In light of Scotland’s decision to remain part of the United Kingdom—along with England, Wales and Northern Ireland—following a historic referendum vote, it’s interesting to see the underlying bond between literature and nationalism. The Scottish National party, led by Alex Salmond, hopes to benefit from a more enduring cultural connection—a long and successful courtship of Scotland’s poets and novelists. They have come out en masse for a yes vote (as the pieces overleaf broadly indicate) and participated in pro-independence rallies. As Chris Bambery makes clear in his new book, A People’s History of Scotland, folksingers, theater groups and novelists have done as much as Scotland’s politicians over the past half century to change the terms of debate: estrangement from received pronunciation and the Home Counties establishment has added nationalist momentum to this drift.
The spectacular exception to this trend came in early June when it was announced that J.K. Rowling was donating £1m to the no campaign. As a result Rowling— English-born and educated, though a long-time resident of Edinburgh—was subjected to vitriol from Scotland’s uninhibited internet trolls, the “cybernats”. These developments put Salmond on the back foot.
Salmond is—up to a point—-a perceptive literary critic. English novelists have, for example, rarely obsessed over Calvinist dogmas of predestination. Signature differences do separate the literary and ethical sensibilities of writers north and south of the border. However, neither unionists nor nationalists should forget the “third way”: a hybrid Scots-British tradition of literature, rooted in religion, which was, until recently, as integral to Scottish cultural tradition as nationalism. A literature not of one language – the rich, wonderful language that is English – but of three at least, is a blessed literature. It helps to tell people who the Scots are.
Some of the popular authors include: Irvine Welsh, Iain Banks, Alan Warner, Alexander McCall-Smith, Janice Galloway, Maggie O’Farrell, Michael Faber, Anne Donovan, James Robertson, Kate Atkinson, George McKay Brown, Muriel Spark, William Boyd, Andrew O’Hagan, and many more.