definition

Com´mon`ty

n.

1.

(Scots Law) A common; a piece of land in which two or more persons have a common right.



Friday, June 8, 2012

Vote Britain - Mustn't Grumble.

Back in January The Commonty posted Alan Bisset's poem, Vote Britain it encouraged some on-line debate and much more offline.


Bella Caledonia have published correspondence between Bisset and fellow writer Anne Morrison where they discuss 'Vote Britain' and try to corner that most elusive enigma, the Scottish identity.


I'll paste it here, however, if you'd rather read it at source please click the Bella Caledonia link above.


 From: Anne Morrison
Sent: 31 May 2012 16:38
To: Alan Bissett
Subject: Re: Vote Britain

Hi Alan
Your poem ‘Vote Britain’ has been doing the rounds on facbook in one form
or another, and I’m aware I’m perhaps being overly negative in my comments
about it…

I thought I’d just go straight to the horse’s mouth and ask you a few
questions about it so I’m more in the know. If you have time to answer
them, that would be fantastic, if not, no worries.

1. By playing up to the stereotypes of how others see the Scots, are you
in danger of reinforcing these same stereotypes?

2. Are you trying to challenge how others see the Scots, and if so, why is
the poem addressed to Scots themselves?

3. Your tone sounds angry. As if you are angry with Scottish people. Would
you agree?

4. Do you really think we are a nation of sheep? Don’t you think that this
inference is insulting to your intended audience?

I will happily pass on your responses to other facebookers (who are
overwhelmingly positive). Might be worth mentioning I am an admirer of
your work in general and it really is just this poem that bothers me. In
fact, you recently edited New Writing Scotland which I had a story in, so
thanks for including it. (You might never include anything of mine again
after this…)

Kind regards
Anne Morrison
* * *
From: Alan Bissett
Sent: 31 May 2012 17:29
To: Anne Morrison
Subject: Re: Vote Britain

Hi Anne
Well thanks for engaging with the poem so constructively.  As you can imagine it’s attracted quite a lot of attention, not all of it positive.  But I’ll try and answer your questions as honestly as I can.
1. I don’t think so.  I’m pointing out the ‘Jock’ stereotypes which are used *against* Scots, mainly by very wealthy people in the South of England, to dimiss us, reduce us or patronise us.  The ironic tone hopefully means the stereotypes are being satirised rather than ’reinforced’. Scots already know what these stereotypes are, so I hope it’s plain I’m pointing at them and saying ‘Look what they think of us,’ rather than saying, ‘This IS us.’
2. I’m trying to challenge how the Scots see themselves BY challenging how others see us.  Scots receive these stereotypes through a mainstream media or popular culture which rarely makes a serious attempt to understand the reality of Scotland and its people.  We then adopt these cliches ourselves.  By listing them in what is essentially an anti-imperialist and anti-monarchist poem – an explosion from the trapped, Scottish psyche - I hope it’s apparent that I’m showing how these stereotypes maintain the British class system and the Union.  When we ‘Vote Britain’ we vote to be patronised and ruled by rich people who think we’re, essentially, comedy drunks unfit to run our own affairs.
3. I’m only angry at Scottish people in so far as I’m saying, ‘Why are we putting up with this?’  But the real anger is directed upwards: at our colonial masters.  Scottish soldiers dying for imperialist wars?  Oil revenues stolen?  Our lochs turned into a home for nuclear weapons?  Industries destroyed?  When did we vote for these things?  I think we should be angry about our political impotence and I suppose I’m trying to waken Scots up to that.
4. We are not a nation of sheep, but, with the best will in the world, it’s to an extent unsurprising that people will submit to the relentless propaganda of the ruling class.  We live in an oil-producing nation which is still, somehow, among the poorest of Europe.  What is the reason for this?  London control.  We are almost in the grip of economic depression.  What is the reason for this?  An insane financial system buttressed by Westminster.  We pour half a trillion pounds of taxpayers’ money into private hands, because of the failure of the banks, meaning the majority of ordinary people will lose houses, jobs, benefits, public services through no fault of their own.  The reason again?  A cosy alliance between the City of London and Westminster.  We vote against the Tories; yet still they are foisted upon us.  At a basic economic and democratic level the Union is shafting us, it’s so plain to see, and yet only 33% of Scots currently want to extricate us from this disaster to run our own affairs?  That can only be achieved one way: Unionist propaganda.  The Jubliee will mean a day off work (that won’t harm the economy, Mr Osborne?) to CELEBRATE the fact that we pay hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ money for one unelected family to live in luxury and own vasts tracts of Scotland, forever and ever?  The British media swing into cheerleader mode to make this seem ‘normal’, draping every newspaper and news channel with Union Jacks and tributes to the Queen, whipping a depressed population into a frenzy of British patriotism.
Then they tell us that we’re ‘stronger together’.
So, no, Scottish people are not sheep.  They are just being fooled.
I hope that answers your questions, and I thank you for asking them.
best wishes
Alan
ps. Great story, A Fascination.  Nice yin.
* * *
From: Anne Morrison
Sent: 1 June 2012 13:47
To: Alan Bissett
Subject: Re: Vote Britain

Alan
Thanks for taking the time to reply. Much appreciated.
What did you make of our MSPs voting to keep the Queen as head of state in an independent Scotland the day before yesterday? It beggars belief, really.
Personally, I’m keen to disentangle the threads of nationalism and independence, which in many people’s minds are inextricably linked. I’ve lectured occasionally for the UHI on the topic of cultural identity/identities as part of their Writers and Place module and have found it fascinating to see where the locus of an individual’s identity might lie. Fifty years ago, many would have cited the local community as the main marker in their  cultural identity. This is much less obvious now.
I find it very interesting that in ‘Vote Britain’ you challenge the way Scots see themselves in a way that most Scottish people who’ve read it, love. When I poke away at the bloated thing that is ‘Scotland’ it has a tendency to explode in my face like a recently boiled haggis. Perhaps I need to work on my delivery…
Thank you for kind comments on A Fascination. It was my last short story after a decade of turning out the occasional piece of prose fiction. Happy to leave it to the experts now, like yourself!
All the best
Anne Morrison
* * *
From: Alan Bissett
Sent: 
02 June 2012 08:59
To: 
Anne Morrison
Subject: 
Re: Vote Britain

Hi Anne,
A longer reply to your email sooner, but I wondered if, with your permission, I could publish online our email correspondence.  It means that there’s an explanation of Vote Britain available if people want to read it.  Do you want me to include your name or take it off?
best wishes
Alan
* * *
From: Anne Morrison
Sent:  2 June 2012 10:12
To: Alan Bissett
Subject: Re: Vote Britain

No problem with you publishing the correspondence or publishing my name.
I would like to add this, though:
Do we see ourselves as ‘others’ see us? Even though I have been largely examining cultural identities in a rural context, what I see more and more is an identification with place (landscape or ‘wildnerness’ more frequently than the built environment), language (e.g. Gaelic) and micro-communities (real or virtual) over identification with community as traditionally understood or with the stereotype of the drunken, nostalgic Scot.
I think we can laugh at Rab C Nesbit and know it’s a parody. So I guess what I’m saying is that we need to look harder and deeper for what is defining us as a nation. I think I felt offended by the piece because it was so far removed from how I see myself or other Scottish people. And if it’s not me you’re talking about, then who is it? Do the people who love the poem love it because they think it’s meant for some other section of Scottish society? There are lots of reasons why people don’t vote. Apathy born out of centuries of oppression, yes, but also disillusionment with the choices on offer.  What does nationalism really mean for Scottish people? To my mind, national identity is a constructed thing created to rally people around a common flag. Sometimes this is necessary to effect political change. Sometimes it is not.  The Scottish nation may (or may not) flourish under independence, but it disappoints me that with the current options that are available, we will probably simply be replacing one capitalist system with another. There. I’ve nailed my colours to the mast.
Over to you!
Anne
* * *
From: Alan Bissett
Date: 5 June 2012 13:24
Subject: Re: Vote Britain
To: Anne Morrison

Hi Anne
I suspect you see an indentification with ‘landscape’ because you live in a rural environment, although I wouldn’t want to underplay this either.  Many Scots in post-industrial areas have a strange, mythical relationship with ‘the land’, in that they rarely visit the Highlands but still feel a historical or cultural connection to it.  I think the symbolic properties of the ‘wilderness’are strong, and I have no problem with romantic attachment to it as long as we don’t forget the reason that it’s a wilderness in the first place: the Highland Clearances.  In this sense, attachment to the land is a mourning.  But that grief (whether real or cultural) or simple appreciation of its beauty can both be  steps towards protecting it within an independent nation.
I agree that we have to ”look harder and deeper for what is defining us as a nation”, but, first of all, identity is something constantly in flux, subjective and formed from a network of class, regional, linguistic, media, gender and ethnic bases.  One person’s Scottish identity may be another person’s stereotype.  One person’s pride may be another person’s oppression.  Secondly, we can’t even begin to approach the ‘harder and deeper’ definitions until we become independent.  At the moment, we have a deformed culture which is brought about by the straitjacket of Union and largely reduces us to cliches.  Given that, I think it’s fine to interrogate existing stereotypes, the way the ‘Vote Britain’ does, although I’d appreciate it if you give me credit for actually addressing hard political realities  too.  The ‘Scottish drunk’ is hardly the focus of the entire poem.  I’m still not quite sure why you feel I’m ‘reinforcing’ that, given the very clear anger in the poem.
And of course we shouldn’t be blind to the dangers of independence, in that it might be hijacked by multinationals simply looking for low corporation tax rates or will be set up primarily to benefit the financial sectors of Edinburgh and Glasgow.  But the challenge for the Left is to ensure that Scottish independence is the first stepping-stone towards a democratic socialist republic, a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. 
aw ra best
Alan

2 comments:

  1. Bravo Anne in calling the bluff of one-dimensional jingoism masquerading as art....maybe your contribution will be another shove in the direction of genuine debate over identity/confidence/responsibility/self-governance.
    Other readers may be interested in the local connection - Anne Morrison is married to Sam Barlow - long-time sculptor of this parish (both now based in Lairg)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thomas Horatio MuirJune 9, 2012 at 8:56 AM

    Twang, irony meter implodes.

    ReplyDelete