More Referendum Reflections

No. Not the one on the EU. Last year’s on Scottish Independence. (For my immediate thoughts on its result see here.)

The subject of the consequences of the “no” vote were referred to once again in The Guardian, on Thursday, this time by Alan Bissett in which he mentions Alan Warner’s view that a “no” vote represented a schism between the voters and the writers, which I also mused on.

As followers of this blog will know I have been reading a lot of Scottish literature recently, both modern and otherwise. It is safe to say that there is such a beast as Scottish writing and its recurring concerns and themes do tend to differ – at least in emphasis and psychology – from literature emanating from elsewhere in the UK. Is this insular? The wider community certainly does not afford it the status of a national (or even regional) literature; perhaps because it is liable to be misunderstood or seen as parochial even where it’s not neglected.

Yet how parochial are the sentiments expressed in Rupert Brooke’s poem The Soldier – a poem widely considered as being serious in purpose (if nowadays also seen as just a touch wrong-headed, though not as wrong-headed as those in the same poet’s Death) and included in many an anthology of First World War poetry? To my mind it is impossible to conceive of a Scottish poet of those times writing such words about his land in such a way. And if he had (it would have been a “he” the times being what they were) he would most likely have been ridiculed, certainly not still being reprinted one hundred years later.

Bissett mentions the view that the 2015 General Election result in Scotland was politics catching up with Scottish culture. An alternative take is that the Scottish Labour Party failed to recognise that after devolution the centre of gravity of Scottish politics had shifted decisively to Holyrood (which it saw as a sideshow – and probably still does) and as a consequence neglected to pay it enough attention or put up for election to it sufficient numbers of its best politicians. That Labour in the UK has consistently failed to “protect” Scotland from Tory policies – even as New Labour which often felt like a mildly diluted Thatcherism – only compounded this mistake. It is possible that, for Labour, Scotland is gone, and is unrecoverable in the short term. Whether Corbynmania is enough to overturn that perception remains to be seen. Some Labour voters may return to the fold but once political trust is lost it is usually hard to regain.

Yet in many ways it is as if the Scottish people feel that the country did become kind of independent on devolution; or at least that the Scottish Parliament was an adequate reflection of their political desires. Yes they do know that Westminster holds sway on many of the most important aspects of political life but they feel it’s at arm’s length, divorced from them almost.

Bissett concludes that there can be no “schism” between Scotland and its artists. My reading of Scottish literature and its history suggests that, even if some may transcend such labelling, while the idea of Scotland and a distinct Scottishness persists writers will continue to reflect those origins in their stories and the characters they describe. As Scottish writers that is arguably what they are for.

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