2014 was a momentous year in Scottish politics. The Independence referendum resulted in a close vote with 55% saying No to a self governing Scotland and 45% saying Yes. The question continues to affect every vote at every level in Scotland to this day.
2014 and its aftermath has also seen many academic studies about Scotland – its culture, People and economy as never before.
In “Colonised by Wankers” Postcolonialism and Contemporary Scottish Fiction, Jessica Homberg-Schramm has based her study on 13 novels in depth with an additional 40 referred to.
“Even after devolution and the establishment of a Scottish Parliament the contemporary Scottish novel negotiates national identity between the poles of a Scottish and a British identity. “
Homberg-Schramm’s study takes as its starting point ‘Trainspotting’ by Irvine Welsh in 1993 which she uses in the title of her work.
The Scots have a split personality – torn between a Scottish and a British identity:
“the split vote of the 2014 referendum reveals that Scotland is still caught between a British and a Scottish identity, a fact that is also reflected in its fiction.”
The book examines class, gender, setting, language (including dialect) and race in Scottish contemporary fiction. Scotland as an oppressed colony and its ambivalent attitude towards England has led to feelings of low self-worth and abjection which is reflected in many of the novels studied i.e. ‘Trainspotting’ and ‘The Stornoway Way’ by Kevin MacNeill.
Class and language are bound together as a ‘marker of difference‘. Homberg-Schramm seeks to show that vernacular language is used to denote the working class and it pre-occupies much of contemporary Scots fiction. The working class, she argues dominate fiction. Scotland is seen as being essentially a working class culture of hardship and desolation with novels reflecting a sense of resistance to the imposed policies of UK Governments.
“The tendency within Scotland itself to construct Scotland as an English colony raises many controversies and leads to the construction of a national identity that is determined by defeat and inferiority.”
Class and gender are closely linked in Scottish fiction with aggression an ‘acceptable character trait’ of men. Women are marginalised and most of the fiction centres on the traditional hard man, now inadequate and failing. Homberg-Schramm cites A.L.Kennedy, Janice Galloway as two writers where women characters are central.
Further marginalisation occurs in the setting of novels where the Highlands continues to be depicted as an inhospitable, wild environment. Scottish crime novels, ‘Tartan Noir’, are set within the urban locations of Glasgow and Edinburgh. All of them depict conflicting ideas about Scottish identity with Edinburgh being portrayed as less ‘celtic’ than the others.
Jackie Kay has been successful in her writing by portraying ‘the image of Scotland as a ‘hybrid or split character’ as a positive force. Not only does she refer to this in terms of gender but also in terms of race. Homberg-Schramm finds that race is a hard category to pin down in Scottish contemporary writing but it opens up new perspectives.
Homberg-Schramm’s book is an interesting study which uses contemporary fiction to examine how Scotland sees itself through the work of its writers. The novels examined demonstrate the complexity there is in seeking a Scottish national identity but in that search they re -write and resist the colonial status both imposed by a British state and self imposed by a feeling of inferiority.
The book is the publication of Jessica Homberg-Schramm’s dissertation so anyone reading it needs to bear that in mind and approach it in that vein. Each chapter could be used as a starting point for further exploration of their specific themes. The feelings of inferiority described by her would be recognisable as the Scottish ‘cringe’. This can be seen today in the huge success of Braveheart which portrays the defeat of Scotland’s national hero Wallace which many in the Yes Movement describe as their favourite film. In contrast to this Outlaw King, a film about Robert Bruce, King of Scots, and his victory in the Wars of Independence has had a mixed response. Perhaps the Scots of today like to wallow in defeat rather than the glory of victory ? Or perhaps the Scots have lost the cringe and now have the confidence to decide their own destiny.
Scotland is a mixter-maxter nation, both in its landscape and its people. That is where its strength and its identity lies – not in the description of racial/ethnic characteristics but in a set of values based on social justice and equality.
“It requires great love of it deeply to read
The configuration of a land,
Gradually grow conscious of fine shadings,
Of great meanings in slight symbols” MacDiarmid
Reviewed by Fiona Grahame
“Colonised by Wankers”:Postcolonialism and Contemporary Scottish Fiction by Jessica Homber-Schramm, published by Modern Academic Publishing, University of Cologne, 2018