Sunday, 14 September 2014

Culture or country ? a few thoughts from James Kelman on Scottish independence

I know that I write these blogs to release emotions and thoughts which seem too powerful for me to contain inside my physical frame. It is a surprise – a pleasant one, I would add  -  to find that people read them. I guess that many visits to Leaving Dundee are fleeting ones : people researching particular topics and finding that my reference to them is not what they were looking for. For others perhaps my blogs offer a way towards thinking about their own past experiences and making their own reflections upon them. That would make me feel good but I may be flattering myself with that fancy. I don’t know. All I would say is more people read my recollections of a Dundee childhood than my political polemic. Now don’t get me wrong, Leaving Dundee is no big deal. None of these blogs ever “trend” but, for the information of the select few who, I am grateful to say, do visit, more of my Dundee childhood recollections will be appearing on the blog in the coming months.

For the moment politics fill my cosmos and there are no prizes for guessing why though I don’t think my politics can be separated out from my past experiences since the latter have created who I am now. This leads me to say that my desire for an independent Scotland is a long standing one and goes back well over 60 years to when I was a boy of 7 or 8 who couldn’t fathom out why  -  given the stories my teachers told me of the heroism of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce  -  my family was ruled by people mainly from another country. It made me feel that I was deficient in self-worth. I will write about that in a future blog.

That was all a long winded way of saying my wish for independence comes from a strong feeling that I deserve to be  valued as much as, but not more than, the next person and what follows this meandering preamble is an extract from the text of a talk about self-worth entitled  “Independence is not an economic decision, it concerns self respect.”  The talk, was delivered over two years ago by the internationally celebrated novelist James Kelman at a time when a public debate about Scottish independence was being called for . The full text can be found at the National Collective , a website that provides a place of expression for Scottish creative artists who support independence.    



James Kelman


In this talk James Kelman shows himself to be more interested in the distinctiveness of a culture rather than of a country. When I came upon it this was the aspect of the talk which captured my thoughts for he was suggesting that independence does not appeal to Scots who are on the make, but does appeal to people who want to make, and have, a reasonable living only if everyone else in their community is sharing that experience. Certainly that is how I have interpreted Kelman’s idea of culture. For him the desire for an independent Scotland is not a nationalistic one but is a desire for self respect.

Taking that as a point of departure,  my own position is that a community populated by individuals who have self respect, and consequently a respect for others, will be a good community well able to confront its difficulties free from the deceit which is evident in the governance of today’s United Kingdom.

So here at last with a characteristically only just contained vituperative tone, yet bearing a clear and compelling message, are the words from James Kelman’s talk.


“ Scotland does have a history, I’m not sure where it belongs, in the history of servitude, subjection, psychotic inferiorisation, god knows, these different ways people avoid responsibility. We need a proper debate and it’s up to us that it should go that way. How many of us never mind the rest of Britain know that those in favour of independence are not necessarily nationalist? It’s said of me. Let me repeat I am not a nationalist but I favour independence 100%. I was on a platform with four other Scottish writers in France recently. Each of us favours independence, and none of us is a Nationalist, as far as I know.
“Independence is not an economic decision, it concerns self-respect. How many countries do we know in the world where the people need a debate about whether or not they should determine their own existence? Ultimately it concerns survival. For whatever value our culture has it is ours, and like Sorley MacLean once said about the Gaelic language, even if it was a poor thing, it would still be loved, and those who used it would still have the desire to see it flourish. We may distinguish between country and culture: I favour ‘culture’. It may be the point where a clear separation occurs between nationalists and others.”


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