from Scotland

We asked a selection of SR
contributors for a memory
of an outstanding holiday in
Scotland – good or bad

Marian Pallister in Tobermory
George Chalmers in Ayr
Islay McLeod in Rockcliffe
Judith Jaafar in Carrick Castle
Barney MacFarlane on Arran

Bill Jamieson on Bute
Tessa Ransford in North Berwick
Michael Elcock on Harris
Ronnie Smith in Largs

Katie Grant on Mull
Thom Cross in Kirkcaldy
Morelle Smith in Glencoe
Bob Cant in Carnoustie

Robin Downie on Arran
Bruce Gardner in Glen Livet
Fiona MacDonald on Tiree
Walter Humes at home

Jill Stephenson at Loch Duich
Quintin Jardine in Elie
Iain Macmillan in Gleneagles
Douglas Marr on Skye
Andrew McFadyen in Kilmarnock

R D Kernohan on Arran
David Torrance on Iona
Catherine Czerkawska at Loch Ken
Chris Holligan in Elie

Rose Galt in Girvan
Alex Wood on Arran
Andrew Hook in Glasgow
Alasdair McKillop in St Andrews

Sheila Hetherington on Arran
Anthony Seaton on Ben Nevis
Paul Cockburn at Loch Ness
Jackie Kemp in a taxi
Angus Skinner on Skye

No. 479

The Cafe

Who would have thought it? A virulent row around literature, poetry and thinking in Scotland. Well Adam Smith would have, and his mentor David Hume. Why, I have to ask, when so much of the media – by no means just in Scotland – peddles dribble is it just the SR that platforms debate? It is a serious question.      Caught in the crossfire, indeed. Though the battles have only just begun. What SR does superbly is provide a platform on which many different perspectives can play. And they need to, we need to. In the coming years the differences between left and right, this party or that – will all be over. Life, if we work for it, will remain. 
     I salute this. Fabulous.

Angus Skinner

Loving the stramash that Sophie Cooke's essay has set off. Mr Kelly appears to be an argument in search of  a cause.

Mark MacLachlan

I suspect most readers of the courageous Scottish Review have been shocked and saddened to read recent vituperation related to provocative articles on Scotland's literature and arts funding. Are the howls of outrage from certain individuals perhaps indicative of personal insecurities?
     Basic psychological training demonstrates that we only react to criticism that strikes at our deep-seated self-beliefs. If I describe you as 'purple' you are hardly likely to call your solicitor; more likely you will dismiss my opinion as irrelevant.
     Literate writers have no need to sink to personal attack in defence of their position. Let us continue to enjoy thought-provoking articles that express their author's opinions, without fear of reprisal or litigation. Were anyone to put this cherished publication out of business, Scotland would lose one of its most intelligent channels of communication. Would that not be the ultimate pyrrhic victory?

Chris Attkins

Poor wee thing, Stuart Kelly, to be so crushed by Catherine Czerkawska's comments.

Rose Galt

Why do these academic, clever people have to be so petty and childish? I'm reminded of my youngest son's comment when I reached 60 and was playing the fool: 'Dad, grow up!'.

Ian Petrie

This literary row is

connected to low

national self-esteem


James Robertson


When I saw the first sparks of the latest literary row flashing before my eyes in the Scottish Review, a part of me sighed and said, 'Oh dear, here we go again'. I wasn't going to get involved, but as Scott Hames of Stirling University has referred to me and my books I may as well put in my penny's worth. It is inevitable in a country like ours that I know personally several of those who have already put in theirs, so I hope the following will be read in the spirit in which it is written, ie not as a personal attack on anyone.
     I wonder if this row would have developed into anything at all if Sophie Cooke had not mentioned Stuart Kelly's name, almost as an aside, in the first paragraph of her article, and suggested – without providing any evidence – that he and other 'contemporary literary critics' were keen to 'de-nationalise Scottish writing'. That was enough, however, to spur Stuart Kelly to, as Dr Hames puts it in yesterday's SR, 'drive a coach and horse' through the arguments in Ms Cooke's essay. Catherine Czerkawska and Tessa Ransford then came to Ms Cooke's defence, the former accusing Stuart Kelly of misogyny [an accusation subsequently withdrawn].
     I am conscious that if I offer any  support for Mr Kelly it may well look as if this is an argument between men and women, which it certainly should not be. Sadly it doesn't take long for this kind of row to move well away from the original topic under discussion, the 'Scottishness' of Scottish writers and their writing, and it would be good to return to that topic even if it is, as Dr Hames says, one that has often been explored before. 
     Ms Cooke has some interesting things to say about it, some of which I agree with and some of which I don't. I could say the same of Stuart Kelly's response – indeed every one of the contributors to the debate so far has said something I find myself nodding in agreement with. Does this make me some specimen of lily-livered poltroon stuck on a pointy fence with no opinions on the subject? No, but it does make me wonder why we keep needing to go over this old ground.


Most writers, though, would do well to heed Hugh MacDiarmid's slogan
from the 1920s, 'Not Traditions – Precedents'. Following or breaking a literary tradition or recognising a literary precedent does require that
you have actually read the work that has gone before. 

     It is as if each generation of Scottish writers has to revisit the identity question on their own terms. Could this be because as a nation we still don't educate our children well enough in our own literature, so that writers who consider themselves 'Scottish writers' (I include myself) have to find out for themselves, often after their formal education is over, who their predecessors were? That is a terrible indictment of the general low esteem in which our literary and linguistic culture is still held, despite a growing confidence among practitioners that they don't have to defer to anyone else's definition of what literature is, they just have to get on and write. Most writers, though, would do well to heed Hugh MacDiarmid's slogan from the 1920s, 'Not Traditions – Precedents'. Following or breaking a literary tradition or recognising a literary precedent does require that you have actually read the work that has gone before. 
     My own view is that, however much some may deplore or dislike some of Stuart Kelly's barbed, possibly ill-judged, comments, it is far preferable for Scotland to have literary critics with his depth of knowledge and acuity of opinion prepared to sound off than it would be if we had nobody to challenge arguments that don't hold water.
     I am not for a second suggesting that Mr Kelly is a figure of MacDiarmid-like proportions, since his comments read like soft-soaping flattery compared with the kind of critical attacks MacDiarmid launched over a period of some 50 years – but how badly Scotland and Scottish literature needed MacDiarmid's vituperation in the 20th century. Without MacDiarmid's war on complacency, parochialism and unexamined received opinion, we wouldn't be where we are today – which should be some way beyond having to have these arguments yet again.
     One paragraph in Ms Cooke's second piece leapt out at me. It reads as follows: 'What is most desirable is probably a shared national identity which is secure enough to contain inner difference without fear or conflict, yet which never subsumes us. In fact, the more secure the group feels, the less it needs our conformity. In countries as well as in individuals, the bullying of citizens who dare to differ from the accepted rhetoric is usually an expression of insecurity'. Now that makes a lot of sense – and seems to me to reflect very well the fact that as we have become more culturally self-confident so Scottish literature has become more diverse, more multi-voiced and more tolerant of difference. Does that make it less Scottish? I don't think so.


James Robertson is one of the greatest Scottish novelists of the modern era. His work includes 'And the Land Lay Still', a masterly panorama of post-war Scottish life

More tomorrow from the home of Scottish flyting