Illustration: Steve Bell
Outstanding example of pompous philistinism and the self-awareness of a sea sponge from Alan Bissett:-
Some 55% of Scots voted no to independence on 18 September 2014. This result has been respected – it’s the reason Scotland is still in the UK –
Well, thank you thank you thank you for clearing that up. Was it NOT going to be respected?
Like most Scottish artists I called for a yes vote during last year’s referendum.
How does he know? Did anyone do a poll of artists? Certainly the yes artists were vocal and busy and forming collectives and included big names like Liz Lochead and Alasdair Gray – but there were those who just kept quiet.
The artists have now entered a period of introspection, replacing the creative campaign’s colour and noise with a new ambivalence about what the Scottish arts are for.
I take it he means the Yes artists not people like Don Paterson, say or Douglas Dunn or Janice Galloway or James McMillan or McCall Smith who presumably know what they are for – for creating art. What is this rubbish about art as a national project? As with so much of the Nat debate (first independence then utopia) it was reminiscent of old Communist ideas that art was for “the people” I.e keeping to the Party line, which in its extreme versions meant poets with anything like a spine being executed by Stalin.
This had been anticipated, pre-referendum, by the novelist Alan Warner, who wrote: “A no vote will create a profound and strange schism between the voters of Scotland and its literature; a new convulsion. It will be the death knell for the whole Scottish literature ‘project’ – a crushing denial of an identity that writers have been meticulously accumulating, trying to maintain and refine.”
As a No voter I’m certainly happy not to read Alan Warner if he thinks there is a “whole Scottish literature ‘project’” – I see he needs those quotation marks as there isn’t any ‘project’. There are books that get written, some good, some bad. (As a side note the great novelist on “Scottish identity” was Walter Scott – a devout Unionist and anti-Radical.)
There have been good books with an overt political message – Uncle Tom’s Cabin or Animal Farm – usually about screaming injustices, not about a referendum in a liberal democracy. And as usual when reading the Yessers I think, god, what grandiose airs those people give themselves, what heroic attitudes they strike.
I understood my own purpose. I’d presumed to give voice to a people, the majority of whom had turned out to be indifferent to the message.
Could be that you’re a shite writer. Also, some of us weren’t indifferent but totally hostile.
The poet Jenny Lindsay, a key organiser of the yes-backing artists’ group National Collective, recently staged a show called Ire and Salt (swap those words round and you get the drift). It examined the difference between a movement and a campaign, the clash between artistic autonomy and the feeling of being a cog in a machine built to persuade.
I’ve seen Jenny Lindsay perform and she’s a definite talent. It’s not surprising she’s sick of doing Yes, Yes, Yes and would like to move on.
there can be no definitive “schism” between Scotland and its artists. Scottish nationalism – as both a political concern and an ongoing cultural project – is enlarging, not shrinking.
Errgh. He doesn’t realise how creepy this sounds. In fact he’s right. The Scottish Government is trying to control the universities and things like the Scottish Language Centre have become undisguised propaganda for nationalism.
Bissett doesn’t want regard himself as a vulgar propagandist. But if course that is what he is. That’s what he thinks all artists born in Scotland should be. He is a propagandist on the side of the Scottish Government. He’s a Government apparatchik, an Establishment stooge. Under Stalin he would have been writing paeans to the glorious leader and lyrics about tractor production while sitting on committees frowning over the ideological soundness of other poets.
He has inspired one small gem. In the comments thread is:-
Scotland’s civic nationalists = Clan Nicola’s nativist Scots ID