by SRB

Bus Party 2014: Listening Across Scotland In The Run Up To The Referendum

May 21, 2014 | by SRB


The Bus Party


In the week leading up to the 1997 referendum on devolution, a group of artists and writers led by William McIlvanney, Neal Ascherson and Billy Kay toured the country by bus, using music and poetry to open conversations with communities throughout Scotland about their hopes for the future.


Now, as the referendum on independence approaches, the Bus Party is going back on the road – not to preach or convert, but again to offer the opportunity for discussion. The Bus Party’s mix of celebration and conversation aims to encourage people to exercise their vote, by asking,


“What kind of Scotland
you want?”


The question ‘Should Scotland be an independent country?’ generates further questions and elicits a wide range of responses. As one artist has said, ‘It’s time to put on our listening lugs.’


Listening Lugs Tour


On the May leg of the ‘Listening Lugs’ tour the artists in the Bus Party will explore these questions with local communities from Stromness to Stirling.


Artists on the Bus


The 2014 tour will be in two phases, a northern one in May and a southern one in September. Along with ‘97ers William McIlvanney, Neal Ascherson and Billy Kay, it will involve over thirty artists of different backgrounds, working in music, literature, the visual arts and drama.



Karine Polwart

Mairi Campbell

Ricky Ross

Jamie MacDougall

Michael Barnett

David Francis

Rod Paterson

Fin Moore

Hamish Moore



James Robertson 

Janice Galloway 

Andrew Greig 

Sara Sheridan 

Janet Paisley 

Karen Campbell

Robert Crawford 

Ron Butlin 

Bashabi Fraser 

Aonghas MacNeacail 

Matthew Fitt


Visual Arts 

Sandy Moffat

Carolyn Scott

Will Maclean

Andy Sim


Listening Lugs

ITINERARY MAY 24 – 31, 2014


24           WICK7.00pm: Pulteney Centre

25           STROMNESS2.00pm: Pier Arts Centre

26           INVERNESS 2.00pm: Waterstones Bookshop

26           ELGIN7.00pm: Elgin High School

27           MONTROSE Walls Projects II @ The Old Rope Works

27           DUNDEE 7.30pm: Gardyne Theatre

28           LOCHGELLY11.00am: Lochgelly Centre

28           HOWE OF FIFE7.30pm: Kingskettle @ Kettle Kirk

29           FALKIRK 11.00am:  Waterstones & Busking in Town Centre

29           LIVINGSTON 2.00pm: Waterstones Bookshop

29           COATBRIDGE With Interfaith Scotland @ Conforti Institute

30           CLYDEBANK10.00am: Clydebank Library

30           ALEXANDRIA2.00pm: Alexandria Library

30           DUMBARTON7.30pm: Dumbarton Library

31           DALMUIR 10.00am: Dalmuir Library

31           STIRLING7.00pm: Church of the Holy Rude


 Full details and updates on all these events:

Twitter: @busparty2014    Website:


A Brief History of the Bus Party


The idea of a ‘Bus Party’ came originally from the German novelist Günter Grass.  Enraged by the dullness and self-censorship of a West German election campaign back in 1964, he organised a busload of writers, independent thinkers and musicians to tour round the ‘back country’ of north Germany – the small towns and villages, not the cities.


At each stop, a reception committee organised a meeting followed by a party with local people.  The slogan was that ‘we haven’t come to tell you how to vote. We are here to ask you what you think and dream of, and to say the things which the main campaigns daren’t say’. 


Neal Ascherson, then a journalist living in Germany, followed Grass’s bus party round.  He saw afterwards that – for many ordinary Germans – what Grass’s friends said and sang and wrote and drew on that journey were the only things worth remembering from that election. Much later, he reported on the dismal 1979 referendum in Scotland. When the 1997 referendum for a Scottish Parliament came round, there was a real danger that the same pessimism and sense of alienation could produce another inconclusive result. So it seemed to him and Will Storrar that Grass’s brilliant idea could work in Scotland too. A bus party was organized – writers, journalists, singers, musicians – to follow Grass’s lead by going round the small places, by coaxing people to speak of their hopes instead of being preached at, to ‘vote for their aspirations, not their fears’, above all to sense and enjoy their own citizen power.


That tour, headed by the novelist William McIlvanney, travelled round Scotland from Inverurie and Huntly to Lesmahagow and Galashiels, ending up on Edinburgh’s Calton Hill on the eve of the poll. Some travelled all the way; some – as fits a bus – rode for a day or two and were replaced by others. We were everywhere made welcome. Not only that: the bus riders themselves – by questioning and above all by listening – learned to know their own country better.


And now, facing the most important and historic choice of all, in a Scotland alive with excited self-questioning as never before, there’s once again a bus to catch.


Neal Ascherson



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