Voices from the Margins: Radicalism in Literature and the Arts in Post-war Scotland

Through its examination of magazine culture, writer’s workshops, festivals and folk culture, this session will explore the role (and limits) of radicalism in literature and community arts in post-war Scotland. During the first half of the session each participant will present a summary of their current research topic as outlined below (approximately 10 mins). The second half of the session will be discussion-based, allowing space for audience participation and interconnections between these ideas to be established. In particular, we will be focussing on common concerns between these papers, and what we might learn from these.

Eleanor Bell: Leaps and Bounds: Feminist Interventions in Scottish Literary Print Culture

From the 1960s to the 1990s a variety of key magazines and journals in Scotland engaged with the intersections of Scottish literature, culture and politics. While Cencrastus (1976- 2006) was primarily literary focussed, magazines such as Radical Scotland (1979-1991) and Scottish International (1967-1974) were more politically minded. With a few significant exceptions, most of the editors and contributors to these magazines were men. In the 1980s, however, a significant shift began to take place in Scottish literary culture, leading to the need for a recognition of women’s voices and the re-publishing of the work of many women who had been out of print for decades. As critic Joyce McMillan noted in 1983, for example, ‘the part played by women writers in Scottish literary life is increasing, at the moment, by leaps and bounds, and with that development there must come a change in old psychological patterns and tensions… Most Scottish women writers seem relatively free from the little-brother complex, the chip on the shoulder, the need to assert and re-assert Scottishness.’   In its reflections on such concerns, this talk sets out to examine key moments of feminist intervention in contemporary Scottish periodical culture. With reference to a selection of personally-conducted oral history interviews conducted with Scottish writers, editors and critics, this talk will examine the importance of these interventions in reshaping subsequent understandings of Scotland’s national and cultural life.

Angela Bartie: Maydays to Mayfests: Cultural Politics and the Popular Arts in Glasgow, c.1983-1990

Mayfest, Glasgow’s annual festivals of popular culture (1983-97), was a Scottish Trades Union Congress initiative intended to increase availability and access to the arts amongst the working-class population of Glasgow. Set against the backdrop of deindustrialization, public funding cuts under the Conservative Government and deprivation in large parts of the city, the community-level Mayfests committees that sprung up demonstrated the value of widening access to culture across the city. However, by 1986, Mayfest had begun to compete with the Edinburgh Festivals, separating the community productions from the ‘main event’–provoking allegations that it had become a two-tier festival –and changing its name from ‘Glasgow’s Festival of Popular Theatre and Music’ to ‘Mayfest –Glasgow’s International Festival’. This paper uses these festivals as a ‘lens’ to explore debates about access, inclusion and participation in arts festivals for the working-class populations of the cities in which they take place.

Kate Wilson: Workshop: community writers’ groups and radicalism, Glasgow 1981-1994

In the 1980s, writers’ groups flourished in Scotland. As a result, a range of self-published working-class writing emerged from peripheral and inner-city schemes across the country. Often, this writing positioned itself in opposition to the perceived literary establishment and accepted ideas of canonicity. This talk will highlight the work of writers’ groups based in Glasgow from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, specifically examining the emergence of these groups within areas which were subject to top-down urban restructuring projects. The paper will locate this writing within the context of the rise of adult education and the women’s movement, and ask whether these previously under researched publications can be considered countercultural artefacts.

Scott Hames: How radical was Radical Scotland? Cultural revival and political closure in a key magazine of devolution

Radical Scotland (1982-91) is arguably the most consequential ‘small’ magazine in post-war Britain, certainly in the context of constitutional politics. The journal included original poetry and fiction (subsidised by the Scottish Arts Council), and featured cultural commentary and reportage on international (notably ‘Third World’) current affairs. But its main function was as a laboratory and clearing-house for pro-devolution strategy and alliance-building, operating within and across party-political space (the brainy debatable land between Scottish Labour and the SNP’s ’79 Group). This talk will explore the tension between Radical Scotland’s disciplined and pragmatic constitutional agenda, its more adventurous anti-imperial sympathies, and its central concern with reviving and mobilising Scottish cultural identity. Rather than a bold departure from the formal political system, Radical Scotland was an important avenue by which constitutional strategy was effectively extended into the domain of literary and cultural journalism. This paper will survey the magazine’s coverage of 1980s cultural production in this light (from music to literature to Scots revivalism, The Proclaimers to Liz Lochhead and Billy Kay), tracing the magazine’s constitution of cultural Scottishness as a cause and project, to be managed and delivered through ‘inclusive’ political representation.

Corey Gibson: Chapbook Radicals and Rebel Ceilidhs: folk politics and folk poetics in Scotland, 1947-1973

‘what’s wrong with the world is wrong here and now in Scotland’

William Kellock, Rebel Ceilidh Song Book

The Scottish folk song and poetry that emerged in Scotland between1947 and 1973 was taken up with causes revolutionary and structural; with the volkish politics of a collective anonymous voice; with hyper-localised (and sometimes fleeting) political/interpersonal struggles; and with a satirical humour that rooted out hypocrisy from the city council up to the UN. This talk will consider texts ranging from Hamish Henderson’s Ballads of World War II (1947), through the Clyde Group’s Fowrsom Reel (1949), the Bo’ness Rebels Literary Society’s The Rebels Ceilidh Songbook (1953-67), the anti-Polaris and republican Ding Dong Dollar LP (1962), Chapbook: Scotland’s Folk-Life Magazine (1965-69), to the John Maclean Society’s Homage to John Maclean (1973), in light of their folk politics and folk poetics. This paper asks whether the ideology of these works cohere; what they say about the folk politics of folk poetics (and vice-versa); and whether or not the invocation of tradition bolsters or undermines the political struggles at hand. The folk aesthetics, paratextual settings, and song/poem taxonomies will be of particular interest in mapping how these works departed from the political imagination of the interwar Renaissance, and how they anticipated a performative vernacular politics that would characterise devolutionary and post-devolutionary Scottish politics.