redescription: looking beyond

Just enough time perhaps for one last and brief bloggy punt: this one compelled by some wrong-headed comment from Allan Massie in The Scotsman last week (‘The culture threatening the future of creativity in Scotland’ sic, Wednesday 10th September 2014). Recognising the impressive combined force of the components of the cultural sector in Scotland, a force manifest in the impact that that diverse sector has had on momentum towards an affirmative vote tomorrow, Massie, with no small dose of courage it has to be said, I think, tries to burst “culture’s” Yes balloon.

He sets the scene: ‘A good many Scottish writers and artists of all kinds have come out in favour of independence’. More than that, ‘Many assert that the rise in support for Scottish Nationalism has been “culture-led”…and now in the present campaign for independence’.

Inspired in part by some candid analysis from a certain Alex Massie (who spoke at the ‘Cultures of Independence‘ series), I’m not alone among art practitioners and professionals in wondering about the dangers of a nefarious version of Nationalism that would erase cultural difference in order to focus attention on nothing but the parade ground mono-sound and pat-symbolism of the piper’s playing (‘Independence beyond Nationalist Rationalism’). But the Yes movement (because it has indeed been [and continues to be] a real movement rather than an expedient, conventional campaign) has not, thankfully, been Rationalist-nefarious. In any case, big Massie doesn’t borrow from little Massie to jab the balloon with that genuinely pointy anti-Rationalist stick.

looking beyond

Rather, Massie senior lunges for puncture wounds with two stubby-stabby quasi-rhetoricals – ‘what’s to gain?’, he challenges, and ‘appreciate who you are and what you have’, he wags. Massie would have it, then, firstly, that culturos are not guaranteed to see gains for culturos with a Yes vote, for the technics of politics for culture are devolved already, and, don’t forget, we have our very own minister of culture as we squeak. Secondly, Massie foists, who are mere culturos anyway to seek to redescribe the cultural givens of whatever it is that makes us whatever we are by virtue of being inevitably partly British, whatever that is: ‘Why should Scots wish to change the conditions that have made us what we are?’.

If Massie makes the mistake of not tooling up with the sharp anti-Rationalist chib, he makes another one by portraying artists as if not Rationalist then Representationalist. Massie sees artists (for the argument in his article at least) as conservative conduits that might do not much more than channel reverentially representations of who we are and how we came to be while all the time thinking, not of others it seems, but themselves and the furtherance of their technical support structures. But artists are not like this if they are any good, and because so many of them in Scotland (Scottish or not) are so good, they are not like this. And the independence campaign has duly benefited.

Of course, Massie’s piece is not persuasive enough to take the wind out of even one culturo’s Yes balloon. All the same, I remain a bit troubled by Massie’s outlook, and that of others who attempt to naysay the force of support for change and progression of our diverse sector, because that frozen outlook on a general level sells short what artists do and, specifically, it pretends to be blind to the actuality of the cultural movement and momentum which has propelled Yes. To put that chagrin another way, and to parry the lunge once more: artists are not artists of import, certainly not of outwardly-facing international repute, if they take their artistic mission to be not much more than the reflecting back to one another of the possible constituent parts of who we are and where we are and what our surroundings look like; and artists are not so worthy of repute if their secondary primary concern is the feathering of their own nest.

Why would Scots artists and writers want to change the conditions that have made us what we are? Because we artists and writers in Scotland are indeed what we are and a very large number of us will vote Yes to change not the conditions that have made us what we are because those conditions are to be behind us, but the future cultural and social conditions that will make us what we will be.