Why Scottish Culture CAN’T & SHOULD NOT Be Separate From The Independence Movement


This is a response to Sara McCorquodale’s recent blog titled ‘Why Scottish Culture Must Be Kept Separate From The Independence Push’.

Dear Sara,

I read your HuffPost article and would like to respond. As you will already be gathering from the response to your article in the comments and on Twitter, there are several people who are insulted by some of the things you have said, while others vehemently disagree. Overnight, it also appears that the people who have sympathies with your article are trying to silence the critics by accusing them of being a mythical creature, native to Scotland, called the “Cybernat”. This phrase is a loaded one, and is used by people engaging in the “grudge politics” you appear as keen as I am to avoid. Regardless, debate is all well and good and healthy, though I think you might be a little bit overwhelmed by the response. I’ll start by saying that I hope the response encourages you to engage more with this debate, rather than puts you off engaging with it.

You have responded to many of your critics with “It’s my personal opinion.” That isn’t enough. You have made some pretty sweeping generalisations about Scottish culture, the independence movement and the Scottish Government. Your opinions require a response; they require unpacking and challenging, and this letter is an attempt to do that. Your article is one of the most fearful and saddening approaches to Scottish culture that I have read since Alistair Darling said this. The idea that our culture is so fragile that it could be eroded by a political party is not only woefully untrue, it also shows a wilful intellectual ignorance that is pretty unforgivable from a journalist.

The main criticism I would share with those who have responded to your article online is that it lacks research, and I would also agree that, at least in part, this may be due to the lack of engagement with the independence movement from the media south of the border. If you had engaged with the arts campaign for independence, I seriously doubt your article would be so fearful of what is happening here at the moment. The title of your article also suggests an unrealistic hope that Scottish culture and Scottish artists should keep out of the independence debate. That is a dangerous opinion. While it would probably be going too far to say, as Shelley did, that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the state,” it is often artists and writers who most vocally, due to the platform that their particular art affords them, challenge governments most effectively. Also, this is not just a political movement. It is a creative one. It is a cultural one. And it has to be.

The general tone of your article is one of fear. You are quite clearly fearful about the consequences of Scottish independence, and indeed, fearful of the effects on Scottish culture from the independence movement in general. I’d like to take the opportunity to respond to that. The easiest way to do that is to pick apart each of your fears and give ‘em a bit of a shoogle. That’s the best thing to do with fear – shake yerself out of it. I get a little bit heated at times in what follows, though in the spirit of Enlightened debate I try to see your points before rebutting them. I’ll start by saying that, like yourself, I share a passion for Scottish culture. Unlike yourself, for me this is a key part of wanting independence.

Your article starts by saying:

The great love of my life is a country and it pains me to say it, but up until recently, I thought we might have to break up… the current government’s pursuit for independence has seriously unmoored me from my nationality.”

There’s a fair bit to unpack in this particular fear, but firstly: the SNP have never exactly made a secret of their desire for independence, and they have been in government since 2007. There have been calls for Scottish independence for the last 300 years – some louder than others – but this is a part of our culture. Secondly, if Scotland becomes an independent country, if we really must keep up the tawdry marriage metaphor, think of it more as leaving someone you are no longer in love with because it is bad for both of you: they keep bitching about how much you spend on, er, books and bandages, and you keep bitching about how they never listen to you or allow you any power over the purse-strings or where to go to war, sorry, dinner. You’d like to remain friends. And you will. There will be a bit of negotiating over the cat and the bank account, but you’ll remain friends.

You go on:

Not just because I’m anti-separatist, but because the independence debate has become muddled with what is perceived as Scottish culture – what it means to be Scottish.Prior to the referendum push, English friends used to talk to me about Belle & Sebastian, Idlewild and Iain Banks. Where’s Byres Road? Is everyone three degrees of separation from Alex Kapranos? Where do you stay during The Fringe?

The Boy With The Arab Strap and The Wasp Factory were – for better or worse – tied up with what everyone else regarded as Scottish. And even though this meant two of our most potent exports focused on junkies and messed up families, Scotland was a cultural firework… Its humour dark, its ideas uncompromising, its voice so distinctive… But now all people want to talk about is Alex Salmond. Blah, blah, blah; Salmond, Salmond, Salmond.”

So, this fear is an interesting one. I think you are saying that independence would mean our culture would erode rather than, as I believe, flourish. Leaving aside that many of the people you cite in your article as great examples of Scottish culture are voting ‘yes’ to independence, do you not think that a distinct culture might actually lend support to the calls for full autonomy?

You go on:

So here’s the thing: Scottish culture must be kept separate from the separatist movement. Otherwise those outside the country will largely see Scotland simply as a nation with a bone to pick. Trust me, it’s happening already.”

It was here I started gnawing my own fist. Inadvertently, I am sure, you are using the language of the Better Together camp. It is not a ‘separatist’ movement: it is an ‘independence’ movement. By calling it ‘separatist’ you actually lend support to the calls for independence, as it is a term that denies people a voice. It is also a term laden with fear. Using it is evidence of you projecting your fears on to those calling for independence. As for Scotland being a nation with a bone to pick: well, indeed. She does have a bone to pick. The independence campaign – particularly the creative and cultural campaign here at National Collective, have led a positive, exciting, imaginative campaign to explore the possibilities of no longer having a bone to pick. Of course, rather than reduce the many positive arguments for independence to “a bone to pick” as you do, we prefer to imagine a better Scotland, recognising that we have a real chance here to build a better, more democratic, more socially-just nation where we can finally take control of our, er, carcass of bones. There might be dancing involved.

You go on once more:

The politics of this government must not eclipse centuries of science, art and literature. If they do? Our country’s true legacy will be overshadowed by grudge politics and stupid Braveheart-informed idiocy.”

Ok, I admit to eating my own face at this point. In what land of strange-bloody-strange would the democratically-elected government of Scotland “eclipse” our culture? Have you read Fiona Hyslop’s recent speech? Here it is. You might want to compare that with the message about the importance (or lack thereof) of the arts and culture from Maria Miller. Scottish culture is flourishing. As it always has and always will, regardless of the government. The difference here at the moment is that our current government actually supports the arts in a way that the UK government has rapidly shown it does not. Incidentally, you might also want to take a gander at what artists and creatives managed to achieve when challenging Creative Scotland –  Look! Anyway – I digress. The real fist-swallowing moment comes from your assertion that wanting independence is due to “grudge politics and stupid Braveheart-informed idiocy.” Good lord. I am afraid that at this point it seems like you haven’t engaged with this debate in the slightest. The fairest thing I can say to you about the misinformation packed into that sentence is that if I was asked to write about, say, synchronised swimming – something I haven’t ever seen or engaged with on more than a surface level (I saw it once on the telly), then I might come out with something really ill-informed about it. Like, “synchronised swimming is basically all about the nice swimming caps,” or something. The independence debate is nothing to do with Braveheart. There aren’t any yes campaigners saying it is. It is only ever, and I mean, ever, people who are voting No who bring up Braveheart. Seriously.

Let’s continue: “After the Question Time PR blood bath in June, I was near turning my back on the whole thing. I don’t recognise this country or these people, I thought.” Er, well no – neither did a lot of us. Who was that man at the end with the funny-casual-racism? Oh yeah – he was from UKIP, a party with near-zero support in Scotland. Talking at us about independence. And don’t even get me started on George Galloway… But let’s unpack this one anyway, for what it’s worth: you are equating a crap “political” panel show with an entire nation? Really? When you mentioned the image of Scotland earlier in your article, I did get a twinge of irritation, but it was here I realised where a lot of your fears are coming from: the media. You are overly-conscious of how Scotland “appears” to others, and you have basically projected the worst image you can of Scotland – nationalistic, knuckle-dragging, stupid, parochial – on to this entire debate. Which basically means you have layered reality with a veneer of utter nonsense. As a quick aside, you do know that the media are a bit crap sometimes, right? You can do degrees in how crap and biased the media is. Because of how crap and biased the mainstream media is, it is good to explore other avenues before forming your opinion. I know that sounds really patronising – but so does being told I am voting yes because I watched a film with a rousing soundtrack once…

Let’s finish up: you listen to a radio programme featuring Scottish musicians:

But the thing I loved most of all was there wasn’t a smidge of grudge politics. And do you know why? Because that’s not our culture, it’s just what one party seems hellbent on making it. If you ask me, we shouldn’t let them.”

I think what you mean is that you don’t want Scotland to become independent due to people holding grudges against the English. I think that’s what you mean – you don’t go so far to accuse us of racism, but it’s kinda swirling around in the background of that sentence. Me neither. That would be a terrible foundation to build a better country on. Luckily, that’s not what independence is about. Wanting political and fiscal autonomy and the chance to build a better nation is a funny kind of thing to call a “grudge”. It’s just about the most positive idea in current UK politics. Have a gander at the Common Weal. Now tell me that doesn’t sound like a solid foundation for positive change. And guess what – the current government are actively engaging with many parts of it.

Challenge the SNP, for sure – they should be challenged – they are the Scottish Government. All governments should be challenged. That’s one of the reasons I want my government to be closer to home. I am not a member of any political party, I tend to vote Green if you must know. I say this to counter the inevitable accusations of being a mouthpiece for the SNP that tend to come from people too scared to engage with the debate. Artists and creatives have no business becoming mouthpieces for political parties. That is why it is so important to ensure that this debate is about our culture, rather than just leaving it up to the politicians and the political commentators. It is not just a political argument.

I’d like to finish up by agreeing with you about one thing: our culture isn’t based on ‘grudge politics’. Neither is the independence movement. It is extremely exciting, positive, hopeful, energetic – and most of all, creative. Our culture cannot and must not be kept separate from the independence movement. It’s not a “push”, nobody is forcing this on us – it is democracy, the SNP have a mandate for this referendum, and it has been a thrilling sight to see so many people using this historic opportunity to challenge themselves and to debate and discuss our politics, our society and our culture – both the good and the bad. It is a movement. Please engage with it.

All the best

Jenny Lindsay
National Collective


About Jenny Lindsay

Jenny is a poet and promoter based in Edinburgh. Her work has been featured on the BBC, STV, Channel 4 and the BBC World Service. She has produced commissioned work for, amongst others, the Edinburgh International Book Festival, BBC Radio Scotland, Young Scot, Host City and The Scotsman. As one half of Rally & Broad, Jenny dedicates as much time and energy to promoting the poetry scene as she does to her own writing and performances.

There are 17 comments

  1. Michael Granados

    My comments on the article: The interesting thing about this article is the authors grappling with her identity which is something I’ve been thinking about myself. The author isn’t, in my opinion, a Scot but a Scottish expat who has made a choice to move to another country and throw her lot in them. Sounds harsh, doesn’t it? I don’t mean it as a criticism. People make choices all the time about how they want their lives to unfold. The author has made hers but seems to regret the choices she has made. I understand how this works as I’m an American expat who has done the same only my adopted country is Scotland. England and Scotland are already different countries and in many ways Scotland is already an independent
    country but lacking an independent government which is what next years referendum is about.

    The author is almost ready to embrace her new Englishness but is experiencing some doubt which is a good sign. As an outsider from London writing about Scotland (as if the fact that she left here a decade ago gives her some special insight into what is happening here now) she nonetheless has an obligation to fall in line with the Westminster propaganda machine and take Scotland down a peg or two. That is what so called ‘journalists’ must do to get ahead in London, but hey, a girls gotta work. As I said doubt is good. A critical assessment of just who and what you are getting in bed with; the corrupt, anti-democratic, imperialist Westminster system and all that that entails. I couldn’t make that choice but the author is welcome to it.

    The problem is you can’t have it both ways. English or Scottish. My advice is to get off the fence. Choose one or the other. You’ll be happier without the uncertainty. I suspect there are many Scots living abroad in England who are in the same predicament and I truly empathize with you in this regard. It is a difficult choice to make, I know. For the author, I suspect she moved south without any expectation of having to make this choice or of what she was signing up for in London or what she was giving up in Scotland. As much as you want to blame Alex Salmond for forcing this choice on you he is merely a figurehead for a large segment of Scottish people who have become fed up with everything the Union represents today. It isn’t him you are angry with it is all of us Scots who are no longer buying what Westminster is peddling. A new enlightenment is blooming in Scotland and that genie can’t be put back in the bottle. Independence will happen and artists, writers and the wider cultural community will play their part. For me I’m secure in my identity; an American (always) but Scottish by choice.

    1. Guest

      One thing I would disagree with is your denial of the original author’s Scottish identity. They CAN be Scottish and live somewhere else. Identity is personal and non-imposable, and it’s not for you to decide that she is a Scot/expat/newly-English or whatever. So, she can still be Scottish, live in another country, and hold whatever wild and whacky views she wishes. That’s part of democracy.

  2. DougDaniel

    That’s a stunning rebuttal, Jenny. Absolutely brimming with passion. I have no idea how you managed to keep your temper throughout, because I was barely able to read her full article without exploding into a rage, never mind doing a full point-by-point rebuttal.

  3. Matt Seattle

    Sara McCorquodale is a Scot livng in England. She has made a choice, and while she has a voice in the debate she does not have a vote. I am an Englishman living in Scotland. I too have made a choice, and have a voice and a vote (Yes). For me it’s not about what my English (and other) friends (and others) in England think. My experience lving in Scotland for 15 years is wholly borne out by Jenny Lindsay’s piece. It’s an exciting time for everyone, perhaps especially writers and musicians. My enthusiasm for Independence took a quantum leap at the time of the Thatcher funeral when the heinous history of her lunatic legacy was widely celebrated by the MSM. With the claim, barely refuted, that “we are all Thatcherites now” it became clearer to me than ever that the Union as it stands is an abusive relationship. In an abusive relationship, you do not wait for the abusing party to repent, see sense, be overcome with remorse, admit mistakes, make reparations. You pack your bag and get the **** out as soon as you can. After which you are at liberty to make your own mistakes rather than suffer those inflicted on you.

  4. Jim Monaghan

    While I am general agreement with Jenny’s reply and the need for a reply to the original piece there are two points that I want to question. Firstly, I can’t agree that the Scottish Govt are embracing the Common Weal project. The SNP, as a party, may be looking at it and having fringe meetings discussing it, but the Govt. are the antethesis of Common Weal, centralising powers to Holyrood on an unprecedented scale, advocating private ownership, low business taxes based on the failed ‘trickle down’ theories and, of course, arguing for an independent Scotland being a constituional monarchy. Common Weal is not an independence project, it is about looking at how we run society, irrespective of the result in the referndum and the ideas included in Common Weal are just as popular in the Labour Movement and the left wing of the NO side of the argument as they are in the YES side. Indeed, the soon to be published Red Paper is very much in line with Common Weal.

    Also, I just don’t get the notion that using the terms “separatist” or “separatism” is a negative way of describing secession. These terms have been used throughout history to decsrinbe movemenst to break away from existing institutions and Goevrnemnst whether in nationalist movements, churches or even just devolution. As a supporter of independence I have no rproblem with being described as a separatist, as I do want to separate Scotland from the institutions of the UK.

    1. Jenny Lindsay

      Hi Jim! Completely valid points and I hope I didn’t mislead re: Common Weal. I don’t think I am wrong in saying that the SNP have engaged with it – though I understand that as a low tax, pro-business party they are very unlikely to adopt it wholeheartedly. I agree with your points about the SNP in general.

      For me, “separatist” is negative though. It is not what we use to describe our own movement, it is a term imposed by others. That’s what I’d like to get away from.

      We often get called far worse though, I’ll give ye that 😉

  5. Jeanne Tomlin

    The suggestion that it should be was idiotic. What? Writers, artists and musicians aren’t allowed to have political opinions? Of course they are and to express them if they want to.

  6. unionlovetrain.org

    The Scots are very welcome at Westminster and in every part of the

    Britons with a sense of common interests is a positive result of the union and British democracy. If Thatcher didn’t respect that then Salmond is ‘builidng’ on her legacy. Building border posts at Berwick. That’s as creative as the nationalist project gets.

    Scottish nationalism has never been a popular movement. The only real change we can be certain the SNP offers is the division of Britain and the British people.

    Whichever side of Berwick you are, if the Nats have their way, you will lose half your country.

    Britons as compatriots not competitors is a positive result of the union. This referendum gives the Scots a unique opportunity to affirm that. When they do everyone will be very proud.

    1. nick jardine

      Funny isn’t it, the independence movement in Scotland is about staying in Europe and engaging with the world on our own terms. Its not about shouting, bullying, threatening, starting illegal wars or murdering innocent Iraqi civilians. Yet this is what the UK does – and now they want to leave Europe and stop immigration whilst kicking out as many that are here as possible.

      And they call us separatists.

      Utterly deluded.

    2. Stewart Bremner

      “The Scots are very welcome at Westminster and in every part of the UK.”
      Yet when Gordon Brown was the PM, the primarily English-based media hated him. You do recall the talk of the ‘Scottish Mafia’, surely? Hardly welcoming.

      “Britons with a sense of common interests is a positive result of the union and British democracy.”
      Which common interests are they? The whole of the Westminster apparatus had moved fully to the right, with the Labour now espousing Tory policies, such as savage welfare cuts, supporting Trident and so on. Not to mention starting wars. These are not policies that have traction or support in Scotland. These are not common interests.

      “If Thatcher didn’t respect that then Salmond is ‘builidng’ on her legacy. Building border posts at Berwick.”
      Border posts. Really? Have you travelled in Europe? Or to Eire, or the Channel Islands?

      “That’s as creative as the nationalist project gets.”
      Sorry, but are you aware of the site you have posted this comment on? Of course, it’s not a nationalist project, however it does back independence – perhaps you are unaware that once can back independence without being a nationalist.

      “Scottish nationalism has never been a popular movement.”
      And yet the SNP are the majority party in government. By any measure, this would seem to make them popular.

      “The only real change we can be certain the SNP offers is the division of Britain and the British people.”
      I think you’ll find that geographically, which is the only means by which we are British and from Britain, we will remain so after Scotland becomes independent. The island of Great Britain will not by physically torn asunder by a yes vote.

      “Whichever side of Berwick you are, if the Nats have their way, you will lose half your country.”
      Well now. Other than it is not solely the Nats who seek independence, Scotland hardly makes up half of the UK. On population it is around 8%. This is not half. Scotland is not in an equal partnership here.

      “Britons as compatriots not competitors is a positive result of the union.”
      Scotland is not in competition with the UK, as you note. However with control over its resources all the money made in Scotland is funnelled through Westminster. Consequently, a lot of that money does not return to Scotland. We helped pay for the M25, the Jubilee Line, Crossrail and the Olympics, to name but a few and yet not one was a financial benefit to Scotland. With independence we will be able to choose how we spend our own money. Even in competition with the remaining UK, we will be in a very strong position, with Scotland being only second to the South East of England in terms of money generated.

      “This referendum gives the Scots a unique opportunity to affirm that. When they do everyone will be very proud.”
      I hope by the time we vote, you will have changed you mind. If you have not, you will not be very proud.

  7. Angus Ogg

    Thank you for so eloquently articulating the thoughts of most of us, who had the misfortune to read Miss McCorquodale’s article.

  8. Derrick

    That`s an appropriately passionate, detailed, dignified and vital response to an article which I too found offensive and insulting. My first thoughts were ” Would she say this to Billy Bragg ? Or Bob Dylan ?”.
    Why vital ? Because, and I feel a lot of people are missing this, Sara McCorquodale, in her HuffPost article managed to sound like a great deal of the Nos & Don`t Knows I`ve engaged with. The same casual dislike of Salmond; the use of that dislike to “justify” voting No; the Braveheart sneer & the inherent accusation of anti-Englishness. The only thing she didn`t come out with was “Where`s the money gaunae come fae ?” which I get every time the referendum is brought up. Getting people to realise that the question they should`ve been asking all these years is “Where`s the money aw gaun tae ?” is, to me, the biggest mountain the entire Yes movement face.
    I love having sites like this to visit, what a thrill to see my own objections to the article in question articulated with such dignity and lucidity, but we must not lose sight of the glimpse of the mentality of those who`ve never heard of National Collective or Newsnet or Wings, who are, and in some cases would much rather remain, unengaged that Ms McCorquodale has gifted us. Persuading those of this mindset is the key to a Yes majority next September.

  9. nick jardine

    This rebuttal is far too kind and engaging. Earlier today we found out (via Twitter) that McCorquodale doesn’t know who ‘Better Together’ are and yet she’s copied every single scare story, smear and myth from the unionist handbook.
    That Huff post article is utterly horrific, it was not written to create debate it was written with a sole purpose to ridicule.
    She strikes me as one who sees her Scots ‘culture’ as a piece of ‘bling’, a fashion accessory, something that makes her interesting at dinner parties – that was until independence became the hot topic and now she’s being hit with awkward questions, or even worse, she’s not being invited to dinner parties anymore.

  10. LisaR

    Great piece Jenny! I’m Labour for Indy and I feel very very offended by this person’s depiction of her fellow Scots,I find her very nasty and bitter towards people who have only ever wanted the best for Scotland,it took me many years to see that and only when I finally let myself read the truth about Independence instead of “Labour says we vote No and SNP are the enemy” brainwashing. SNP didn’t turn me to a Yes vote…….the facts of all the positives against the many negatives of staying in the union made my mind up and more and more Labour folk,even Lib Dems are forming an Indy movement. This Sara McCorquodale know very little what makes this country tick nor what Scots are all about or shoe wouldn’t probably insult the majority of the population. what she niggles at is Scottish characteristics and not all SNP,a No person can only insult SNP so much where it spills over and she lands up insulting most Scots. I find the venom dripping of the tongue of any No voter when saying “CyberNat or Braveheart” is more about these peoples ignorance more than anything and if I were them I’d feel pretty embarrassed. I liken her to wanting to be the popular girl in England….she thinks if she slags of Scotland and her fellow Scots then her English mates will love her. what her article has done is alienate her in Scotland.

  11. Brian Forrest

    Well said, Jenny…I totally agree. It’s a really sad time when the MSM, who _should_ be promoting a level playing field, and indeed refereeing from a neutral perspective, actively discourage debate from one side by ignoring its input, or by distorting its comments to suit the Establishment…whatever happened to the famous, proud history of Freedom of Speech in this country? The only “spinning” our forefathers would be doing is in their graves in anguish at the lies and misinformation being peddled by the “Unionist” parties, who don’t even have the wit or savvy to appreciate that their actions are proving to be more divisive than engaging in honest debate would be…desperate times indeed.

  12. Katie

    Interesting article. I agree with most of your points – its a beautifully passionate read, in the face of all the usual scare-mongering tactics. However, the longer I watch the debate unfold, the more uncertain I feel about the most effective way to communicate. Perhaps passion is to often being misconceived as fevered madness – the Braveheartism that we are all sick of hearing reference to but which seems to stand in the way of the discussion with the other side – a proper discussion – that, at least I really crave – one that doesn’t involve telling the other they are just being silly/ridiculous etc but moving ahead to the next layer of conversation. Not that I’m offering up an answer but more a question – it’s a great article for discussing on one side but perhaps will not open up to those south-side or those as yet unsure how to vote – suggestions welcome.

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