2007 - 2021

The Possible Worlds of Alasdair Gray

Possible nationAlasdair Gray is a towering cultural figure at one level simply because he is a polymath whose output is unparalleled in its quantity, scope and quality.

As an artist, writ large in the Oran Mor murals or small in his print and post card productions, he is a true successor to the visionary artist and poet William Blake, to whom he is often compared. As well, he is a prolific author, who has written not one but many acclaimed novels and stories, notably Lanark, which the Guardian described in 2008 as ‘one of the landmarks of 20th century fiction’. Alasdair is also a playwright, an essayist, and importantly, a political theorist with useful things to say regarding potentially escaping the cul de sac in which humanity presently finds itself trapped.

In this post, it is in this last capacity that I wish to consider his work.

Small nations can work well

Winston Churchill famously said that ‘Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.’ And in the circumstances of 1945, this remark was perfectly accurate. After all, Churchill and his Tories were routed in the first post war World War 2 election by Clement Attlee and the Labour Party, who went on to create the welfare state and the National Health Service. But that was then, and this is now.

Fast-forward to today, and 62 people own as much wealth as half the world’s population, and money and politics have become two sides of the same coin. The western democracies have become naked oligarchies, and governments exist in 2016 only to serve the interests of global corporations. And corporations, by their own internal logic serve only the interests of their shareholders (and latterly, of their CEOs), thereby guaranteeing the kind of short term thinking that we simply cannot afford in a time of ecocide and environmental collapse.

What is to be done?

There are no blanket solutions to these conundrums, unfortunately; only initiatives that can nudge us collectively in a better direction, and to my way of thinking such initiatives are today a moral imperative. We do not inherit the world from our ancestors, but rather, we borrow it from our children (said to be an American Indian proverb).

Scotland has a unique opportunity to successfully reinvent genuine democracy in a small, English speaking country, thereby becoming an example to the world, and, very importantly, to the English speaking nations. But reinventing democracy won’t come easily, as the events of 2014 have proven.

Alasdair wrote the following passage (in ball point pen on a sheet of foolscap) to support Songs for Scotland 2, and in answer to this question: ‘why do small nations work well?’ These are his words, published here for the first time, although you can easily read expanded versions of these ideas elsewhere in his literary output:

“The ancient Greeks lived within a group of small nations. Some were democracies where most citizens voted on communal actions; others plutocracies, where the rich made all the main decisions; and some tyrannies, where one main party boss was in charge. The Greeks were the first to debate which of these worked best; and one conclusion they reached was that the bigger the nation the more likely it was to be ruled by the rich or by a tyrant.

Before 1990 two systems of government dominated the world: single party tyrannies, which claimed to be communist; and capitalist tyrannies, which claimed to be democratic. When the communist system collapsed in the USSR, in 1989, and China began trading like other capitalist states, an American sociologist, Francis Fukuyama, announced that history as we have known it as a story of continuous national warfare had come to an end! The triumph of capitalism meant there were no longer grounds for wars. Fukuyama has recently announced that he was wrong, and that Denmark (population roughly five million, like Scotland) is a good example of a country where the elected government is ensuring a safer and more just life for most of its people.

Certainly anyone who could choose where their children would grow up with the best chance for a good life, without inheriting much wealth, would choose a democracy like the Scandinavian ones, or Netherlands, or New Zealand.

The US and UK governments, by contrast, take it for granted that readiness for nuclear war is essential to their existence.”

Alasdair Gray

Scottish civic nationalism

The corporate media incessantly attacks ‘Scottish nationalism’ as a blood and soil ideology which seeks a Scotland ‘only’ for the ‘ethnically Scottish’ (whatever that is); when in fact, the idea of Scottish civic nationalism as advanced by Alasdair Gray, and others, is about returning to democracy’s ancient roots. In its purest form, as in ancient Greece, the demos of a small polity engage collectively in running their common affairs. Voila – democracy! Like most really good ideas, this is breathtakingly simple stuff.

And where it’s all gone wrong, especially since the Thatcher era, is in the fusion of money and power inside a mega state centred in London, which has made our British government in 2016 ‘the best democracy that money can buy’. ‘Our’ government in Westminster exists solely to serve the financial interests of global corporations in the banking, resource extractive, and warfare industries. These are its only interests.

Walter Scott also memorably expressed this idea, about the user friendliness of compact nation states:

‘When we had a king, and a chancellor, and parliament-men o’ our ain, we could aye peeble them wi’ stanes when they werena gude bairns – But naebody’s nails can reach the length o’ Lunnon.’ 

Walter Scott (1771-1832) Mrs Howden in Heart of Midlothian

For true democracy in Scotland, our seat of government must once again be here so that we’ll be able to peeble them wi’ stanes when they arena gude bairns. The patrician Sir Walter may have thus inadvertently coined the best ‘peoples’ definition’ of what a democracy must be to be truly successful.

The first time I met Alasdair, in 2014, over a spot of lunch at the Ubiquitous Chip off of Byres Road, he remarked that Scottish independence would not by itself guarantee that this country won’t end up being governed by a cabal of millionaires (or billionaires); but it at least allowed for the possibility of genuine democratic governance. Stated another way, Scottish independence is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for the creation of a true democracy – but a necessary condition it most certainly is.

Clare Patterson recently posted an insightful article about Alasdair on Bella Caledonia. She wrote that over his decades long career, Alasdair has consistently remained true to his collectivist principles, in part by engaging in a kind of democratic praxis in which his art and politics have become fused; and thereby his personality has become rather oddly imprinted on his native Glasgow, both in the mental furniture of Glaswegians who may have encountered their first literary images of Glasgow in his novels; and also visually, in his murals scattered through the city’s west end.

Highly principled, when Alasdair was offered a knighthood he turned it down, quipping that ‘there was no money attached to it’. And while as a working artist he has certainly created an impressive oeuvre of one-off works (paintings, portraits and special commissions); his collectivist principles are again displayed in his long standing efforts to distribute his art as limited edition prints, so that his work doesn’t become merely the privileged preserve of an elite few.

It’s worth adding that Alasdair is well pleased that we are creating tee shirts featuring his Is Scotland a Possible Nation? image, as a kind of ultimate democratic and collectivist expression of his art.

Please support us! We are aiming to create a collaborative cultural event to honour Alasdair Gray. It won’t be the work of one of us, or of a few of us. It has to be the work of all of us.

Comments (52)

Join the Discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Doubting Thomas says:

    “Reinventing democracy”!!
    What is wrong with one person one vote?
    The suggestion that democracy as delivered in 2014 was somehow subverted clearly lies with Wee Nicola as she seeks to deny the will of the people of Scotland who voted in the majority to remain part of the U.K.

    1. Onwards says:

      It’s a strange argument that continuing to push for independence is somehow anti-democratic. Choice should always exist in a democracy.

      Voters in Scotland chose to remain in the UK in 2014, but given the narrow result and the false promises made to achieve it, no-one really thinks the issue is settled.

      Scotland wouldn’t have gained devolution if people had just given up after 1979.

      1. Doubting Thomas says:

        You make some good points.
        On the particular issue of truthfulness from sides in the referendum I think everyone accepts both were equally mendacious.
        Certainly in the EU referendum held to decide on whether the UK should stay in or leave it’s clear there was blatant and deliberate misinformation promoted on both sides.
        As you say in a democracy the right to change one’s mind should always be allowed as freedom of choice.
        But if it were an election the period before this could be exercised would be five years.
        Historically in the case of referenda then it would be substantially more.
        Whether a generation is considered appropriate or whether it should be longer as it has been historically between each referendum is an argument which each individual will have views on.
        However when the leading politician in Scotland says that the referendum will be “a once in a generation” event people could reasonably expect it to be the case.
        In seeking to use a later referendum result which had no direct relationship to the question of Scotland being an independent country as the basis for calling a further referendum in a time scale which cannot be justified then most reasonable people would consider that to be an affront to democracy.
        In fact as the polls show that is how the electorate feel.

        1. Onwards says:

          @Doubting Thomas – Surely in a democracy, the issue of timing between referendums should be up to the voters ?

          And indeed, a majority of pro-indy parties were elected at the last Holyrood elections, so the Scottish Parliament does have the right to decide again.

          Nicola Sturgeon did say her opinion was “once in a generation”, but she ALSO said that the right to hold another referendum would be entirely reasonable if major change occurred.. precisely such as being dragged out the EU against our will.

          Realistically, the SNP will announce plans for another referendum when they think it is winnable, but the justification is obviously there – especially if we leave the single market and lose our freedoms to travel, live, work and trade anywhere in Europe without restrictions. That would represent massive negative change for this country, and it could be completely reasonable to have another referendum in such circumstances.

          1. Doubting Thomas says:

            Sorry but you can’t have it both ways.
            If it is as you say up to the voters to decide then a referendum about having a referendum would be required.
            The current polls suggest it would be a non starter.
            Politicians should not be trusted with this as clearly indicated by Wee Nicola.
            Well she did say that if the people of Scotland were in favour of another referendum no politician should deny them this.
            Surel the same goes if they clearly and continuously show that they are not in favour of another referendum or indeed of independence.

  2. Haideng says:

    ‘The corporate media incessantly attacks ‘Scottish nationalism’ as a blood and soil ideology which seeks a Scotland ‘only’ for the ‘ethnically Scottish’ (whatever that is); when in fact, the idea of Scottish civic nationalism as advanced by Alasdair Gray, and others, is about returning to democracy’s ancient roots. In its purest form, as in ancient Greece, the demos of a small polity engage collectively in running their common affairs. Voila – democracy! Like most really good ideas, this is breathtakingly simple stuff.’

    Having studied a bit of classics and written a few too many boring essays on nationalism could someone please direct me to a single contemporary academic on nationalism who maintains the ridiculous illogical oxtmoronic ‘Hans Cohen’ + ‘benedict Andersons’ notion of civic nationalism? Just one! Almost all contemporary historians and scholars reject the distinction, that nationalism can be divided between the ‘civic’ and the ‘ethnic’. All maintain that one is dependent on the other.

    The Greeks. Serioiusluy. I can only presume the estemeemable Alistair Gray must have skipped Plato and his philosopher king republic, and skim read Diogenes and his cosmospolitanism that pissed the Greeks ‘civic’ state fathers off so much.

    Uneducated nonsense.

    1. Tumshie says:

      You could make a start with Rousseau and his social contract theories which underpin the notion of representative democracy, move forward to John Stuart Mill and Ernest Renan with his notion of ‘nation as daily referendum’ maybe, skip forward to Tamir Yael’s ‘Liberal Nationalism’, Will Kymlicka’s ‘Multicultural Citizenship’ or David Miller’s ‘On Nationality’; technically Rousseau could only be defined as ushering in ‘modern’ thinking and not contemporary, likewise Mill and Renan, the others are contemporary academics, peer reviewed, published and still working.

      1. Haideng says:

        None of these people (especially not Mill) maintain the distinction between the ‘civic’ and the ‘ethnic’ in their analysis of nationalism. They assume Liberal nationalism which is different and makes no distinction between the ‘ethnic’ component and the the ‘civic’, but accept a benign link. And they are wrong.

        1. Haideng says:

          Just think about it from a logical perspective. An ethnic nationalism seeks to be a state. To be a state it necessarily requires a civic component – institutions, laws, infrastructure – this is inescapable. Equally a civic nationalism (or supposedly) seeks a state based primarily on civic institutions as the linking factor. But in order for those civic institutions to function they require some form of unity and legitimacy. The primary source of that unity and legitimacy is a shared heritage and history – the ‘ethnic’ component. The notion that you can have a completely civic nationalism in a country like Scotland where 90+% of the people have what is considered a shared identity based on heritage and history is absurd. Even in the USA, as you see with the discrimination of black Americans or in Isreal (where the notion of contemporary civic nationalism has it’s root with the inclusion of Arabs into the state) there is a hierarchy of competing ethnicities.

          In Scotland this duality manifests itself in both the Parliament, the separate legal system and for nationalists in language culture and the control over the historical narrative (when there is no such singular narrative. There is no history only histories) See the national newpaper, see all the flags in George Square, See the endless obsessing by the ‘artists’ about what it means to be Scottish, see the endless attempts to make a distinction between England and Scotland to counter the equally legitimate British narrative and the overlapping of history and identity.

          1. Tumshie says:

            Your notion of statehood also seems woefully outdated, apparently rooted in a ‘modernist’ perspective so your analysis of the ‘competing’ nationalist narratives also seems reductive, redundant and a little out of time.

        2. Tumshie says:

          Liberal nationalism in its definitions maintains a distinction in socio-cultural terms between ethnic and civic nationalism, all of the contemporary writers mentioned attempt to broaden the terms of debate around definition, where as your absolutist, reductive reasoning, ‘they are wrong’, only attempts to restrict it, that’s not academic, reasoned debate, it’s the tyranny of your opinion.

          You asked for just one contemporary academic, I gave you three and the root of the notion, which you refuse to countenance; your implication that all nationalism must be ethnic appears to be rooted in your own prejudices against the idea of a civic nationalism, it’s impossible to debate a concept you refuse to acknowledge exists in academic terms even if it’s academic evolution can readily be illustrated; education, academia is as subjective as any other field and of course, with a multitude of ethnic nationalisms from history to choose from there are of course predominantly more studies of an ethnic base to nationalism than a civic one, that doesn’t preclude the possibility of an academic base for it or that more weight should be given to the greater quantity of ethnicity based studies, those are the lessons from history upon which civic nationalism is founded not the counter to it.

          1. Haideng says:

            Ok fair enough, I stand corrected – I was being reductive. What I should have said is that the prevailing consensus does not maintain the Hans Cohen ‘East West dichotomy – that ‘good’ Western modern Liberal states were founded soley civic institutions where as ‘bad’ Eastern nationalism is founded on primordial ethnicity’ nor that (as often implied by Scottish nationalists in debate) there is a certain ‘exclusive’ type of nationalism that has no ethnic component, or ethnic hierarchy to it nor that the systemics of ethnic primordial nationalism – due to there always being and ethnic component – are somehow removed. The prevailing consensus, even among Liberal nationalists and multiculturalists like Kymlicka is that all nationalisms ultimately share the same root of ethnicity but are tempered by the relative strength of liberal traditions, the rule of law, protection of individual rights and democracy. But all, including Western ‘civic’ so called inclusive nationalism potentially subject to the irrationalities and malign aspects of the ethnic of collective will. This includes Scottish nationalism – to maintain that a non multi cultural country like Scotland that there is no use or manipulation of the majority ethnicity or sense of identity is nonsense. This is what is often implied by Scottish nationalists.

          2. James R says:

            I think the point being made is that just because you have a civic essence and liberal traditions it does not mean there aren’t other elements to the nationalism. All nationalisms share somethings in common and shift on an axis. To claim and end state and assert ‘civic’ nationalism is simply that assertion. It is not evidence.

            Denying this is a bit silly when one of the central aspects of the nationalist cultural agenda is the endless Scottishization of pretty much everything and the denial of possible over lapping identities such as being British and Scottish as opposed to being an English person who supports independence which is always how it is conflated. How many times have you heard an English Scottish nationalist assert themselves as British instead? That in itself is reductive ethnic nationalism as being a Briton is also an identity with history and cultural agency.

  3. Douglas Stuart Wilson says:

    Alasdair keeps making his point about the comparisons between Ancient Greece and Scotland and he is right to do so.

    This summer I read Thucydides’s “History of the Peloponesian War”, and here is the famous funeral oration by Perciles about political arrangements in Athens at the time, about 430 BC, which should serve as a benchmark for the SNP and the aspiration of a new indie Scotland:

    “Our Constitution is called a democracy because power is in the hands of a minority but of the whole people. When it is a question of settling private disputes, everyone is equal before the law; when it is a question of putting one person before another in positions of public responsibility, what counts is not membership of particular class, but the actual ability which the man possesses. No one, so long as he has it in him to be of service to the State, is kept in political obscurity because of poverty. And, just as our political life is free and open, so is our day to day life in our relations with each other….W give our obedience to those whom we put in positions of authority, and we obey the laws themselves, especially those which are for the protection of the oppressed…Our love of what is beautiful does not lead to extravagance; our love of the things of the mind does not make us soft. We regard wealth as something to be properly used, rather than as something to boast about….Here in Athens, each individual is interested not only in his own affairs, but in the affairs of the State as well; even those who are mostly occupied with their own business are extremely well-informed on general politics – that is a peculiarty of ours; we do not say that a man who takes no interest in politics minds his own business; we say that he has no business here at all…”

    By the way, how many of our MP’s will have read anything about Ancient Greece at all? 5%, 10%, maybe 20 or 30%?

    1. Haideng says:

      Given that half of them studied PPE at Oxbridge quite a few of them will be very well versed in classics.

      Oh and Greek citizenship was predicated on slavery.

      1. Douglas Stuart Wilson says:

        No, it wasn’t; you’re just talking out of your hat, you ignorant windbag.

        1. Haideng says:

          Ah diddums, does actual education bother you? Should we all go back in our box and tug our forelocks and suck up the bullshit and received wisdom eh?

          Are you seriously maintaining that the Greek civic states were not predicated on a strict social hierarchy and class system with defined rights for differing people one of which was chatel ownership of other human beings as slaves? Including women?

          go read a book mate and think for yourself for once.

          1. Douglas Stuart Wilson says:

            Slavery was ubiquitous at the time, found in all societies, usually slaves were prisoners of war. To say that Greek society was “predicated” on slavery is untrue. Slaves were one of the few things that Ancient Athens had in common with all other political cultures of the time. So, what is interesting, different, and new about ancient Athens is everything and anything but slavery.

            Slavery is found throughout human history, democracy as the Greeks designed it, is not.

            PS: You are still an ignorant windbag.

          2. Haideng says:

            Just because other states were also predicated on slavery doesn’t make it any less true that Athens and Sparta were slave based societies (meaning an intrinsic dependence/ essential aspect of for the social hierarchy to work). But i suspect we are descending into pedantry and semantics so I apologise and take your point (also).

  4. Haideng says:

    ‘As an artist, writ large in the Oran Mor murals or small in his print and post card productions, he is a true successor to the visionary artist and poet William Blake, to whom he is often compared.’

    Seriously? Now I like some of Alistai Gray’s stuff, the thingy in Oran Mor and Hillhead underground, but Blake? Who outside of the nationalist clique has ever compared Gray to Blake. Go on, just one critic, writer beyond the Clyde?

      1. Haideng says:

        Fair enough, I stand corrected. Still think it’s a little premature to compare Gray to Blake though. Surely a few years posterity is required?

        1. Kevin Brown says:

          Fair comment. That’s how things usually go in this world, for sure. Isn’t it true that Van Gogh never sold a single painting?

          Songs for Scotland 2, our little project is, intended to be revolutionary in that we wish to honour Alasdair while he’s still with us

          1. Haideng says:

            Yes you certainly have a point. I am open to being proven wrong.

          2. Crubag says:

            Van Gogh is meant to have sold at least one, The Red Vineyard.

  5. Haideng says:

    The thing that I find troubling about Alistair Gray is not his art or his writing but his assertions on politics and citizenship as ‘imagined’ or the polis as ‘a collective’ as though there is some mystical grand metaphysical narrative that ‘a people’ can tap into. It reeks of utopianism, which as anyone who casts a cursory glance at the history of modernity (the last few hundred years) will see is the fundamental basis for all totalitarianism. See fascism and the various high minded ‘imagined’ countries (go take a look at Albert Speers plans for a new Berlin) or see the high minded utopianism of the Soviet Union that ended up being a gulag state. All claimed to be the true voice of the people, steering ‘the nation’ towards a single historical end state and thus everything along the way is excusable. Perhaps Alistair Gray ought to read some other more critical commentators on ‘imagined communities’ starting with say Von Hayek and the Road to Serfdom and the most important and rational, lucid and logical dissection of social and political systemic- Karl Popper – the poverty of historicism and the Open Society and it’s enemies. Both were Austrian Jews forced to flee the Nazi’s, so both had a fairly good insight. Its this language and some of the imagery that creeps me out. I know he’s paraphrasing someone else but ‘work as if you are living in the early days of a better nation’ is pure modernist, collectivist, historicist tosh. Give me pragmatic citizenship rights based on the individual and wide open liberal civic spaces where multiple notions of the good life and society are allow to compete against one another.

    Not looking for an argument but would be interested to hear other people’s thoughts on this as it is a much overlooked aspect of Alistair Gray and indeed the utopianism of the Yes movement (that put many middle of the road non radical pragmatists (like myself) off independence.

    1. Haideng says:

      I mean, was it just me or was anyone else troubled by the fact that almost all the imagery of the Yes movement was reminiscent of past modernist art – stuff that could have been on a wall in China during the cultural revolution? And other failed ‘imagined communities’. The troubling kind, rooted in the year zero of the Robbispieres Jacobin Terror? I half expected someone ‘a self styled indy artist’ to announce the creation of a new calander at some point.

      1. Haideng says:

        The reason I ask is not to attack the Yes movement but to point out that for many people, no voters, the objection was not so much the possibility of independence but the nationalism that accompanied it. There is a clear distinction and it seems to me if Scotland is to become and independent state it needs to turn away from that rhetoric, and imagery and root itself in a more pragmatic non confrontational framework that most people are more comfortable with.

        1. Inverschnecky says:

          If you like Hayek – Thatcher and Regan’s favorite bedtime read – then it’s easy to see why you don’t like this article.
          The road to serfdom is just that – a guide to allow your society to descend into food-banks and zero-hour contracts. It allows the ‘few’ to escape the confining influence of the state and the ‘many’ to be serfs.
          If you believe that wealth should be inherited, if you believe that the children of the rich should control the resources of the state. Perhaps the tory party is your spiritual home?

          Getting ‘No’ voters to change their minds with a “pragmatic non confrontational framework” good luck with that..
          Personally I’ll stick to challenging the MSM and those who advocate a ‘small state’ and the failed theology of Hayek.

          1. greatelephantcensus says:

            “Personally I’ll stick to challenging the MSM and those who advocate a ‘small state'”

            So you’re going to stick to:

            – screaming that the reason that a majority of people disagree with you is because of the variously named ‘MSM’, ‘right wing media’, ‘right wing puppet media of the Neoliberal establishment’ etc. etc, and their nefarious influence, which extends to ‘brainwashing’ millions of people, and depriving them of their ability to consider a range of information of views, undertake a critical appraisal, and make up their own minds?

            – insisting that the solution to all problems for individuals and groups is an ever larger state, which shall and must, without condition, receive ever increasing funding paid for out of the communal pot?

            and this will get you what you want / secure Scotland’s “independence” – ?

            I disagree with Lesley Riddoch on most things, but the one thing i do agree with her on is that Scotland and Scots must become ‘independently minded’ if they are to become truly independent (before during and after any ‘constitutional change’).

            You are insisting that Scots are incapable of making up their own minds, and are incapable of independent thought.

            You are insisting that the State, and the Great Leaders of the State (of the SNP, presumably) are the only ones who can obtain or secure “independence” for Scotland or Scot Land … but what about the actual Scots being ‘independent’ ?

            If I can borrow your phrase, “Good Luck with That”.

            You scorn the idea of getting ‘No’ voters to change their minds with a “pragmatic non confrontational framework”

            Are you going to ‘get’ them to ‘change their minds’ by persistently insulting their intelligence, insisting that they are incapable of making up their own minds, ‘independently’, because they are brainwashed by the ‘MSM’ which has robbed them of their faculties.

            Are you going to tell them that instead of having a small state nation full of self-starters who rely on their self-agency to support themselves independently, you will insist that a big State must and shall be the vehicle for ‘independence’?

            Good Luck with That. I think i’ll get to watch Glaswegians in kilts and trainers weeping in George Square again (i loved that).

    2. Frank says:

      Hayek – a critical commentator? That’s stretching it somewhat. Granted he had some good insights into the state but he was also a neoliberal polemicist who argued against the welfare state on the basis that it led to totalitarianism. If you are into neoliberal theorists – I say this because you also mentioned Popper, I suggest Gary Becker? Far more radical and brilliant than Hayek.

      1. Pilrig says:

        We’re dealing with the Adam Smith Institute here.

        1. Haideng says:

          Yep, as I suspected. Nothing of value mentioned, The poverty of nationalism.

        2. Haideng says:

          What does Karl Popper and recognising the bullshit of hegalian narratives have to do with the Adam Smith institute? Is all you can do deflect from the point being made with ad homs and dismissive cliches?

          No one has addressed the actual point being made! I can only assume no one has an answer.

      2. Haideng says:

        The point is not that Hayek was right, BUT that he recognised what was wrong. Work it out idiot.

        1. Frank says:

          That very ignorant reply suggests to me that you are name dropping with the likes of Hayek, Popper, etc. It was hardly a robust defence of Hayek

          1. Haideng says:

            See this is why so many rejected the Yes movement and why it is so troubling. It completely rejects any objective criticism. It simply trots out the same old cliches to deflect from criticism. Fine ignore Hayek – who wrote about the dangers of government intervention exacerbating economic trouble and the use of economic rationale/ crisis as tool by totalitarians to take liberties away. As it was written in the mid 1940’s after he had witnessed the way government intervention in Germany led to hyper inflation and opened the door for the NAZI’s he actually had a fairly good point. Whether or not Thatcher and Reagan adopted that rationale for their own agenda is irrelavent to the point that I was making.

            The Yes movement is full of psuedo intellectual who charge about spouting vacuous slogans and indulge in mindless binaries and polemics.

            Pointless trying to engage. You Yessers say you want to ‘win’ over skeptical – moderate No voters – but as soon as you are asked a difficult question there is silence and sneering.


  6. Haideng says:

    Still waiting for someone to address my questions.

    1. Haideng says:

      And now that you have googled Hayek, please address my point based on Popper.

      1. Crubag says:

        I don’t see what you see in AG’s art and politics (now if you wanted to make a case for artistic/political extremism, even if on a playful level, Ian Hamilton Finlay might be more promising).

        So far as I know, he’s a Scottish nationalist and a republican, who care about Scottish culture and culture in Scotland, but he’s not a Speer-type demagogue.

        I liked his intro to his reworked Why Scots Should Rule Scotland, which shows he doesn’t think art has all the answers:

        ‘With a view to reprinting [Why Scots Should Rule Scotland] I read it carefully three months ago and found it a muddle of unconnected historical details and personal anecdotes with a few lucid passages and at least one piece of nonsense[.…] The reviewers’ kindness had been the condescension instinctively given to the art of children or halfwits.’

        1. Haideng says:

          Thank you for your reasoned and considered response. And I am not attacking Alistair Gray so much as questioning his assertions on certain things and more the general wider acceptance that if you are a talented in one thing ‘art’ you therefore have some special insight into another – in this case systemics, logic, scientific method and pseudo science and the link to social, economic and political theory (I know that people are complicated and are generally motivated by what they think is the right thing and I believe this to be the case with Gray). Also I do not think Alistair Gray is an extremist – but he does indulge in romantic Utopianism which has in every single historical case due to it being a logical, systemic process – as Popper pointed out – lead to extremism and totalitarianism. The notion that there is a ‘general collective will’ or that ‘the nation’ has a mysterious spirit is deeply troubling. This is what Gray repeatedly asserts. Also I’m not making a point about the validity or possibility of Scotland as an independent state (it has as much rationale as the UK as a state or indeed any state) but the methods used to further that aim in nationalism. Including Scottish nationalism.

        2. Haideng says:

          “I propose the following definition of the nation: it is an imagined political community-and imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign. It is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion…. Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity/genuineness, but by the style in which they are imagined….’

          Benedict Anderson.

          This is where Alistair Gray is coming from…the notion that ‘the nation’ is an imagined community.
          And this is what Popper rejected pointing out the link between Holism (which is what Alistair Gray indulges in) and tyranny. Holism is the belief that indivuduals are formed through their attachment to certain group. This principle is the root of all totalitarianisms. It denies the primacy of the individual and that all rights must fundamentally recognise the the primacy of individual rights.

          “Aestheticism and radicalism must lead us to jettison reason, and to replace it by a desperate hope for political miracles. This irrational attitude which springs from intoxication with dreams of a beautiful world is what I call Romanticism. It may seek its heavenly city in the past or in the future; it may preach ‘back to nature’ or ‘forward to a world of love and beauty’; but its appeal is always to our emotions rather than to reason. Even with the best intentions of making heaven on earth it only succeeds in making it a hell – that hell which man alone prepares for his fellow-men.”

          1. Crubag says:

            Is the last quote Popper?

            I think the Road to Serfdom etc. are a good corrective for totalitarian governments, but for me that is less about nationalism/communism/XXXism and more about the failure of central planning.

            If there is one thing that divides the political past from the present (I’d say the cut off is roughly 1975) is the loss of faith in the ability of governments to plan and manage their economies.

            I’d guess AG, given his age, is probably still attached to the pre-1970s worldview.

            Corbyn is also a kind of throw back to that, and is reaping some popularity. The SNP are in the fortunate position of being able to talk in those terms, but not have to manage on that basis. And social democratic parties generally are struggling with this.

            But BREXIT (and Trump, and Hungary etc.) show that what might be good for the economy in the abstract (companies getting richer) is not necessarily good for the voters (most people not getting richer).

          2. Haideng says:

            Yes the last quote is Popper. But feel free to address the systemics he was smart enough to point out. Or is your nationalism and closed society that cryptos like Alistair Gray and so may ‘Yes artists’ indulge in different from all the others in history????

          3. Haideng says:


            All I’m saying has already been pointed out.

          4. Haideng says:

            And some of us have complicated ‘unfortunate’ backgrounds that most don’t and we see patterns others don’t. And it has n0thing to do with Scottish independence at all. That is a side issue.

          5. Crubag says:

            It’s an odd article by Umberto Eco, like the Americans are some kind of deus ex machina.

            If he thought about it, how did the Americans come about? What are their founding myths? Their shared (and deliberately inculcated) culture?

            Because without that, there would have been no liberation.

  7. Donnie McColl says:

    All I want is my country to be free and not ruled by another country to its detriment under the pretence of a union.

    To combat my beliefs those who disagree with me cry “nationalism”.

    I want to live in a country that looks outward, is hospitable and seeks to reduce inequalities. The country that rules my country is heading in the polar opposite direction

    The irony is that those crying nationalism are far more nationalistic than I or others who share my beliefs, and they are happy to see their brand of nationalism reinforced by nuclear weapons of mass destruction and illegal wars.

    I come from the stand point that force or violence to achieve my political ends is wrong, it must be done through honest persuasion and debate.

    I look at the opponents on here of Scottish independence and see a sad bunch of misguided individuals intent on killing honest debate to maintain the status quo.

    It’s difficult to engage with people who lie and misinform, we just have to work round them.

    1. Haideng says:

      Yaaaaaaaaaaaawwwwwwwnnnnnnnn…ffs. How many cliches in one post! Jesus this is sooooo tedious.

      1. Broadbield says:

        In that case do us all a favour and go elsewhere.

        Yes, there was slavery in Ancient Athens and women and the poor and others weren’t included in the polity, but that doesn’t mean that their principle of democracy – deliberative, consensual and open to all those eligible and not the “representative elected democracy” which has given us professional politicians and excluded the ordinary citizen from government – isn’t a valid option for an independent Scotland.

        “Against Elections etc” by Reybrouck discusses this in some detail.

    2. Alf Baird says:

      Well said Donnie. The Scottish independence cause is primarily about the liberation of our people from colonial/exploitative, anglicised/cultural, class-ridden rule.

Help keep our journalism independent

We don’t take any advertising, we don’t hide behind a pay wall and we don’t keep harassing you for crowd-funding. We’re entirely dependent on our readers to support us.

Subscribe to regular bella in your inbox

Don’t miss a single article. Enter your email address on our subscribe page by clicking the button below. It is completely free and you can easily unsubscribe at any time.