Monthly Archives: March 2013


Volume 9 – Issue 1 – Classifieds


Classified contains a listing of new titles submitted for inclusion by publishers in Scotland. Advertisers in this section are:

Argyll Publishing 01369 820 229

Association for Scottish Literary Studies (ASLS) 0141 330 5309

Barrington Stoke 0131 225 4113

Birlinn Ltd. 0131 668 4371 

Brown, Son & Ferguson 0141 429 5922

Candlestick Press 07500 180 871

Grace Note Publications 01764 655979

Luath Press 0131 225 4326 

Neil Wilson Publishing 0141 954 8007

Polygon See Birlinn

Thirsty Books See Argyll Publishing

Scottish Storytelling Centre 0131 556 9579

The In Pinn See Neil Wilson

Vertebrate Publishing 0114 267 9277


Portfolio: Treasures from

Royal Scottish Academy

Tom Normand

LUATH PRESS £17.00 HB 9781908373526

An illustrated and engaging history of Scottish art told through the extraordinary treasures of one of Scotland’s finest art collections. Normand shows how 200 years of visual culture have changed and impacted Scotland and the impact that art will have in the future for the cultural community.


The Man Who Gave Away His Island

A Life of John Lorne Campbell of Canna Ray Perman

BIRLINN £9.99 PB 9781780271200

The story of a truly remarkable man, John Campbell Lorne, and his dream to preserve part of the traditional Gaelic culture of his Hebridean island of Canna.

Stirring the Dust

Mary McCabe

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781908931030

A superb mix of historical research, memoir and narrative, convincing in its detail of the lives of the author’s and our own forebears.

Red Sky at Night

John Barrington

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373373

A new edition of the UK number one bestseller. John Barrington was a shepherd to over 750 Blackface Ewes in the Scottish Highlands. In this evocative book, he mixes descriptions of his daily life tending his flock with a story of the glen.



Ross Collins

BARRINGTON STOKE £5.99 PB 9781781121917

Hal is convinced there is a connection between his cheesy snacks and the horrible nightmares he keeps having. Determined to solve his cheesemares once and for all, he sets off for Bovinia – but will he be able to escape the horror he finds in The Evil House of Cheese…? Laugh-out-loud comedy for 5-8s from author/illustrator Ross Collins.

You Killed Me!

Keith Gray

BARRINGTON STOKE £6.99 PB 9781781121887 There’s a dead man at the bottom of Toby’s bed – and he says that Toby killed him! But Toby hasn’t killed anyone…has he? Toby travels back in time to unravel the events that led to a man’s death and realises the unimagined consequences of his actions. A brilliant, riddling thriller from YA talent Keith Gray.

The Boy Who Wouldn’t Swim

Kenneth Steven

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781906134723

Another adventure novel from this successful children’s author – aimed at 8-12 year olds.

A Granny Porage ABC

Jean Marshall

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 9781908931085

Now children who have enjoyed Jean Marshall’s Granny Porage stories can add fun and familiarity to learing to read.

Nan’s Rabbit

Mary Bromilow with illustrations by Alexa Rutherford

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931245

An adventure story for 5-8 years olds.


New Writing Scotland 30: A Little Touch of Cliff in the Evening 

Carl MacDougall & Zoë Strachan (eds) ASLS £9.95 PB 9781906841096

This latest collection of excellent contemporary writing, from more than eighty contributors, features new work by – among many others – Lin Anderson, Ron Butlin, Valerie Gillies, Alasdair Gray, Andrew Greig, Agnes Owens, and the Glasgow comic-book duo metaphrog.


Cellmates: Our story of cancer, life, love and loss. 

Rose T. Clark

SARABAND £9.99 PB 9781908643179

This revealing true story tells of John and Rose’s experience of cancer, the eventual death of one, the grief and recovery

of the other. The graphic honesty and real-time pace power you along their rollercoaster of despair and hope, denial and acceptance. Ultimately uplifting, this book is an extraordinary account of the myriad ways that cancer affects lives.


Divided Scotland: Ethnic Friction and Christian Crisis 

Tom Gallagher

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £12.99 HB 978190893183

Why has inter-communal strife involving the use (and many would say mis-use) of religious and national symbols enjoyed such an extended life in Scotland? This book is the first full-length study of Scotland’s ethno-religious discord that has appeared in the devolution era.

Annie’s Loo: The Govan origins of Scotland’s Community Based Housing Associations 

Raymond Young

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781908931207

How a project to put inside toilets in Glasgow tenements in the 1970s developed into the community based housing association movement. 

The Poor Had No Lawyers – New Edition Who Owns Scotland and How They Got It 

Andy Wightman

BIRLINN £12.99 PB 9781780271149

Andy Wightman updates the statistics of landownership in Scotland and takes the reader on a voyage of discovery into Scotland’s history to find out how and why landowners got their hands on the millions of acres of land that were once held in common.

Carnegie’s Call – developing the success habit 

Michael Malone

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £7.99 PB 9781908931047

Recognising the achievements of emigré and man of achievement Andrew Carnegie, Michael Malone interviews Scots who have distinguished themselves and seeks to understand attitudes to success. He uncovers some fascinating insights into how we can develop the success habit. 

Fags Booze Drugs + children – what parents need to know to keep children safe 

Max Cruickshank

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781906134983

The aim of this book is to inform, educate and empower parents or carers of young people about how drugs have the potential to damage their health and wellbeing. Factual, informative and rooted in years of experience as a youth worker.

Afternow – what next for a healthy Scottish society? 

Phil Hanlon & Sandra Carlisle

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931054

The authors look at health and beyond health to the main social, economic, environmental and cultural challenges of our times. [Postcards from Scotland series]

The Great Takeover – how materialist values now dominate our lives and what we can do about it 

Carol Craig & Zara Kitson

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931061

Where do these ideas come from and what can be done. [Postcards from Scotland series]

The New Road – Community Renewal

Alf Young & Ewan Young

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931078

A father and son take a journey to see some of the inspiring community action projects going on.

Scotland’s Local Food Revolution

Mike Small

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931078

Horse burgers? There has to be a better way to produce and distribute food. Mike Small, Director of The Fife Diet project points one way forward.

The Scots Crisis of Confidence

Carol Craig

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £9.99 PB 9781906134709

A brand new edition of Carol Craig’s successful exposition of Scots’ attitudes to and predilection for negativity. She offers a refreshingly different analysis of the big themes of Scottish culture. Rewritten in parts and brought up to date.


Testament of a Witch

Douglas Watt

LUATH PRESSS £7,99 PB 9781908373212

Set in the 17th century against the backdrop of political and religious conflict, the second of Watt’s John MacKenzie series is as historically rich and gripping as the last. MacKenzie investigates the murder of a woman accused of witchcraft and he must act quickly when the same accusations are made against the woman’s daughter. Superstition clashes with reason as Scotland moves towards the Enlightenment.

#freetopiary: An Occupy Romance

THIRSTY BOOKS £6.99 PB 9781908931214

‘Resistance is possible even for those who are not heroes by nature.’ Consumerism, passivity, apathy and distraction are challenged as Alan is introduced to the story of Bradley Manning.

The Road to Hell An Alice Rice Mystery 

Gillian Galbraith

POLYGON £7.99 PB 9781846972522

DS Alice Rice attempts to piece together and find the connection between two similar, but apparently motiveless attacks. Rice is taken to new personal depths and along a trail that leads to some of Edinburgh’s darkest and most sinister corners.

After Flodden

Rosemary Goring

POLYGON £14.99 HB 9781846972720

A young woman searches for her brother, feared lost at the Battle of Flodden. This thrilling adventure, full of political intrigue and romance, follows the life of several characters who either had a hand in bringing the country to war, or were deeply affected by the outcome.

Friend & Foe: A Hew Cullen Mystery

Shirley McKay

POLYGON £12.99 PB 9781846972171

The death of a young soldier leads Hew Cullen to both an astonishing discovery and his blackest hour, his fortunes inextricable from those of James VI himself. Set in 1583 St Andrews, real historical figures are interwoven in this fantastical tale of treachery, deceit and shadowy religious practice.


Rita Monaldi and Francesco Sorti

POLYGON £16.99 HB 9781846972577

Vienna, 1711. An unfinished palace known as the Place with No Name, an exotic menagerie and a fantastical Flying Ship are just some of the ingredients of this baroque spy novel which will intrigue and delight fans of Monaldi and Sorti’s Atto Melani series.

Nor Will He Sleep: An Inspector McLevy Mystery 

David Ashton

POLYGON £7.99 PB 9781846972515

It is 1887. The streets of Edinburgh seethe with youthful anarchy as two rival gangs of students try to outdo each other in wild, criminal exploits. Enter Inspector James McLevy, a little more grizzled, but unchanging in his fierce desire to mete out justice.

Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe

David Purdie

LUATH PRESS £19.99 HB/ £9.99 PB 9781908373588/ 9781908373267 

This new adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe brings this classic tale to life for a modern audience. Purdie has cut the novel down from 179,000 words to 95,000, spurred on by his belief in the power of the story itself. This fresh adaptation manages to successfully maintain the novel’s soul, whilst making the prose more accessible to the modern reader.

An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful

J David Simons

SARABAND £8.99 PB 9781908643278

Sir Edward Strathairn returns to the Japanese hotel where he wrote his renowned novel ‘The Waterwheel’, which accused America of being in denial about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But as we learn about Sir Edward’s earlier life and his relationship with an American artist, we realise that he too may be in denial. And that his past is now catching up with him.

Bear Witness

Mandy Haggith

SARABAND £8.99 PB 9781908643292

The brutal shooting of a bear cub galvanises ecologist Callis MacArthur, who dreams of bears roaming free. But as she embraces her wild side, she faces escalating challenges and agonizing personal losses. Combining lyrical prose, mythical themes and a cracking plot, Bear Witness will appeal to Barbara Kingsolver fans.


Aquaponic Gardening: A guide to raising fish and vegetables together Sylvia Bernstein

SARABAND £16.99 PB 9781908643087

Aquaponics is an amazingly easy way of gardening that is completely organic, hugely productive, resource-efficient, and there’s no weeding, watering or digging. This is the definitive do-it-yourself manual, giving you all the tools you need to create your own aquaponic system and enjoy fresh and healthy fruit and vegetables.  


Scotland: A Graphic History

Jeff Fallow

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373120

This is a concise history of Scotland

in the form of a graphic novel. Both witty and informative, the book covers everything from the dinosaurs to David Cameron, with a plethora of battles, conspiracies, poets and politicians in between. Entertaining and accessible, this will appeal to teenage school kids, students, visitors and anyone else with an interest in Scottish history.

Scots in the USA

Jenni Calder

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373380

All over Scotland and the United States there are clues to the Scottish-American relationship, the legacy of centuries of trade and communication as well as that of departure and heritage. Scots in the USA discusses why Scots left their homeland, where they went once they reached the United States, and what they did when they got there.

Scots in Canada

Jenni Calder

LUATH PRESS £8.99 PB 9781908373038

In Canada there are nearly as many descendants of Scots as there are people living in Scotland. This book follows the Scottish pioneers west from Nova Scotia to the prairie frontier and on to the Pacific coast. It examines the reasons why so many Scots left their land and families. The legacy of centuries of trade and communication still binds the two countries, and Scottish Canadians keep alive the traditions that crossed the Atlantic with their ancestors.

Islands that Roofed the World

Mary Withall

LUATH PRESS £5.99 PB 9781908373502

Slate has been taken from the isles off the west coast of Argyll from their earliest recorded history and the richness and quality of the deposits meant that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries slate quarrying was one of the most important industries in Scotland. This is the story of the Slate Islands past, present and future, of their geology, industry, people and way of life.

On the Trail of King Arthur: A Journey into Dark Age Scotland 

Robin Crichton

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373151

King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table is one of the world’s greatest legends. Yet little is known of the truth behind the great story. This book enters the realm of conjectural history – the blurred middle ground between fact and fiction. Recorded events are linked to more shrouded possibilities and then compared to imprints on the landscape. This book includes detailed itineraries and maps, allowing readers to visit the locations and discover the clues for themselves. It is part of a project to develop an Arthur trail across Scotland.

Scotland the Brief : A Short History of a Nation 

Christopher Harvie

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931191

A new edition of this brief outline for the beginner. Illustrated.

1814 Year of Waverley

Christopher Harvie

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £5.99 PB 9781908931238

The life and times of Walter Scott and the impact of the Waverley novels. Illustrated.

Fascist Scotland Caledonia and the Far Right 

Gavin Bowd

BIRLINN £12.99 PB 9781780270524

Although Fascism in Britain is normally associated with England, the movement did find support in Scottish society. In this book Gavin Bowd relates a little-known part of Scottish history, revealing some uncomfortable truths which are bound to stimulate debate even now.

If Hitler Comes Preparing for Invasion: Scotland 1940

Gordon Barclay 

BIRLINN £20 PB 9781843410621 This book introduces the reader to a legacy of Scotland’s past that has been, until now, ignored. The heroic efforts made in the months preceding the war to prepare Scotland for an expected invasion are explored in this fascinating text.

Traditional Tales

Allan Cunningham, Tim Killick (ed)

ASLS £12.50 HB 9781906841089

A selection of folk stories steeped in the traditions of southern Scotland and northern England. Mixing the natural and supernatural, they blur the distinction between the oral traditions of the distant past and emerging ideas of literature and modernity. Originally published in 1822, these fascinating tales form an essential part of folkloric history.

Arthur’s Seat: Journeys and Evocations Stuart McHardy and Donald Smith

LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 9781908373465

Arthur’s Seat, rising high above the Edinburgh skyline, is the city’s most awe-inspiring landmark. Although thousands climb to the summit every year, the history of the mountain remains a mystery; shrouded in myth and legend. Inspired by the NVA’s ‘Speed of Light’, this is a salute to the ancient tradition of storytelling, guiding the reader around Edinburgh’s famous ‘Resting Giant’ with an exploration of the local folklore and customs.

Of Dogs and Men

John Barrington

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781906817909

Part autobiography and part history, ‘Of Dogs and Men’ is a celebration of the long relationship between man and dog. Former shepherd Barrington mixes his own personal recollections with a history of the evolution of dogs from wild animal to man’s best friend.


Haud ma Chips, Ah’ve Drapped the Wean! Glesca Grannies’ Sayings, Patter and Advice 

Allan Morrison

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373427

A humorous and wise collection of the Scots sayings of Glasgow grannies. Covering various topics, from health and family to insults, each saying is accompanied by a straightforward English translation, Haud ma Chips is your introduction to the unique wisdom and advice of Glesca Grannies.


Rethinking George MacDonald: Contexts and Contemporaries

Christopher MacLachlan, John Patrick Pazdziora & Ginger Stelle (eds)

ASLS £12.50 PB 9781908980014

The novels of George MacDonald (1824–1905) inspired later fantasy writers such as C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. The essays in this anthology look at MacDonald’s engagement with the works of his contemporaries and at his interest in the social, political, and theological movements of his age.



David Hollett

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON  £40.00 HB 9781849270298

Between the years 1830 and 1930 emigration from Europe to North America took the form of a mass exodus. During these years it is estimated that about 40 million people sailed from Britain, Ireland and Continental Europe for the United States, Canada, and other distant lands. The tragic story of the Irish and Scottish clearances and evictions, leading to disproportionately large emigrations from these troubled lands receive appropriate attention. One of the concluding chapters is dedicated to the loss of the White Star liner Titanic.

Back From The Brink

Jamie Webster

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £9.99 PB 9780851748085

The fight to stop the closure of the Kvaerner Govan shipyard in Glasgow was the most high profile industrial campaign in Scotland since the UCS sit-in in the 1970’s. This is the inside story of that struggle, told in his own words by campaign leader, Govan’s yard convenor Jamie Webster.

Glenlee – The Life and Times of a Clyde Built Cape Horner 

Colin Castle & Ian MacDonald

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £20.00 HB 9780851745091

In the 10-year period beginning in 1882, 271 barques and full-riggers were built on the Clyde during which time the yards of Russell, Stephen, Connell, Lithgow and Rodger established a worldwide reputation for the construction of large sailing ships of outstanding design, quality and durability. Three-masted barque Glenlee was one such vessel. This is her fascinating story.


Bill Cumming

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £55.00 HB 9781849270137

Based on real people and events this is a gripping factual account of the background events and repercussions of the milestone launch of the world’s first 4-masted iron merchant ship in 1875. The phenomenal success of this large square rigged sailing-ship, named County of Peebles, prompted R & J Craig of Glasgow to launch a further eleven fabulous jute clippers.

Half of Glasgow’s Gone

Michael Dick

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £9.95 PB 9780851745091

Glasgow, until recently, was a major European port and this publication describes its heyday, decline, neglect and subsequent redevelopment. Glasgow’s Harbour’s significant contribution to the 1939-45 war effort is also covered in some detail. The book records an important part of Glasgow’s heritage and a similar pattern of change, redevelopment and regeneration can be seen in other British ports whose roots lay in the 19th century.

Truly Clyde Built

William Kane

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £60.00 HB 9781849270144

Scott’s of Greenock grew from a small family business building and repairing Herring Busses in 1711 to leading the world in both merchant and naval shipbuilding to the highest standards. The gates closed permanently in 1993 thus ending a great relationship between the people of Greenock and the Scott Family Enterprise. DVD with 2GB of documents, tables and photographs included.

Keepers of The Light

Malcolm MacPherson

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £10.00 HB 9781849270113

There are well over 200 lighthouses positioned around Scotland’s breathtaking and energetic coastline. The author has captured 33 of these dramatic Scottish lighthouses in watercolour for this first volume of his original paintings. Each painting is accompanied by a brief description of the lighthouse giving details of location, dimensions, history, and technical information.

At The Sharp End

George H Parker

BROWN, SON & FERGUSON £19.95 HB 9780851746104

Provides an insight into the building and repairing of ships, on the Tay, on the Clyde, on the three rivers of the northeast of England, shipbuilding labour relations, and reasons for the decline of the industry. The late George Parker, the third generation of his family to build ships, writes about shipbuilding from the “inside”.


Engine of Destruction – The 51st (Highland) Division the Great War

Colin Campbell

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £25 HB 9781908931276

Detailed and touching account of the WWI experience of the 51st Division is an amazing book in tribute to the Scottish soldier.


Parapets and Labyrinths: Poems in English and Scots  on European

Themes 1984-2012

Tom Hubbard

GRACE NOTE PUBLICATIONS £6.00 PB 9781907676239

In this book, Tom Hubbard takes us on another poetic tour of Europe, offering a number of translations (or rather transcreations) on the way.  It is a collection of poems mainly in English (but with a significant presence of the Scots language – glossary included), is a companion volume to the Chagall Winnocks, which was published by Grace Note publications in 2011.

Ten Poems from Wales: Fourteen Centuries of Verse 

Edited by Gillian Clarke


‘Ten Poems from Wales’ offers readers who are new to the poetry of Wales, and those who are already in love with it, a glimpse of a rich heritage. The ten poems, chosen by National Poet for Wales, Gillian Clarke, give the reader a taste of a beautiful, ancient and continuing literature.

An Cuilithionn 1939: The Cuillin 1939 and Unpublished Poems

Sorley MacLean, Christopher Whyte (ed)

ASLS £12.50 PB 9781906841034

This major new edition of MacLean’s epic work includes 400 lines never before published, along with MacLean’s own English translation, and an extended commentary. Forty-five other previously unpublished poems by MacLean also appear here for the first time, with facing English translations.


Blossom: A Journey Beyond Independence

Lesley Riddoch

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373694

Disentangling Scotland’s cultural identity from decades of political, social and financial baggage is no mean task, but it’s a task Lesley Riddoch is willing to undertake.  Blossom: A Journey Beyond Independence seeks Scotland’s true identity from amongst its people, its history, and the author’s own passionate and outspoken perspective. 

Arguing for Independence: Evidence, Risk and Tackling the Wicked Issues

Stephen Maxwell

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373335

By offering an assessment of the case for independence across all its dimensions, ‘Arguing for Independence’ fills a long-standing gap in Scotland’s political bookshelf as we enter a new and critical phase in the debate on Scotland’s political future. With a foreword by Owen Dudley Edwards.

Scotland The Growing Divide: Old Nation, New Ideas 

Henry McLeish

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373458

This is the follow-up to ‘Scotland: The Road Divides’, released in 2007. Five years on, and many of the conclusions reached in ‘The Road Divides’ have become a political reality. Now facing an imminent referendum on the independence of Scotland, McLeish focuses on the changing face of politics and what this means for Scotland and the UK.


Dementia Positive

John Killick

LUATH PRESS £10.99 PB 9781908373571

This book is not about the past, which has gone, or the future, which is uncertain. But it is for those who want to improve the lives of people with dementia and themselves in the Here and Now. The book is not written by an expert but by a man seeking to find new approaches concerning dementia who wishes to share his discoveries.


Raising the Standard: Rangers, the Fall and Rise 

Stewart Franklin, Chris Graham, John Gow and Alasdair McKillop

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373687

For 140 years, Rangers Football Club has been one of the most successful football clubs in the world. The events of the past two years have dented a excellent reputation but the club has emerged from this period intact and there is an opportunity to examine not just the events of the recent past but also how the club can move forward and get back to its position as the premier club in Scotland. 

The Nine-Holer Guide: Scotland’s Nine-Hole Golf Courses

Derek McAdam

LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 9781908373601

The beautiful, quiet and often little known nine-hole golf courses offer even the lowest handicap golfer a challenge. Walk in the footsteps of golfing legends and find some surprising gems, from the prestigious nine-hole courses which hosted some of the earliest Open Championships. Helpfully divided into geographical areas, The Nine-Holer Guide includes statistics and contact details for each course.

Jewel in the Glen: Gleneagles, Golf and the Ryder Cup 

Ed Hodge

BIRLINN £25.00 HB 9781780271095

The history and impact of the Ryder Cup is traced through interviews with a wide variety of international celebrities. This book paints a unique and thorough portrait of Gleneagles, Scottish golf and the history of golf’s greatest prize.


Waverley Route – the life, death and rebirth of the Borders Railway David Spaven

ARGYLL PUBLISHING £14.99 PB/ £20.00 HB 9781906134990/9781908931009 

The story that says much about Britain’s railways in the late 1960s, and about the opportunities created by devolution of power in the last years of the twentieth century to right one of the great wrongs of the old model of London-based transport policy. A social history of the Borders as much as a transport book. Illustrated with numerous period and current photos never before published.


Great British Bike Rides: 40 Classic Routes for Road Cyclists

Dave Barter


Great British Bike Rides brings together 40 of the best road cycling rides in England, Scotland and Wales, searching out the country’s most celebrated routes, toughest climbs and scenic roads. Each ride features detailed route information, bespoke mapping and a statistical breakdown of every detail committed cyclists require.


Scotland’s Mountains before

the Mountaineers

Ian Mitchell

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373298

This work tells the story of explorations and ascents in the Scottish Highlands in the days before mountaineering became a popular sport – when Jacobites, bandits, poachers and illicit distillers traditionally used the mountains as sanctuary.

Charlie, Meg and Me

Gregor Ewing

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373618

For the first time, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s arduous escape of 1746 has been recreated in a single journey. Gregor Ewing, along with his faithful border collie Meg, retraces Charlie’s epic 530 mile walk through remote wilderness, hidden glens, modern day roads and uninhabited islands.

Of Big Hills and Wee Men

Peter Kemp

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373304

From the time he bagged his first Munro, Peter Kemp has remained an enthusiastic hillwalker and this book is a testament to his passion for Scotland’s outdoors and hillwalking culture. Accompanied by his life-long friends from Glasgow, he takes on the big hills of Scotland, finding both escape and companionship amongst the mountains of Scotland.

The Ultimate Guide to the Munros, Vol 4: Cairngorms South (including Lochnagar)

Ralph Storer

LUATH PRESS £9.99 PB 9781908373519

The Ultimate Guide to the Munros Vol 4 is the latest in the rucksack friendly series, which provides details of all the practicable routes up the Munros. With a combination of reliable advice and quirky humour, this book is the perfect route guide and ideal hill walking companion. 

Walking with Wildness: Experiencing the Watershed of Scotland

Peter Wright

LUATH PRESS £7.99 PB 9781908373441

In the follow up to his acclaimed Ribbon of Wildness, Peter Wright has compiled twenty-six walks along the Watershed of Scotland’s path, making this hitherto unknown landscape accessible to every walker seeking a new challenge. For the first time, walkers can experience the marvel of the Scottish watershed.

Caleb’s List: Climbing the Scottish Mountains Visible from Arthur’s Seat Kellan MacInnes

LUATH PRESS £16.99 HB 9781908373533

In this beautifully written book, MacInnes interweaves his own experience of living with HIV with a description and history of ‘the Arthurs’. Written in an evocative style that mixes history, biography, memory and romantic lyricism, Caleb’s List is a hill-walking book with a difference.

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Alain-Fournier’s Solidarity Masterpiece

Youth is another country. They do things differently there, according to different rules, and in a language which is quite lost to us in later life. It is easy enough to capture early childhood in fiction. There are conventions about what the child knows and doesn’t know and because there is an adult (usually) in charge of the text, the child’s omissions, false beliefs and misunderstandings are flagged up, sometimes to comic, sometimes to poignant effect. Adolescence is more resistant. If Lacan – the first but not the last Frenchman here – is correct and the unconscious is organised like a language, then adolescent syntax and adolescent narrative must somehow reflect a mind in the process of being radically rewired for adult functioning. Ask a child to tell a story: the result is strange and beautiful. Ask an adolescent to tell a story and it seems disjointed and remote, full of internal contradictions and yawning lacunae, over-punctuated and stilted.

It astonishes me still that when readers and critics talk about the great fictional representations of youth they turn most often to The Catcher in the Rye and to Proust. The former seems to me a prolonged sulk, albeit a tour de force, the latter a prolonged, unreadable hanky-flap. There are other, perhaps better examples. Portnoy’s Complaint is a riotous evocation of (male) adolescence, but one is always aware of the adult Philip Roth streaming the shocks. L. P. Hartley (who supplied the line about the past as another country, adapted above) gave a beautiful version in The Shrimp and the Anenome, as did Laurie Lee in Cider With Rosie. Henry James’s What Maisie Knew cut a child-height window in the house of fiction and the view from it has rarely been improved upon.

The greatest of all novels about adolescence marks its centenary this year, but is Le grand Meaulnes now much read outside France? Every few years sees a new English (or American) edition come along, but the book’s reputation seems strangely occluded in the Anglo-Saxon countries where readers either stick on Salinger or else get in training for A la recherche du temps perdu. I admit to a lifelong obsession with Alain-Fournier’s solitary masterpiece. Le grand Meaulnes was the first foreign-language novel I read and the first time I encountered the convention of fudging a historical date: Il arriva chez nous un dimanche de novembre 189-. 

In my copy, someone has written, ‘Alain-Fournier. This is his only novel. Wrote literary criticisms. Died early in War’. That’s almost it. One might add that Alain-Fournier was a semi-pseudonym for Henri-Alban Fournier (no one seems quite clear where the hyphen strictly belongs, but that’s the favoured version) who was born in 1886 in La-Chapelle d’Angillon, not far from Bourges, that he was the son of a schoolmaster, aspired to a literary life and died when the War (there had only been one 20th century conflict when the previous owner inscribed his copy, hence the capital letter) was not more than two months old, on September 22 1914. He was 27 and, apart from his novel, which narrowly failed to win the Prix Goncourt, he’d left behind just a few scattered writings collected as Miracles, an unfinished novel called Colombe Blanchet and a correspondence with his friend, the critic Jacques Rivière.

Fournier had himself fallen in love when he spotted Yvonne Marie Elise Toussaint de Quievrecourt walking along the quays of the Seine in Paris. She was the model, not much disguised, for Yvonne de Galais in Le grand Meaulnes.

The problem begins right there. British readers find it hard to speak the title – Luh grong Moan – and they have serious problems persuading booksellers that the author has to be searched under A for Alain rather than F for Fournier, and that no, there isn’t a forename or initial. They’ll also have to persuade the same bookseller that all those titles eventually listed   relate to the same book. English language versions of Alain-Fournier have gone out as The Wanderer in Françoise Delisle’s 1928 translation, The Lost Domain by Frank Davison in 1959, Meaulnes: The Lost Domain by Sandra Morris somewhat redundantly seven years later, The Wanderer or The End of Youth (misleadingly, as we’ll see) by Lowell Blair in 1971, Le Grand Meaulnes: The Land of Lost Content (or Contentment – it’s the only one of these I don’t have) by Katherine Vivian, and three more recent versions, Robin Buss’s unim-provable Penguin Classic The Lost Estate, Jennifer Hashmi’s Big Meaulnes and Valerie Lester’s The Magnificent Meaulnes. There may simply be more female translators than male, but leaving aside the unread Vivian, snap judgement or sheer prejudice suggests that the men get it and the woman largely don’t, smearing Vaseline on the narrative lens, softening the focus and perversely toughening up the parts that need to be rendered more neutrally, as in the original.

Despite all this effort, there is a strangely persistent consensus that Le grand Meaulnes is untranslatable, from its title onwards. In truth, the ‘grand’ is no more – and thus no less – ambiguous than the ‘Great’ in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s dreamlike tale of yearning and loss. The similarities between Le grand Meaulnes and The Great Gatsby do not stop with the not-quite-developed title character. They have much to do with the narrative perspective as well. Some sentences do resist Englishing, or retain some essential shimmer of uncertainty. Buss and others have singled out this one: Quant à Jasmin, qui paraissait revenir à cet instant d’un voyage, et qui s’entretenait à voix bass mais animée avec Mme Pignot, il était evident qu’une cordelière, un col bas et des pantalons-éléphant eussent fait plus sûrement sa conquete …

Girdle? Sailor pants? Who or what is being conquered here? Grammatical gender is alien to British readers, but here it contributes to a mild bit of sex comedy – young boy, older woman with a reputation – that is genuinely hard to capture in any language but the original.

With the focus drawn out, though, Le grand Meaulnes doesn’t offer too many stumbling blocks, other than the usual temptation to mistake the identity of the real central character. The story is told by François Seurel, the 15 year old son of a rural schoolmaster, who he addresses as M. Seu-rel, and a mother he knows as Millie. To the school that autumn day in 189- comes a new boy, big, confident, troubling and exciting. Augustin Meaulnes does not so much arrive as manifest, a clue to his literary nature as well as to his personality. He is heard clumping overhead in the attic before he is seen, as if he emerges from the upper storeys of the imagination rather than accompanied by the quiet, nervous mother who has come to introduce him.

  No sooner has the newcomer settled into routine than there is a classroom discussion over who should accompany François to collect his grandparents. Meaulnes decides that he knows a better route and takes off on his own in a borrowed cart. He is missing for three days. When he returns he is strangely silent, but after a time he tells François that he has stumbled across a mysterious house and estate an unspecified distance away. As Meaulnes arrives, preparations are going ahead for an engagement party, and he is accepted unquestioningly as a guest. There are costumes, a Pierrot, strange children, horses. Meaulnes sees a girl at the party, with whom he becomes immediately besotted. Yvonne is the sister of the young man Frantz who is supposedly bringing home his bride-to-be. The party is another indulgence in their motherless lives. Then suddenly the party is cancelled and the guests begin to depart. Meaulnes takes a ride in a cart. There is a glimpse of violence in a wood, and then the whole mysterious scene dissolves.

One immediately understands why translators want to seize on the notion of the ‘lost estate’ (which it literally is) or the ‘lost domain’ of youth. There is an obvious symbolic equivalence between the strange house and grounds and the idea of para-disal innocence suddenly disrupted, but Alain-Fournier is more subtle than this. His sophistication may not be immediately obvious from the succeeding chapters. There is the seeming oddity of boys not being able to find a house that is not so very different, but rural children of this generation inhabited a small world and even modest distances seemed cosmic. There is also some contrived business involving gypsies, one of whom turns out to be the wounded Frantz, a theatrical device that seems out of place in modern fiction. But consider how we learn what happens to Meaulnes. It is told to us by François at second hand and embedded in passages which make constant reference to sleep, so that we are never quite sure when the narrative is in a waking state and when it is the product of dream.

It’s powerfully disorientating, just as the dream-like party has been. Critics have pointed out the callowness of Alain-Fournier’s prose, its staccato succession of subordinate clauses studded with commas and ellipses: a modest four in the tricky sentence quoted above which also ends unresolved … But it is not the novelist who is callow. It is the young man who is telling the tale. Just as The Great Gatsby is really the story of Nick Carroway, so Le grand Meaulnes is a feint that disguises the autobiographical nature of François Seurel’s story. The very punctuation tells you that here is a mind that doesn’t quite understand what is happening, not just in the outside world but in itself. The very oddities of the book act out the psychology of adolescence.

After 100 years, a spoiler alert shouldn’t be necessary. I used to tell students that the most important aspects of almost any major novel would be found in the passages and chapters they had forgotten. It’s an exaggerated principle, but one worth applying. Ask most purported fans of Le grand Meaulnes to give a summary and they will probably stop with the narrative of Meaulnes’s return to school and his – actually François’ – account of the strange house party. What many readers forget or suppress is that far from losing his ideal love, Meaulnes does later meet and marry Yvonne. They even have a child, but by then Meaulnes has gone. He deserts her on their wedding night and goes off in search of the girl Frantz has lost. He finds her too and brings her back, but by that time François has moved close to Yvonne, nursed her through her pregnancy, and is present when she dies – with unflinching realism – of an embolism. The ideal and idealised girl becomes a purulent corpse. François vests his hopes in the child, which he seems ready to adopt as his own. But then Augustin (is he ‘august’ or is he a selfish rascal?) returns. 

It’s worth reading the last lines with particular care, if you can get the tears out of your eyes. La seule joie que m’eût laissée le grand Meaulnes, je sentais bien qu’il était revenu pour me la reprendre. Et déjà je l’imaginais, la nuit, enveloppant sa fille dans un manteau, et partant avec elle pour de nouvelles aventures. My version: ‘I understood that the great Meaulnes had come back to take away the only joy he had left me with. And I already magined him one night wrapping the child in a cloak and bearing her off on some new adventure.’ It’s noteworthy that contrary to some summaries of the book, Meaulnes hasn’t yet taken the girl away, but it’s sufficient that François believes he will, and at this point pity and self-pity are almost inseparable. The hint of envy and disapproval in young Seurel’s voice – for what hope of adventure is there for a recently qualified rural school assistant? – is obvious, but it isn’t clear whether the greater loss is the child or Meaulnes himself.

Read through the narrator’s own fuzzy lens, Le grand Meaulnes may well be a narrative of lost innocence and departing youth, just as, taken literally, The Great Gatsby is about shining people with reckless lives. But once one recognises the true role of their respective narrators these become quite different books. Le grand Meaulnes is quite emphatically not a ‘coming-of-age novel’ but a book that in some way refuses to come of age. François may be taking on age and responsibility, but Meaulnes resists location and chronology. He is everywhere and nowhere, in the present and in some half-recovered, half-invented past. It is almost possible to consider Meaulnes an imaginary friend, that common solace of childhood, which leaves only the problem of how an imaginary boy can father a child in a single night of marriage. There is a good deal of camouflaged sex in Le grand Meaulnes. We recognise it even when François doesn’t and we have our faces positively rubbed in it. 

One of the things one forgets between readings is how tough and violent a book it is, how dark its passages. One also forgets how much of it is concerned with the act of writing, how much of the story is reported narrative, in letters or in Meaulnes’ strange ‘composition books’, school jotters in which he describes what has taken place since his second departure. Unless, of course … Meaulnes is the novelist and he is creating all that passes. A young man’s book and the best book ever written about young men …

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The Battle for Adam Smith

On the Royal Mile in Edinburgh stands a statue of Adam Smith. Sculpted by Alexander Stoddard and unveiled on July 4, 2008, the only statue of the great man to be erected in the Scottish capital at first seems unexceptional—a worthy memorial to one of the great figures of the Scottish Enlightenment. It is certainly a more impressive work than the travesty of Hume, also by Stoddard, on the other side of the High Street. Hume appears in Classical garb and looking rather slimmer than contemporary memoirs and paintings of the philosopher would leave us to believe. Smith is at least represented in the costume of his age, standing in front of a scythe and sheaf of corn, symbols that rightly reflect the agricultural focus of The Wealth of Nations. Viewed from the back, however, the statue displays the difficulties we still face in coming to terms with Smith and his work.  

On the plinth is a plaque containing the names of the subscribers who paid for the statue, the first of which is that of Dr Eamonn Butler. In one respect this is appropriate, since it was the organisation which Butler heads, the Adam Smith Institute (ASI), which commissioned Stoddard, negotiated with Edinburgh Council for his work to be situated on the Royal Mile and collected the subscriptions. But in another respect Butler’s imprimatur is not appropriate at all; for the ASI is a body whose views bear as much resemblance to those of Smith as the views of the former Soviet Institute of Marxism-Leninism bore to those of Marx and Lenin. In both cases some phrases are brandished – a ‘hidden hand’ here, a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ there – to disguise the infidelity of these institutions to their supposed sources of inspiration.

The ASI was established in 1976, the bicentenary of The Wealth of Nations, by Butler and two fellow-graduates of St Andrews University, Stuart Butler and Madsen Pirie, as a think-tank which would focus on developing policies which could be adopted by sympathetic governments, the type of policies we now think of as characteristic of neoliberalism. At one point in 1994 the ASI ran a mock-interview with Smith from beyond the grave in which he called for the abolition in the USA of ‘minimum wages, tariffs, export subsidies, agricultural marketing boards, taxes on capital, “free” education at government schools and the whole US system of central banking’. To be fair – although there is no reason why one should be fair to those wonderful folks who thought up the Poll Tax – the ASI is obviously aware that it is unable to use Smith as a ventriloquist’s dummy for its own views in every case, so it also includes a cautionary note on its website: ‘While Adam Smith is our inspiration, we do not pretend that he was right about everything.’ The issues on which Smith was wrong, one gathers, are those on which he would disagree with the ASI. 

The neoliberal attitude to Smith is well expressed by ASI heroine Margaret Thatcher, who noted with bemusement in her autobiography the failure of her ‘revolution’ to win hearts and minds in Scotland, ‘home of the very same Scottish Enlightenment which produced Adam Smith, the greatest exponent of free enterprise economics till Hayek and Friedman’. The more openly pro-market figures in the SNP, like Michael Russell, have a similar reasons for admiring Smith: ‘Adam Smith was the father of modern capitalism and it is high time that his own people rediscovered his genius, particularly as, in his own land, that genius is currently tarnished by the half-baked economic models espoused by most of our political parties.’

These comments confirm an observation by two of Smith’s more acute recent interpreters: ‘It is no longer thought necessary to examine how and why Smith argued in favour of the market, nor indeed how he qualified his case.’ Yet many on the left accept neoliberal nostrums at face value and merely reverse their value judgements.  On the occasion of Smith’s appearance of the £20 banknote in 2007, the late James Young claimed in the pages of The Herald that ‘Adam Smith was a pioneer of the vicious anti-humanist economics of capitalism’ and linked him, somewhat implausibly, ‘with all the other advocates of anti-gay entrepreneurship; aggressive immoral and naked capitalism; and post-modernism’. As Young’s ravings suggest, the radical left often ascribe positions to Smith which are even less plausible than those of the neoliberal right.

Those on the social-democratic or centre-left tend not to abandon Smith to the tender mercies of the neoliberals, but instead claim him for their own traditions. In 2002 Gordon Brown gave a lecture in which he ‘asked whether Adam Smith would feel more at home in the right-of-centre Adam Smith Institute or in the left-of-centre (John) Smith Institute, named after my good friend John Smith, the leader of the Labour Party’. Unsurprisingly, Brown opined that the latter would have proved the more congenial to his fellow native of Kirkcaldy. In a work intended to support and elaborate Brown’s position, Iain McLean argues that to describe Smith as ‘a man of the Left’ would be anachronistic as the terms left and right did not acquire their political meanings until the French Revolution. 

This seems unnecessarily concerned with labels rather than attitudes, since we can retrospectively identify what would later be left-wing positions prior to 1789, for example in the English Civil War; what is genuinely inapt is to ascribe to Smith positions associated with social democracy – a term from an even later date than ‘Left’ – as McLean does: ‘It favours government intervention to counter market failure’s redistributive taxation; and trade liberalisation for the benefit of all including the poor of the world. It does not favour producer groups; public ownership of trading enterprises (where there are no market failure issues); or protection, either in rich or poor countries.’

Finally, there have been attempts, perhaps surprisingly from the radical left, to discern in Smith’s work a model of a ‘real free market’ which has been violated by ‘the global corporate system’. As John McMurty writes, ‘every one of Smith’s classical principles of the free market has been turned into its effective opposite’. This is an attractively counter-intuitive idea, which challenges the neoliberals on their own terms. Other writers, like the late Giovanni Arrighi  have gone further and argued, not only that the market system envisaged by Smith can be distinguished from capitalism, but that ‘market-based growth’ distinct from ‘capitalist growth’ is now embedded in Chinese or perhaps East Asian development more generally.

All great thinkers are subject to different interpretations of their work but, as this brief survey suggests, few can have been subject to quite so many contradictory interpretations as Smith. Why?

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There have in fact been three major stages in Smith’s posthumous reputation, each associated with differing attitudes towards his work. The first began to gather support virtually from the moment of his death on 17 July 1790, which, as Emma Rothschild writes, ‘was the subject of little interest, in England and even in Scotland’. Yet within a decade Smith’s work began to be presented in a way that minimised its more radical elements, as part of the conservative reaction to the French Revolution. 

The mechanisms by which this occurred were often directly political. Dugald Stew-art, Smith’s first biographer, was appointed professor of political economy at Glasgow — the first anywhere — in 1793. In his Life and Writings of Adam Smith, published the same year, Stewart drew attention to parallels between and mutual influences on Smith and his French Enlightenment contemporaries. Here and in his other writings, Stewart attempted to maintain a balance between rejecting extreme interpretations of Enlightenment doctrine and urging the timely reform of the conditions that made such interpretations attractive to the unwary. 

Remarks of this kind, which would have passed unnoticed in enlightened publications fifty years earlier, or even during the American War of Independence, now bore the mark of the Jacobin beast and Stewart swiftly recanted. His retreat is emblematic in respect of the impact it had on his theoretical approach to political economy, for Stewart was primarily responsible for deradicalizing Smith. As Richard Teichgraeber has written: ‘In 1793, Dugald Stewart talked of a hope that “in due time” Smith’s example would be followed by other students of political economy. Only ten years later, Francis Horner, a former pupil of Stewart and a founder of the Edinburgh Review, spoke of a “superstitious worship” that had come to be attached to Smith’s name.’ The generation of British Whig thinkers who rose to prominence after 1800, particularly those associated with the Edinburgh Review, illustrate the shift. They by no means completely abandoned scientific thought or even the desire for reform; but the issues over which these cadres were most deeply concerned were far narrower than those that had interested the Historical School of the Scottish Enlightenment to which Smith belonged.

Yet there was also a reaction to this interpretation of Smith, associated not with the ideologists of industrial capitalism, but with the emergent working-class movement which was concerned to oppose, or at least humanise it. Both drew on The Wealth of Nations, but from markedly different sections of the book. ‘As a result’, writes David McNally, ‘by the 1820s, “Smithian” apologists for industrial capitalism confronted “Smithian socialists” in a vigorous, and often venomous, debate over political economy.’ The latter strand ultimately led into Marxism, but from the last third of the nineteenth century in particular, the intellectual defenders of capitalism show far less interest in Smith. Interestingly, this is increasingly because they began to regard as legitimate the claims which the left made on his legacy and this shift represents the second turn in Smith’s posthumous reputation.

Key here is the emergence of neoclassical economics, above all the marginalist reaction against both the classical political economy of Smith and the Marxist critique which sought to build on what he had accomplished. In economic theory marginalism represented the final retreat from the kind of scientific inquiry undertaken by Smith, however imperfect, into ideological justification. It was signalled by the abandonment of the law of value, with its dangerous claim that the socially necessary labour required to produce commodities was also the objective measure of their value. The tenets of mar-ginalism were first set out by Leon Walras in his Elements of Pure Economics (1874) and ultimately codified by Alfred Marshall in his Principles of Economics (1890), although they have a long prehistory dating back at least to the 1830s. In relation to neoliberalism, the most important thinkers have been those of the Austrian school, above all, Menger, Ludwig von Mises and Fried-rich von Hayek. Their attitude to Smith is instructive.

Smith presented a problem for the neoclassical school: Walras saw his work as being tainted by ‘unscientific’ social and moral considerations; Menger regarded it as flawed because of Smith’s insistence that national economy was not simply an abstraction – a view incompatible with the ‘atomism’ or methodological individualism of the mar-ginalists. This was understood as late as the final decades of the nineteenth century. Carl Menger was only exaggerating slightly when he wrote in 1891: ‘Smith placed himself in all cases of conflict of interest between the strong and the weak, without exception on the side of the latter.’ 

Indeed, in 1883 Menger had explicitly criticised Smith for his ‘one-sided rationalistic liberalism’, his ‘effort to do away with what exists’ which Menger claimed “inexorably leads to socialism”. Nevertheless, the marginalists needed, for reasons of ideological continuity, to claim Smith as a forerunner whose work they had completed, above all in relation to his advocacy of the market, which they removed from any historical context. ‘It was only the “marginal revolution” of the 1870s’, wrote Hayek, ‘that produced a satisfactory explanation of the market processes that Adam Smith had long before described with his metaphor of the ‘hidden hand”.’

The source of this misidentification lies in Hayek’s belief that there are two types of rationalism: constructivist and evolutionary. According to Andrew Gamble, adherents of constructivist rationalism ‘believe that human societies can be mastered by human beings and remodelled according to rational criteria’. Adherents of evolutionary rationalism show ‘a distrust of the powers of human reason, a recognition of the extent of human ignorance about the social and natural worlds, and therefore a stress upon the unexpected, unintended consequences of social action’. Hayek’s ignorance of both the theory of the Scottish Enlightenment and the history of capitalist development in Scotland leads him to treat The Wealth of Nations as a description of how ‘commercial society’ works rather than as a programme for bringing it about; but considered in the latter way, Smith was as much of a constructivist rationalist as Marx, which was, of course, precisely why Hayek’s predecessors regarded him with such caution.

The triumph of Keynesianism in the post-war West seemed to signal the final reduction of Smith to purely historical figure in the history, and one confined to the pre-history of economics, rather than of sociology or moral philosophy, at that. The prevailing attitude to Smith’s work has been admirably summed up by James Buchan: ‘His books now, were long and Scotch and close-printed. They were no more use to the modern economist and politician than sixpenny tracts of eighteenth-century medicine to a General Practitioner or MD.’ Yet from the mid-1970s on Smith’s reputation began to experience an extraordinary revival. More extraordinary still was that the people responsible for this third reputational shift were largely the intellectual descendants of the neoclassical school which had previously shown no great enthusiasm for his work. Here, for example is Milton Friedman in a speech given in the year of the bicentenary, the hour of the ASI, at St Andrews: ‘Adam Smith was a radical and revolutionary in his time – just as those of us who today preach laissez faire are in our time. He was no apologist for merchants and manufacturers, or more generally other special interests, but regarded them as the great obstacles to laissez faire – just as we do today.’ There was one respect, however, in which Friedman believed contemporary free-marketeers would have to extend their categories, broadening ‘the “tribes” of “monopolists” to include not only enterprises protected from competition but also trade unions, school teachers, welfare recipients, and so on and on.’

In a sense this was a return to the original distortions of Smith which arose immediately after his death, but now in the context of the crisis of Keynesianism and state capitalism, and a resurgence of ideas about ‘free’ markets as the alternative. Some writers, such as PJ O’Rourke, have even ascribed visionary powers to Smith: ‘Smith was fostering free enterprise, and he was also nurturing – just in time – resistance to socialism.’ Resistance to socialism – in 1776. O’Rourke is a comedian and here he is, as they say, having a laugh. But the stupidity of these remarks indicates a flawed approach more fundamental than misconceptions about Smith’s attitudes to markets. It is summed up by this comment from the Bank

of England website: ‘Adam Smith’s explanations of the society he observed in the 18th century are as relevant today as they were then.’ The essential error is repeated even by those who disagreed with the nature of his relevance, as in this ‘social-democratic’ perspective by Ryan Hanley: ‘Insofar as the conditions of contemporary capitalism are in many respects similar to those of debated by commercial society’s founding fathers, those engaged in the project to ameliorate those conditions stand to gain much from the effort to ameliorate similar these conditions stand to gain much from the effort to develop our answers to today’s problems in light of their efforts.’

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The point is this: Adam Smith is not ‘relevant’ to our contemporary problems. Anachronistic misconceptions concerning his work could of course be corrected by the radical expedient of actually reading The Wealth of Nations and The Theory of Moral Sentiments, preferably after situating them in their historical context, namely Scotland’s emergence from feudalism. When Smith attacked unproductive labour, he was not making some timeless critique of state employees, but thinking quite specifically about Highland clan retainers. When he opposed monopolies, he was  not issuing a prophetic warning against the nationalisation of industries in the twentieth century, but criticising those companies which relied for their market position on the possession of exclusive royal charters in the eighteenth. Above all, unlike his modern epigones, he did not see the market as a quasi–mystical institution that should be made to penetrate every aspect of social life; but rather as a limited mechanism for liberating humanity’s economic potential from feudal and absolutist stagnation.

Even so, the advocacy of Smith and his colleagues for what they called ‘commercial society’ was very conditional indeed. He intuited, long before capitalist industrialisation began in earnest, that it would lead to massive deterioration in the condition of labourers and their reduction to mere ‘hands’. Understood in the context of the Scottish Enlightenment conception of human potential, the description of pin manufacture at the beginning of The Wealth of Nations, reproduced from 2007 on £20 banknotes, not only celebrates the efficiency of the division of labour, but also shows the soul-destroying repetition that awaited the new class of wage labourers. In Book V, in contrast to the more frequently cited Book I, Smith explicitly considered the way in which the division of labour, while increasing the productivity of the labourers, did so by narrowing their intellectual horizons: ‘The man whose whole life is spent in performing a few simple operations, of which the effects, too, are perhaps always the same, or very nearly the same, has no occasion to assert his understanding, or to exercise his invention, in finding out expedients for removing difficulties which never occur. He naturally loses, therefore, the habit of such exertion, and generally becomes as stupid and ignorant as it is possible for a human creature to become. The torpor of his mind renders him not only incapable of relishing or bearing a part in any rational conversation, but of conceiving any generous, noble, or tender sentiment, and consequently of forming any just judgment concerning many even of the ordinary duties of private life. Of the great and extensive interests of his country he is altogether incapable of judging; and unless very particular pains have been taken to render him otherwise, he is equally incapable of defending his country in war. … His dexterity at his own particular trade seems, in this manner, to be acquired at the expense of his intellectual, social, and martial virtues.’ 

Smith contrasts this unhappy state of affairs with that existing under earlier modes of subsistence — modes which, remember, he was committed to transcending: ‘It is otherwise in the barbarous societies, as they are commonly called, of hunters, of shepherds, and even of husbandmen in that rude state of husbandry that precedes the improvement of manufactures, and the extension of foreign commerce. In such societies, the varied occupations of every man oblige every man to exert his capacity, and to invent expedients for removing difficulties which are continually occurring. Invention is kept alive, and the mind is not suffered to fall into that drowsy stupidity, which, in a civilized society, seems to benumb the understanding of the people. . . . Every man, too, is in some measure a statesman, and can form judgments concerning the interest of the society, and the conduct of those who govern it.’

It was uneasy anticipations such as these, which Smith shared with James Steuart and Adam Ferguson, that later informed Hegel’s conception of alienation and, through him, that of Karl Marx. In response he calls for the state to intervene to raise the educational level of the common people to that fitting of a ‘civilized and commercial society’: ‘For a very small expense, the public can facilitate, can encourage, and can even impose upon almost the whole body of the people, the necessity of acquiring those most essential parts of education.’ Here he has before him the example of his own country, in one of the few occasions it features positively in The Wealth of Nations: ‘In Scotland, the establishment of such parish schools has taught almost the whole common people to read, and a very great proportion of them to write and account.’

It was therefore possible for Smith to approve of commercial society while disapproving of the activities of actual capitalists. Indeed, in a passage which does prefigure Marxist analysis, he specifically denies that they represent society as a whole: ‘the clamour and sophistry of merchants and manufacturers easily persuade [the public] that the private interest of a part, and of a subordinate part of the society, is the general interest of the whole’. It is this, entirely realistic, attitude which allows him to make his most famous comment: ‘People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices.’ But what would become of the arguments for commercial society if these excrescences turned out to be the essence of the new system? His argument in The Wealth of Nations can be seen, in McNally’s words, as a defence of ‘agrarian-based capitalist development in a landed commonwealth ruled by prosperous and public-spirited country gentlemen’ against the emergent ‘industrial and commercial capitalists’ whose amorality Smith distrusted. In relation to his native Scot-land, McNally notes: ‘Smith hoped that commercial forces could be used to hurry the development of an agrarian-based capitalism guarded by a state run by a natural aristocracy of landed gentlemen.’ It did not. What if, as indeed seems to be the case, commercial society as he envisaged it was actually impossible, or only possible under very specific conditions, such as pertained in the North American colonies whose independence he supported? 

Smith based his support for commercial society on a hypothesis concerning its likely positive effects compared to those associated with feudal absolutism. Now that the consequences of ‘actually existing capitalism’ have been experienced for more than two hundred years, and it is clear that, for the majority of humanity, the dehumanizing effects of the division of labour already identified by Smith were not an unfortunate by-product but the very essence of the system, there is less excuse for such misrecognition. Political economy was the central discipline of the Enlightenment, the greatest intellectual achievement of the bourgeois revolutions. The expectations that Smith had of capitalism have been disappointed, the predictions he made for it have been falsified; to defend capitalism now, to further claim him in support of such a defence while ignoring the discrepancy between his model and our reality, is to attack Enlightenment values quite as comprehensively as did the feudal obscurantists to whom Smith was opposed. We now have a fine statue of Smith on the High Street; but his works need to be read for what they tell us about his century, not ours.

* * *

Among the books consulted in writing this article are the following:  Adam Smith in Beijing: Lineages of the Twenty-first Century by Giovanni Arrighi (Verso, 2007);  Adam Smith and the Pursuit of Perfect Liberty by James Buchan (Profile Books, 2006);  The Adam Smith Problem by Dogan Gocmen (Taurus Academic Studies, 2007); Adam Smith and the Character of Virtue by Ryan Patrick  Hanley (Cambridge University Press, 2009); Adam Smith: a Moral Philosopher and his Political Economy by Gavin Ken-nedy (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008); Adam Smith, Radical and Egalitarian: an Interpretation for the 21st Century by Iain McLean (Edinburgh University Press, 2006); After Adam Smith: a Century of Transformation in Politics and Political Economy by Murray Milgate and Shannon C. Stimpson (Princeton University Press, 2009); On The Wealth of Nations by PJ O’Rourke (Atlantic Books, 2007); The Invisible Handcuffs of Capitalism: How Market Tyranny Stifles the Economy by Stunting Workers by Michael Perelman (Monthly Review Press, 2011); Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life by Nicholas Phillipson (Allen Lane, 2010); Economic Sentiments: Adam Smith, Condorcet, and the Enlightenment by Emma Rothschild (Harvard University Press, 2001); Masters of the Universe: Hayek, Friedman, and the Birth of Neoliberal Politics by Daniel Stedman Jones (Princeton University Press, 2012).

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Too Many Bison: Infantilising Museums

My husband and I made our way from Edinburgh to London for the launch, on Valentine’s Day, of my new novel, Mimi – a sort of romance based in New York but written mainly in Orkney. This happened to coincide with ‘One Billion Rising’, a worldwide mass action against male violence, organized by Eve Ensler. I thought of going to the rally at Westminster myself but was scared of being kettled and missing my launch party! I also had reservations about the usefulness of this global stunt (reservations mainly to do with the American flavour of it all, and the use of dancing as a form of protest). But Ensler’s project did at least give women across the world a sense of camaraderie, if only for a day. Nik Williams, a friend who works for ‘Peace One Day’ (a global movement set on enshrining at least one day of peace a year: September 21st), was there and reported back that it was a lively event, featuring for instance a banner that said, ‘BIG SISTER IS WATCHING YOU’.

It’s a start, but is it enough? I’m not convinced pointing at the sky with an index finger (the One Billion Rising’s chosen hand gesture) and copying American dance moves are really going to change things fast enough. The One Billion Rising protests got very little coverage in the British papers, which were devoted instead to Oscar Pistorius’s alleged murder of his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp – who herself had recently tweeted about her opposition to violence against women. Women speak out, women dance, and none of it stops the violence.

What we need is a local, national or global strike every time a woman is raped or murdered. Withhold our labour, and governments would soon be forced to reduce violence and resolve war.

As Carlos Fuentes said in a talk on Don Quixote at Edinburgh University’s Playfair Library in June, 2005 (I’m paraphrasing): ‘Fiction is fiction and power is power. Art and literature can change things, but only over a long period of time.’ Much as he wanted the pen to overwhelm the sword, he felt we should be realistic about its chances. Still, I object to things best when sitting down – at my typewriter – and in Mimi I provide a very simple solution to violence against women, something even simpler than a strike. And more peaceful.

* * *

One of the inspirations for my novel was Catherine Blackledge’s book, The Story of V (2003), which examines female genitalia from a biological point of view. She points out that the vagina is instrumental in selecting sperm for procreative use. This means that, to ensure their genes survive, males, from fruit flies to humans, must strive to please females as best they can. Most mating is not rape, despite what Andrea Dworkin said, but the outcome of courtship, perhaps even love. Porn has helped us forget this, but nature prioritizes female pleasure, not male. Maybe this is the real reason for our continuing absorption in the female nude. Prehistoric relics too suggest that femaleness was honoured in art and ritual for tens of thousands of years. This satisfactory status quo was ruined by the invention of lethal weaponry in the Bronze Age.  Men then had new powers and new games to play. Tired of venerating women and nature, men stole the show, and look what a mess they’ve made of things.

A second influence on my book was the work of Marija Gimbutas, the Lithuanian archaeologist who developed a comprehensive theory about the art of Old Europe’s ‘gynocentric’ matriarchal cultures, in which violence played very little part. Instead of war, these stable, socialistic societies devoted themselves to more beneficial pursuits like calendar-making, astronomy, botany, horticulture, and the arts. As Gimbutas writes in The Language of the Goddess (1989):

‘I do not believe, as many archaeologists of this generation seem to, that we shall never know the meaning of prehistoric art and religion. Yes, the scarcity of sources makes reconstruction difficult…but the religion of the early agricultural period of Europe and Anatolia is very richly documented. Tombs, temples, frescoes, reliefs, sculptures, figurines, pictorial painting, and other sources need to be analysed from the point of view of ideology.’

From semi-abstract objects depicting breasts or vulvas, to spirals, zigzags and all kinds of animal forms, Gimbutas meticulously studied artifacts until they began to fit a pattern. She had detected a fathomable culture, and a cult of goddess-worship that lasted for thousands of years. Art was paramount. Of course. What else have we ever done that’s of any worth but art, music, dance and literature? It’s even better when they all come together in the form of opera! Opera features in my novel too, and at the launch we sipped martinis while three people from OperaUpClose performed extracts from Puccini. Even I, an introvert, loved that party.

* * *

The British Museum’s latest show offers a rare chance to see some of the types of sculpture Gimbutas was talking about. Its peculiar title, ‘Ice Age art: arrival of the modern mind’, instantly reminded me of Robert Benchley’s reaction to a caption under a picture of ancient Egyptian art: ‘Remarkably Accurate and Artistic Painting of a Goose…Drawn 3300 Years Ago’. ‘Why’, Benchley asked (in My Ten Years in a Quandary, 1947), ‘is it any more remarkable that someone drew a goose accurately 3300 years ago than that someone should do it today? Why should we be surprised that the people who built the Pyramids could also draw a goose[?]… They may not have known about chocolate malted milk and opera hats, but, what with one thing and another, they got by. And, presumably, every once in a while somebody felt like drawing a goose.’

The commentary on the walls of the BM exhibition expresses a similar confusion in the face of art created long ago. The whole show is pervaded by a profound and unthinking wonderment. Perplexity seems to be the main aim here, not elucidation. Perplexity and money. Who after all has the right to claim ownership of prehistoric artifacts? The BM is raking it in with this show. Elsewhere in the museum you can see three eggs in a little pot (an Anglo-Saxon grave offering), and it’s free!

We woke early and rushed to our timed, £10-ticket, moment at the BM – all to be squashed into a tiny gallery with hundreds of other people trying to peer at dimly-lit bits of mammoth ivory or reindeer horn. It was like Lenin’s tomb in there: funereal, chaotic and weird. To add atmosphere, there was a flickering light under one bison sculpture, and a heavily amplified drip-drip sound throughout the exhibition, as if we were all in a cave together. Did prehistoric people never go outside? And there were too many bison. Inspired by them, the people with headphones kept bulldozing us out of the way so that they could reach the stuff the audiotapes were ordering them to view.

The curators’ remarks on the labels were full of idiocies. Not a mention of vulvas, nor of Gimbutas and the whole system of symbols she so forcefully delineated. Just a lot of infantile talk about how much time Ice Age artists spent making these things. It took four hundred hours to produce the Lion Man, thirty-five to do a horse, etc. The label for an implement reverently designated ‘The Spoon’ explained that its design ‘suggests the object did have a use’. Yeah, as a spoon! And everywhere we were reminded that these artists had human brains. Thanks. One statement would have driven Benchley wild: ‘The combination of human and animal features shows the capability to imagine something that does not exist. Through this invention the artist expressed ideas rather than the real world. This required a creative mind.’ Why all this surprise about signs of intelligence in prehistory? WE’RE the lame brains. 

Scattered around were a few pieces of twentieth-century art – Matisse, Henry Moore, Käthe Kollwitz, Mondrian – but nobody was looking at them and their relevance did seem obscure.  Matisse had apparently been dragged in to echo the ancient interest in women’s bodies, Kollwitz for a suggestion of motherhood, Mondrian and Moore for grid patterns and abstraction. It was hard to estimate exactly how many people were being patronised here, but they included at the very least Matisse, Kollwitz, Moore and Mondrian, along with prehistoric artists, the twenty-first-century goops who bought timed tickets for a show they could barely squeeze themselves through, and children, at whom the whole thing seems to be aimed. (Proof of which came with the dinosaur toys in the gift shop.)

They’ve dumbed down the National Museum of Scotland in Chambers Street the same way. This powerhouse, once full of Scot-land’s design heritage, used to be a miniature version of the V & A; now it’s just an amusement arcade, a caricature of a museum, a kiddy fun park. (Contradictorily, they even got rid of the goldfish, which were universally liked.) Why can’t children be exposed to the adult world once in a while, in which art is adequately displayed and labelled? Soon there’ll have to be a roller-coaster in the Sis-tine Chapel. In being kid-friendly, museums are art-unfriendly, and that’s ultimately bad for kids too.

What’s worse is the BM’s disrespectful treatment of prehistoric female-centred art. ‘The oldest portrait of a woman’ was considered noteworthy mainly for the supposed abnormality of one of her eyelids. (We couldn’t see anything wrong with it!) Elsewhere, sculptures of women were described in the hollow terms familiar to our brutish age. The curators had helpfully evaluated the assembled female forms for us in terms of their attractiveness. Some of the female figures are young, so presumably attractive; others are mothers, of therefore dubious attractiveness; and others older and not attractive at all. This tells us more about our own banality and poverty of imagination – our ‘modern minds’ – than it does about the culture from which these pieces came. It’s like getting a paedophile to assess putti.

Finally, we came on a film of cave paintings that they jazzed up by projecting it onto a piece of awkwardly-draped cloth, to imitate the curves of a cave wall. Added to this magic lantern show were some modernistic flashing white lines, unexplained. Everything there served to distract you from the real beauty and artistry of these crowded objects, which included some great horses, breasts on sticks, and one smooth, plump female backside. A billion women should rise up against these inane interpretations of their genuine and essential prehistory.

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Mood Swings

To open Robin Robertson’s fifth collection of poems is to pass over the threshold of ordinary life and find yourself, like some fairytale character, caught in an otherworld that, while enchanting and beautiful, can also be malign. It is surely no coincidence that the image of keys runs through Hill of Doors, as if there is a series of locks the poet must open, an armory of bolts to be thrown until a particularly sticky door will creak open, beyond which the here and now, and a host of metaphysical realms, will finally be revealed. The only hill in this collection is Tillydrone Motte, one of Robertson’s boyhood haunts in the north-east of Scotland: ‘Fifteen years in every kind of light and weather:/my castle-keep, watchtower,/anchorite’s cell, my solitary/proving ground, a vast sounding-board/here amongst the gorse and seabirds.’

It was perhaps here, though, that he first found doors into his imagination, ‘this hill where I went to be born’. Brought up as a son of the manse in Aberdeen, his background was a mixed blessing, as fellow poet Alastair Reid will affirm. Reid remained close to his father but roundly rejected the church, which plays almost no part in his writing. Robertson, though equally in thrall to his father and his memory, which he returns to frequently with tender  grief, has a more complicated relationship with the creed that underpinned his early years, his imagination seismically influenced by the stories and superstitions, the liturgy and rhythms, the beliefs and violent mystery of Christian thought.

This collection, like the four that precede it – A Painted Field, Slow Air, Swithering and The Wrecking Light – is riveted by the dark, bloody, unforgiving voice of a punitive Protestant faith. Yet out of this emotional forge Robertson hammers and twists biting, steel-bright poems that glow on the page as if still hot from the furnace, and offer if not hope, then a sense of hard-won convictions.

In Crimond, written in memory of Jessie Seymour Irvine, the Victorian organist from the eponymous north-east village who created the most popular setting for the 23rd Psalm,  he takes an elegaic, worldly-weary tone, a mood that settles upon several of the works in this book:

How far we all are from where we thought we’d be:

those parishioners all vanished long ago; my father – ash

above the crematorium; me, swimming


through the valley of the shadow of death, and you –

not even a photograph of you – the girl who will never

touch again the foot of the cross at Crimond.

But for every glimmer of Christian credo, reworked to suit his sometimes pitiless poetic eye, there is a counterbalancing from even more ancient myths, as the gods of the Greek pantheon cavort through the pages, spirited, sensual, ever-greedy for life. As on many occasions before, in Hill of Doors Robertson gives us his version of these characters, refashioned from the words of fourth-century poet Nonnus. So there is The Coming God, about the childhood of Dionysus, followed later by his adulthood, as in Dionysus in Love, when the youth he falls for comes to a bad end, but in so doing gives the gift of wine to the world, ‘a cure for regret, an end to love and grief./We hold it in our hands: a brief forgetting.’

Elsewhere Robertson reworks Ovid, or probes further into the life of the tormented Swedish playwright August Strindberg, who has become a welcome guest in recent collections, as if in this untame spirit Robertson finds a kindred soul or muse. In The Wrecking Light, Strindberg is found in Berlin; in Swithering he turns up in London and Paris, and here he is in Denmark, in Skovlyst, working on his play Miss Julie, while renting rooms from a grand lady whose house is more menagerie than mansion. ‘Wherever you look: neglect, failure,/all the shit you could wish for./A home away from home’.  Condemned to celibacy by his wife for a period of six months, Strindberg falls prey to a lusty young servant, whose brother believes he has raped her. Demonstrating the sliver of ice that reputedly lies in every writer’s heart, only in his case of iceberg proportions, the playwright consoles himself as chaos breaks out around him and he and his family depart: ‘And now I have my play’.

More interesting, however, is Strindberg’s self-knowledge: ‘I steer towards catastrophe/then write about it,’ he reflects. To varying degrees, the same could be said of Robertson, whose work, from A Painted Field to Hill of Doors hints at a similar attraction to the dangerous, the risky, the downright self-destructive, although there are indications that he might be moving into less fierce waters of late.  In a handful of these poems, and in many of his earlier pieces, Robertson reveals a taste for the macabre and disturbing. In his career as an editor, he is renowned for the school of Scottish writers he nurtured, among them Irvine Welsh, Alan Warner, Duncan McLean and AL Kennedy, some of whose gritty realism, and unflinching taste for the sinister or cruel he appears at times to share. Thus, for instance, in The Shelter, he evokes in a spare few verses a scene that a noir novelist or Scandic screenwriter would expand to a hefty chapter or climactic scene. 

I could make out shapes

inside, the occasional sound:

a muffled crying

which I took for wind in the trees; a wasp

stuttering there at the windowsill. I listened. What looked like

a small red coat

was dripping from its wire hanger.

More savage in its imagery, and far more disturbing, is A&E, where he returns to the image of open-heart surgery, first broached in A Seagull Murmur in Swithering, and now a full-blown nightmare as the narrator wakes, his chest soaked in blood where the sutures from his operation have opened. Hurrying to the hospital, he is about to be relegated to the queue by a nurse when he opens his tweed jacket to show her what the problem is:

Unfashionable, but striking nonetheless: my chest undone like some rare waistcoat, with that lace-up front  – a black échelle –  its red, wet-look leatherette,

those fancy, flapping lapels.

The sardonic, detached voice only enhances the horror, in this, arguably Robertson’s most memorable poem, though the images it evokes are unwelcome. But Robertson is canny. Lest we are tempted to forget, he has already given the reader chapter and verse of this procedure, in The Halving (Royal Brompton Hospital, 1986), where we follow him into theatre with the surgeon and his saw. When he comes round, he drowsily contemplates his new situation, ‘Halved and unhelmed,/I have been away, I said to the ceiling,/and now I am not myself’.

Alongside such portentous poems as these is a mere handful that work less well. Wire, about smuggling Mexicans over the border into the USA, is a studied, staccato sequence portraying of a way of life that feels second-hand and filmic, and even the nod to Robert Frost’s Mending Wall, in the phrase ‘good fences make good neighbours’ seems a little contrived. Less persuasive, too, is The Straw Manikin, after a painting by Goya, in which a life size doll of a man – it might be Christ, but equally it might be a nobody – is the plaything of a town’s womenfolk, and destined for death.

Unsatisfying as this poem is, it does illuminate the epigraph to the collection, from French artist Picabia: ‘let us not forget that the greatest man is never more than an animal disguised as a god’.  It is in this uncomfortable apprehension, in fact, that Robertson is at his most unnerving, seeing the jackal behind the innocent face,  the teeth behind the smile.

Like a Scottish day, Hill of Doors has many moods, the weather changing from poem to poem. Homages to the classics fit neatly between barbed reflections on the church’s teaching.

But thoughtful as such poems are, Rob-ertson is, to my mind, most potent when describing the countryside, or delving into himself. On both subjects he appears to hold nothing back, liberated from his editor’s enquiring mind into a freer, wilder  imagination in which each word carries a weight of meaning and emotional depth, and every phrase rings with truth.

As seen in The Halving and A&E, one of his remarkable talents is for double-speak, for perfectly describing a scene or event or thought which mirrors something else, often, though not always, deeper and less transient. The best-known example is from Swithering, where Asparagus stands both as a paean to this most suggestive of foods, and its erotic twin:  ‘in a slather and slide, butter floods at the bulb-head.’ In Hill of Doors, this dualling is seen, among others, in Glass of Water and Coffee Pot, a powerfully still domestic interior inspired by a tableau by Chardin:

…the same light lifting a gleam

from a blackened coffee pot that’s some

how managed

to make it through, to find harmony here on this stone shelf, happiness of the hand

and heart,

to keep its heat and still pour clean and


Partnering the sensual with the tender in a series of simple, heart-felt homely portraits with which he concludes the volume, Rob-ertson seems to be finding a more mellow register.

In these poems, affiliated by love, he reaches a pitch of subtle descriptive power that is breathtaking, equalled only by his observations of the natural world: ‘I knew/ where the hawthorn tree stands, bent and fixed like blown smoke’. Indeed, several of the works, especially the shorter poems, are close to perfect. One such is The Dead Sound, where he compares the sudden awareness that a relationship is about to end with the dull noise a cracked pot makes; or The Key, the final poem in the collection where, in eight spare lines, he describes a man who has found love, and peace.

But no collection from Robertson would be complete without something to trouble the mind. Beyond those poems that quicken the heart, or lodge an image deep as a skelf in your thumb, there is also a nagging absence. According to the book’s list of contents, there is a last poem called Robertson’s Farewell. Yet where it should lie there is only an empty, unnumbered page. A jest? An error? Or a clever way of reminding the reader that pages do not fill themselves, and already, while this book is fresh and unknown to us, the author is filling the white space of a new work?

HILL OF DOORS Robin Robertson

PICADOR, PP83, £14.99, ISBN: 9781447231530

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Cardinal Virtues

Papal conclaves aren’t what they used to be. It only took a few days and five ballots to elect Francis I and, as best as we can tell, it was a well-organised and suitably decorous affair. The mischievous historian in me almost longs for the time when conclaves were ill-humoured and could last for years. In the middle of the thirteenth-century the people of Viterbo grew heartily tired of the squabbling papal electors who had been abusing the town’s hospitality, depleting its precious food and resources, and not coming close to a decision about who should follow in St Peter’s footsteps. An obvious solution presented itself: the citizens of Viterbo ripped the roof off the building in which their ecclesiastical leaders were gathered and hoped that heavy rain showers would force them into action. This was hardly an ideal way of proceeding but at least there was a healthy dose of drama. 

Papal elections are much more seemly and, for all the pomp and pageantry, even a little boring these days. Cardinals gather in pre-conclave meetings to discuss (with impressive frankness) the state of the Church, they chatter at receptions, and gossip over dinner. The wheat is sorted from the chaff and by the time the conclave proper gets underway sides have usually been taken and a couple of front-runners have usually emerged. It was a little trickier this time around (lots of names were in the mix and hardly anyone anticipated the astonishing result) but the system still worked very well.

There are signs of modernity in the papal election process — the attempts (less ham-fisted with every passing conclave) to deal with the media, for example, or the way in which electronic buzzers sound when garrulous cardinals talk for too long in the pre-conclave ‘congregations’ — but there is also something timeless and, for the outsider, something mysterious about the way in which the Catholic Church chooses its leader. It comes down, in theory, to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and, from a Catholic perspective, that’s as it should be: Providence must play a leading role and the Church always, but always, elects the pope it deserves. That’s simply how the Pet-rine succession works. Still, one can’t help but suspect that the man who gets the top job sometimes wishes the Holy Spirit had acted differently. This was surely the case with Benedict XVI, who would have been much happier in his study, and one suspects it is the case with Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who was presumably looking forward to a relatively quiet retirement at home in Argentina.

His days of commuting by bus are probably over but the fact that Bergoglio is a Jesuit may help him adjust to his new, unanticipated role. Op-ed writers around the world have been puzzling over the fact that it has taken five hundred years to elect a member of the Society of Jesus as pope but there’s no great mystery. Firstly, no Jesuit stood much of a chance in previous centuries: the Society has always had too many enemies within the Catholic fraternity. Secondly, Jesuits have never been obsessed with securing high ecclesiastical office: indeed their founder, Ignatius Loyola, was a stern opponent of careerism. But when called to high office Jesuits are obliged to comply. Bergoglio could hardly turn down the job offer and he can look to a long history of fellow Jesuits having greatness thrust upon them. This is sure to be a source of comfort but when it comes to what he’ll achieve in the Vatican, well, this is very hard to predict.

First, Francis will have to weather the storm provoked by all the prying into his past. Another thing that seems to separate papal elections from, say, the appointment of senior politicians or Supreme Court justices is the apparent lack of vetting (an infelicitous word, but a useful procedure). We should not push this idea too far, however.

I may be proven wrong, and scrutiny is absolutely appropriate, but those cardinals know a great deal about each other and they would be averse to electing someone who was unable to account for his earlier deeds.

Second, he will have to take a position on the crises and conundrums facing the Church. On some issues we can expect more of the same. The fact that Francis is a socially-engaged priest does not mean that he is going to upset any apple carts when it comes to abortion or homosexuality: his opinions seem fixed on these and related issues. He is no kind of radical and he looked askance at Liberation Theology even when it was very fashionable in his homeland. But I do think we can anticipate dynamism in other areas not least because, as the first Jesuit and Latin Ameri-can pope, he carries an enormous historical burden. The Jesuit factor will be crucial.

I have already talked about earlier papal conclaves but one in particular – in 1769 – must be at the front of Francis’s mind as he settles into his Vatican apartments. Over the previous decade the Society of Jesus had been banished from many of Catholic Europe’s leading nations and it was no longer legal to be a Jesuit in France, Spain, Portugal or their overseas territories. The upcoming papal election was all about the fate of the Society of Jesus. Zelanti cardinals campaigned for a pope who would defend the Jesuits; Politicanti cardinals preferred someone who would see the way history was unfolding and accept the logic of the Jesuits’ global suppression.

When the conclave reached its verdict one English Jesuit in Rome, John Thorpe, feared the worst: ‘the unanimous election of Cardinal Ganganelli was no sooner divulged about the city than everyone looked upon the Jesuits… to be inevitably ruined.’ As things turned out it took another four years for Clement XIV to abolish the Society of Jesus and when the axe finally fell there was great reluctance on the part of the pope. For the next forty years the Jesuits managed to survive. Not, in most places, as a corporate entity but as an idea and, by 1814, they were restored by papal command.

Francis I is doubtless very familiar with this history and he must be delighted by the extraordinary timing of his election: just one year shy of the 200th anniversary of his order’s return to the fold. Cause, certainly, for celebration but also a source of trepidation. Two hundred years is a short time in papal politics and there are still those who would relish the spectacle of a Jesuit making a hash of things. It would therefore make sense for Francis to put a Jesuit stamp on his tenure in the Vatican. Not out of revenge but because the results would be very interesting.

The only problem is that it is very hard to pin down exactly what the Jesuit identity is. Over the past few days, I have grown increasingly infuriated at the attempts to sum up one of the most complex and confusing religious orders in Roman Catholic history. Every newspaper and website in town has provided a primer and almost without exception they have done a terrible job. Some commentators have decided that the Jesuits have always been a radical bunch; others have declared that they  have always been papal lap dogs. We’ve heard a lot, from both sides of the interpretive fence, about a static Jesuit ethos. The truth, I’m happy to report, is far more fascinating.

There are, of course, Jesuit constants: a passion for mission and education, an engagement with all corners of the arts and sciences and, a few awkward moments aside, a deep loyalty to Rome. None of this should blind us to the fact that the Society’s history has been as muddled as it has been impressive. There have been conservative Jesuits and progressive Jesuits; missionaries who respected indigenous cultures and adapted their evangelical message accordingly and missionaries who treated those cultures with contempt; priests who emerged as peaceniks and champions of social justice and priests who supported noxious regimes.

If we have any hope of understanding the Jesuit taproots of the new papacy it is time to put away the stereotypes, though this will take some doing. For centuries attempts have been made to identify the essence of the Society of Jesus and, more often than not, the caricatures have been decidedly negative. Lax morality, secretiveness, and a penchant for regicide have usually headed the list of charges and many languages have a special word — Jesuitical, in English — with profoundly negative connotations. None of this is helpful, and neither is a counterblast that portrays the Society of Jesus in an overly roseate light. We should listen to James Bro-drick, a Jesuit himself, who put it very well in his detailed history of the order: on one hand there is the ‘great army of canonised or beatified saints and martyrs,’ but on the other ‘there have been bad, unscrupulous, ambitious, foolish Jesuits… and a Jesuit fool is much the same as any other sort of fool.’ 

Bergoglio is clearly not a fool and, in many ways, he encapsulates the perennial tensions of the Jesuit enterprise. He is the humble man who, clearly, must have some ability to play the game of ecclesiastical politics and someone who treads a fine line between respecting tradition and confronting the challenges of the modern world. So perhaps my initial diagnosis was unfair. Perhaps papal conclaves can still be quite dramatic. Someone joked that the roof-removing antics at Viterbo finally provided an entry for the Holy Spirit. This time around it took a less theatrical journey and it is easy to mock the sight of all those aged cardinals sitting in rows, chatting and praying, then enjoying pleasant suppers in comfy surroundings. The deck is always stacked, of course, because the papal priority is to appoint cardinals who are likely to appoint someone who will carry forward your vision of the Church. Nor is the process a shining example of representative government (not that it should be) and once you are on the inside you are likely to stay there unless you behave in an exceptionally heinous way (no prizes for guessing to whom I am referring). But, for all that, the College of Cardinals did something quite spectacular in March 2013, and with surprising speed. They elected a Jesuit pope. No-one saw this coming. Not Benedict who, one suspects, is less than pleased and not the new boss at the Vatican who, surely, is baffled and nervous.

With more than a little audacity I would offer Francis one piece of advice. Look back on Jesuit history, in all its complexity, and learn  from the best of it. The whole story began with an attempt to serve and improve the Church and Catholics and non-Catholics alike would welcome the authentic continuation of this tradition. It’s a lot to ask but, while most stereotypes are silly, one is legitimate: Jesuits have always relished a challenge.

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In the Wilds of Aberdeen

Covering a year in Aberdeen, starting in November with the onset of a snowy winter, Esther Woolfson’s Field Notes from a Hidden City takes the form of seven thematic essays punctuating chronological notes. It is not a daily diary and sometimes a couple of weeks go by without comment, but it has the apparently random flavour of a nature journal, with entries triggered by observations or encounters, liberally laced with textbook research. It is also a remarkably personal book, and by its end one is as familiar with the author’s family and friends as with the urban animals who share their lives.

Woolfson begins by finding a fledgling pigeon, fallen from its nest, which she takes home. She feeds and tends it, then sets this ‘wild, city bird’ free again. This inspires a rumination on whether it is possible to reconcile ‘the city’ and ‘the wild’, whether urban animals are ‘less wild than creatures living elsewhere’, which leads to the question which will dominate what follows: ‘I wondered if the same might apply to humans, as if merely by being in a city, not only might our lungs be polluted but ourselves, our minds (and if we have them, our souls), as if urban dwellers must by definition be over-avid consumers of the unnecessary, weakened by purchase, alienated in every way, distanced from a lost, admonitory Eden. Are we, I wondered, living lives remote from all that is natural, beneficial, wild, or are we as much a part of the natural ordering of the universe as the wildest of things, moved by the same forces, as wild as anything else on earth?’

A similar question was raised at this year’s StAnza Poetry Festival, where I joined a panel of two writers, an academic and a painter, discussing poetry and the environment. Some in the audience seemed to be pressing for a clear distinction to be made between wild and managed environments, or more generally between nature and people, while the panelists appeared to be unanimous in our suspicion of any such tidy dichotomy. We are part of nature, neither disconnected physically nor culturally disengaged, as far as one can tell from the flourishing state of ecological arts and the presence of environmental policies in all walks of life. We are natural consumers of nature but our footprints grow larger with every year. As social creatures those footprints tread most deeply where we gather in cities. Urban areas are the places most trammelled by people and the nature of such places has adapted to survive the changes brought about by intensive human use of the land. This is the nature documented by Woolfson. 

As a rural dweller, when in cities, I seek out green places. When in Glasgow I make a point of using the corridors where nature dominates, such as the Kelvin River valley (where, on my last visit, an odd trill attracted my attention to a kingfisher which was sitting on a willow branch, then shot off down river, a turquoise avian arrow). In Edin-burgh I loop from park to park. My instinct for tree cover is strong. I go out of my way to find places and routes where birdsong can be heard despite the background of traffic noise, where the musk of a fox can outsmell the petrol and cooking fumes.

So I picked up Field Notes from a Hidden City expecting to be guided into the interstices between the human spaces, to be shown the nature I recognise in the green spaces of Aberdeen. But that is not at all what it delivers. As I read I had a growing suspicion that there’s a vast gulf  between the experience of some of those who live in cities, and those, like me, immersed in a rural world. With something close to culture-shock, I realised I was having to open myself up to a different sensibility and an entirely unfamiliar world view. Adopting the fascination of an anthropologist for another culture, I have struggled to glean from this book something of the mind of a person who is comfortable among thousands of others and among the press of buildings, and who shares their home with urban wildlife in unexpected ways.

I see eye to eye with Woolfson on some topics. I share her horror at the trashing of a site of special scientific interest for Don-ald Trump’s hotel and golf course. I admire her analysis of the ethics of animal experimentation. We both consider the worth of all animals to be largely undervalued in our society, and I am intrigued by her suggestion that animals common in cities in particular lose value in many people’s eyes, ‘diminished by the very fact of their being here among us’.

Her way of trying to redress this, and the aspect of the book I most enjoyed, is a series of extended essays in praise of species of urban animals which do not often get much of a good press: slugs and spiders, pigeons, sparrows and jackdaws, rats and grey squirrels. Under Woolfson’s gaze, spiders are creative weavers, pigeons become angels, slugs are little cupids and rats are highly intelligent, cuddly children’s friends. Yet she is candid in her descriptions of some contradictory behaviour towards them. Take rats, for example. As a result of putting out bird food in her garden, rats take up residence and she calls pest control to have them poisoned. Yet her children keep rats as pets and she even has a rat grave in her garden, complete with engraved tombstone.

Although she claims ‘I don’t want my garden to be macabre, or frankly weird’,  when she finds a dead shrew while out on a walk, she takes it home to look at it and then bury it in the garden, seeking ‘to choose a site suitable for age and rank’ among the graves of many other animals. I was mystified why she did this, but given that she had told us so much about her various pet birds, among them a rook (called Chicken, about which Woolfson wrote in her previous book, Corvus) and a crow (Ziki) that carries a plastic mouse about, I assumed she was bringing the shrew home to feed it to one of these. Her lengthy discussion of the dilemma of where to bury it comes towards the end of the book, and is the climax of my lack of comprehension of her values and relationship towards wildlife, and wild death.

Those values are at least partly shaped by Woolfson’s Jewish heritage. One of the most intriguing passages of the book is an explanation, following Passover, of her sense of dislocation as a daughter of a Jewish immigrant from Eastern Europe, and the generalisation of this experience to one that has shifted many Jews to urban environments leaving them feeling that ‘the countryside is a place apart.’ The move to the city mirrors the biblical flight from Eden, seen as ‘both adventure, a promise of a better future but also the distancing from innocence.’ Her experience of country living is limited to a time spent on a kibbutz, which she describes as ‘a place set in what at least in theory was countryside, but felt more like a misplaced adjunct to a middle-class Berlin suburb … with the addition of heat and scorpions.’ She is, she admits, ‘detached from the world of the countryside’. We are clearly chalk and cheese.

The way this manifests most clearly is in her desire to intervene with nature in a helpful way, as compared with my wish to leave it as far as possible to its own devices, and in almost diametrically opposed views of the function of a garden. My garden is a fenced area in which I attempt to keep wildlife at bay: much as I love badgers and deer, birds and insects, moles and voles with which we share our croft, I don’t want them in the garden, where my primary interest is food production. The garden’s boundary demarcates where wild animals become mostly pests and wild plants, mostly weeds. I live on an area of land big enough so that the wild others are welcome on the vast bulk of it, and only a small portion is an exclusion zone for cultivation of alien food plants. Woolfson admits at one point, when describing slugs as ‘nibbling holes’ in plants, that she would perhaps not be so ‘sanguine’ about them if she were ‘dependent for food on the plants they ravage’. When she berates gardeners for using slug pellets, I long for more nuanced language that encourages us to use benign, organic methods in our struggle to keep our greens from the slime-gods.  

But in Woolfson’s world view, food-growing is not a garden’s function. ‘We make gardens to keep at bay the concrete,’ she writes, ‘to ameliorate what we may see as the hard, bleak harshness of the urban world.’  In her garden, she provides wild birds with houses, food, even alpaca fleece bedding, and must then come to terms with the predators like sparrow hawks that feed on the flourishing population. How to behave towards other animal species is a central issue in Field Notes, and Woolfson struggles with the paradox of wanting to do something good for them whilst not really wanting to intervene too much. ‘Human beings, I’ve come to realise, have no place in this particular system’, she writes, ‘short of providing food or shelter…Our influence is malign in virtually every way, including those we don’t yet know about or understand. But within the limited framework of the artificial spaces of nature we have created, learning to stand back is all we can do.’


Esther Woolfson

GRANTA BOOKS, PP368, £16.99, ISBN: 9781847082756

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Thatcher in the Raw

Ah, the 1980s. I remember it, of course, but mine was the vantage point of a pre-teen, and by the time I’d figured out what was happening it had gone, replaced by the more nondescript 1990s. If only I’d been a decade older, or even a few years, that tumultuous decade might have left more of an impression. Thus the decade of shoulder pads, BMX bikes, Stock Aitken & Waterman and Spitting Image is for me the recent past and, as Alan Bennett once observed, there is no period so remote. Yet the influence of the 1980s remains prevalent, in the number of privately-owned homes, the triumph of consumerism and nostalgic fads in music, fashion and literature.

Nevertheless it’s a gift to the contemporary historian, conveniently bookended between the rise and fall of the Iron Lady and encompassing much that was distinctive culturally, politically and economically. Just the sort of decade that warrants a door-stopper of a book, which is where Graham Stewart’s Bang! comes in. It offers a Scottish Tory perspective on the 1980s, for Stewart is a product of an Edinburgh public school system, the distinctive voice of which often surfaces in his lucid prose. This is no bad thing. Plenty of history has been produced from an English, left-wing perspective, and balancing works are long overdue.

Gratifyingly, Stewart pays frequent attention to Scotland in Bang! and does so intelligently and with empathy. So the Thatcher that emerges from his book is more pragmatic, in economic and political terms, than the still prevalent discourse would otherwise suggest. Sure, no one could argue she ‘got’ Scotland and what Tony Judt called its ‘curious admix of superiority and ressentiment’, but nor did she set out to destroy it.

Conveniently, events in Scotland also bookended the 1980s: the 1979 devolution referendum hastened an already beleaguered James Callaghan’s demise, while opposition (if not riots, as in London) to the Poll Tax accelerated the defenestration of Margaret Thatcher. Mythology has since overtaken both events. As Stewart notes, it was disgruntled Labour backbenchers who ‘badly mauled’ the first Scotland Act rather than the Labour government, while the SNP’s failure to support Callaghan in the vote of no-confidence did not usher in a decade of Thatcherism, as some histrionic Labour figures continue to claim, but rather robbed Labour of a full five-year term (an election was due by October 1979 at the latest). Nevertheless the 1980s in Scotland – if only among the political classes – began on a sour note. Sour because the 40 per cent rule in the referendum was manifestly unfair, and sour because the devolutionary hopes of a generation had been maimed by the ballot box and then killed off, in its first Parliamentary act, by the new Thatcher government. Alex Salmond, who poured energy into the referendum and general election campaigns, later called it his annus horribilus. 

What followed was undeniably traumatic for many Scots. While in 1976 almost 30 per cent of Scotland’s labour force worked in manufacturing, by 1990 that figure had fallen by almost ten per cent. The steelworks at Ravenscraig assumed totemic status. Few remembered it had been brought to Scotland by a Conservative of a more moderate, Keynesian hue, Harold Macmillan; yet contrary to popular mythology, it also outlived the 1980s – only closing in 1992. Despite rhetoric about slaying lame ducks, Mrs Thatcher helped this one out twice, for which political credit came there none.

Elsewhere there was growth, not least in the north-east and Silicon Glen. At the height of the 1980s nearly a third of Europe’s personal computers were manufactured in central Scotland and one in eight of the world’s semi-conductors. By 1986 (the year of the Big Bang in the City of London, from which Stewart’s book takes its title) Scottish-based firms managed £50 billion of funds, rising to £211bn in 1994. Thatcher did brag about this, but it fell on deaf ears. Even when, by the late 1980s, Scotland’s economy had moved into line with (if not, in some respects, ahead of) the rest of the UK for the first time in decades, it was too late to reap any political rewards; the pain of deindustrialisation had been too acute, high unemployment too persistent, and the message unpalatable however beneficial the consequences.

Even so, Thatcher was not as electorally toxic as many appear to believe. As Stewart writes: ‘Much as Scottish Tories would subsequently blame the legacy of Thatcherism for their annihilation in 1997, they still did far better with the honourable member for Finchley as their leader than any of her five successors in the twenty years after 1990.’ Indeed, for much of the 1980s Mrs Thatcher was backed by around 30 per cent of the Scottish electorate and around 20 MPs. Not a mandate in either sense (unlike 1955), but then much more so than the party shouting ‘no mandate’ the loudest. Even after eight years of supposedly ‘alien’ Thatcherite medicine, in 1987 the SNP only mustered 14 per cent of the vote and, at that election, three MPs, one of whom was the 32-year-old Alex Salmond.

Apart from a fleeting victory for Jim Sillars in Govan, the 1980s were barren years for the SNP. The early part of the decade had been consumed by internecine strife, while most of the things Nationalists expected to boost their support (North Sea oil, hatred of the Tories and latterly the Poll Tax) did so only marginally. Even Mrs Thatcher’s supposed constitutional inflexibility (the 1985 Anglo-Irish Agreement appeared to suggest otherwise) did not benefit ‘Scotland’s party’.

Salmond et al have also rewritten history to some extent. While they frequently remind Scots that the wicked Tories opposed devolution throughout the 1980s they omit to mention the SNP did too (it only formally reversed that position in 1997, as did the Conservatives). While Mrs Thatcher preached fundamentalist Unionism, the SNP (though not the more pragmatic Mr Salmond) banged the drum of undiluted independence. Although the 1980s ended with the SNP riding relatively high (the party polled respectably in the double Paisley by-election that followed Thatcher’s resignation), that was not how it felt at the time. Although I was an apolitical 10-year-old rather than a political obsessive, the impression I retain of leafleting and poster-pasting with my Nationalist father was of hope trying very hard to triumph over experience.

North Sea oil was mentioned constantly, although it was not then (or indeed now) the panacea depicted by the SNP (‘No Wonder She’s Laughing,’ screamed one memorable poster, ‘She’s Got Scotland’s Oil’). Initially the revenue kept Thatcher’s government afloat, but production had peaked by 1985, and a year after that the international oil price collapsed as quickly as it had soared seven years before. Drilling in the North Sea was cut by 40 per cent and value of production halved from £20bn to £10bn with the loss of 20,000 jobs. To crown it all the Piper Alpha disaster of 1988 also made the industry (which economically transformed the Grampian region) appear unsafe. There were to be no more cost-free riches, even without the environmental implications.

The government was also more alert to the Scottish dimension than is acknowledged. In 1988 Nigel Lawson only allowed BP to acquire the Scottish-based Britoil if it promised to keep an HQ in Glasgow and endow several Scottish universities. But Westminster, unlike Norway, failed to invest the proceeds. In one of his book’s many interesting ‘what if?’ passages, Stewart ponders what might have been while concluding that short-termism might actually have extracted maximum value from the sea bed in the early 1980s. Nationalists were not alone in viewing black gold as an economic saviour. Labour had believed the same a decade before, while the Conservatives reaped the benefits from 1979 onwards.

But the question that needs to be asked about the 1980s is, contrary to Thatcher’s dictum (TINA), was there an alternative? It’s not one Stewart adequately addresses, nor indeed do many of the Conservatives’ most vehement critics. Arguably, there was. Sandwiched between Ireland, which by the end of the decade was pursuing turbo-charged neoliberalism, and social democratic Nor-way with its enviable oil fund, the UK could, with a little imagination, have pursued a less destructive third way. Unfortunately the mainstream Scottish Left, be it Labour or the SNP, failed to rise to the occasion, instead looking in both directions and settling upon a sort of social democracy-lite, a beguiling notion that Scandinavian-style public services could be paid for via Irish levels of taxation. Of course there were dissenting voices, often articulate and compelling ones at that, but even by the late 1980s they were drowned out by the plausible business-speak of Gordon Brown and Alex Salmond.

This was captured in Salmond’s faux pas during an interview with Iain Dale, when he asserted that Scots hadn’t liked the social side of Thatcherism ‘at all’, but ‘didn’t mind the economic side so much’. Try telling that to anyone who lost their job as a consequence of deindustrialisation or monetarism. Yet the SNP leader continues to view the Laffer Curve as a thing of beauty, an economic theory worthy of a modern, progressive centre-left Nationalist movement. But then Salmond was forged in the 1980s, first at RBS and then in the House of Commons, as were Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney in less influential contexts. But the central paradox in their politics, along with many of their Labour contemporaries, remains: a relentless and rather puerile disdain for Thatcher as a person, but a curious attachment to her political ethos, no matter how outdated or discredited it becomes, particularly in the wake of the 2008 crisis.

Thus the same old mantras are trotted out ad nauseam: the Westminster government has ‘no mandate’; Thatcher hated Scotland; Scotland is more socially democratic than England, and so on. All of them took shape during the 1980s and were, perhaps understandably, comforting. But soon they became restrictive, dulling rather than sharpening political thought, restricting rather than stimulating debate. And, to an extent, all today’s parties have become trapped by them; trapped by political clichés; trapped, in essence, by the 1980s.


Graham Stewart

ATLANTIC BOOKS, PP 560, £25, ISBN: 9781843549987

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House with a View

In 2008 Angus Calder died in a nursing home within the precincts of Holyrood, Croft an Righ, Edinburgh’s blue-sky Marshalsea. Years earlier we had both agreed with John Buchan that Chrystal Croftangry, protagonist of that autumnal novella, the 1827 ‘Introduction’ to The Chronicles of the Canongate, might have started a new Scott. The burnt-out rake returns to Clydesdale and the family estate to find the old house gone and ‘Castle Treddles’ in its place: 

The house was a large fabric, which pretended to its name of Castle only from the front windows being finished in acute Gothic arches, and each angle graced with a turret about the size of a pepper-box. In every other respect it resembled a large town-house, which, like a fat burgess, had taken a walk to the country on a holiday, and climbed to the top of an eminence to look around it. The bright red colour of the freestone, the size of the building, the formality of its shape, and awkwardness of its position, harmonized as ill with the sweeping Clyde in front, and the bubbling brook which danced down on the right, as the fat civic form, with bushy wig, gold-headed cane, maroon-coloured coat, and mottled silk stockings, would have accorded with the wild and magnificent scenery of Corehouse Linn.

I went up to the house. It was in that state of desertion which is perhaps the most unpleasant to look on, for the place was going to decay without having been inhabited. There were about the mansion none of the slow mouldering touches of time, which communicate to buildings, as to the human frame, a sort of reverence. The disconcerted schemes of the Laird of Castle Treddles had resembled fruit that becomes decayed without ever having ripened. Some windows broken, others patched, others blocked up with deals, gave a disconsolate air to all around, and seemed to say, ‘There Vanity had purposed to fix her seat, but was anticipated by Poverty.’

‘Disconcerted’ went for Abbotsford, obviously. Yet Corehouse has re-emerged in the last few weeks, just as New Abbotsford will be born on the Fourth of July. The multinational Cemex has defied a worsening economy with plans to dig more gravel east of New Lanark, slipping this through Historic Scotland without any discussion of environment or aesthetics. Inside this manoeuvre is a small piece of touristic archaeology, which may be awkward. 

Long roofless, the View House at Bonnington stands above the Falls of Clyde at ‘Cora Linn’. It was built in 1708 by John Car-michael, Earl of Hyndford: a chamber with a door giving on to the falls. Fixed and moving mirrors allowed visitors to experience, without danger, a controlled landscape; they could feel they were within or below the falling water. It was one of two, being followed in 1757 by the Hermitage at Dunkeld, built by the Duke of Atholl above the Falls of the Braan, which, after James MacPherson’s breakthrough in 1761-63, was christened ‘The Hall of Ossian’. 

After 1822 Melrose could claim, besides Scott, that it rivalled Goethe’s Weimar as a centre of optics. Scott’s friend Dr David Brewster of Gattonside, later Principal of Edinburgh University, headed the field. He had patented his kaleidoscope in 1817, changing fragments of glass into decorative order. The principle was the same as that of the View Houses; indeed his wife was one of MacPherson’s four natural children.

Waverley has been seen as material proof of the Union’s success. Or was the novel another sort of ‘View House’: a kaleidoscope pavilion on the grand scale? It coincided with Scott’s move from Ashestiel to Abbotsford: otherwise a depressed farm ‘Clarty Hole’ on the old Galashiels to Melrose road, its ford disused after Lowood Bridge in 1762 carried the highway north of the Tweed. Washington Irving, the American litterateur who visited in 1817 and found treelessness, interrupted only by a rackety industrial village in the valley of Gala Water. 

Irving may have been minded of the bald islands of his father’s Orkney. TC Smout’s environmental research found sheep ate up trees. Upper Ettrick hadn’t been for centuries the forest Scott imagined: the name registered administration, not appearance. Industry and urban development didn’t help, adding pollution, health problems to general wear-and-tear. Abbotsford was awkward, involving detours via minor roads from Mel-rose or the Selkirk-Edinburgh turnpike. Its glory days would be short – from completion of Atkinson’s grand library-drawing room wing in 1824 to Scott going bust in 1826. Heroic melancholy among the saplings, from then on?

Yet as Scott strove against creditors, Benjamin Disraeli turned up and was sent packing. He was too ill in 1829 to see Felix Mendelssohn, whose Fingal’s Cave and Scottish Symphony would set Scotland firmly on its tourist trajectory. His polymath juggling projected the stature of man and country. Before Scott, scenery as toxin was mediated by the small complex buildings mentioned:  ‘Safe Scotland’ as pictures, charm without scariness. They related directly to the Scots heroic; invoking literature and the busy science of optics, making the individual the patron of his own scenic world.

The View House principle fixed on wild beauty (and possible danger) and enabled the spectator to reproduce it around him (or more importantly her): a display to be controlled and altered. A bigger version of the ‘Claude Glass’, it moulded the landscape, viewed through it, into the boskage of Claude Lorrain (1602-80) framing neo-classic paintings of Tuscany or the Campagna, familiar from the Grand Tour.

Scott knew this, as well as his family’s wobbly position on the staircase of Scottish power, and the need for a market. Primitiveness, squalor, rain falling from grey mountains folding into grey cloud impressed Dr Johnson on his ‘Scottish Jaunt’ with James Boswell in autumn 1773. This persisted. Few of the ‘picturesque’ views in William Daniell’s Scotland (1818) show woodland, instead near-surreal mountain and savage-looking sea.

The post-Union Scottish circuit was aristocratic, through policies and castles crammed with continental loot. Calvinism had an uninviting alternative of martyrdom. Introducing his Northern Muse, John Buchan stressed the place’s awful diet and weather, probably drawing too much on middle-class travellers moaning about recurrent ‘little ice-ages’. If you were an aristo, you didn’t encounter this; if a commoner, you wouldn’t record. Abbotsford responded to its still-unformed landscape with its builder’s tastes, words and objects.

Scott’s own career after 1804 was realised between his Edinburgh and Border houses, and depended literally on ‘new’ roads. Edin-burgh to Selkirk was turnpiked in 1764, but travellers often found it easier to splash down the Gala Water. By 1818 he upped the ante: advised on the grand coastal Scotland of Daniell’s acquatints, based on his circumnavigation in late 1814. On the yacht Pharos was the engineer Robert Stevenson, not just a lighthouseman but the Britannica’s expert on road and rail.  Scott was captivated:

I delight in these professional men. They always give you some new lights by the peculiarity of their habits and studies – so different from the people who are rounded and smoothed …

Daniell presented the Clyde’s six steamboats, the latest the seagoing Rob Roy. Such mobile pavilions outdid Scott’s railway efforts.  The 1811 Glasgow and Berwick horse-drawn line that Telford had surveyed, revised by Stevenson in 1812; a further Edin-burgh-Galashiels line, sketched by him in 1821, all unbuilt.

The Soutra turnpike made the point: over the hills, new roads were expensive. Telford’s Dalkeith-Pathhead stage, with its massive Lothian Bridge, was completed in 1831, as Scott died. Its great days lasted only sixteen years before the steam-powered Edinburgh and Hawick Railway breasted the Moorfoots. This was the making of Abbotsford in two respects: tourist trade and geld. James Hope-Scott as heir brought the latter in 1848-53, being Britain’s biggest railway lawyer.

The Abbotsford clan proved short-lived or useless: Charlie and young Walter drank like trout. Scott’s son-in-law John Gibson Lockhart had drive, but alienated people and anyway lived in London. Not long after March 1826 Scott’s fortune followed his wife into the shadows. In politics Robert Dundas was losing power, not just to clever Whigs but to Thomas Chalmers’ theocratic politics. Scott died fraught.

Our own coda is ambiguous. New Abbotsford will be there for Waverley’s 200th birthday. Cemex’s quarry, footprinting Castle Treddles, was signed off in late 2012 despite local objections, by an ‘arms length’ bureaucracy settling the public interest: more materiel for ‘shovel-ready projects’ –  or ‘joabs on the tar’. Along the M74, these enable the labyrinthine Uddingston interchange to route Tescotrucks from Daventry more swiftly to the malls of the West.

The rituals of Naples opera left the dying Scott ‘dog-sick of the whole of it’ though Rossini’s Donna del Lago had in 1819 launched him on Europe’s stages; today its sewage system mysteriously connects to no exit pipes. ‘Joabs on the tar’ is Glasgow’s end-in-itself, its logic in tight political and retail concerns and, as the architect Malcolm Fraser has pointed out, the drive to privatise public space. Earlier frustrated by civic-religious structures inherited from the 19th century, this reasserted itself when the bankers grabbed and ran.

The ‘View House’ was more principle than conceit. It reflected a civility still qualified by nature and climate, religious tensions, an evolving infrastructure, the wrench of industrial change.  Abbotsford made a ‘pavilion’ into an oddly democratic vista, as Angus Calder always argued. Scott’s communal house was confronted by wool-capitalist robber baronial crowning the neighbouring slopes, brandishing private wealth, unconstrained by social sympathy.

Isolation came after 1969 with the Waverley Railway closure: its partial reopening to Tweedbank, now under way, intends to reanimate the Borders. The battle with the bankers over access to ‘Scott’s Countryside’ reprised what he had intuited: that he was only the temporary king of that exfoliating heritage. In an age of extreme and aggressive inequality, Scott is worth study because, like Whitman, he contains multitudes. Waverley is still the book of the people.

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Back to the Drawing Board

Into my possession recently came a facsimile of Herman Moll’s Atlas of Scotland. Published originally in 1725, it was reprinted in 1980 in a limited edition of 500 with green cloth boards and a brown leather spine. The copy which I have is numbered 149. The publisher was Heritage Press, based in Towie Barclay Castle near Turiff in Aberdeenshire, which dates to the sixteenth century but is presently in a state of neglect. Publication, it seems, was made possible by the enlisting of subscribers, among whom were Princess Margaret, Peter Shand Kydd, Princess Diana’s stepfather, Keith Schellenberg, erstwhile laird of Eigg, the actor Iain Cuthbertson and Andy Stewart, the bekilted host of The White Heather Club who – in my mind at least – will forever be associated with the The Muckin’ o’ Geordie’s Byre.

If nothing else such a diverse group exemplifies the ecumenical appeal of maps and atlases. In 1725, Scotland was still finding its feet in its relatively recent union with England. Ten years had elapsed since the inept rising in 1715, led by John, Earl of Mar, and there were twenty more to go to the inglorious ’45, when Bonnie Prince Charlie sought to restore the Stuarts to the throne. These were limbo years as the  two principles in a forced marriage sought a way of living harmoniously together. But in his introduction to Moll’s Atlas, John Adair, ‘late Geographer’ of Scotland, was markedly upbeat in his assessment of the country’s prospects. The air, he remarked, was ‘whol-some and temperate’, though he conceded that the weather could be more dependable. There was clean water and decent soil, beneath which there were plentiful deposits of minerals and stone. But best of all, wrote Adair, was the bounty that lay in the sea and rivers, where ‘the greatest and surest Treasure’ awaited those inclined to go in  search of it.

Of Herman Moll, however, there is no mention other than his name of on the title page. He was born in the 1650s in the Netherlands which can fairly claim to have been to  cartography what Italy was to the fresco. In 1678, Moll moved to London where he opened a book and map shop. Like others in the field, he drew heavily on the work of his predecessors, not only cartographers but historians, travellers and geographers. Map-making is the most palimpsestic of arts, each map adding to and subtracting from those which have appeared previously. There is no shame in this. Rather there is an understanding of the inadequacy of human knowledge and a desire to right wrongs. In 1711, Moll began his Atlas Geographus, which eventually ran to five volumes and was much copied. His success was such that he was well-known among his illustrious contemporaries, including Daniel Defoe. He was also acquainted with Jonathan Swift who, in Gulliver’s Travels, wrote: ‘I arrived in seven hours to the south-east point of New Holland. This confirmed me in the opinion I have long entertained, that the maps and charts place this country at least three degrees more to the east than it really is; which I thought I communicated many years ago to my worthy friend, Mr. Herman Moll, and gave him reasons for it,  Although he has chosen to follow other authors.’

What Moll knew personally of Scotland is unclear. But what is apparent is that, like other cartographers, by and large he did not draw maps based on first-hand experience but on the existing work of others. Thus, as Christopher Fleet, Margaret Wilkes and Charles W.J. Withers note in Scotland: Mapping the Nation (Birlinn, 2012) while in his 1714 map of the country he brought the names and locations of places up to date, there remained several ‘errant’ features, such as ‘the “crooked line” of the Great Glen, the blunt north end to the Island of Lewis and the orientation of Skye.’ Would Moll have produced a more accurate map had he visited these places himself? In all likelihood he would but such an investment, in time as well as capital, was as prohibitive as it was impractical. For while he was obviously concerned to produce accurate maps Moll was also a businessman who had to maintain a steady flow of production. Such has been the story of map making throughout the ages.  What cartographers and explorers were always eager to do, however, was fill up blank space, where dragons were assumed to be lurking or which was labelled ‘terra incognita’ until someone had ventured there and relayed what they’d witnessed. The unknown was troubling and dangerous but also tempting for who knows what might be found there.

Scotland in the eighteenth century was not of course an empty country though it was, as Dr Johnson suggested prior to his 1773 tour with Boswell, wild, savage and primitive. Map-wise, the country came into being in the mid-sixteenth century, when Paolo Forlani, a Veronese map-maker based in Venice produced what’s believed to be  the first printed map that shows Scotland on its own. It is a rudimentary effort and looks like a child’s drawing. There are a few names – Iona, ‘Ila’, ‘Grampivs’, ‘Wigton’, etc, numerous mountains and a number of lochs and rivers – but it is not a map you could use with any confidence. Nearly a hundred years passed before there would be one on which you could rely. This was The Blaeu Atlas of Scotland, which is one of four beautifully reproduced in limited editions by Birlinn in cooperation with National Library of Scot-land (the others are The Great Map: The Military Survey of Scotland, 1747-1755, John Thomson’s Atlas of Scotland, 1855,  and J.G. Bartholomew’s The Survey Atlas of Scotland, 1912) in what is undoubtedly one of the great publishing projects so far of the twenty-first century.

Blaeu is one of the most fabled names in cartography. Like his father Willem, Joan Blaeu was a mapmaker in Amsterdam and worked for the Dutch East India Company. His great work, his magnum opus, was the multi-volume Atlas Novus, which took seventy years to bring to a conclusion. Scot-land was the subject of volume five which included forty-nine engraved maps of the country, offering a unique perspective on how the land lay half a century and more before the Union with England.  Like other mapmakers Blaeu leaned heavily on secondary sources and information from friends and colleagues. As Charles Withers writes in a splendid  introductory essay to the Atlas, its story is one of ‘war, of delays in the post, underachieving churchmen, anxious statesmen concerned with Scotland’s visual representation, and, naturally money. It is a story too of avaricious printers, neglectful children, courtly geographers, poetic professors, Antwerp mapmakers and Danish astronomers, as well as Amsterdam publishers, English and Scottish historians, and the views of Royalty about the power of maps.’

In common with Herman Moll, Joan Blaeu’s knowledge of Scotland was secondhand. Indeed, what he knew of it was garnered first from Sir John Scot who held various important positions in the Scottish parliament, including Director of Chancery, Lord of Session and Privy Councillor. Scot travelled often and widely in the Low Countries where he came into contact with Blaeu, with whom he corresponded. It was through Scot, for example, that Blaeu obtained  the maps by Timothy Pont which would form the basis of his Scottish atlas.

Pont is a similarly revered figure in the annals of Scottish cartography. Around the turn of the sixteenth century he was appointed minister of Dunnet in Caithness, before which, it seems, he gave himself the task of mapping Scotland, none of which saw of the light of day while he was alive. Why Pont chose to do this remains something of a mystery. Certainly, he was well-connected. His father was also a clergyman, a friend of John Knox and an advisor  to King James VI. Timothy Pont graduated from St Andrews in the early 1580s and in 1592 he was appointed to undertake a survey of minerals and metals in Orkney and Shetland.

The authors of Scotland: Mapping the Nation speculate that Pont may have completed his mapping work by the time he was called to Dunnet though they also think it is conceivable that he moonlighted while a minister. When exactly he died is unknown but he was no more by 1615 when his wife is listed as a widow. What survived, however, were his maps, which did not cover the whole of the country but a majority of it. Usually Pont offers admirable detail but occasionally he has no option but to plump for  ‘extreme wildernes’ (when describing parts of Sutherland). Nonetheless what he offered was a peerless picture of Scotland in the sixteenth century, a place, like so many others at the period, where most people lived on the land, and where there was a thriving rural economy and fermtouns, country mills, impressive estates and not a few trees.

Though Pont was the begetter of the maps which made Blaeu’s atlas possible we should not underestimate Sir John Scot’s role in the enterprise. According to Blaeu himself, Scot ‘passed whole days in my establishment writing, dictating what made for illustrating the maps of his country, with such felicity of memory that, though  lacking all papers and books, he dictated regional shapes, situations, boundaries, old and more recent lords, produce of the soil, rivers, and similar matters in great profusion.’ Thus – according to Withers – Scotland was ‘“put on view’’ as never before’. Moreover, the Blaeu Atlas, and its international cast of contributors, offered a snapshot of a hitherto little known and uncharted country. Maps bring places into existence, making them familiar and visitable, at once demystifying them and opening them up, not only  to tourists, as in recent times, but also to traders and military men. In the latter regard, William Roy’s The Great Map: The Military Survey, 1747-55 is significant. Unlike many others mentioned here, Roy was a Scot, born near Carluke. His map, made in the aftermath of the ’45, was the most scientific, comprehensive and precise yet produced of the country. Good information, it was reckoned, was needed to prevent and squash further insurrection and Roy offered it though he was modest in describing his own achievement. It was, he said, a ‘sketch’, if a very pleasing one at that. He also cautioned that ‘no geometrical exactness is to be expected, the sole objective in view being, to shew remarkable things, or such as constitute the great outlines of the Country’.  Browsing through The Great Map’s pages one can imagine plotting a course through Glen ‘Terridon’ or around inaccessible lochs in the pursuit of rebels. Maps not only show what is there but what is not. From Roy’s depiction you can surmise what a bleak and uninhabited and scary place Scotland was and why only those who had good reason to go there would bother.

By the mid-nineteenth century Scot-land’s face was beginning to mature and you could look at maps such as those included in John Thomson’s Atlas and construct a mental picture. Thomson’s achievement was rooted in new geographical, scientific and technical knowledge, including advances in the printing industry. It was the age of specialism. Gone were the days when men could legitimately boast that they knew everything there was to know. Every decade of the nineteenth century threw up a few new societies: the Geological Society in 1807; the Astronomical Society in 1820; the Zoological Society in 1826; the Royal Geographical Society in 1830; and the British Association for the Advancement of Society in 1831. As Charles Withers notes, ‘The term “scientist”, at least in its modern connotations of professionalisation and subject expertise, likewise dates from the 1830s.’

John Thomson was a man who epitomised his era. Born in 1777 in Edinburgh, he was a child of the Enlightenment. From bookselling he moved into publishing, producing A New General Atlas in 1817 which was followed by the Cabinet Atlas  two years later. But for Thomson the 1820s was a boom and bust decade. In 1825, he was declared bankrupt for the first time; five years later he was bankrupt again. A large part of his financial woes stemmed from his investment in The Atlas of Scotland, proposals for which he began circulating in 1818, fourteen years before it eventually appeared. Such an ambitious project required the commitment of numerous subscribers whom Thomson had difficulty in bringing on board, though he claimed there were 1,200. Engraving and printing costs were high, as was the cost of paper. Ultimately, Thomson was defeated. According to Christopher Fleet and Paula

Williams he ‘fades from the record’ after 1836. But his Atlas offered him an afterlife, its quality incomparable. ‘No other county maps of Scotland,’ write Fleet and Williams, ‘could compete until Ordnance Survey maps became widely available…Thomson’s maps, for all their faults, were the best available depiction of Scotland for over 30 years, longer for some counties, at a time when the landscape of the country was changing.’

Statistics reveal just how profound that change was. In 1800, 17 per cent of Scots lived in towns of more than 10,000 inhabitants. By 1850 that figure had rise to 32 per cent and by 1900 to 50 per cent. The bigger towns – Glasgow, Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen – grew bigger and  bigger, suck in people from near and far and visibly changing the nation’s landscape. The challenge for mapmakers was how to keep pace with developments; new roads and railways, canals and bridges. Throughout the twentieth century it was the Edinburgh firm of Bartholomew which mapped this emerging, constantly metamorphosing Scotland, producing maps which catered for every need, including recreational. At its head was John George Bartholomew, who was born in 1860 and died at Sintra in Portugal in 1920. There were mapping Bartholomews before him but he took the business to a different level, pioneering new techniques in map production, encouraging the better teaching of geography in schools and helping to found the Royal Scottish Geographical Society.

Though his achievements were many it was The Survey Atlas of Scotland which cemented his place in cartographic lore. Paying tribute to those who had preceded him, such as Joan Blaeu and Timothy Pont and John Thomson, and the Ordnance Survey on whose work the Survey Atlas was dependant, Bartholomew made the case for a collection of maps that truly reflected reality. To ensure accuracy, local authorities were consulted. For the first time ever, colouring showed the height of land and the depth of sea and rivers. It was – is – a lovely object, each plate a joy to behold. There used to be a copy in the library I used as a boy and I would go there after school and trace rivers with my fingers, wonder how steep hills could be and try to imagine what unpronounceable places were like. It was the kind of book you could open anywhere and know that you’d find yourself far away from home.  


BIRLINN, PP200, £100, ISBN: 9781841585857


BIRLINN, PP400, £200, ISBN: 9781841586670

THE ATLAS OF SCOTLAND, 1832 John Thomson

BIRLINN, PP416, £150, ISBN: 9781841586878


BIRLINN, PP158, £100, ISBN: 9781841588643

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