Culture Club

Sir-Henry-Raeburn-Portrait-of-The-Reverend-Robert-Walker-SkatingThe List’s indy issue is really odd. Promising ‘a range of cultural voices’ I thought of all the papers out there The List has managed at last to unearth some No voting creative types. Seems, they hadn’t. Instead we had publisher Robin Hodge, Alasdair Gray, Stuart Kelly and, er Rab C Nesbitt.

Stuart Kelly writes:

“A great deal of the campaign has been rhetorical in the pejorative sense of that word. Example is met with counter-example, hypothesis with antithesis, each pie chart of spending placed next to a histogram showing the opposite. This is not unique to the independence referendum: it is merely the manner in which contemporary politics is usually conducted. Had I one wish, it would be that politics, and its dismal unscientific handmaiden, economics, might be taken out of the debate altogether, because the referendum is much more important than that. It is, to use an ugly but useful word, a cratological proposition: it is about power, not politics.”

I don’t quite understand what he’s getting at ‘example is met with counter-example’. Yes? And what is the difference between power and politics? Politics is about power.

He continues:

“All this leaves us with questions about the nature of power: who wields it, at what level, and to what end? What could an independent Scotland do that only independence can allow? What levels of trans-national power and self-determination can be achieved within the union?”

That’s what the discussion is about: power. The last sentence doesn’t make sense. How can you have self-determination within the union? That’s ipso facto impossible.

Robin Hodge OBE writes: “The question is, which way forward should we choose: Is it, as some would argue, the time to pull away from our neighbours, to leave shared cultural institutions, and to emphasise what divides us? Or should we nurture and enhance the links and connections we have – links and connections that help us participate in the wider development of contemporary culture and contribute to the better understanding of the human condition.”

That’s not really the question at all but it’s an extraordinary contribution.

As is the main thrust of his argument for the Union: “Given the historic achievements of those such as David Hume, Robert Adam, James Boswell, Henry Raeburn, Robert Burns, Walter Scott, James Hogg, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Buchan, Neil Gunn, Naomi Mitchison, Lewis Grassic Gibbon, Sorley MacLean, Muriel Spark and Joan Eardley (to name but a few), Scottish culture has clearly flourished since the Act of Union.”

So we have artists so we don’t need democracy?

Is the argument that the reason we have writers, painters or artists at all is the Union, or that we wouldn’t have had any culture without it? Or that Sorley Maclean wouldn’t have written without Westminster? At least half the figures quoted were committed nationalists so the point is even more bizarre.

He goes on: “Authors want their books to be available to as wide a readership as they can be, performers to attract as big an audience as possible, and so on. This involves connecting, reaching out to one another and sharing human experience.”

Does Denmark not do books? How does France manage to have any culture at all shut-off from the world like it must be? Only countries ruled by other countries can share the human experience? I’m confused.

What are the shared cultural institutions we’d leave that would scupper our cultural activities?

Comments (18)

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  1. Catrìona says:

    Icelanders think that Icelandic literature and publishing are fairly healthy, but someone needs to tell them they could do so much better if they were politically subordinate to Copenhagen (or London?). It is demonstrably true that only subordinate nations flourish, especially when you don’t take non-subordinate ones into consideration.

    1. Abulhaq says:

      The Icelanders produce more books than the entire Arabic-speaking world. They are also voracious readers and proud of their unique patrimony and they are not conceited about it, unlike the Great British Best in the Universe thing currently being trailed ad nauseam.

  2. DJ says:

    Disappointing from Stuart Kelly. No one is against him having his opinion, but really: is this all he can muster? Pathetic, paper-thin soundbites? Strange indeed from a supposedly ‘educated’ fellow.

  3. tartanfever says:

    Very strange contribution you’ve quoted. To sum it up in a sentence, it would go something like this.

    ‘Be thankful for the poverty and unemployment because without them artists wouldn’t have any material to work with.’

    I hope Stuart kelly is proud of that.

  4. Abulhaq says:

    This is the tunnel-vision argument. London the centre of all things. Through her, by her, in her, with her we are redeemed. A quasi-religious mantra hallowed by time and the hegemonic bling of another people’s culture before which we have too often bent the knee lest we be considered provincial; thereby, perversely, proclaiming to the world our our provincialism. Unionism at it most intellectually confining, denaturing and subordinating. Breaking out of this cultural prison is perhaps the most important by-product of a liberating affirmation in September. Missing from this list Duns Scotus, Henryson, Carver, Dunbar, Douglas, Lindsay….wonder if this guy has even heard of them.

    1. JGHC says:


      It is the confidence to think entirely the converse: we are not in thrall to London. Any citizen of Dundee, Glasgow, Ayr and any Scot is (at least) an equal to all the others in our island wide community. And we see that the opportunity, of remaining in our existing shared nation, to be a big fish in a big pond is more exciting, liberating and open to possibility than standalone Scotland.

      London is just one town in our island.

      1. Fordie says:

        Naive and untrue. Should we be, as a culture, in thrall to Barcelona, Rome, NY? I find this ‘argument’ – for it is not one – to be entirely illogical. Size does not matter.

        And you exhibit the cringe. I don’t question my equality. I do question my right to democratic governance in this existing Union State which has no validity. Remember, this is the FIRST TIME that Scots have been given the opportunity to place a democratic vote re. the status of Scotland. Courtesy of the Scottish Government, thwarted by the Unionist parties. Note. You can’t be at least an equal. You are or you are not.

      2. Abulhaq says:

        London is anything but just another town. It is a world-city, a virtual city-state, an exciting one but a huge drain on economic, cultural and human resources for a country considered to be the most centralised in Europe. For the ambitious, to really make it in the UK you quit the “provinces” and head for London. It is the centre for business, government, culture, entertainment, media, communications, tourism, education…comparison with Dundee, Glasgow, Ayr or Birmingham or Newcastle for that matter is surreal. We have the talent. Let it be nurtured, developed and promoted, here. We are not in thrall to London, we are just in rose-tinted denial….

  5. bellacaledonia says:

    To clarify that wasn’t Stuart Kelly – corrected now. Apologies for any confusion.

  6. steven luby says:

    It dismay’s me to see there are people who believe,without the 1707 Union, that people within Scotland would not have developed,thrived and nurtured its very own culture. As for the Arts,Literature and Co there are no bounderies and the exact same applies to science,education and ideas. It could be argued that Scottish Independence will embrace life with the enthusiasm of a child. Shaking off the shackles of institutions may be the answer for self expression for individuals,communities to cities and the country as a whole. Empowering people and groups to exercise all kinds of ideas outwith institutions. That to me is power working within a democracy that thrives with ideas and varies ways of expressing those very ideas. No longer will Scotland as a people satalite on the edges, our major cities will in themselves become the breeding ground for self expression whether it be through the Arts or Sciences. Power is a burden to be shared as a responsibility by all,not by flavour of the month politicians. There simply are no institutions to leave that would hold back a nation because we as a people would create what suits us. That is real power,creating and embracing the free will to do so,self expression in any given field of interest that an individual may have. Institutions become stale,ghostly forms of the enthusiasm that once created them.

  7. bellacaledonia says:

    Writers and artists need something unjust to kick back against and the unequal Union, underpinned by linguistic domination and cultural imperialism, has served the cause well over the years. Once its ended there’s plenty left to bristle against and fire up the imaginations of our writers and artists.


  8. Clydebuilt says:

    Some years ago the LIST magazine held a poll to determine Scotlands best ever band. Runrig were not in the list of bands voters had to choose from. NOW they won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. BUT voters should have had the option to pick them. What made this magazine think they had the right to determine which bands were fit to be included. Smacks of control. Just like points made in the article.

  9. You ask: “what is the difference between power and politics?” You answered your own question. “Politics is about power.” Not “is power”, note; “about”. Politics is the system(s) and processes by which the power one person, group, organisation or nation to influence, control or constrain another is framed, enabled and carried out.

    “How can you have self-determination within the union?” Same way you can have self-determination within a relationship, a family, a community, a nation. You CAN have it, but it will always be constrained, to some degree, by the self-determination of others.

  10. Variant says:

    Mike – I’d agree that “Authors want their books to be available to as wide a readership as they can be…” is somewhat coy, and then gets wrapped up in a conceit of ‘culture’ as a necessarily progressive force. Speakers from Chile and Rwanda at the European Cultural Parliament hosted by Creative Scotland helpfully disrupted any such unreflective stance.

    I think you’re right to call such a stance confusing. At least Hugh Andrew, in a similar vein in The Scotsman, was explicit about markets. But there’s something else going on here, and I worry that your own recourse to national-intimacy by-passes it.

    To import a related post from elsewhere, what I think’s been going on are competing yet seemingly convergent claims to cultural and commercial protectionism, citing national-identity in their struggles for market distinction.

    For example, the recent-ish (media induced?) sectoral flare-up around film and publishing, e.g. Alan Bissett pitted against Hugh Andrew: ‘Scottish independence: writers will be “foreign”‘ – Brian Ferguson, The Scotsman, 23 September 2013:

    The Scotsman’s report/ interview with Hugh Andrew is vague in places, losing any nuance I suspect might have been there – e.g. the impact of tourism on publishing markets and Ireland having a much stronger publishing industry.

    I’m (also) confused by what remains : who is going to be seen by whom as ‘foreign’? Is this: (1) an export market readership in rUK; (2) existing import/ export/ tax regimes for UK cultural goods and services; (3) existing national/international market subsidies, e.g. British Council promos (something I thought already discussed & mostly resolved)?

    As all these seem to be bundled up together with no attempt to assess how they currently function for those inside/ outside UK regulation, and how uneven/ porous contemporary UK regulation is (e.g. with regard to Ireland* or EU generally), nor how devolved or supra-national aspects of regulation already are (e.g. knowledge propertisation & TTIP), or if this is not about regulation per se but the nature of cultural goods and consumption patterns and how these inter-relate commercially?

    [*As precedent: “The Ireland Act (1949) states that Ireland – even though independent of the UK – will not be considered to be foreign”: ]

    Though Bissett’s sought response is funny, because Andrew has taken a leaf out of Bissett’s (et al) own book, so to speak, in a curious repeat of the previous ‘cultural nationalist’ warnings over poor managerial custodianship of a cultural Scottishness, only now on the more explicit grounds of national competition, with Andrew’s competing interest group claiming to be the actual custodians of real market authenticity – ‘real’ as in economic growth, not ‘imagined’ as in community.

    Is Andrew’s concern that although the “book market in Scotland was largely homogenous with England” that there is or there will be greater pressure from within Scotland for more “distinctively ‘Scottish'” publishing, and thereby a reallocation of the different kinds of state market-support away from his own commercial concerns? The sorts of market-support currently, albeit unevenly, available throughout the UK.

    Andrew’s claim (as The Scotsman’s brings it to us) is twofold as far as I can see:
    (1) that currently Creative Scotland via ScotGov are “systemically crippling the capacity of its indigenous industry to leap that wall” (note Andrew’s counter-claims to indigenous-ness);
    (2) that “wall” being ScotGov’s more explicit stance on cultural-identity as national-identity, a stance to be rejected if the banality of British national-identity is indeed the commercial container for Andrew’s brand of cultural distinctiveness – or “a vibrant Scottish publishing industry within a UK open market” as Andrew puts it.

    So Andrew’s market concerns would appear to be about:
    – “indigenous” (already an identitarian mark of differentiation!) publishers (and belatedly writers) in Scotland retaining preferential Scotland state subsidy/ guarantees of security within a “UK open market” (sic, perhaps he means ‘internal’) for cultural goods & services;
    – a market which would be walled-off (externalised) by rUK regulation, it no longer being an internal, single market despite EU-ification;
    – or a market closed-off by an rUK identitarian reaction whereby writers/publishers would either be seen as no longer ‘British’-enough or as overly-‘Scottish’ by a cacophony of consumers in England and that this factors significantly and negatively in geographical/territorial consumption choices there;
    – or whereby further moving Scotland state subsidies to the support of ‘Scottishness’ will sufficiently impact the cultural goods of publishers/writers produced that they will only have a limited industry reach inside but more importantly outwith Scotland, where the larger cultural/experience market is in England.

    It poses an interesting paradox of cultural and market protectionism under conditions of competitive nationalism for both Andrew and Bissett.

    Philip Schlesinger’s essay ‘On national identity: some conceptions and misconceptions criticized’ (1987) concerned with literature discussing e.g. “defending the national culture” is well worth a read if you can access it:
    ‘On national identity: some conceptions and misconceptions criticized’
    Philip Schlesinger, Social Science Information , Volume 26 (2): 219 – Jun 1, 1987

  11. bellacaledonia says:

    I don’t have ‘recourse to national-intimacy’ – I simply argue that we’re the same as anywhere else. Not much of a claim I know but that is all.

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