Reply to James MacMillan’s Essay From 30th April 2014


Godwin’s Law: whoever is first to mention Nazis loses the argument. Sadly, composer James MacMillan, in a Scotsman piece yesterday, couldn’t help himself, rounding off with the startling implication that pro-Yes artists might ‘end up supporting evil’. This essay was touted on Twitter as a ‘must read’ by the head of Better Together, Blair McDougall. I’ll let readers draw their own conclusions about the stage the No campaign have reached.

If MacMillan believes art and politics shouldn’t mix, that’s up to him, although I would find it odd if Scottish artists had nothing to say about the seismic changes their country is undergoing. For me, the world would be a poorer place without the likes of Orwell, Steinbeck, Atwood, Zepheniah, Angelou, Morrison, Loach, Picasso and countless others politicising their art to challenge the official narratives of the powerful. In this case, the powerful is an increasingly cold, elitist and unequal British state, which the majority of artists believe Scotland, if given the chance, can improve upon. Should a Yes vote prevail, our scrutiny will turn immediately to the Scottish government. I fail to see how this amounts to ‘evil’.

What’s most disappointing about MacMillan’s piece, however, is his methodology. His essay contains the phrases, ‘Some worry that’, ‘the impression many have had is’, ‘some detect that’, ‘some feel that’ and ‘there are rumours that’.

As a former high school English teacher, I always told pupils: back up your claims with evidence. It seems no-one has pointed this out to MacMillan.

Alan Bissett
National Collective


About Alan Bissett

Alan Bissett is a novelist, playwright and performer from Falkirk, who now lives in Glasgow. His plays, novels and short films have won numerous awards, including a Scottish BAFTA and the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Writer of the Year 2012. His YouTube poem 'Vote Britain' has become one of the key texts in the Scottish independence movement.