2007 - 2022

Uncharted Territory – Here Be Monsters

albums_monsters_1323083758_crop_550x416Author, playwright and Yes activist Alan Bissett on why he’s backing Bella. Alan’s collected plays are available here. Catch him on tour here.

Things seemed so much more certain during the referendum. We were campaigning for a Yes vote as a basic mark of democracy and to chart a more socially-just future for our country. The forces of Unionism were there to frustrate this on behalf of the ruling elite and politicians with a vested interest in their parliamentary perks. Now – on the back of the nightmare No vote/Tory majority double-whammy – the course ahead feels trickier, less certain, and I find myself trapped between varying strategies, like a character in one of those Choose Your Own Adventure books, but without the option of going back to the previous page if you end up killed by the scaly dragon.

Should I be campaigning without haste for another referendum, or focus on working with activist groups across the UK to resist Tory domination? Should I recognise the advantages of a strong SNP, as a bulwark against Unionism, or hold them to account along with the rest of the pro-Yes left? Should I be reaching out to No voters and attempting to empathise, or pointing towards David Cameron, shaking them by the lapels and roaring, ‘WE FUCKING TOLD YOU THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!’ Should I be standing rock-solid beside my allies, in the face of a domineering enemy, or challenging them so as to guard against complacency and groupthink? Should artists make Scotland the defining issue of their work until the job is done, or shut the hell up about Scotland and start writing about other subjects again, any other subjects – just please, no more about Scotland…

There are no clear answers to any of those questions, which is partly exciting and partly terrifying. We’re all in uncharted territory. This is why a strong alternative media is important, as a spirit guide. Like everyone else in the Yes movement, I’ve lost faith in the press and broadcasters to tell Scotland’s story with the right degree of fairness or balance. I don’t think it’s all a write-off – there’s still some, though not much, intelligent, perceptive and reasonable coverage of Scotland – but what I do need is a counter-balance to it, which comes from the plethora of pro-Yes sites whose insights help me chart a course through this difficult terrain. My morning routine now starts by flicking through The National and excellent blogs such as Derek Bateman, Scot Goes Pop and A Thousand Flowers, before alighting at Bella Caledonia, whose quality and breadth is unmatched elsewhere.

More often than not, I find myself strongly agreeing with their editorial line – Mike Small’s opinions are probably closest to my own on any given subject (except Rangers), and Peter Arnott’s a rambunctious voice too – but the diversity of the contributors prevents my thoughts from solidifying for too long. Obviously independence-related issues are the site’s great strength, but during my many hours browsing Bella I’ve learned about land reform, surveillance, global activism, linguisitcs, environmentalism, poetry and evolutionary theory. There is no subject it is afraid to touch. I admire the single-minded focus of other pro-indy blogs – it’s why I visit them – but none can match Bella’s sheer, rangy, restless curiosity.

Bella recognises that Scottish independence is a very important issue, but not the only issue, perhaps not even the defining one. It isn’t afraid to speak uncomfortable truths to the Yes movement, which is what gives it credibility within the Yes movement, but it recognises where the real threat is: corporate power and its stooges within the British (and sometimes Scottish) parliamentary system.

And, yes, I love the new design.

I know there are a plethora of whip-rounds, and it seems that indy-supporters are always asked to put their hands in their pockets for something, but there’s just no other way to fund the questing, citizen journalism that our movement needs to challenge the mainstream media’s spin and bias. We are extremely fortunate to have Bella Caledonia, and we’d notice its loss immediately. I may be riven with uncertainty about various issues now, but that’s definitely not one of them.


Comments (55)

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  1. Jac Gallacher says:

    Alan Bisset on the ball as ever

    1. RichardMacKinnon says:

      I have never felt it necessary to make a comment on a Bella article until this week , because I have in general been in agreement with most of the arguments. And then I read Pat Kane and now Alan Bissett?
      Alan Bassett is way off the mark here Jac. Why, because he makes a very basic mistake in conflating the referendum result with the GE result. He calls it a ‘double whammy’. Two disasters. Rolled up in one. A No vote and a Tory majority.
      The two outcomes have nothing to do with each other. In fact the GE result, 56SNP MPs with the Tories winning an outright majority is the best result we in Scotland could have wished for.
      The trick that Alan tries to pull is the same con Labour have been getting away with since, for, ages. That is ‘Tories are the bad guys’ and therefore ‘Labour = good’. You don’t need an example, you know what I’m talking about. Just think of the language they use, ‘standing up for ordinary people, =Tories look after their own, or, fair distribution…. = Tories greedy. It is lazy politics and it looks as if they have been found out this time round.
      I’m glad the Tories won. Trust me, Labour are bigger unionists that the Tories. There are many Yes voters that would vote for a ‘small government, low tax, no debt’ party in an independent Scotland. I’m one of them.

      1. Frank says:

        At least you have admitted what a lot of Yes voters deny – that a Tory government is good for the independence cause. I know nothing about you, but I assume you must have enough money to be protected from the evils of a Tory government. Still, hundreds of thousands on the dole, public sector decimated, benefits capped…it’s all worth it so long as freedom awaits.

        Oh Dear…

        1. RichardMacKinnon says:

          Frank thanks for replying to my comment.
          The reason I am happy with a Tory government is two fold. They will run the economy better and, yes I do believe independence is closer with a Tory government at Westminster.
          You seem to have a problem with the fact that I am a nationalist and that I am comfortable with a conservative government? There has to be some kind of government down at Westminster, so it might as well be a competent one. You call it the ‘evils of’ a Tory government. You can’t avoid an opportunity to slag them. Labour are finished exactly because of this level of debate. It has been the limit of Labours argument for years. “the evil Tories” and “Only Labour can ……….” . Voters have seen right through it. Labour supporters are sick of being taken for mugs.
          Frank I will give you an example of real evil, taking a country to war on a false pretence.
          Oh yes, something you did get right in your reply, you don’t know me.

          1. Jones says:

            Cogent. Many ‘lefties’ but ‘no’ voters pointed out that complacency and dare I say arrogance of ‘lefty’ ‘Yes’ people that the evidence for this was slim, given the reality of Scotland’s situation. Also Allan’s assumptions are utterly contradictory in that he equates an independent Scotland unquestioningly with left wing politics yet in the same breath talks about plurality. But yet can’t see the contradiction in this. It’s also a very ‘imperialistic’ West central Scotland attitude to the rest of Scotland, that we all share the same post industrial history. We don’t. One of the tragedies of the GE was the death of Highland Liberalism, an old and decent political movement.

          2. Iain McLennan says:

            Highland Liberalism?

            Go to the Highlands, utter this phrase and look at the blank or puzzled faces!

            It has not existed for a hundred years or ever. liberals have had no electoral success, only history for the past hundred years, they have been able to peddle this myth.

            Charlie was a good a decent man, he was elected due to his personality, not some unheard myth.

            All liberals mps, maps or councillors in the Highlands since 1950, can you highlight what they have achieved?

            Regards labour, I agree with Richard, labour in Scotland are more unionist than the tories, they alone have manufactured the position that there existence is fundamental to defending it. This is exemplified by the nonesense spouted by their deputy leader at the weekend who said they could maybe have different policies either side of the border. Yeah right . Murphy tried that and was dismissed and over ruled.

            Tories on other hand can play fast and loose with the union. Playing fast wins them the uk, playing loose loses Scotland, but leaves them wit 90% of their fiefdom. If last election is anything to go by, Tories will play loose, boris or george have even less traction in Scotland than cameron.

  2. sandy ritchie says:

    A well written article including an insight to the Nationalist mind. As a Socialist and a unionist…the latter a term that I don’t like because that term in itself smacks of nationalism.. which I…well I may as well say it..abhor…in any of its forms. Hope that doesn’t get get me chucked off BC which I do enjoy…well the comments bit anyway. And yes I occasionally read the National which I also like..but disagree with on some occasions ..as I do with most of the MSM papers. But one point (there were a couple of others) that prompted me to comment on the writer’s article was his reference to unionists as “the enemy”. I’d hate to think that both my nationalist sons considered me in that manner. The 3 of us have much more in common politically speaking than differ us. Its that belief that those in this island have so much in common that made me support retention of the union…even though many English voted Tory. So I would ask the author to try and show a little more respect and tolerance to those of us who believe in uniting as opposed to separating (the latter which is a regressive step not progressive). Most of us thought very carefully about which way to vote and were not cowed or fearful of change. Its called democracy.

    1. Glad you enjoy it Sandy, and no, you won’t be being chucked off …

    2. Alan Bissett says:

      Sandy Ritchie –

      “Unionist…a term that I don’t like because that term in itself smacks of nationalism.. which I…well I may as well say it…abhor…in any of its forms.”

      “Its that belief that those in this island have so much in common that made me support retention of the union”

      So, a Unionist then.

      Puzzles me why chaps like yourself will talk about how wonderful the Union is, how we’ve all got so much in common, etc, but worry about being called a ‘Unionist’. If you believe in retaining the United Kingdom you are, by definition, a Unionist. Also, if you’re talking about how how everyone (everyone??) in any given ‘nation’ has so much in common that they simply *must* stick together then you are using a nationalist argument. There’s no getting away from that, I’m afraid. Most of us who voted Yes did so because we are democrats: it’s profoundly unfair that Scotland is ruled by governments that its people rejected. If you believe that the needs and wishes of the ‘whole UK’ trump those of the Scottish people that then you are acting as a British nationalist. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it would be good if socialists like yourself, who claim to oppose nationalism ‘in all its forms’, could be a bit more honest about the ‘form’ of nationalism they are tacitly supporting.

      Perhaps I should have been clearer on the term ‘enemy’. I was referring to the Tory government, not No voters. I see no need to ‘respect’ them, and as a socialist I’m presuming you don’t either.

      1. Jones says:

        The best writers, including Scots, have been poly-influenced, as is the best culture. It will always have it’s own flavour but it has to be open. Borges, drew on all manner of influences, from Austria to England to Scotland to Africa to Germany to Italy to China and laid the ground for Marquez, Allende, Fuentes, Llosa, Antunes…. So my answer to the question is that I think many are ‘all Scotland out’ for the present time. Culturally it feels a bit claustrophobic, needs a window open to let air circulate.

        ‘…but during my many hours browsing Bella I’ve learned about land reform, surveillance, global activism, linguisitcs, environmentalism, poetry and evolutionary theory. There is no subject it is afraid to touch. I admire the single-minded focus of other pro-indy blogs – it’s why I visit them – but none can match Bella’s sheer, rangy, restless curiosity…’

        See this kind of sums up the above. Surely ‘as a curious writer’ whose job is to observe, you should be more pluralistic. No offence (and I think Bella is a good/ interesting blog with a future) but many of us have been ‘curious enough’ to seek out and learn about these things irrespective. If you need spoon fed like this then….?

        1. ColinD says:

          Rather arrogant and condescending comment, Jones. So you’ve never been ‘spoon fed’, as you put it? You’ve never been influenced or inspired to read up on any subject by reading an interesting discussion/article/book? That’ll be a no then.

          1. Jones says:

            I’m not a self appointed and public ‘voice of the people’ though.

  3. HerewardAwake! says:

    Exactly, the old charts are in tatters and the fog banks of uncertainty stretch thickly in front of us all. I’m English, you’re Scots and the lifeboats are full already. So lets take a deep breath….the 300-year old Union is cracking up and probably heading for the rocks. In the short term Westminster is dominated (just about) by the Conservatives, Labour are in disarray and the SNP are the third largest party in the UK but with total control back home. Wales and NI are bringing up the rear. So, the way forward? Inconclusive, I think, until the EU referendum takes place. But whatever the result I expect Scotland will want to disentangle itself and stand alone. Fair enough, though I don’t like the idea of one-party states and with the Conservative and Labour parties discredited in Scotland what will the alternative to the SNP be? SNP Lite or mark 2? I have no idea, and that would be a major challenge now if I were Scots. However I’m not, so back to England. We face our own big black hole with the prospect of all wealth being sucked into a right-wing London-centric city state. That wont do at all. The English grass-roots will, therefore, have to man-up and take over the reins again and either re-invent the Labour Party or a more people-orientated alternative. I’m sure that will happen though it won’t be pleasant and will take some doing. In the meantime one thing must not happen, and that is that ordinary folk of all nationalities resort to sectarian mud-slinging and stone-throwing, egged on by powerful internal and external influences, whether commercial, political, national or international all with axes to grind. Its going to get quite rocky in our little lifeboat, I suspect.

    1. Domhnall MacCoinnich says:

      I really don’t think it would be a one party state. “A one-party state is a country that uses a one-party political system, meaning only one political party exists and the forming of other political parties is forbidden. “. Why would anyone assume an independent Scotland would be a one party state?
      I take it you meant one party would be dominant. Well, I don’t think this is likely at all as Alan Bissett’s article illustrates when he discusses the different strategies he feels drawn to. There are many who support the SNP now who would feel no need to support it once it had achieved its main purpose of getting independence for Scotland. There is solidarity behind the SNP at the moment because they are an independence party and because (for those who don’t want independence) they are seen to give Scotland’s interests priority (powers in vows etc.) far more than the UK parties ever would.

      There is also the not small matter that at the moment Scotland has a PR system (only Westminster GE is FPTP) the SNP support PR even though it gave them a huge advantage in the last GE. Scotland would remain under a PR system which encourages more parties. This should assure anybody that there is no danger of Scotland becoming a one party state in anything like the near future. Add to this the fact that the Scottish people have been politically energised and there is no shortage of ideas and differences in opinion out there, as well as a will for change and then any one party state worries really seem quite far fetched.

  4. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    “Should I be campaigning without haste for another referendum, or focus on working with activist groups across the UK to resist Tory domination? Should I recognise the advantages of a strong SNP, as a bulwark against Unionism, or hold them to account along with the rest of the pro-Yes left? Should I be reaching out to No voters and attempting to empathise, or pointing towards David Cameron, shaking them by the lapels and roaring, ‘WE FUCKING TOLD YOU THIS WAS GOING TO HAPPEN!’”

    Excellent article, Allan, except for your curious omission of the essential Stuart @ Wings over Scotland. I share all the dilemmas listed above. Personally I see no future in anything other than Independence. The perfidious citizens of Albion have demonstrated, again, by their Shy Tory vote that the UK is irredeemably flawed. I my view, as an English born Scot, when stressed the English will always veer to the right, while the Scots and the Welsh will tend to the left.

    Social media are necessary, but not sufficient, especially when older folks still believe the BBC to be and honest broker, hence the biggest problem is the manifest bias of the BBC, which is now as bad as ever. It was that which turned me from being a lifetime Home Service / Radio 4 listener, (and tepid Unionist), into a passionate Cybernat”freedom fighter” who mostly listen to the, less parochial, World Service.

    Peter Mullen in the Herald put it very well – ‘Mullan, who has appeared in Trainspotting and the Harry Potter films, said he is a “massive supporter of public broadcasting and the licence fee”.

    “I will be to the day I die,” he said. “I believe in the BBC, on principle, because most of the education I got when I was a kid I got through watching the BBC.

    “I, Claudius introduced me to the history of the Roman empire. BBC reruns of David Lean films introduced me to Dickens.

    “Panorama made me want to go to libraries and find out about the world. I mean it when I say I owe everything to the BBC.

    “So to see the horrendous bias that went on against the Yes campaign before the referendum – to see the BBC used as a political cudgel against a legitimate democratic movement – really broke my heart.” ‘

    In my view the perceived needs of Scotland and England are irreconcilable. Imho, Labour will disappear up it’s own fundament trying to appease the residents of South Easts of England who apparently believe Ukip are some sort of radical politic alternative and in the process say to hell with Socialism & Scotland.

    Saor Alba, and make it soon, I say…

    P.S. Bella, your graphic at the top of the page has definite errors on Explorer 11. Appears with scroll bars and overlays the page. Also you should arrange for people to be able to login and comment with Facebook.

  5. Gordon McShean says:

    I’d been ill (as had most of my family) during all the years of WWII; we’d lived in cramped rooms in a horrible tenement across the road from the North British Locomotive Factory in Glasgow (where my invalid father had been drafted to help manufacture tanks). Becoming a teenager when the war ended, I adopted Scottish patriotic views that seemed to be shared by few. Perhaps the independence views of refugee kids at school – talking about a free life in Israel – inspired me. But I avoided loneliness by joining a few other Scots in activism (this is described in my memoir RETIRED TERRORIST). Alan Bisset’s commentary – noting the nationalist activism of recent years – reaffirms the advent of the political awakening that Scotland has taken so long to acknowledge. I’ve remained in exile since the 1950s. I could now almost consider returning (if my boyhood hadn’t ensured this remained impossible). Folks back home seem to have become the proud and politically aware Scots with whom I’d hoped to share my life.

    1. MBC says:

      You must have signed John MacCormack’s National Covenant in the 1950s then that attracted two million signatures?

      My take on it is that Scots never ceased feeling Scottish, but for decades after WW2 and all its shoulder-to-shoulder solidarity and pooling and sharing, they were equally content and proud to see themselves as British. And justly so.

      But Britishness has lost its shine after the Tories began dismantling the post-war consensus and welfare state and national (British) ownership of public goods. That was something you could take pride in, but now with everything that held Britain together as a progressive concept gone, Scots have abandonned any vestigial Britishness they ever felt.

      Or to put it another way, we didn’t leave Britain. It was Britain that left us.

  6. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    Sandy, I propose you listen to your sons, not the siren call of dead Labour. You may not be the “enemy” but you are fraternising with them.

    As a once proud Englishman, currently ensconced en Scotia I think you are reading it all wrong. I want to live in a Socialist country and like all Nationalists I abhor the Tories. Imho, my requirements are unachievable without independence. When stressed the English will always veer to the right, the Scots and Welsh to the left. It’s just the way it is and I see zero hope of that changing in the foreseeable future.

    The only hope for Labour in Scotland, this side of Independence is to declare UDI from London and become the Scottish Labour that Murphy falsely claimed it to be. Your other fears are unfounded; after Independence there will be no one party state. Over half the Nationalists I know would revert to voting Green or Labour post Independence. It will be chaotic at first, but certainly not monolithic.

    If you haven’t read it I suggest you read AN OPEN LETTER FROM JIM SILLARS TO SCOTLAND’S PENSIONERS, especially the quote from Margo at the end…

    ‘I am 76 years of age. My State Pension is safe with independence, and so is yours. Who says so?

    The UK Department for Work and Pensions in a statement made in January 2013:

    “If Scotland does become independent this will have no effect on your State Pension, you will continue to receive it just as you do at present”

    The Department explained that as we have paid our National Insurance Contributions, we have a legal entitlement to the State Pension.

    The No campaign knew about that statement, yet through insinuation have made you think your pension was not safe; a despicable tactic to sow fear among the elderly when there are no grounds for fear.

    There is, of course, more to the referendum than our pensions – there are our children and grandchildren. I want mine and yours to have a prosperous and secure life in Scotland; and not be among the 30,000 who leave our shores each year for Canada, Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere.

    In every age group, except us Pensioners, polls show Yes is ahead. Our young people have great confidence in their ability to make Scotland better for all, with independence. Are we going to hold them back?

    They are not self-centred. They show concern for their grandparents by determination to abolish the bedroom tax, which they know has caused anxiety and misery for Pensioners. They care about you.

    They know what they owe you for all the love, affection and support they have received during their journey from birth to adulthood.

    We grandparents can be proud of the good job we have done in helping to bring them up. They are a credit to themselves and to us.

    But what about their future? With a No vote, nothing will change. Scotland will remain a low wage economy dominated by unemployment, with many families driven to food banks to feed their children, some of whom could be your grandchildren.

    It will be a tragedy for them if we, in the final years of our lives, deny them the opportunity they want to rebuild a Scotland that gives their children, our grandchildren a better future. If I cannot persuade you to vote Yes, perhaps these words from Margo MacDonald will:

    “This is our time of reckoning, we’ve got to take it, and if we don’t take it we are consigning our children to much less than we’ve had – to narrow horizons, lower aspirations ,we are consigning our children to being small when we should be giving them a much bigger world”.

    Vote Yes.: give our children and grandchildren the chance they are asking for.

    Jim Sillars’

    Listen to your kids, Sandy…

    1. sandy ritchie says:

      Bernard I had to force myself to read the rest of your response after reading your first sentence about fraternising with the enemy, given that my post was concerning that term. I won’t go over all the referendum again..I’ve mentioned my only reason above. The comments about childrens grand childtens future, pensions etc are ..well not to put too fine a word on it…bol..cks. I have a lot of respect for Jim Sillars as a Socialist… but in my mind he has taken the wrong path in support of nationalism. I have no problems supporting our cultural preservation… But nationalism strives for centralisation (as seen already in the few years of the SNP in government). Finally to quote Engels and Marx about their thoughts on Nationalidm “the working class have no country…”. The Tories have done a dammed good job of dividing workers in UK be it public service workers from private ..employed from unemployed…ethnic v immigrants… you can add Nationalists to Unionists to that list…the Tories and Murdoch helped that division quite nicely..

  7. john young says:

    Sandy,Unionism and togetherness are all very well as long as there is fairness which is so obviously does not/has ever been applied, do you not think that for better or worse we should be governed by those democratically elected in this country to serve the will of the people of Scotland and not by the cabal of selfseeking public school boys that believe they have a god given right to rule over us,a right they have not earned nor did their parents earn it,it is drummed into them that they have this right,wouldn,t you like your sons to have the same chance as those of Cameron/Osbourne/Blair?

  8. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    Seem to be commenting on this a lot – a topic close to my heart. Apologies if I’m boring anyone~

    HerewardAwake; As a keen student of English (and latterly Scots) history may I say you screen name is a cracker. My chosen metaphor from English History is Boadicea, who’s opposition to the Roman invasion makes an interesting parallel to Hereward the Wake and the Normans.

    I was also pleased to see your Lifeboat metaphor, one I’ve used often with the UK cast in the role of Titanic. E.g. “SS Great Britain is morally and economically bankrupt and headed for the rocks; Scotland is our Lifeboat. ‘Get out of the way Mister Mate, Women and Children first’…”

    The only other thing I’d add (assuming you are living in England) is why not emigrate to Scotland as my family did in 2001. We have been made more than welcome here. Scottish “Nationalism” in my experience is a broad church and very international in outlook, unlike the English Ukip equivalent which is narrow bigoted and stranded in some mythical past.

    Despite having a middle class, very BBC accent I have experienced zero intolerance in the 14yrs I’ve been living here from any Scot of whatever class. Living in Lanarkshire has been and entirely enjoyable experience as were the years I spent living in South Wales.

    Despite having been born in Kent and living all over England, North and South (including 10yrs in London), both in Town and country I can’t say I miss it much, except for the Lake District, the Sussex Downs, Saint James’ Park, the Albert Hall and the Tate Gallery. That’s about it, really.

    I don’t miss the company of other Englishmen, I much prefer the Scots and the Welsh; more my type of people. In short I feel I’ve come home. Your mileage may vary, but that’s my experience…

    1. HerewardAwake! says:

      Bernardbytheburn – well met, Sir! On reflection my pride in the UK started to evaporarate in the Thatcher years, revived slightly when Blair arrived, then went rapidly downhill to the present day. Now, I think that the damage done to the UK by grasping governments, privatisation and corruption is probably going to be terminal, and I would not want to see the Scots’ efforts at self-determination expose them naked to the flashing knives of that knackers-yard of greed and self-interest. However, often at the blackest times faint gleams of hope shine through the gloom. Fear of the economic consequences of the end of the Union and/or exit from the EU may be just enough to stay the hands of the avaricious bunch who’ve got their sticky fingers on the levers of power at the moment, together with painful memories of the grass-roots poll-tax rebellion that started off the destruction of Thatcher. They know that similar things could happen again if the peasantry are pushed hard enough by the big, bad barons. Hereward and Boudicca certainly resisted alien invaders in their time and paid the price for so doing, as did many others, but lets hope that more civilised conduct prevails these days. We’ll see but in the meantime glad to note that you are well established in Scotland. Fortunately I’ve been far removed from UK shores for many years and prefer to view things from a distance down the wrong end of my trusty old telescope.

  9. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    P.S. As a Graphic Designer and hyperactive CyberNat I’ve made a lot of memes in the last two years. I write a lot too, but some things are best said in a picture. Can’t post pics here (missed opportunity, Bella), but here are some Facebook links that illustrate some of my English feelings about Scotland and England -no idea if they’ll work; copy and paste them if not…

    -On a non political note, my sentimentalised memories of London and some of the things I enjoyed while living there for ten years…

    -My take on Gordon Brown’s mealy mouthed vows. I find it ironic that Keir Hardy was instrumental in founding the Labour party in 1900, yet it was four Scots (Mandelson, Blair, Darling and Brown) that destroyed it…

    -My final meme for the General Election campaign; won in Scotland and lost in England (again)…

    -My satirical take on the London based MSM media stoking fears of a Scots invasion, and their second rate Photoshopping, featuring Nicola as my favourite English hero, Boadicea…

    -Nicola amongst friends on a visit to new Lanark Mill (she was very genuine with John’s kids)

    -A portrait of two good Nationalist friends who’ve been working for Independence for 35 years…

    -My Hogmanay tribute to Alex on his sixtieth birthday…

  10. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    P.P.S. Looks like that first London link is broken. Sadly, I can’t see any way to edit it, but the other links seem to work fine (touch wood)…

  11. Redgauntlet says:

    Alan Bissett, a good piece, lots of questions – always a sign of intelligence – and yes, I completely agree with you about Bella and Mike Small, who even though we argue sometimes, and even fall out, is the only place I would ever post. I know that Bella allows for uncomfortable, non-conformist opinions, maybe you can be a wee bit provocative on Bella and that is a good thing.

    It also has, I would guess, the most intelligent readership in Scotland, certainly I have learned so much about the indie movement from above and below the line posters, often anonymous people who are generous enough to give their time and share their knowledge.

    As for Scottish writers and what they should be writing about…Scotland? No Allan, no. Literature must be autonomous, it must exist by and for itself, not to serve any programme. I am a translator, and so I am always reading foreign literature. And I would say, what the Scottish literary scene need is a massive transfusion of new blood, of new tendencies and themes. By which I mean, we need more translated literature, much, much more. And maybe I will try and set up a wee publishing company, but I am no business man, I can’t do that kind of thing, so….

    But it can be a conscious thing. Borges and Bioy Casares, in the 40’s in Argentina, came to the conclusion that the Argentinian novel was trapped in social realism. And so they made a conscious effort to inject it with new genres – in this case, the detective novel and fantastical fiction. The result was “The Aleph” – the greatest short story of the last century IMO – and “The Invention of Morel” by Bioy-Casares, which is really the first novel which did what so many novels and films have done since then in projecting a fictional reality over reality – and maybe Alan Warner has read Bioy-Casares? Wouldn’t surprise me.

    But what I mean is that the key is in translated fiction because that is the oxygen of the novel. Cervantes invented the English comic novel, or better said Cervantes and the Irishman Thomas Shelton who translated him (no internet, no dictionaries, with the quill, in candlelight. eh? We are all amateurs compared to these people). Fielding dedicates “Joseph Andrews” to Cervantes.

    We must reconnect with our European tradition, it is absolutely vital.

    And if you foreground content or the theme, then inevitably, you relegate style. And style is all we have left, mate.

  12. Redgauntlet says:

    By the way, Donal McLaughlin is a trail-blazer with his translation of “Naw Much of a Talker” by Pedro Lenz…brilliant.

  13. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    “As for Scottish writers and what they should be writing about…Scotland? No Allan, no. Literature must be autonomous, it must exist by and for itself, not to serve any programme. I am a translator, and so I am always reading foreign literature. And I would say, what the Scottish literary scene need is a massive transfusion of new blood, of new tendencies and themes.”

    Completely agree Red Gauntlet. Not going to give a reading list, but I’m far more stimulated by American, African, Persian and Asian writing. A breath of fresh air, especially the poetry. Scottish literature (and English) are increasingly predictable and parochial, imho. The prevalent crime noir, on the page or on the screen, holds no interest for me.

    As to what to write about, it should, as ever, be whatever compels you want to write. All writers write incessantly (except when blocked), because they feel the need to explain their world at least to themselves. The audience’s perceived needs are secondary.

    Polemics, politics and nationalism make for poor fare whereas the people you meet, nature and the seasons are endlessly fascinating. I mostly write bucolic verse because that’s what I like to write. I also write a lot about global politics. On the whole, with the exception of the tantalising potential of being in at the birth of an Independent Scotland (thus far frustrated), I find the UK a very dull topic indeed; all past and no future. Just my Scots-English tuppence…

    1. Alan Bissett says:

      Bernard –

      “As to what to write about, it should, as ever, be whatever compels you want to write.”

      Unless it’s polemics, politics, nationalism or Crime, apparently.

  14. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    ‘Bernard I had to force myself to read the rest of your response after reading your first sentence about fraternising with the enemy, given that my post was concerning that term.’

    I’m not a politician or a member of the SNP, so I don’t feel any need to mind my Ps and Qs or be nice to the Naws. I just say it as I see it. My interest is in old fashioned Internationalist Socialism (no I’m not a Communist), not in any narrow Nationalism.

    This could, given a chance, flourish in Scotland, while all hopes for an English Socialist dream died under Thatcher and was finally ground into dust by the hooves of the four Scotsmen of the Apocalypse, Mandelson, Blair, Darling and Brown, who just destroyed it.

    Milliband was a Brownite, as Left as Labour dares go these days. The next Labour leader will be a Blairite, obsessed with placating the City, South East England, Ukip supporters et al. I surmise, if you’re a Socialist, you’ll find this as unappetising as I do

    By voting for the Union you voted against what we used to call your class interests and helped to perpetuate Public School, City of London dominance, it’s misplaced sense of entitlement, and their mad vision of still being a world power which carried on unchallenged under Blair and Brown.

    I hope you change your mind, but that’s your affair. Here’s another couple of memes I made earlier, on the topic of Labour Values…



  15. Redgauntlet says:

    Look, friends – Bernard, thanks for the comment – let me be very sincere, painfully sincere. I don’t think we are ever going to have an independent Scotland. That boat sailed last September. And if we do have one day, it will be indistinguishable from the UK anyway. I am a pessimist. The Scots will play themselves out like a maniac in a padded cell, going on and on and on about “le difference” and boring everybody to death…..

    …I just can’t see it happening, and we are out of step with the rest of the world. It is a very strange country Scotland, very eccentric, and still, to this day, quite isolated from the rest of Europe.

    And so we have to look for other venues, and one might be the novel. Might be, not will be just because somebody decides to write about Scotland. But you have to go back to the Scottish canon, which is a very weak canon. There is really not much there at all. And a canon is like a work-out machine in the gym….it is something to fight against. Our best writers , many of them, opted to inscribe themselves in the English tradition. Okay. But somebody like MacDiarmid points in all the directions a Scottish writer might want to explore. He is an internationalist like few others. But he too wrote about the temptation of inscribing himself in a different tradition….he was tempted…if he had lived abroad longer he might well have done it…

    Because Scottish letters have always lain in shallow soil. That is natural if you extirpate the two national languages. What else does anybody expect? We are in the casualty ward. Guys like Kelman – a supremely self-aware writer, he knows every single word he writes, his prose is agonizingly self aware – or somebody like Irvine, who seems to live off a kind of manic energy, a very dark joie de vivre, these guys cannot be a template or an example to follow, or at least, they cannot cover more than the ground which they have already covered so well. Who is going to write the great working class novel after Kelman?

    The Scottish middle class novel doesn’t exist almost….politics forbids it….politics is a choke on Scottish literary talent.

    The route I see is to reconnect with Europe and get people back to learning languages and being Europeans. The Scots were, historically, always great linguists. But not any more. Not any longer. And in Hispanic literature just for for example, there is an embarrassment of riches. They are way, way, way ahead of the Scots or the extremely boring English. They are writing novels like nobody ever dreamed could be written – a totally different terrain (“Oh, you can do that!!!” you say to yourself as you are reading). I am talking about the Latin American novel especially.

    It’s all there, but you need an infrastructure and you need a vanguard. And we have Creative Scotland and BTL at Bella….

    1. JBS says:

      “Le difference”? Which language is that? The only thing that I can think of that comes close to such an expression is the French “la différence”, but since you say that you are a translator, and since you’ve already implied that you are yourself French, you can’t mean that. I would appreciate it if you would provide an explanation.

      1. Redgauntlet says:

        Good schoolmasterly point JBS…I am French? Eh? When did I ever say that mate? My French is pretty ropey as you been quick to spot….

        1. JBS says:

          In one of your comments on Meaghan Delahunt’s short story – a short story which I enjoyed, by the way – you stated the following:

          “My fellow countryman, Marie-Henry Beyle…”

          But perhaps this was some kind of metaphor; perhaps you were claiming some other kind of community with Stendhal?

          1. Redgauntlet says:

            Exactly, JBS, that is what I meant…

            I feel a great affinity with Stendhal, who was highly critical of his native France and lived most of his life in Italy. He was also an Anglophobe. And he started writing late in life, or better said, finishing what he started, and wrote some of the most romantic prose only because, essentially, he failed to find the great love of his life. And he dedicates Lucien Leuwen “To the happy few”, that is, to lovers of literature, and says something along the lines of “I dedicate this book to all those readers whom I will never meet and whom I would so much have like to have spent an evening with. Try not to live your life between hatred and fear”…

            …and the voice of Marie-Henry Biel suddenly reaches you across the centuries. You can almost see him and hear him (I can almost see him and hear him) And that is the magic of literature, which has no borders of either time or space.

          2. Jones says:

            What was it Stendhal said about Grenoble? ‘At the end of every street there a fucking mountain’

    2. Jones says:

      Redgauntlet, Are you James Joyce in disguise? You sound awfully like him.

  16. Redgauntlet says:

    The thing, Alan, which is instructive about the Latin Americans, is that they had the boom in the 60’s: Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Carpentier, Borges (okay, pre boom but very, very very important) Cortázar, Fuentes, Miguel Asturias, Juan Rulfo…I could go on, a very long list….

    ..and they had the revolution. Latin America was the centre of Revolution in the 70’s, it was a fervent of Marxism, and then came Pinochet and the Junta in Argentina and the tortured and disappeared, and you get the massive wave of South American intellectuals in Europe.

    And what we have now, and above all in the figure of Roberto Bolaño (who was Chilean and arrested by Pinochet’s thugs and managed to get out of jail because he knew one of the guards from school) is the counter-boom. A generation of brilliant novelists from Argentina and Chile and Mexico who no longer believe in the Revolution EITHER.

    I am talking about writers like Rodrigo Fresán and Cesar Aira and in Spain, Enrique Vila-Matas and lots of others. And they have one loyalty and one country, and that country is the Republic of Letters. And they are interested, in a way, in the formal aspects of the novel, and are writing post-novels really, not stories, books about books and books about writers….fragments…Serio Pitol would be another…books which are half memoirs, half essays and half fiction….very fertile terrain…

    And maybe that is what we need in Scotland. Forget the Scots, forget politics, and get back to the game of literature, because we can do nothing for Scotland. We just lost a referendum, and I ain’t devoting any more time of this very short life to Scotland. Why should I? The Scots have made their bed and they can lie in it….

  17. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    ‘Bernard – “As to what to write about, it should, as ever, be whatever compels you want to write.”
    Unless it’s polemics, politics, nationalism or Crime, apparently.’

    Whatever rocks your boat, Alan. After all I read your article didn’t I, and I guess I’m being polemical? Just that, for the most part, Yes Minister and the Thick of It excepted, modern day politics makes for dull art. Bleasdale and Lindsay Anderson were also great, but that was decades ago. Just my tuppence…

  18. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    Mind you, Alan, a novel about internecine conflict in an ordinary Labour family fighting over Independence would be well worth writing, though I doubt I’d read it. Just a thought… 😉

  19. Redgauntlet says:

    Or Alan, what about the absolutely fundamental role of the critic?

    The critic, the serious, learned critic, and David Daiches is the last one I can think of, has disappeared under a shit-tide of opinion or, if not the deadly dry wood of Scottish academicism….that is the truth about Scotland…

    …there is really not one critic who has the authority that a critic needs to have..the critic has read more than anybody and is always as harsh as he or she is generous…a fundamental figure in the world of letters, and we don’t have one….okay, i respect Rosemary Goring, but I never get the feeling she has read everything and then, yes, she went and wrote a novel…what kind of critic is that? I mean, does Rosemary read other languages?

    Steiner reads English, German, French, Italian and Jewish (Yiddish?). Steiner has read EVERYTHING….

  20. Redgauntlet says:

    Sorry, Scotland is a backwater, a half-baked backwater…it has cut itself off from the rest of the world and invested all its energies in politics…it spreads its egalitarianism to the realm of art, which is like saying everybody should get a shot at the number 9 jersey in the national team…it has phoney languages…Gaelic is despised, and some of the Gaels who teach it despise the learners and use it as a weapon of a Calvanistic superiority complex against those with the temerity to express an interest….

    …Scots these days is the disjecta membra of the language once known as Scots….the dialects of Scots are not capable of expressing anything like the range of human experience…there is no film industry to speak of despite 10 years of SNP rule….the world of letters is run by abominable companies like The Scottish Book Trust – who pay their staff, even the lowliest, salaries double the average wage of a writer in the UK (According to the Society of Authors the average writer earns 11,000 a year) – and who do their utmost to trivialize literature and turn it into a gimmicky thing not so different to advertising. There is no translation culture almost to speak of, and Scotland’s top ten writers would be struggling to name two, three or five writers in Germany, France and Spain….

    …it is, in short, hostile territory and deadly for a writer with any kind of ambitions.

    1. JBS says:

      Thank you for your clarification of the point I raised above. I understand now that you are not French, and that Stendhal is your “fellow countryman” in the sense that you are both inhabitants of the Land of High Imaginative Literature.

      You have already damned everyone for not taking literature as seriously as you do. Now you appear to be saying that, with a few honourable exceptions, everything produced by modern Scottish writers is second rate, or worse.

      Forgive me for saying so, but the stridency of your remarks leads me to suspect a degree of personal animus on your part. I can think of three reasons for this, off the top of my head, and based on everything you’ve written so far:

      (1) you want a job in the Arts in Scotland, but nobody will give you one (your comments on this, and a previous thread, give some indication why this might be the case);

      (2) you want someone to employ you as a translator (but no-one will, because you don’t know any languages well enough to supply translations which are faithful and idiomatic); and

      (3) there is a novel, or uncommissioned translation, lying unpublished in a drawer of your desk (which, although you’ve submitted it many times, has always been rejected because it is so bad that no-one will want to read it).

      One, any two, all three? Perhaps you could clarify.

      I have to say that you remind me of certain academics I encountered many years ago who, although they also claimed a “special affinity” with the writers whose works they studied and taught, never produced a work of imaginative literature themselves because they were incapable of doing so.

      1. Redgauntlet says:

        JBA, quite a tone you take on there, and your post is full of demands…anyway, given you ask (or better said, demand) a number of things, and notwithstanding your patently ridiculous and high-handed tone:

        A) I have never applied for a job in the arts in Scotland in my life, nor will I ever almost certainly.
        B) I don’t want “somebody to employ me as a translator”….I already am a translator, I have been making my living as a freelance translator for ten years.
        C) I have never submitted anything to any publisher either in Scotland or elsewhere.

        So wrong on all counts JSB. How wrong can you be? And of course, you make it PERSONAL. I have never made PERSONAL assumptions or remarks about other poster on Bella, at least I try not to do that.

        I think it is an objective fact that Britain is by far the hardest market for translated fiction – something like 3% is translated fiction in a UK bookshop compared to around 25% in the rest of Europe. The Americans are much better with publishers like New Directions.

        If you study the history of world literature, you quickly see how important translation has been in providing a lifesblood, who important it is in providing new ideas and themes and tones. So it’s nothing about the talent of writers in the UK per se, it is about British culture – and Scotland is only slightly better – which in insular, parochial and cosy and comfy and frankly BORING.

        As for Stendhal, his address is “to the reader”….so I am hardly making an exclusive claim on him. But, naturally, to be a reader of Stendhal, you first actually have to have read Stenhdal.

        1. JBS says:

          “Man, I’m not sneering, I’m laughing, or at least chuckling at you dullards who shy away from a debate….the insufferable mentality of the Kirk…the same Kirk which burned all the art in Scotland in a fit of self-righteousness – which you seem to be suffering from, Frank.”

          No, not PERSONAL at all.

          Anyway, tatty-bye and good luck – I hope that you can eventually divest yourself of your embarrassment at being Scottish.

          1. Redgauntlet says:

            And what is personal about that R2-D2? You, on the other hand, surmise my motives and cast aspersions on my intentions, you say it is all a case of petty frustrations… you turn me from Redgauntlet to Blackguard.

            Truly base. You cannot do that, and I’ve read your posts on Bella, you know better.

            As MacDiarmid said “it’s true that the Scots are a country of great engineers. But most nations are not proud of their engineers, they are proud of their writers and poets and artists”.


            As for being Scottish, we will never get over it, it is a handicap, and more so than ever since 55% of the country endorsed the Union of 1707. We are a laughing stock…

  21. Darien says:

    Lets face it, we all know the 56 are going to achieve SFA at Westminster. That means their only real option is to walk out of the place and declare independence. Otherwise they let the Tories continue to destroy Scotland. I think I would prefer to see a wee bit courage.

  22. Jones says:

    The best writers, including Scots, have been poly-influenced, as is the best culture. It will always have it’s own flavour but it has to be open. Borges, drew on all manner of influences, from Austria to England to Scotland to Africa to Germany to Italy to China and laid the ground for Marquez, Allende, Fuentes, Llosa, Antunes…. So my answer to the question is that I think many are ‘all Scotland out’ for the present time. Culturally it feels a bit claustrophobic, needs a window open to let air circulate.

    ‘…but during my many hours browsing Bella I’ve learned about land reform, surveillance, global activism, linguisitcs, environmentalism, poetry and evolutionary theory. There is no subject it is afraid to touch. I admire the single-minded focus of other pro-indy blogs – it’s why I visit them – but none can match Bella’s sheer, rangy, restless curiosity…’

    See this kind of sums up the above. Surely ‘as a curious writer’ whose job is to observe, you should be more pluralistic. No offence (and I think Bella is a good/ interesting blog with a future) but many of us have been ‘curious enough’ to seek out and learn about these things irrespective. If you need spoon fed like this then….?

    1. Jones says:

      Sorry, the above was phrased somewhat arrogantly, as has been pointed out. What I really mean is that if Indy artists get stuck in the echo chamber then it serves no purpose. Bella is a good site but a very partisan one (It is political, intellectual and social Ronseal, it does what it says on the tin and publishes pro indy articles on the left with a specific and overt anti establishment agenda) But this is hardly representative of a wider plurality of views, which I think is necessary for ‘artists’ to expose themselves to, if they are to be worthy of the term. Surely their job is not to be slavish but to read widely and challenge and be individuals.

  23. Jones says:


    Your posts touch upon something quite important I think and articulates it well. It’s a good discussion to have, one the ‘artists’ should be having!….the tension between the wider world and the local ‘national’ world. I dug out this passage from Kundera in one of his essays on literature and nationhood. Kundera is primarily talking about the Czech/ Slovak literature but it applies very well to Scotland and (the large nation England.)

    Kafka made similar observations.

    (the provinicalism of large nations is that they don’t look outwards, mainly because they are complex and large enough to contain the history of the world within their borders, they are necessarily ‘Goethian’ in their inclusion of ‘world literature’, they are ‘world literature’.

    ‘The French student has a greater gap in his knowledge of world culture than the Polish student, but he can get away with it because his own culture more or less contains all the aspects, all the phases and all the possibilities of world culture.’

    The Provinicialism of Small Nations….

    ‘Small nations are reticent towards the ‘large’ context for the opposite reasons. They hold it in high esteem but feel it to be something alien, a sky above their heads, distant, inaccessible, an ideal reality with little connection to their own national literature. The small nation inculcates in it’s writer the conviction that he belongs to that place alone. To set his gaze beyond the boundary of the homeland, to join his colleagues in supranational territory of art is considered pretentious, distainful of his own people. And since small nations are going through situations in which their survival is at stake they readily manage to present their attitude as morally justified.’

    ‘For a small nation literature is less a matter of literary history, than ‘a matter of the people’ and it is that exceptional osmosis of that literature and it’s people that facilitate ‘the literature’s diffusion throughout the country where is it binds with political slogans’

    Perhaps an explanation why so many ‘artists’ on the Yes side were so vocal and happy to associate so overtly with the political?

    1. Redgauntlet says:

      Hi Jones.

      Yes, I know the essay you mean, “Die Weltliteratur”, a term which was coined by Goethe of course. It appeared in The New Yorker maybe ten years ago, and appears in a book of his essays. It’s a great essay.

      Kundera is totally right of course. But, furthermore, the Scottish writer is caught in a trap, or a paradox, or a certain type of writer is. It’s not that he has to choose between two literary languages – like, say, the Catalan writer between Castilian and Catalan (lots of the best Catalan writer write in Castilian and others write in Catalan and nobody judges them for that) which are both languages and literatures with a whole forcefield of references and literature behind them.

      The Scottish writer, on the other hand, has to choose between “pidgeon English or wildfowl Scots”….which is why what Kelman has done is so amazing. He should be up the Nobel Prize for Literature in my opinion. The only writer who I can compare him to is Chinua Achebe.

      As for me, I am off Bella, because I am obviously ruffling feathers, and if I ever get it together to finish a novel, it will be in Spanish…I prefer Hispanic literature to literature written in English.

      As for Scottish literature, there isn’t much of it really, and how much contempt, yes contempt and disdain can you have for a culture which is capable of letting TWO languages die.

      If you open the Scots Concise Dictionary and see the entrance for the word “uncou” – maybe two pages of varieties of way that word can be employed, a word which has built up a huge range of meanings and nuances around it over CENTURIES, a whole forcefield of meaning – and then think that you are from a culture which can just let that word die…well then, you feel contempt and disdain and anger for the bleating Scots who have been suicidally negligent with their national culture.

      And then when you you see Gray, one of our great writers, down on his knees before the reader, trying to get him to accept “aiblins”…you know, it is pathetic.

      Being Scottish is EMBARRASSING….a country of philistines for the most part.

      1. JBS says:

        That was a brief sabbatical. All too brief.

        R2-D2? Are we into name-calling now? Well, thanks for the laugh, Jabba the Hoot.

        I wonder, if I carry on like this, whether I can provoke you into a complete mental meltdown? But that would be cruel, and you are so obviously insecure.

  24. Jimmy says:

    Bernard By The Burn

    As far as I recollect, Boadicea had absolutely nothing to do with English history.

  25. Redgauntlet says:

    Di-egol Maradona
    Thank you God
    For football
    For Diego
    For this Argentina 2 – England 0
    Viva, viva, viva Maradona!!!!

    Scottish legend….”es para llorar, from what planet did you come to beat the English with these two goals…es para llorar, viva, viva, viva Maradona”…

  26. Redgauntlet says:

    No, seriously, the word for word translation is this (much better than my summary):

    …And he starts out on the right, Maradona, the genius of world football, and always Maradona, genius…. genius….one… two, three…



    I want to cry, sorry, it’s the run of the century, cosmic barrel, oh what planet did you come from to leave so many English in your wake?

    So that Argentina is a raised fist in the air….

    Dieg-ol, Dieg-ol, Dieeeeeego Maradona!!!

  27. Bernard BytheBurn says:

    “Bernard By The Burn – As far as I recollect, Boadicea had absolutely nothing to do with English history.” If the storming of Colchester, Saint Albans and London has nothing to do with English History, Jimmy, then I don’t know what does, unless you mean the narrow point that England as Kingdom didn’t exist when the Romans invaded in which case Calgacus has nothing to do with the history of Scotland and Bach had no part in the history of German music, or did I mistake your point?

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