)

  17. pat kane says:

    Jim Sillars’ Scotland: A Case for Optimism essentially converted me to independence – particularly his concept of “Independence in Europe”, which he’s moved away from now as Europe has developed. But it still gave me a sense of independence as being about mature, sophisticated engagement with the wider world and its structures, than some purely defensive or purist agenda. Tom Nairn’s essays in places like London Review of Books and particularly New Left Review continue and deepen this understanding of “Scotland in the World”. In terms of culture and literature, anything by Cairns Craig. Micheal Gardner’s From Trocchi to Trainspotting: Scottish Theory Since the 1960s is a total gas.

  18. earthtracer says:

    Two more!
    1. “R B Cunningham Graham – Fighter for Justice” by Ian M Fraser, especially Appendix III ‘Scottish Nationalism’. RBCG was saying in the 30’s almost all that is being said now. And he was a co-founder of both the Scottish Labour Party in 1893 and the National Party of Scotland in 1928. He was the first President of the SNP in 1934.
    He stood for parliament in the general election of 1886 on the remarkable following manifesto:
    the abolition of the House of Lords
    universal suffrage
    the nationalisation of land, mines and other industries
    free school meals
    disestablishment of the Church of England
    Scottish Home Rule
    the establishment of an eight-hour-day

    2.”A Claim of Right for Scotland” (ed) Owen Dudley Edwards, 1989. Historical but interesting and useful because it deals with the post-1979 “40%” Referendum on setting up a Scottish Assembly

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