‘Ethnic’ Cleanse


According to the Herald journalist David Torrance he is an ‘ethnic nationalist’. To the composer James Macmillan he is a ‘Blood Scot nationalist’ and ‘motivated by hate’. To the Labour blogger Ian Smart he is ‘anti-English’ and ‘a nasty piece of work’. To The Telegraph’s Iain Martin he is full of ‘hateful pish’. Who is this monstrosity walking among us, conducting his rage-fuelled pogroms against the English? Why it’s me! – with my English grandmother, English god-daughter, English cousins and half-English girlfriend. Did I mention I lived in England for three years?

‘Yeah, but some of my best friends are black.’

Okay then. Let us examine the evidence for these serious charges. What exactly has the ‘ethnic nationalist’ Bissett said to warrant such a ferocious reaction?

Could it be this?

If no Scot is ever appointed to a chief position in the Scottish arts again, so be it.  This might still be preferable to divisive talk of ethnicity and enmity erupting where there was none. (‘Who Carries the Carriers’ , National Collective)

Or this?

The intellectual and scientific achievements of the English are vast. (‘Is it cos wur Scots?’ National Collective)

Or this?

Scottish independence is not about ridding ourselves of the English, not least because there are so many English people integrated here anyway, with jobs, friends and families, and because Scotland and England will always be right next door to each other.  People from both nations will still be free to live in, work in and visit each other’s countries anytime they like. (‘Is it cos wur Scots?’ National Collective)

Curiously, none of these gentleman were able to identify a single quotation to back up their accusations. Quite the methodology.

We could, of course, examine their motives. It should surprise no-one that all of them are Unionists, and that both Smart and Macmillan have form for making inflammatory, baseless comments intended to provoke exactly the kind of reaction about which they can say, ‘Look at how angry they are!’ Smart has refused to apologise for his infamous tweet – “Better 100 years of Tory rule than the turn on the Poles and Pakis after indy fails to deliver” – incredible on so many levels.

Macmillan is also a stranger to understatement, happy to describe Rangers and Hearts football fans  as ‘eager talkers of fascist filth’ and claim that the abortion of female foetuses in India and China is western feminism’s gift to the Third World. Macmillan also once called the National Collective, a group of artists in favour of independence, ‘Mussolini’s cheerleaders’. This is the same National Collective who organised a Wish Tree, on which people could write their hopes and dreams for an independent Scotland. Mussolini was fey like that.

Iain Martin, meanwhile, has worked for every right-wing British newspaper you can name and claims on his website that, ‘fearing a Nationalist victory and a potential show-trial I fled my homeland’. Clearly he’s good at getting things into perspective.

Smart, Martin and Macmillan are engaging in simple smear tactics, and I am their latest target.

Smart admitted as much when he tweeted sinisterly last weekend that I was ‘now fair game’ and that (blowing his Viking horn) ‘I’ll be the least of Bissett’s worries over the next short period’.

The real disappointment is Torrance. He’s a high-calibre journalist, often reasonable, intelligent, able to see the angles, not one who normally goes in for slurs. What he has done by dropping the word ‘ethnic’ into the debate, without justification, is irresponsible.

It is interesting to note that Macmillan added his tuppence-worth in the Comments below Torrance’s Herald piece, as though Torrance, by using the term ‘ethnic’, had emboldened him to go one further and accuse me, bizarrely, of ‘blood Scot nationalism’. Torrance’s article is the thin end of a dangerous wedge.

So what prompted these attacks?

The impetus was my play The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant, opening at the Assembly Rooms as part of the forthcoming Edinburgh Fringe, an excerpt of which was performed as part of a Yes cultural showcase in front of the SNP conference (and Martin’s ‘stunned hacks’). The scene took the form of a debate in the Faerie Kingdom – think Book II of Milton’s Paradise Lost – about how Scottish independence may be averted, which morphed into a parody of the No campaign.

The only time that England was mentioned was in the following rant from one of the anti-independence Faeries:

Think about your relatives in England. They’d be foreigners – Yes, FOREIGNERS, cos we all know FOREIGNERS ARE A BAD THING – who would be unable to love you ever again and who you’d certainly never see because there would a ONE HUNDRED FOOT WALL OF ICE ON THE BORDER LIKE IN GAME OF THRONES all to fulfil Alex Salmond’s dream of being Scotland’s first ever dictator, cos it’s all about him, you know that right? There’s only one person in Scotland who actually wants independence and he’s JUST A BIGOT WHO HATES THE ENGLISH! I mean, that’s what this is all about, isn’t it? Don’t give me that guff about redistributing wealth and getting rid of Trident and improving democracy, you just want to round the English up into Gulags and force them to eat porridge and read the poetry of William McGonigall every single day, don’t you? No? WELL THAT’S NOT WHAT WE’RE GOING TO TELL THEM!

Neatly, Torrance, Martin, Smart and Macmillan, in their rush to brand me anti-English, demonstrate the accuracy of the satire.

Each speech from the Faeries was pro-Union in content, often using the No campaign’s own words and themes against them. Is Torrance really asserting that to hold a mirror up to the strategies of Better Together somehow constitutes ‘ethnic nationalism’?

I’m not sure I qualify as a nationalist at all, let alone an ‘ethnic’ one. I am a socialist. If I believed the best future for the Scottish working-class lay in the Union I would vote No. If we were still living in the post-War settlement of the Welfare State and full employment – led by a Labour party that truly represented the people, not middle-class swing-constituencies and the USA – I would vote No. That compassionate Westminster, however, existed all-too briefly and is irretrievable without the shock to the body politic which Scottish independence will provide.

A living, breathing, functioning democracy in Scotland, and an economy which works not for the ruling-class but the people – the kind advocated by Yes groups the Common Weal, Radical Independence, the Greens and the Scottish Socialist Party – will be an example for the rest of the UK to follow.

In short, I am partly in favour of Scottish independence because it will be good for the Scots and the English. Scottish ‘nationalism’, if we can even call the independence movement that, is bound up only with the struggle for self-determination, as opposed to the imperialism and elitism of its British counterpart. After independence we should be wary of anyone still calling themselves a ‘Scottish nationalist’. What we are all working towards is the normalisation of Scotland.

It’s often the rhetoric of the Unionist left that a worker in Ipswich and a worker in Inverness have more in common with each other than with their respective overlords. This is, of course, true (though I fail to see how Scotland remaining in the UK actually helps a worker in Ipswich). These days I feel more in common with the Englishman Billy Bragg or the Welshman Rhys Ifans – who understand and support the motives of Yes – than I do with Scots like Smart, Macmillan or Martin, whose dogged loyalty to an increasingly brutal British state I find alienating. One of the reasons I feel so comfortable in the Yes campaign is because of its inclusive, pro-immigration stance. If English people were to move to an independent Scotland to escape the right-wing consensus down South I would consider that quite a victory.

Torrance accuses me of having a ‘black and white view of history’ and being from ‘the “Scotland was colonised” wing of the Yes campaign’. As such, I kindly invite him to a reading of my work-in-progress for the Tron’s Mayfesto season next month – Jock: Scotland on Trial – which explores Scotland’s culpability in slavery and the colonisation of other countries.

In the meantime, David, please drop this talk of ‘ethnic nationalism’. Any reasonable observer would struggle to find it in the broad, pluralist Yes campaign, so it shouldn’t be invented where it doesn’t exist.


Jock: Scotland on Trial, a work-in-progress by Alan Bissett runs at the Tron, Glasgow, from May 15th-17th. The Pure, The Dead and The Brilliant runs at the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, from July 31st-Aug 24th.


Comments (48)

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  1. jimnarlene says:

    Good read Alan. The BT campaign want’s to find the “boogeyman” of an anti-English rabid nationist, to pin their hopes on. The hope of dividing the broad-based yes campaign, that is full of people from all parts of the world, united in the belief Scotland can be a great nation; for all the peoples of Scotland to thrive in.

  2. fittie says:

    Alan you should be very proud –your satire has hit a nerve with these three unionists and I suspect unsettled their opinions –its not every writer who can have that effect ,well done .

  3. hektorsmum says:

    I have noticed that the Pro Unionist side of this argument has of late started with the name calling. Bad enough that they have our neighbours in the South at it, but they, our neighbours have none of the information to stop it. I read your article and I cannot find anything which allows for this. Not one thing written by you would not get by what I call the moderation, that if you cannot say this about a Muslim, a Jew or a black person your cannot say it about the Scots.
    It seems though you can say a lot about the Scots these days and even more so if you are on the other side. I have yet to see the same vituperation from YES that I have had the misfortune to read from Better Together and all their fellow travellers.

  4. Marie Penman says:

    Well said, Alan. I thought your performance at the SNP conference on Saturday was outstanding, inspirational and very witty, though I noticed a few journos shifting uncomfortably in their seats during it! You have the support of the decent people – ignore these petty critics.

  5. yesvote2014 says:

    Exactly! Looking forward to Alan’s gig in Aviemore on Easter Monday 21st April. https://www.facebook.com/YESstrath

  6. Alan you should never even have written this piece ,eloquent and reasonable as it is.
    You have no need to defend yourself against the slurs of these bigots.

    1. Andy Nimmo says:

      I meant to write something about this in March to commemorate the death of Chavez the Venezuelan president but circumstances prevented it.
      Please look at

      The story is completely false as Chavez remained in power until his death. Fox News even skilfully edited footage showing citizens celebrating into a hate filled mob.

      All this gets me to the point re what has happened to you Alan. If they produce enough venomous and untrue slander they will hope to get an equally venomous reaction and ergo justify their point of view.

      (The Fox News Article caused such an explosion of Anti American feeling among the ordinary Venezuelan citizens that American businesses and personnel were subject to attack thus provoking sanctions and the powers that be behind Fox News achieved their aim – punishment for Chavez for daring to go against the Far Right and the Super Rich in his country.

      I’ve touched on this in my blog – ‘Prodding The Nats Nest’ at http://justinfayresweeklyrant.wordpress.com

      I fear Alan You will just be one of many such attacks. Please just feel sorry for the numpties.

      Oh by the way. Brilliant speech at the Dobbie Hall in Stenhousemuir

  7. David Torrance, Iain Martin, and Ian Smart? Seriously? Consider the source.

    If we’re going to take these marginal wordsmiths and bovver boys of NO seriously we’ll be putting ourselves in a world of hurt. Consider Shaw’s admonition: “… never to wrestle with a pig. You get dirty, and besides, the pig likes it.”

    Look at their smears, they can’t even defame imaginatively. This sort of defamatory polemic is their stock-in-trade and the time-honoured refuge of incompetents who have no substantive case to make.

    Call them out by all means and challenge them to put up or shut up. Last thing you want to do though is justify at a distance. It just gives their scurrilous narratives credibility.

    And es, there’s more than a little irony in Ian Smart referencing racism and calling anyone a nasty piece of work.

    Your dealing with the detritus of the chattering class here and should treat them accordingly.

  8. Great article… Except you credit and compliment Torrence. You must be kidding. You are far too generous.

    The man is a devious, self aggrandising, pompous buffoon whose one trick pony is to try to dress Unionist propaganda in a cloak of respectability and reasonableness while twisting the knife in people like you. He doesn’t fool anyone and should be ignored.

  9. David Torrance falls back on this definition of ethnic:

    “Ethnicity or ethnic group is a social group of people who identify with each other based on common ancestral, social, cultural, or national experience.”

    He’s using ‘ethnic’ to describe ‘culture’ knowing full well that in a political context that is not its meaning. It is a deliberate smear but with an easy excuse prepared: you, a playwright and poet, don’t understand the meaning of the word as he meant it.

    The problem for David Torrance is that it is obvious what he was up to and that is excuse is a risible lie.

  10. Doug Daniel says:

    As far as I’m concerned, the unionist reaction is a better indicator of the quality and accuracy of the satire than any of the 5 star reviews it’ll doubtless get during the festival. It must hurt seeing yourself being portrayed on stage and having a thousand people laughing their heads off and stamping their feet in approval. That was the truth that “Proud Scots” don’t want to see being laid bare, right in front of them. It was almost like a giant trolling session with the media as the victim, with nowhere to run.

    It was fucking glorious.

    Make sure the 3rd August performance is a good one 😉

  11. Robert Graham says:

    well only crumb of comfort i can add would be if they are after you they are leaving some other poor soul alone ,you would be surprised just how many people enjoy and follow your work ,you are not alone my friend best regards a nationalist and proud to be one

  12. Tutu ana Tiara too says:

    Well, we do have to recall that many of the pro-union campaigners and their propagandists are utterly without any sense of humour, irony or even self awareness.

  13. Sunshine on Crieff says:

    Alan – the things these unionists have said about you are, in my opinion, completely false. I am of dual nationality – Scottish/English – and I have an English wife and many English relatives and friends. Perhaps because of that I am particularly sensitive to any Anglophobia (and Scotophobia if it comes to that), but I can honestly say that I have not read or listened to anything from you that has even the slightest hint of anti-English feeling.

    Further, the entire Yes campaign has been free from what I would consider to be ethnic nationalism. Independence is for all who call Scotland home, regardless of ethnic origin or original identity. Has there ever been a more inclusive independence campaign in history, I seriously doubt it.

    You are an inspiration to me, as you are to many people who dream of a better Scotland. Do not temper your style just because these British nationalists are reduced to these nasty, inaccurate slurs.

    And, talking about British nationalism, that photo reminds that I still need to buy and read the book you are holding! 🙂

  14. Flower of Scotland says:

    I donated to The Pure the Dead and the Brilliant . SO looking forward to seeing it at the Festival!

  15. SuBo says:

    The problem about satire, Alan , is that when you keep shouting the same things very loudly and shouting saltire saltire sometimes people begin to believe it. It’s like people saying the Spastic word over and over ironically out of context. In the end it begins to sound a wee bit offensive, especially to those who might have cerebral palsy, and have put up with folk saying that their whole lives.
    Of course we know you don’t really mean it like that, do you?
    It’s exactly the same with your other highly amusing ironic satire re Nationalism..sometimes it sounds you might be being a wee bit anti English after all…
    After all that’s what Nationalism is about isn’t it? Isn’t it? Groups of folk sticking together on ethnic grounds , thinking themselves a wee bit better than their neighbours. Surely in a 21c world we can get past that, can’t we?

    1. Doug Daniel says:

      The targets of the satire are SCOTS, not English people. When people take this piss out of the dire arguments of people like Alistair Carmichael, Alistair Darling and George Robertson, it is their fellow Scots they are lampooning, not English folk.

      But when people can’t find something to be offended by, they just make it up anyway.

      Nationalism, in the context of trying to regain the statehood of a nation, is nothing to do with ethnicity. We want independence for everyone who lives in Scotland, not just the ones that are the same colour or background. Away and direct your ire at people who deserve it, like UKIP.

  16. Paul Cochrane says:

    How dare you use logic, facts and Jockanory magic to refute three sensible contributions from 3 neutral contributors who have carefully and forensically weighed up all the facts and firmly came down on the side of right. Disgraceful and negative. Bissett must be stopped; Bassett must be slopped; Basstard must be slapped….ad infinitium…ad nauseum…continued until page 94.

  17. Alex Buchan says:

    “for British Unionism is also a blend of ethnic and civic nationalism although it, by and large, does not attempt to occupy the moral high ground.”

    These last lines of Torrance’s piece show what this is all about, not just for Torrance, but for Martin and Smart, and also for Darling, who, pretty much, did the same thing in his interview with Marr, when he kept plugging the idea of the Yes campaign monstering people. It’s the image of the Yes campaign as positive that they want to chip away at, they want to insinuate that this is just a front. The frustration of Torrance and the others is caused by the failure of the BT campaign to do a decent job of demonising and stigmatising the Yes campaign. This attack on Bisset needs to be seen as part of a concerted effort to try to sow seeds in Scottish voter’s minds that the image of the Yes campaign is false. So the mistake is to see it as anything other than using whatever they can lay their hands on to enter into a dirty campaign of smear and vilification. Expect a lot more of this. The more they engage in this, though, the more people will see through it. What they never expected was that people would gain confidence through involvement in the Yes campaign. It’s the confidence of the Yes campaign that is their real target; it’s what they fear most.

  18. Steven Grubb says:

    The mere mention of Messrs McMillan, Smart and Martin names is enough to give me the creeps. They all have their own little idiosyncratic reasons for having a go at you. For any of them to accuse you of what they are; is bizarre, considering their own vile invective. They are straight out reactionaries. I pity them.

  19. G H Graham says:

    Your defense is a good one & justified. Then again, doing so somehow legitimises the nasty invective from these dreary hacks. Their attempt to suggest there’s no smoke without fire is a consolidated attempt to undermine the movement.

    Trying to make independence a plan of singular ownership by Salmond who also happens to behave like (insert despot name here) hasn’t gained any traction.

    So they regroup & figure out that if they could somehow pull off the thin veneer they imagine that masks the true ethic motive of YES, then they will turn around the momentum in their favour.

    It would work if it were true but it just isn’t so it won’t. There are too many English & Asians for example on board & no doubt thousands more from our European neighbours who have made Scotland their home.

    So my advice is to now ignore them. Let’s all keep doing what we do because it is working. Sure the polls have been slow to move but the shoots of hope have broken ground. Come September, we will enjoy a bountiful harvest.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      I’m sure Alan will respond himself but I think the approach is to challenge when necessary but no waste undue energy, which will be spent instead on the campaign ahead …

  20. Fordie says:

    The reason as to why these people smear the movement for self-determination, rather than attempt to mount an argument against it, occupies my mind. It’s often suggested that self-interest is the driver. This might play a part but I don’t think it’s the whole story. I think it’s self-hate, projected onto those of us who are confident enough to promote the idea that of course, like all the other independent nations in the world, we are big enough, rich enough and clever enough to govern ourselves ie be normal.

  21. David Morgan says:

    Hi Alan. Just wanted to compliment you on such a measured and reasoned response.

    I had half an eye on how this thing developed over the weekend and I have to say that I found the whole ‘fair game’ thing quite chilling frankly. Even more worrying was the rapid attempts to legitimate the whole thing by people who have otherwise (up till now) been reasonably sensible commentators.

    I’m going to disagree with a number of the other folks here – I think it’s really important to challenge this kind of behaviour and you’ve gone about it in the best way I can think of. Far better to issue a considered and articulate response than get dragged down into the gutter in a Twitter slanging match.

    We still have the best part of six months to go with this thing and unfortunately I doubt that you’ll be the last person to be the target of such abuse. Your response has been exemplary and I hope that plenty of people will take a lead from it.

  22. Big Jock says:

    Torrance probably reads this.If you are David hang your head in shame.This type of lazy journalism was once the exclusive property of the Daily Fail.Surely you are not comfortable in the company of these hacks who have to look up any big words in their dictionaries that are written in blogs such as these.Its morally wrong to defame people because they disagree with your opinion.Its a cheap way to try and win an argument when you don’t have the intellect to defend your position when your argument is weak.Shame on you David you insult all of us in the Yes side and you know it.

  23. Michael Taking says:

    Another pandering article from the opportunistic but talentless playwright. Interesting to see how much of his material is funded and blogged when it’s about something other than his superficial take on nationalist politics, which preaches only to the converted.
    And hard to believe any man of letters could use “incredulous” incorrectly

  24. Jock says:

    Oh Alan, I could cry. Beautifully put.

  25. Don says:


    Michael Newton gives an excellent explanation of how colonialism works here. Explaining that to survive all groups have had to take on the attributes of the colonisers and even become pretty central to that role (for example there were even some black African American slave masters). It is imperialism and slavery that is at fault not any one group or ‘race’ of people.

  26. Excellent response, well said, looking forward to The Pure, The Dead and The Brilliant, and to a Yes vote.

    Probably also worth saying that such a coordinated smear attack can be understood as a compliment, they are scared of the truth and impact of your writing.

  27. macart763M says:

    A fine response Mr Bisset. 🙂

  28. Andy Velzian says:

    Good lord, its that pathetic it makes your blood boil… Gaun yersel’ Alan.

  29. Stuart Black says:

    A beautifully measured and intelligent response to the scrapings of the No campaign, as others have said, these lies and smears must be challenged, and this is a better way to do it than a twitter fight. I only wish we had a broadcaster that could put the smearers and liars under some kind of scrutiny. I’m sure it would be good fun watching them trying to justify shite like this on national TV. Fat chance.
    Best wishes to you Alan, and I’m looking forward immensely to the Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant.

  30. McMillan is the biggest hypocrite. Like George Galloway he is always quick to talk about his Irish roots and Catholic background. Irish emancipation=Good,Scots= Bad. We have a chance to win our freedom without having to shed blood to achieve it. I’m sure the Irish would have preferred the same option. I visit Ireland regularly and make use of their great transport system,fantastic roads and modern amenities. No one I have ever met there would want to return to a life under the control of Westminster and the English Establishment. Their political leaders are welcome to Britain with all the pomp and ceremony of a full State visit while we are told how dependent we are on hand outs from the U.K. Government. Seems the best way for Scotland to get the respect it deserves is a YES vote in September.

  31. Thomas Barrowman says:

    Keep up the excellent work bud!

  32. What Christian Wright said…and Doug Daniel.

    What these Unionistas forget or cannot understand is that when we mention ‘Scots’ in
    terms of Independence or the Independence debate it refers to all the people living in
    Scotland; nationality doesn’t come in to it nor does race, creed, colour.

    Lampooning those ‘proud’ or ‘native’ Scots who appear to be willing to do anything
    to deny Scotland’s people Independence could not be further from anti-English if you tried.

    If I had a new neighbour move in next door I would welcome him/her/them as I would
    any member of Scottish society. Offering the hand of friendship should not come with
    conditions. As independent neighbours, with many similarities, Scots will be offering the
    hand of friendship to the people of England. Let’s hope those at Westminster accept the
    hand of friendship too without allowing political conditions to get in the way.

  33. Stewart says:

    The fat cyberbrits know what they do as they hammer out their keyboard bile. The name-calling is designed to inflame the hateful passions of people like SDL thug Kev, seen in this video trying to provoke Yes activists in Wester Hailes. Smart, Davidson, Harris et al would not be the first “moderate” politicos to use far-right shock troops to further their aims. The clue is in the rhetoric. How does a fascist dafty like Kev think of using expressions like “SNP Nazis” to attack Yes supporters?

  34. gene Randell says:

    Mr Bisset,

    You seem to have so many critics; you must be saying all the right things.
    Anyways, if l were you, l would worry more if the perenially troubled and apparently oppressed, James McMillan, was championing you, rather than adding you to his seemingly never ending list of enemies.

    Do keep up the good work!

  35. crisiscult says:

    I found myself nodding at almost every sentence, and in particular: “If we were still living in the post-War settlement of the Welfare State and full employment – led by a Labour party that truly represented the people, not middle-class swing-constituencies and the USA – I would vote No.” I make similar points to people I speak to about the referendum. The only thing I might add is that if anyone’s identity is dependent on their nationality, I have no particular problem with that but it doesn’t get us very far in terms of persuading others the merits of YES or NO. Someone persuade my wife, who’s Russian/Ukrainian and planning to vote YES, that she should vote NO based on your own identity of being BRITISH isn’t going to get you far. I think you need to appeal to her social or political philosophy. Vote NO and you’ll get … what?

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