Over a year ago now, I was asked to write a piece on what I thought independence would mean for Scottish culture. I had only been a Yes voter for about a month at this point, so much like anyone who has experienced an epiphany, I was ready to share it with anyone who would listen.
I suggested that Scottish culture would flourish in an independent Scotland: it seemed impossible to suggest otherwise. Yet I received countless emails from people who disagreed. In particular, some people (perhaps quite rightly) pointed out that Scotland already had a strong cultural presence; that even without independence, this would always be the case. So, really, independence wouldn’t change anything. Not only that, I was approached by a senior manager at the time who told me that culture was “not worth discussing” in the independence debate, and that we “artistic folk” should leave the politics to the politicians…
Scottish artists have always led the way on this road to independence. In Scott Hames’ introduction to the collection Unstated he points out that the likes of Tom Leonard, William McIlvanney, James Kelman, Liz Lochhead and Alasdair Gray were a driving force where our politicians were failing. Scotland’s leading voices in literature are the reason we are where we are today. To say that culture will not be affected by independence has already proven to not be the case. Arguably it is our culture that is responsible for this opportunity for Scotland to become independent.
So, what is it exactly about independence that inspires us “artistic folk”?
We artistic folk like to create things. We like to build and shape and mould our thoughts and our expressions to connect in various different ways with various different people. The excitement behind the idea of independence is the possibility to create a future that we and we alone are responsible for, without having to succumb to the “one-size fits all” proposals from down South. The influence for my article last year was inspired by the outrage of the Man Booker Prize. The fantastic The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan was believed by some to be neglected by judges due to a prejudice against Scottish writers – something James Kelman had already accused the Prize of almost twenty years previously. This idea of being a successful writer, musician or artist meaning you have to be marketable to a “London audience” is something that we should be trying to break away from. Scotland should not be building its culture and its identity in spite of a London-centric dominance, something that its arts have suffocated under for the last however many decades. It should be free to do so without reference to London, or any other place in the world for that matter.
Cultural confidence is something that we’ve slowly been building up over the decades. We know we have potential to do well independently as a country – heaps of potential. And from the amount of scaremongering coming from Westminster, they clearly know that themselves. Our local artists and creatives continue to lead the way in the fight for a better future. It is time that we as individuals take some of this confidence and start to believe in our country and in its possibilities.
Culture is defined as ‘the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively’. It is the expression of a country’s people. Can you imagine the wonderful things our culture could achieve if we are put in charge of our country’s own destiny and direction?
Or looking at it the other way, can you imagine what we will be expressing if we choose to stay locked in this union, continually undermined and placed second best while someone else decides our fate? Scottish culture is one of innovation, tenacity and passion – it should continue to reflect that by voting Yes this year.
Photo by Ocumare