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What difference would independence make to Scottish culture? Karyn Dougan

Bookseller Karyn Dougan, from our Glasgow Argyle Street bookshop, reads a new collection of essays on Scottish independence and wonders exactly what a "yes" vote might mean for her nation's culture...

Posted on 10th March 2013 by Waterstones

Recently, I finished Scott HamesUnstated; a selection of essays from some of the biggest names in Scottish literature - James Kelman, Alasdair Gray, Tom Leonard, James Robertson, Janice Galloway - expressing their views on Scottish independence. Originally it was meant to be a casual read that I could flick through during a busy week. I ended up reading it in one sitting.

Unstated is an excellent collection; whether for or against, the heart of each essay beats with a passion and sincerity that politicians could only dream of having. Regardless of the different opinions from the contributing writers, each help to raise an important question: what difference would independence make to Scottish culture?

In a discussion with Hames on independence, Cargo Publishing's MD Mark Buckland confidently stated that “cultural opportunities will definitely open up following a 'yes' vote”. It seems pretty hard to disagree. Culture is often mistaken for pieces of art or historical relics locked away behind a glass case in a museum. Instead, it should be considered as something that lives and breathes, something that constantly undergoes change. So when a country begins to grow and evolve, it only follows that its culture should do the same.

Personally, I think that culture would flourish in an independent Scotland. At the moment, it seems constantly under threat of being swallowed into the collective identity of “Britishness”. Looking specifically at literature, it seems fair to say that sometimes writers feel they have to conform to a “London-centric” way of writing if they want their novels to be noticed beyond their borders. A key example of this is the Man Booker Prize, which in 2012 caused a cry of outrage for its seemingly prejudice choices. That not one of the amazing Scottish novels out that year (in particular those by Jenni Fagan, Irvine Welsh and Ewan Morrison) was even long-listed still baffles many. In any case, if independence leads to more cultural opportunities, there would be less reason to let ourselves become absorbed into a collective, when we should be shaping our unique identity as a country. Culture needs space to live and breathe, and I feel that independence will help Scotland to achieve that.

As Hames himself mentions in Unstated’s introduction, “the passions, queries and visions of the essays… seem likely to remain ‘outside’ the official discourse on independence”, which is actually a bit of a shame. I hope that more people read this book before the vote in 2014; it’s smart, sincere and concerned with Scotland’s future. Whether you’re for or against or just swinging your legs as you sit on the fence, I thoroughly recommend Unstated.

Karyn Dougan, for Waterstones.com/blog


You can buy Unstated in many of our bookshops (http://bit.ly/Xcixv2) or online at Waterstones.com (http://bit.ly/ZBck7I).