Murdo Macdonald: “I’m voting Yes because I’m an internationalist”


I don’t think it ever occurred to me to vote No. I want Scotland to be a country like any other in which we can take it for granted that our culture is properly represented internationally. That is not the case at present. I’m a university professor whose area of interest is Scottish art. It saddens me when I see opportunities lost through lack of vision. As recently as 2012 the National Galleries of Scotland failed to include any Scottish painting in a major international touring exhibition. One critic called that failure ‘inexcusable’, another called it ‘inexplicable’. A third wrote ‘what the hell is going on?’ So I’m voting YES because I’m an internationalist.

As a student in the late 1970s I became acutely aware of how little information was available to me about my own culture except in the form of stereotypes. What I wanted was a vision that treated Scottish art and ideas as a normal part of an international context. I found what I was looking for in the work of George Davie, author of The Democratic Intellect. But by the time I was studying with George at the University of Edinburgh, his message about the everyday international significance of Scottish intellectual culture – from Robert Burns and James Clerk Maxwell to Patrick Geddes and Sorley MacLean – was more or less ignored in Scotland, despite strong interest in it in places like France and Australia.

So it was George’s students, myself among them, who commissioned and edited his second book, The Crisis of the Democratic Intellect, published in 1986. The publisher was Polygon, at that time owned and run by students. It had a remarkable list, which included Billy Kay’s Odyssey, the ideas magazine Edinburgh Review, and work by James Kelman, Agnes Owens, Liz Lochead, Ian Rankin, and Robert Alan Jamieson. Edinburgh Review became part of the support network of the Free University of Glasgow, which ran the Self Determination and Power event in Govan in 1990. Among the speakers were George Davie and Noam Chomsky.

Davie made me aware of Westminster’s treatment of Scotland as a subaltern culture, that is to say a culture not in control of its own standing either nationally or internationally. Such subaltern patterns have been evident recently as we see adherents of the sad remains of the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats trotting about doing the will of the old imperial Tories, like trusty servants. They don’t seem to realise that they are perpetuating the forms of a long-dead Empire.

“What was important about Cameron’s love bomb from the Velodrome was the immediate response to it not just from Scotland but from England, for in both quarters it was recognised as completely banal”

It would be nice to think that the BBC was merely out of touch, but the active dumbing down of Radio Scotland suggests a more deliberate commitment to the advancement of ignorance. In the days of presenters like Pat Kane, Radio Scotland was a credible, at times excellent station, but now it is little more than a useful source of travel news. The reality of that intellect-suppressing agenda was neatly demonstrated by the recent attempt to intimidate Dr John Robertson of the University of the West of Scotland. By attacking him instead of debating his findings of bias, the BBC revealed its intellectual inadequacy.

It is such ignorance-driven agendas that Scotland must move away from. The source is not, of course, England, but Westminster. One of the great spin-offs of the Scottish debate has been that so many people in England, not least in the West Country and the North (and, indeed, ordinary Londoners), are now recognising that it is time to move on from the creaky old levers of Westminster’s imperial delusions. What was important about Cameron’s love bomb from the Olympic Velodrome was the immediate response to it not just from Scotland but from England, for in both quarters it was recognised as completely banal. The subsequent hate bomb from Tory grandee Osborne and his Lib-Lab subalterns was an intriguing and surreal sequel.

So, time to move on.

Murdo Macdonald
National Collective