2007 - 2022

Nationalism, Culture, Loki, National Collective and more

w3IbK6os_400x400This is a Storified version of tweets by Scott Hames ) with thanks to @Ian_Dunn.

‘Some dusty observations on the @Loki / @WeAreNational thing’ …

During the , loads of artists on both sides aligned themselves with official campaigns.

During the , loads of artists on both sides aligned themselves with official campaigns.

Some were uneasy about this, but the stakes were high and indy seemed a special case. Screw purity.

This very ethos (‘commitment’ but in a potentially touristic form, where little is personally risked) made things like NC very ‘scene’-like.

If anything, younger/emerging artists stood to gain by getting involved (in profile, connections, experience, good times, etc).

I hope that doesn’t sound cynical. The same folk put loads of passion, energy and toil into stuff I enjoyed.

Folk at NC gigs connected out of shared belief and passion. Good meaningful stuff that went beyond fashion, without fully escaping its orbit

In my (not very extensive) experience, it was great and very special. NC made it possible. Bravo to them.

I don’t think the jobs/politics core NC people are involved with now alters or invalidates any of what they did during the indyref.

That part of Loki’s critique doesn’t ring true for me; slight whiff of conspiracy about the hint maybe Ross C was an SNP plant, etc.

Or that he had some kind of devious career plan all mapped out. Nah.

That said, the ‘collective’ thing was always a bit illusory (and more or less acknowledged to be).

A sense of ‘we’ organised around nationhood will always paper-over conflict and inequality. Arguments we’ve all heard eighty times.

(This is without knowing the details, or the extent to which NC folk have tried to engage with him / fob him off.)

On these lines most of Loki’s critique sounds right to me.

And probably some of these issues/contradictions aren’t really capable of ‘resolution’ within a campaign directed toward the ends NC was.

What rings true are the principles at issue, about class, exclusion,cultural capital, etc. The authenticating function of certain voices.

These (very sharp) arguments of Loki’s are very reminiscent of debates in Scottish culture from several decades ago.

Thinking of specific stuff in essays by James Kelman and Tom Leonard, about bogus ‘representative’ bodies and projects, etc.

(I wrote a bit about this during the indyref here: http://asls.arts.gla.ac.uk/SWE/TBI/TBISupp/TBISupp1/Hames.html )

And those echoes got me thinking about the failed 79 referendum, which tends to be key in accounts of recent Scottish cultural politics.

(Sorry for this history lesson. I’m an academic. I’ll get back to the present eventually.)

After No in 1979, the story goes, Yes-supporting artists stepped into the vacuum where Scottish politics failed to emerge.

That is, Scottish democracy had prevented a very mild form of Scottish self-government.

(Leave the 40% rule to one side; 52% was a miserable endorsement.)

What came next: Scotland’s writers and artists gave up on moribund political structures…… and set about re-inventing (and interrogating) the nation on their own uncompromising terms.

The art & politics of these 80s-90s writers was radical & edgy, & gave powerful new impetus to debates about autonomy, agency, authenticity

(‘The story goes’.)

These debates found their way back into, or just sort of ‘resonated with’, mainstream politics as devolution become electorally saleable.

(That part is never very convincing to me.)

Anyway: cultural devolution both preceded and authenticated political devolution.

The politics of authenticity and the institutions of democracy come into conflict here, but that’s another story.

The idea is that a failed democratic reform pushed artists away from parties and institutions, spurring them into doing it for themselves.

Where ‘it’ = a political art of national self-renewal and re-invention. The recovery and affirmation of Scottish ‘identity’.

All inflected by class politics, in ways that basically conflated class and nation.

(This is quite a distorting way of reading the novels and poems at issue; tends to recruit them to a unifying ‘cause’.)

Anyway, I find this both a fascinating and ‘problematic’ account of where art & culture fit into Scottish political change of past 30 yrs

Bits of it resonate with what’s happening now, in ways that might be apparent already.

Instead of stepping away from it (in disgust, in despair), they stepped towards it

Yessers in general got more deeply enmeshed in the exhausted official politics (it seemed) they had yearned to transform.

My hunch is that many dove in (to the SNP) to preserve / extend the feeling and ethos of the campaign.

A deep emotional need to remain a mobilised ‘we’, actively responding to the No result and remaining steadfast etc.

In other words, the emotional byproduct of the pro-indy campaign has become the fuel of that campaign (of which the SNP are the vehicle).

Loki is usefully disrupting the residual coziness of stuff like NC & reminding folk of principles they campaigned for.

But it strikes me that NC is being asked to answer for failings/contradictions of Yes in general, which isn’t quite fair.

On the other hand, a body claiming *cultural* representativeness (in whatever degree) is open to critique on that terrain.


Note from Scott Hames: These observations will feed into a book on the cultural politics of devolution and independence. What is sketchy and undercooked here will be developed further.

Comments (9)

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  1. Rosebud. says:

    mmmm…The question I think is one of honesty? NC claimed/ claim independence from party political influence…

    “open and non-party […] group of artists and creatives” Their words!

    This was a lie plain and simple (assuming the editors where primarily high profile members of the SNP. I don’t know where they?) loki is right to get the hump and question the merits of ‘alternative indy media’ if it is/was a close shop ‘for the boys’ etc and not about open democratic participation and comment as touted.

    Personally, if anything was going to make me vote No it was the NC. Pretentious, self righteous and pompous are words that spring to mind. Also most good writers/ artists tend to be highly individualistic and compelled to rub against the ‘collective grain’. The very notion of ‘cultural nationalism’ I’m sure sends shivers down the spine of any erstwhile ‘creative. who wants to be put in a wee Tartan box where what you’re supposed to sound like, write like, write about is prescribed to a set of boxes on a clip board?

    Most (but not all) artists who end up in the cannon later on, begin as outsiders and critics of the ‘national’ clip board… ‘Joyce, Murakami, Hemmingway and Stein, Orwell, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Thoreau, James Kelman (For Britain), Kafka, Steinbeck, Fitzgerald, all the impressionists, Picasso, LS Lowery, Vermeer, el Greco, Lautrec, Henry Miller, Isherwood, Wilde, Woolfe, Mary Shelly (women in particular!)

    It’s hard to imagine any of these and more as members of something entitled the ‘National’ Collective!

    Also, another interesting aside (and pertinent to the Loki debate) is that most sucessionist movements/ revolutionary movement tend to produce there notable work in the lead up to rather than the after math.
    Ireland – Yates/ Joyce etc, all prior to the post free state Gaelic, ‘national’ centralization of culture.. what was it Joyce said…’if it wasn’t for the language I would be a nationalist’???…would the arch outsider/ convoluted identity of ‘leopold Bloom – the Hungarian Jewish Irishman have been brought into existence through ‘collective thinking?’

    In twenty years time the artists that are remembered for this period will probably have had nothing to do with the the NC.

  2. Jim Bennett says:

    Really great, balanced and perceptive article.

  3. Good article Mike!

    I for my part loved being part of the NC, and the sense I got at the time, of it being an umbrella for a biodiverse range of positive creative people.

    I really do not see the issue claimed in the comments above: Ross is working with the SNP now; it is not the NC who are working for the SNP.

    Personally, I feel that it is am immensely powerful step in Scottish politics, that a party is opening its doors to someone who has been at the core of a creative and intellectual movement (not just for YES, but for the exploration and celebration of an awakening cultural identity).

    I feel very positive about this being an age in politics where barries and polemics are beginning (if very very slowly) to be less rigid: I also love that so many of us are stepping up to do the hard work of reinventing our policitics.
    There is obviously going to be watering down of idiologies, in taking a position in politics, but it also means that some of the vibrant ideas behind the NC campaign will enter the central realm of decision making. To me, that is a hugely positive development.

  4. Donald Mitchell says:

    A very interesting article.

    I agree that the defeat in 1979 sparked, or was at least followed by, a kind of cultural devolution. However this was much to do with the strong sense of (justified) grievance that many felt at the referendum being effectively rigged and the following Thatcher tyranny.

    It could equally be argued that there was a sort of cultural counter-devolution (if you’ll allow the phrase) following the 1997 ref as artists began to look away from Scotland and towards Blair’s cool Brtiannia, authors such as Ian Rankin and JK Rowling seemed to embody this trend. The classical music world has always been mainly soft unionist due to social class and a dependency on state subsidy but the emergence of James McMillan as a major figure gave this movement greater credibility. Even theatre was, to coin a phrase “colonised” as the National Theatre of Scotland (note the “of” not “for” in the title) refused to stage major Scottish plays like Stag, Cheviot or Three Estates, can you imagine the English theatre effectivley banning Shakespeare? Or the English people letting them?

    So how is Scottish culture responding to the Indyref? It’s not as far as i can see, almost no one seems willing to confront it in any remotely controversial way. I hope i’m wrong and its just the MSM keeping it from us but it seems to me that the passion of the ref has dissolved into dull party politics, i’m sure Labour will get what’s coming to them in May, but then what? An unquestioning cultural sector that can’t see beyond the next SG grant is, in the words of our late Macher, what we do not want.

    1. Heather says:

      I think it will take time for the response regards Scotland’s recent past, to emerge via the cultural platform, whatever form that takes. As long as artists can be supported to make work that challenges the status quo, otherwise we end up with pretty picks of nothing really.

  5. MBC says:

    I hate the concept of ‘cultural devolution’. It’s servile, and it wasn’t what happened. Devolution is something that is given, but freedom is something you take for yourself. The cultural revival that followed political failure was a defiance of Thatcher’s disembowellment of Scotland. Not ‘devolution’.

  6. Matt Seattle says:

    “Devolution is something that is given, but freedom is something you take for yourself.”

    Well said, MBC. Independence is not having to ask permission.

    My experience of National Collective was varied – and positive. I never asked permission to write Theme for the Early Days of a Better Nation, but the initial demo recording (tune only) was released into the wild with the participants claiming for themselves the National Collective banner, and with no permission asked.

    Soon after, more over-the-counter links were made, and serious help offered. I had my musical contacts, but needed the video expertise of Alan MacMaster and Robert Sproul-Cran to get the song aired, and Mairi MacFadyen and Lisa Cowan of NC were both pivotal in making the links which made this possible.

    There was more, much more, and there is much more to say. It’s easy to criticise anything, but there was a movement of energy enabled by NC (and of course other vehicles – Independence Choir, Bella Caledonia, Songs for Scotland were among those I had meaningful contact with) which helped to fuel the campaign and to keep it overwhelmingly positive.

    And that energy is real. More real than NC, than SNP, than Bella, than you or me, or any individual. Or any nation. Because a nation is only a vehicle too. Be very careful what fuel you put in it.

    That’s how it seems to me anyway.

    1. Nice one, Matt- really well put 🙂 I share your feelings.

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