Alasdair Gray to write book on independent Scotland

Alasdair Gray will paint a picture of an independent Scotland. Picture: Robert Perry
Alasdair Gray will paint a picture of an independent Scotland. Picture: Robert Perry
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Controversial artist Alasdair Gray is to publish a major new book setting out his case for Scottish independence in the run-up to next year’s referendum, The Scotsman can reveal.

Gray, 78, has signed a deal with publisher Canongate for a book which he says will “anticipate” how an independent Scotland should take shape.

The author is one of the most high-profile artists in the country to back the prospect of an independent Scotland.

Canongate yesterday revealed Gray’s new book was a work of non-fiction simply entitled Independence, set to be published next summer.

A spokeswoman for the Edinburgh-based publisher said: “It lays out Alasdair’s vision for an independent Scotland.”

Speaking to The Scotsman, Gray said: “I’m being helped by a very good researcher and a lawyer friend. It will be out well before the referendum.

“It will be laying out the situation in Scotland we have at the moment, the situation we will have when we get more independence, what is wrong with the current situation and what is hopeful about it.”

Gray, who was born in Glasgow, said he believed it was hard for artists to avoid the independence debate, but that they should not be “coerced” into stating their political views in the run-up to the referendum.

The author, whose previous works combine elements of realism and science fiction, added: “I don’t want anybody to get involved in a debate which they don’t think matters a damn.

“I’ve nothing against people who regard themselves as apolitical or unpolitical. In the Greek democracy such people were called idiots, that is people without ideas about how they should be ruled.

“I can understand people who take the line that ‘I’m quite comfortable about [how] we’re being ruled now and change will probably be for the worst so let’s leave things the way they are’.

“There are people who think ‘I don’t know how things are going. I don’t think anything I say matters, and therefore I’m not going to vote or take part in any debate.’ That seems to me quite sensible, if you really are an idiot, that is one without ideas. On the other hand, if you do think the way that you live well depends upon as many people as possible worrying about how things are going and trying to improve them, then you have to take part.”

Gray also revealed he had no regrets about the topics he used in his notorious Settlers and Colonists essay, published in a collection last December.

The essay railed against the appointment of English arts figures to senior jobs in Scotland. In the essay, he named Vicky Featherstone, the last artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, and Andrew Dixon, chief executive of Creative Scotland, who later resigned after Gray’s piece was written.

He said: “It seems that Scottish committees who appoint administrators in charge of Scottish institutions don’t want Scots. They should appoint the best person for the job. But only if they know something about the arts in Scotland.”

Gray also criticised the new Robert Burns birthplace museum in Ayrshire, which was overseen by an English director, Nat Edwards.

He added: “I was present at the official opening. It was a beautiful building, well-established, but at the same time, it was unimaginative. I have never seen so many of the same portrait, reproduced in the same place at the same time.

“If somebody is in charge of a theatre they have to depend upon a team. Every good theatre manager has connections that enable them to be a good team, but if they start off in London, all their connections and their team are English and friends of theirs.

“As far as I know, nobody who made a fuss about it had read the essay. All they had read was a soundbite claiming I was putting out diatribes and jibes against English art colonisers.

“I spoke of settlers and colonists. Is that wrong? I explained carefully that a settler is somebody who arrives in a country to live there and that I approve of them. Umpteen English settlers have done the country very good.

“The colonists are those who arrive and make as much money as they can and clear out.

“I have nothing to complain about. As I have said, the head of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, the head of Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art, the head of the Edinburgh International Book Festival and the head of the National Theatre of Scotland at the time I wrote the essay all supported me, and bought my work and exhibited my paintings.

“All of these English administrators of Scottish galleries and institutions have helped me. I am grateful. Some of them may even remain here.”

Gray was speaking in his native Hillhead area of Glasgow as he unveiled his latest work of art - in his local swimming pool.

He has gifted a giant floor mosaic for the Western Baths Club in the west end to mark the end of a two-year tenure as artist in residence there.

The theme of “Refresh Mind, Refresh Body, Refresh Land and Refresh Love” has inspired the images of men, women and children on the giant octagon-shaped piece. Some of them are pictured using the pool’s rings and trapeze equipment, with the Western Baths one of just three pools to have such facilities in Scotland.

He told The Scotsman the only criticism he had faced was from people who had failed to read his essay.