– Spring/Summer 2018

a year or more of darkness, a few hundred years without day

Alec Finlay

Nathan Coley, The Lamp of Sacrifice (286 Places of Worship, Edinburgh), 2004, cardboard, dimensions variable. Installation view, GOMA, Glasgow, 2014. Collection of the National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh. Courtesy the artist

The politics of 2014 began two days after the UK general election of 9 April 1992. Scotland voted left but the British electorate imposed a Conservative government. Scotland United, a left-wing umbrella group, called an impromptu rally in Glasgow’s George Square for 11 April. Around 5,000 people listened to speeches and sang Hamish Henderson’s anti-apartheid anthem, ‘Freedom Come-All-Ye’.

The crowd cheered and booed the speeches, depending on whether they supported or undermined the spirit of common cause. One scene stays with me: Pat Kane, pop singer and activist, rowing with a younger, fiercer, Nicola Sturgeon. Beseeching hands on the open-top bus behind the speeches. Nicola hammered the British Labour Party and, without having to lip-read, Pat was desperate the day shouldn’t be skewed by party politics.

In the 1990s, agitating for a Scottish parliament required covering the drab statuary of party politics in dust sheets. Devolution was negotiated by civic bodies – Scottish churches, Trade Unions, progressive lawyers and journalists – pressured by unaffiliated groups like Common Cause and Democracy for Scotland. Artist Nathan Coley’s Ruskinian

  1. In 2017 the Brexit process and new vague offers from Labour of ‘significantly’ more devolution confirm the mechanics by which Westminster and the English majority continues to have primacy over the politics of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

  2. The ‘Vow' was a notorious fake document, apparently signed by the leaders of the British Unionist parties to promise more governmental power to the secondary Scottish parliament in the event of a vote against independence. After the vote, it was quickly disowned.

  3. This extract is from a found poem composed from submissions to the commission: Alec Finlay,
    a better tale to tell: submissions to The Smith Commission, Glasgow and Edinburgh: Centre for Contemporary Arts, National Library of Scotland, Saltire Society and Scottish Poetry Library, 2015.

  4. No rationale is given for the submissions selected for publication by the Smith Commission. I have tried to access more material but the submissions are now subject to control by the cabinet office and they failed to process my enquiries.

  5. ‘There’s an end to an old song’, said by Earl of Seafield, Chancellor of Scotland, when he signed away the independent Scottish parliament. Estimates say that nine in ten people opposed the decision.

  6. In the campaigns of the 1990s one campaigner, Robbie the Pict, tried to pass a legal motion to call the Scottish parliament back into session.

  7. Enric Miralles's sudden death partway through construction was an uncanny suspension of becoming – so many reasons not to build.

  8. See Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972, New York: Praeger, 1973.

  9. I edited Hamish Henderson’s essays and letters, Alias MacAlias (1992) and The Armstrong Nose (1997).

  10. Yestival was supported by people of many nationalities, and the Yes campaign was strongly pro-immigration.

  11. Letter signed by 1,200 creative practitioners.

  12. The rally calling for a devolved parliament in Edinburgh on 12 December was attended by an estimated 30,000 people.

  13. Architect Malcolm Fraser’s recollection of the pro-devolution rally, Edinburgh, December 1992, published as a comment on social media, 2017.

  14. This characterisation of Beuys's work draws on Craig Richardson, ‘Contemporary Scottish Art and the Landscape of Abandonment’, Visual Culture in Britain, vol.11, no.3, 2010, pp.391–405.

  15. See Iain Crichton Smith, ‘Chinese Poem’, in Collected Poems, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1995.

  16. My understanding of Latham’s Niddrie project as antiquarian draws on the writings of Amy Todman, including her essay ‘The pace of a landscape view: A run, then a walk, after William Stukeley and John Latham’, in Heather H. Yeung and Mike Collier (ed.), Selected Essays from the On-Walking Conference, Sunderland: Arts Editions North and the University of Sunderland, 2013, pp.283–94.

  17. By contemporary transhumance I mean those projects that return care to the hills, recalling the era of shieling culture.

  18. Hutopianism is a term I use to refer to the new movement to build huts in Scotland.

  19. In Britain Begins, archaeologist Barry Cunliffe describes Britain’s cultural formation as shaped through centuries of immigration, forming an ‘Atlantean’ identity; my use of this term proposes a greater federalism in which St Kilda, Scotland, the British Isles and Europe establish a respectful, constitutional relationship. See his Britain Begins, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. The Oyster is one of the new marine renewable devices being developed in Orkney.

  20. A. Finlay, a better tale to tell, op. cit