Could Scotland really be reduced to the status of a region?
Scottish Review, January 18th 2017
When did present day Scotland begin? Not the ‘modern’ Scotland of post-war times, or the upside and then downside of Labour Scotland. But the land that we visibly live in today – shaped by the ghosts of industries long gone and the sins and excesses of Thatcher and Blair.
The conventional answer is 1979: the ‘Year Zero’ of Scottish sensibilities when, for many, the world was turned upside down with election of the Thatcher Government and the stalled first devolution referendum.
However, that is the view in retrospect. Thatcher didn’t unambiguously represent Thatcherism in 1979. Interestingly, most of Scotland’s non-Tory politicians and mainstream media didn’t represent it then the way we do now. For example ‘The Herald’ and ‘The Scotsman’ choose to interpret Thatcher’s first UK victory not in terms of the Scottish national dimension, but in British conventional left and right terms (neither of which were then as wedded to the constitutional debate as now).
In reality present day Scotland started somewhere between 1983 and 1987 – between the second Thatcher victory, the invention of the poll tax in 1985-86, and the third Thatcher victory in 1987: ‘the Doomsday scenario’ as it was called (meaning Scotland voted more Labour, but got a Tory Government based on English votes). Read the rest of this entry »
The Continuing Scottish Revolution: Time to Tell New Stories of Scotland
Scottish Review, January 10th 2017
It has been an unprecedented political year, and 2017 will also be full of high drama – globally, across Europe, in the UK, and nearer to home in Scotland.
Politics isn’t everything. Just as important is culture – a word used and over-used, seemingly about everything and everywhere, but difficult, and sometimes impossible to pin down and define.
Culture when we forensically examine it can mean so many things. It can describe individual growth and enrichment. It can be about a group or community’s way of life. It expresses the activities of consuming culture. And finally, it is also used to define the way groups and organisations act and the codes and practices which shape them.
The many facets of culture and the propensity not to define then can be seen in our nation. We have a politics which is meant to be all-encompassing, but often evades detail and substance. Reinforcing this is a widespread characteristic of not wanting to define Scottish culture – for fear of ghettoising and marginalising. Read the rest of this entry »
MY FAVOURITE BOOKS OF 2016
December 19th 2016
The political upheavals of 2016 will be captured for many years to come through books and publishing. I enjoyed my wide reading over the year, while still feeling that events and crises were racing ahead of publishers and writers.
I revelled in researching and writing my own book – Scotland the Bold – on the country, its politics, culture and ideas and prospects for change. Writing at book length always gives you permission and discipline to read widely – and beyond narrow subject categorisation – which is a joy. Anyway, without further to do, here are my highlights of the year …..
Chris Leslie, Disappearing Glasgow: A Photographic Journey, Freight Books.
A stunning book. One of social history, failed hopes and lives and communities which lived and disappeared often without any record – other than Chris Leslie and his photographs.
Madeleine Bunting, Love of Country: A Hebridean Journey, Granta Books.
A moving tale of remembering, recovering and reclaiming, while finding yourself and love in the Hebrides. Gives a whole new understanding to Scotland’s North West frontier.
Simon Barrow and Mike Small (eds), Scotland 2021, Bella Caledonia/Ekklesia.
Ambitious collection on Scotland after the 2016 election and SNP victory, Brexit and possibilities of independence, social change and a different politics. Read the rest of this entry »
MY YEAR IN MUSIC 2016
December 16th 2016
2016 will be certainly be remembered as a year and for more important things than music. But it was also a year of musical genius and of great losses – which words are not adequate to describe. Without further to do my musical highs:
MY BEST ALBUMS
- David Bowie – Black Star
A magnificent goodbye. Bowie’s best album since the early 1980s. Not easy listening and with added pathos.
- Nino Katamadze and Insight – Yellow
A Georgian Goldfrapp – only more melodic without losing the experimental edge. Latest in a series of themed albums: ‘Black’, ‘White’, ‘Blue’. Love them all.
- Solange – A Seat at the Table
Solange finally delivers the big album and promise after years of changing and shifting styles.
- Michael Kiwanuka – Love & Hate
A beautiful sounding album of soul reflections. So good and smooth that on first listening you miss its depth. Read the rest of this entry »
Scotland’s Radical Tradition is richer and more diverse than ‘Red Clydeside’
Scottish Review, December 14th 2016
The 100th anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution will be in 2017. The seizure of power by Lenin and Trotsky in October 1917 was one of the central events of the twentieth century, took Russia out of the imperial quagmire that was the First World War, and led to revolutionary uprisings across Europe – from Berlin and Bavaria to Budapest.
Scotland had its own mini-version of this in ‘Red Clydeside’ and the series of events between 1911-19 – which saw agitation, protest and revolutionary fervor in parts of industrial West Scotland and which culminated in the bitter battle of George Square in January 1919.
‘Red Clydeside’ is much cited and also much misunderstood. There have been many in-depth studies of the period by the likes of Iain McLean and others showing that this wasn’t a mass revolutionary moment, but one of radicalism in places and government and ruling class panic in light of the Bolshevik revolution.
One strand constantly downplayed subsequently is how ‘Red Clydeside’ has been used as a spectre by middle class and bourgeois opinion as a sort of mobilising myth to scare people about the power of the mob and frighten them into being part of anti-socialist opinion. Thus ‘Red Clydeside’ has down the years equally served the mythologies of parts of the left and the reactionary right. Read the rest of this entry »