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