referendum 2012-2015

August 4th 2012                                             

Dear S--

I have plenty to say about the so-called Scottish government and the arguments around independence, but I don’t feel like writing an essay just now when all is hoovered up into the “debate before the referendum” box. So, most of my opinions will be and are presented implicity or explicitly in my web journal. If I do write an essay or the like, it will probably be after the referendum when it will no longer be contextualised as a “contribution to the debate” about that, or an injunction as to how someone should vote.

.... I write essays for myself first and foremost, to work out my words: I do not join in cued colloquia. That does not help me to think sharply. ...In time I will put in essay form if that seems the best way, my thoughts on the notion of essentialist self that can be smuggled into the self-determination argument; the discussion as to whether nationalism is fine as a strategic last resort against oppression of some kind or another, a strategem against colonialism. Whether it be from topographical or cultural/historic perspective. And how to keep out the “pure Scot” horrors. Whether in short it starts from a prescriptive or descriptive base.

The language issue as garnered by the backwoodsmen around the SNP cultural committees etc appals me. I see the day when people are upbraided for not having good “Scots” as well as good English. Actually that day arrived more than a century ago in the schools, and I have been fighting it all my life.   I have yet to hear a cogent definition of what “Scots” actually is in contemporary society; nor have I heard one of its advocates actually speak it themselves. They can’t, because it isn’t there. Nor for heavens sake am I "anti Scots"; another thing that angers me about these folk is the way they colonise ownership of that which they do not speak. For myself apart from what I have done with Radical Renfrew and some of my own work, I have helped Eunice Buchanan over this past five years to her terrific selection of poetry and prose in her mother’s Angus Scots which Kittelonia are about to bring out. But that’s not the same at all as some generalised case for “the" Scots language. How I detest that “our three languages” nonsense at that awful parliament, the one where the members heads in the chamber seen on television seem to peep out the tops of dog traps. No, in Scotland I can look forward in Glasgow to many a tourist tea towel with “dreich” on it. It’s the nearest there is to fascism in this society, and they don’t even fucking know. Och, it’s just a wee titter titter.

I have been toying on the computer just now with a sentence that to understand the borderman MacDiarmid you have to go to Malta, which, being on the border with Muslim north Africa, you can hardly walk a hundred yards on the island without encountering one of its over 300 massive Catholic chapels. One of them in a little town has the biggest dome in Europe second only to St Peters. Here in Scotland we call it “The Drunk Man Looks at the Thistle.”


July 12, 2013

Dear J-

Your email is considerate and generous in the circumstance. I appreciate that not for the first time.....

It's got shifted into the "Scottish" debate too, seeing the brand "one scotland" instituted everywhere, yesterday going down for the afternoon to Prestwick realising that every station and train has now been rebranded in the Saltire livery with "Scotland's railway" the logo on carriages no matter who runs the fucking thing. It's stupid, I feel like I'm the only one seeing this language-shift taking place all over the place, and I feel being rubbed out by it, or whomever I am part of (and I don't mean "the Catholics") being quietly rubbed out by it.

Prestwick was fine and I hope you got back down the coast with the weans as you said you might. Down the town today to Carlton Place to the Race Equality place, I had found menshie of a book not very well titled It Wisnae Us which is about Glasgow and the slave trade. They published it along with the Architect Institute or some such four years ago. Still to read it, think it tries to be "balanced" yes, that again, by the last parts going into Glasgow as a centre "redeeming itself" their words, with its anti-abolitionist stance by many following Hutcheson amongst others. I wanted to buy two but they only sold me one as they were nearly out of them.

Drifted through to Waterstones in Argylle Street, descended into gloom in there which I always do in Waterstones no matter what spirits I enter in. Back through to Oswald Street for the bus, into the Oswald Street Bookshop facing Midland Street. Thank goodness. A wholly Scottish and serious non-nationalist non literary-tourist environment. I hadn't been in for about nine months. Glad it's still there. I got Hogg's A Queer Book, Duncan Ban Macintyre's Songs in the Gaelic Texts Society which they're selling at £7.50; and the Marion Bernstein collected which you had mentioned as coming out, and is indeed out from the ASLS.

So it was a good journey to the town.


Re: Britain's Dirty War on the Tamil People: 1979-2009

Friday, July 18, 2014

Dear S -

Thanks for sending. I find the question "Would an independent Scotland chart a different policy?" fairly disingenuous, one of these rhetorical questions by which a Yes vote garners support for policies that it nowise actually demonstrates would accrue. The recent SNP "Scottish government" outright support for a nonqualified trade agreement with Israel shows where the foreign policy land lies, as membership of Nato will confirm for all such foreign policy decisions. The Sri Lankan massacres bring to mind Liam Fox and the now legendary Mr Werritty and "Lord" Bell of the PR firm etc. Nothing whatever in the SNP—the only viable parliamentary show in town come a Yes on September 18th—suggests dissociation from this. But perhaps they will get to their position of power through all the disingenuous and/or artful rhetorical questions about what "independence might mean" without the inconvenient detail of spelling out how. That's my take on it. As a critique of UK foreign policy, fine. As a marker for independence, bullshit, like the guy who told me recently that after a Yes vote the SNP would "dissolve" as there would be no further need for them. Political parties don't dissolve in power I had to say, they congeal. The hypnagogic naivety demanded almost as social bonding on the Left in Scotland just now I find truly extraordinary, it interests me finally almost only as a study in the semiotics of social intercourse guised as "politics" in these parts, and possibly of use as a comparative marker for historic Scottish conversion processes.


23 July 2014

Subject: Re: Vanunu


Thanks for forwarding that. Only reason I left it alone is I have a chronic allergy to anything requiring me to sign in via Facebook and other Google-owned social networks; I would rather not provide them with any more information about me than their automatic databases have already garnered; being an ordinary member of the public who used Google until recently I probably have already offered "them" (ie the general corporate networked world) more than enough. I feel it's like going to sign a petition at a police station, but perhaps that's putting it too strongly. Yes, it is important to speak up for Vanunu. Personally I wish one thousandth of the energy that is being put into naively disingenuous statements about what a "yes" vote would mean in September was put into even a smidgeon of actual awareness of what has been happening this past thirty years and predictably is happening now, in Palestine, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Libya, Egypt; and all the other farflung bastions of western influence where Scottish sojery has played such a crucial part in suppression. How the fuck keeping mum about the SNP as not to rock this Nato-powered boat has got anything to do with socialism is beyond me.... I have never in my life felt as intellectually and poitically alone as I have this past two Scottish-essentialist years.



March 31st 2015


... Unrelated Incidents (3) was used for twelve years by the English and Welsh GCSE exams (not the Scottish), and quite rightly was placed alongside and to be discussed with Caribbean and Black English. It is a poem about class status and power in language in Britain and has nothing whatever to do with "Scottish identity", whatever that is. It is appropriate to the language status and power of urban speakers in Plymouth, Hackney, Margate, Swansea as it is to Glasgow or Aberdeen or even Edinburgh. It is only with the rise of nationalism, guised under different names, in Scotland, that my phonetic work is now being hijacked supposedly to support a Scottish nationalist agenda. In fact this means that though for several years I visited, along with a troupe of fellow GCSE poets, all the major towns and cities of England and Wales; and my participation in the daylong event would be not only to read my poems but to ask the question "Who owns the language?" and "Who owns literature?" Such questions are incapable of being asked in Scotland just now in Scottish exams, because under the nationalist agenda now being rolled through the Scottish education system via the SNP controlled Scottish Civil Service, this approach to the work is specifically and quite deliberately prevented. Everything has to be subsumed to the ubiquitous nationalist fetish, the highly politicised word "Scots". And despite what nationalists say and now actually teach in the Scottish curriculum, Scots is not a language, it is a lexis, which is a quite different entity....

Good luck with the ph.D.


Just to add, this is of course not that I disclaim my Scottishness nor do I deny a historic basis in my (as in anyone’s) language. The urban working class language pool of which I made my tunes, as I think of them, between 1969 and 1979, has a phonetic that makes it quite easy with practice for a speaker of it to recite eg William Dunbar. Easier, that is, than it would be for many Lallans advocates whose parents paid to give them an education that would preserve their speech from such “impurities”. The whole language question in Scotland is no different from England in the respect that class matters, due to the difference between paid and unpaid education.

There is a historic sectarian, racial and class based antipathy to west of Scotland workingclass speech which I refer to implicitly in my introduction to Radical Renfrew.


June 2015

Dear E

... The whole process of shifting of public opinion this past two years I have found extraordinary. As someone who has spent the best part of thirty years fiddling with my discontent with the language of public media and how it influences behaviour, I have of late found myself feeling I am living through the millenarian fervour of the West of Scotland sects in the 1830's, with the second coming on its way and the naysayers demonstrating that they are limbs of Satan by saying nay. I find it appalling, really appalling, the only commensurate demonstration that comes to my mind in recent times being the extraordinary public demonstrations and media nonsense that swamped the airwaves during the time of Diana's death and funeral. One gets the horrible sense that the human language animal is too easily turned into a shoal animal, turning as shoals turn. And it makes me feel homesick for the only place I begin to think of as home, which at the moment I reckon is somewhere on the other side of the moon.

But no. "History through the five senses" as Lawrence and William Carlos Williams would have it, which is to say the Local. You are an Arbroath and an Angus woman which of course means you are a Scot and your language is both Scots and Scottish English. Scots which must be local as it in sundry survived as locally spoken; when what was medieval Scots is or has been bodied as a national language in modern times it has been the conceptual embodiment of a nationalist project. It is in the actuality of your locality as seen and heard that your work and your being means something to me. You move out from the self seeing and hearing and making understanding, to larger wholes. That is the way I like to see my own work, and which in Scotland I am pleased to think at least three people probably understand. No make that two. The Local means the grasp and understanding of what is immediate, the questioning of what is there—and here. The national can mean jumping inwards from a perimeter, then trying to pack essentialisms supposedly within the perimeter into the core self to "demonstrate" its validity (be it "Scottishness" etc). This to me is laziness and a lack of clarity and questioning. It is the acceptance of "givens" before the enquiry itself, rather than starting from the immediate, and compiling the givens case by case, outward. E-ducere, to educate, to lead outwards.

Of course there are exceptions and big ones to any rule. The card is a paradox first of all and one set out within the larger context that assumes the word "local" to be something to do with "provincialism", "parochialism" etc. This is easily understood by nationalists here as a mind-trick employed by metropolitan London and "the English" to downplay Scottish culture. What is missing in present fervour is the understanding that Scottish nationalism can play exactly the same tricks as English or UK nationalism is seen clearly to play.

The "local" is a term/ strategy understood in relation to a poet like William Carlos Williams. But think of it, how many of the great works of literature are in fact set not in a "nation" but a locality? Look at Joyce, the supposedly quintessential "Irish" writer. His work doesn't move beyond the boundaries of Dublin, albeit he was quick enough off his mark to move beyond his national boundaries himself.

Anyway. Keep in touch. Am sorry this letter is not the cheeriest of missifs when you say you have been a bit down. It is another of the accusations I find is levelled at me these days for not being a Yes man that I am "pessimistic". Where National Hope is compulsory pessimism is a term of abuse. Nietzsche said "A toothless mouth no longer has the right to truth." But then he ended his days in a mental asylum which was probably something to do with wallies not having been invented then.


[card with posterpoem below was enclosed with this letter]


the local is the international


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