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
do 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.
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 12.pm: 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: facebook.com/busparty2014
Twitter: @busparty2014 Website: www.busparty2014.org
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.