Scotland’s civic nationalists = Clan Nicola’s nativist Scots ID

October 16, 2015 at 10:32 am (Rosie B, scotland)

Steve Bell 16.10.2015 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


  1. Claudero Jr. said,

    there was and still is this tame Bissett
    less funny than a Whitehall farce
    (remember the dropping trousers of Brian Rix?)
    Here is collectivised Bissett dropping bricks
    and lifting the tartain curtain in search of arse
    like under a kilt not to kick but bless and Kissett…

    And if the kilt wearer’s a male
    will Scottish Literature project
    and the bladder’s complement of muscle
    with more hiss than hustle or bustle
    use the tube to select a trajectory
    for his line of strone, or stale.

    Derelict authors in search of a public ????
    Autori in cerca pubblica?
    Oh you’ll swing along easy
    if the weather is breezy,
    and your bust’s vast and you have no bra….
    But the wherewithal to feed baby?
    Not even maybe!
    Mair lik’ endou it wi the colick!


  2. Rilke said,

    One additional aspect is that third-raters such as Bisset are betting that in an independent Scotland, they can utilize cultural nationalism to side step clear comparison with artists of superior talent, this they think, will make it easier for them to appear as first-raters, or at least first-rate ‘Scottish artists’ – whatever than means. In a world of government grants and culture industry apparatchik favors, this is no mere bid for posthumous fame – they are nationalistic scavengers and opportunists. Keep in mind that one of the major names in the Scottish nationalist artist wing and friend of Salmond, is Jack Vettriano, an anti-modernist semi-pornographer who is laughed at by serious artists but ‘loved’ by idiotic film stars. Says it all really!

  3. kb72 said,

    I haven’t read anything by Bissett so I don’t know if his creative writing is as mediocre as his column in the Guardian. He may be very good – just as some good essayists write second rate fiction and poetry. I doubt it though.

    I was going to call him “a court poet” except I remembered a very good Scottish court poet, William Dunbar, who as well as writing praise for the King, could do a Lament for the Makars.

    I didn’t know about Vettriano’s support for nationalism but it seems fitting that the producer of pulp fiction ca 1940 in large format should go in for ersatz nationalist politics. Richard Dimarco, on the other hand, the arts entrepreneur and internationalist for the last 60 years or so is anti-Yes.

    I linked to a piece a while ago by Gillian Bowditch about the descent into parochialism of a generation of Scottish artists.

    “In the early years of the 21st century, something rather wonderful happened: there was a cultural renaissance in which Scottish artists no longer felt the need to examine and re-examine the Scottish condition. Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin and JK Rowling were wowing global audiences. Janice Galloway won international acclaim for her book on Clara Schumann. Artists such as David Mach, Alison Watt, Douglas Gordon, Martin Creed and Jenny Saville were finding their way into international collections. Composers and musicians as diverse as James McMillan, Craig Armstrong and Nicola Benedetti were hailed abroad. Ewan McGregor, Robert Carlyle, Gerard Butler and John Hannah were the hot stars in Hollywood. They were, as in the words of Auden: “Like some valley cheese, local but prized elsewhere.” After decades of cultural dreichness, it was no longer quite so grim up north.

    These talents still exist, but their influence has begun to diminish. The generation following in their wake does not shine as brightly. Patriotism has replaced miserablism as the key to our identity. Culturally, we have started to look inwards again.

    If I were a young artist, musician or writer starting out in Scotland, I would feel quite depressed about the situation. There is now so much focus, not to mention grant aid, on such a narrow tradition that, unless you fit the cultural stereotype, it’s hard to see where the acknowledgement or encouragement is going to come from. It’s difficult to imagine the Scotland of today throwing up a writer with the breadth and depth of Dame Muriel Spark.”

    Of course Spark got going in London & I bet some of the new big talents who don’t want to play the nationalist game will do the same.

  4. kb72 said,

    Bowditch’s description of miserabilism giving way to nationalist uplift reminds me of that bit from Inside the Whale, as 20s modernism gave way to 30s engagement:-

    “They see life very comprehensively, much more so than those who come immediately before or after them, but they see it through the wrong end of the telescope. Not that that invalidates their books, as books. The first test of any work of art is survival, and it is a fact that a great deal that was written in the period 1910-30 has survived and looks like continuing to survive. One has only to think of Ulysses, Of Human Bondage, most of Lawrence’s early work, especially his short stories, and virtually the whole of Eliot’s poems up to about 1930, to wonder what is now being written that will wear so well.

    But quite Suddenly, in the years 1930-5, something happens. The literary climate changes. A new group of writers, Auden and Spender and the rest of them, has made its appearance, and although technically these writers owe something to their predecessors, their ‘tendency’ is entirely different. Suddenly we have got out of the twilight of the gods into a sort of Boy Scout atmosphere of bare knees and community singing. The typical literary man ceases to be a cultured expatriate with a leaning towards the Church, and becomes an eager-minded schoolboy with a leaning towards Communism. If the keynote of the writers of the twenties is ‘tragic sense of life’, the keynote of the new writers is ‘serious purpose’.”

  5. Rilke said,

    The atmosphere in the Scottish universities is even worse, especially in literature departmentts where a climate of cultural exceptionalism is upheld by a bunch of semi-intellectual patriots who side-step any opposition by calling it ‘English elitism’ or ‘Tory condescension’. These cultural managers are busy massaging Burns, Hogg, Stevenson and MacDairmid, who were all either deeply contradicted or self-doubting in terms of politics, into seemless exmaples of early SNP pro-independence voters. It is utterly laughable! I once asked one of these smug lecture hall SNP lieutenants why they did not have MacDairmid’s ‘Hymn to Lenin’ or ‘On a Raised Beach’ neither in braid Scots, on the syllabus but only ever ‘A Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle’ , that every one by now, is heartily sick of. The answer was very revealing, as a Scot, MacDairmid was ‘theirs’ to do ‘as they wished’ with and no further English literary ‘imperialism’ was to be tolerated. The whole project is rancid and embarrassing.

  6. kb72 said,

    Just after the break up of the Soviet Union a Ukrainian classical musician told me that in the conservatoire they had a limited repertoire of approved composers. I said, oh is that so bad? Just Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky and Rimsky Korsakov? She said no, just Ukrainian composers.

  7. kb72 said,

    My own speciality a 1000 years ago was Scottish medieval poetry. They translated the Aeneid, looked to the Europe wide Catholic Church culture and the classical inheritance, and loved Chaucer. They were the opposite of narrow nationalists. They are splendid.

    I don’t suppose Edwin Muir, the poet of international themes who was not one of the Lallans lot features in the curriculum just as a picture of him does not hang in the National Portrait Gallery.

  8. kb72 said,

    The Scottish National Portrait Gallery, I should have said though there is a portrait of his wife.

  9. Rilke said,

    Muir is out and used principally as a foil to heap exaggerated praise on MacDairmid. Muir’s ground-breaking translations of the works of the German high literary tradition, his strong work on Nietzsche, his sophisticated rejection of a Gaelic linguistic rivival as ‘juvenile’, his wonderful short lyrics informed by Mallarme, Yeats and Rilke, all are rejected as evidence of his suspect ‘cosmopolitanism’. Rapid cultural particularism is what is wanted, apparently. It is truly depressing to witness this. Muir’s short lyric ‘A Glass of Pure Water,’ is a great poem. As you will be aware, the favoured Scottish musical instrument of early times was the sweet intricate melancholy of the harp and the lute, but I fear that we will have to tolerate the bombastic and crude sound of the bagpipes for a while yet.

  10. Rilke said,

    My error, I was thinking of ‘The Transfiguration’ poem and the line , ‘to the pure all things are pure…’ , not ‘A Pure Glass of Water – my father used to quote that poem and I am unsure where it is from. Some kind of strange Freudian slippage no doubt!

  11. kb72 said,

    The Combat:-

    The Good Town:-

    The first one universal, the second about Mittel Europe. Fuck the kailyard.

  12. kb72 said,

    I’d forgotten that Bissett had produced this:-

    Who knows not fear may never make a man,

    that’s where our resolution was begun;

    so scattered scares just made each sleek someone

    to cower less and find, as in a clan,

    that dignity which scorns all mean, hired means,

    no matter how empowered, shrill or sly,

    to film with craven cataract our eye,

    or filch the courage from our freedom’s genes.

    September’s dawn will come and we will say,

    “They brought us bogles and the shards of shame,

    the lies of alien greed and now with hollow

    minds of empires lost, they have to yield our day.”

    Oh with our freedom,

    let’s not be the same –

    for all Scots, brave or feart, face one morrow.

    • John R said,

      A mistake there, I’m afraid, kb72. It was someone called “Nigel Stuart” who wrote “Morning After”. Bissett was just quoted in the Scotsman complaining about the poem being criticised.

    • Alec said,

      Point of order, it wasn’t Bisset. He was, however, the pathetic rabble rouser who tried to publicly humiliate Wigtown Book Festival.

  13. kb72 said,

    Oh, thanks John R. He’s still an arse then.

  14. Steven Johnston said,

    Help! The natives are revolting!

    They are British and they’ll remain part of Britain and woe betide them if they think different.

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