Alasdair Gray rewrites English ‘colonists’ essay

ALASDAIR Gray has toned down his controversial “Settlers and Colonists” essay which criticised the role played by some English people who pursue careers in Scotland, Scotland on Sunday can reveal.

Alasdair Gray was criticised for his original 'Settlers and Colonists' essay. Picture: Contributed

The acclaimed novelist has written an “improved” version of the piece, which caused a storm by suggesting that English arts administrators in Scotland could be categorised as either long-term “settlers” who were a force for good, or short-term “colonists” who came to Scotland simply to further their careers before returning south.

In the original work, published at the end of 2012, Gray argued that the settlers and colonists phenomenon was not confined to the arts and could be found in other walks of Scottish life. A new version of the essay, which was criticised by politicians and others for its unhelpful language, has now been written by Gray with that suggestion deleted.

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The updated version, which is included in Gray’s new book Independence – An Argument For Home Rule, omits the phrase: “I think Scottish folk in other professions will know settlers and colonists with similar attitudes.”

The reworked essay also puts more emphasis on the “settlers” that Gray believes do a good job by embracing Scottish culture than the original, which was criticised for its depiction of some English people as “colonists”.

Much of the essay remains intact, including Gray’s distinction between “settlers” and “colonists”. Gray also repeats his suggestion that it is influential Scots who are to blame for appointing English people, who do not have an adequate understanding of Scottish culture for the jobs they take on.

“It is important to remember that these incomers were appointed to high positions in Scottish cultural institutions by highly respected Scottish committees,” Gray writes.

As in the original essay, Giles Havergal, the Harrovian former director of the Citizens Theatre in Glasgow, and Chris Carrell, formerly of the Third Eye arts centre, are mentioned as examples of colonists.

But when it comes to the examples of English settlers who he approves of, Gray elaborates on the role played by Frank Newbery (1855-1946), the Devon-born painter who directed the Glasgow School of Art.

According to Gray, Newbery’s regime saw Glasgow 
develop into “one of the most dynamic centres for the production of art and design in Europe”.

Gray also makes more of the contribution to Scottish life of Edward Dwelly (1864-1939), an Englishman who became a piper in the army and created a Gaelic dictionary.

In the most recent version, he also refers to Vicky Featherstone, the English former artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland who left for a job in London, as a “good settler” because she funded his works. In the original version, Featherstone is described as a “colonist” because there were suggestions she was moving back south.

Last night the novelist – whose best-known novel Lanark led Anthony Burgess to hail Gray as the best Scottish novelist since Walter Scott – stood by both versions of the essay. But he did acknowledge that some changes had been made.

Gray said he had “extended” the essay “to pointing out how many English settlers in this country have been good for it, since they have been keener to promote local Scottish culture than a hell of a lot of Labour party folk. I speak as an old Labour party supporter.”

He denied, however, that the edits have been made because of the controversy he caused back in 2012.

On the removal of the phrase suggesting that the settlers and colonists were not limited to the arts, he said he still thought it was “largely the case” that the phenomenon could be found in other walks of life.

“If I removed it, it may have been an accident,” Gray said.

In his new book, Gray makes several references to the controversy. In one passage, he says: “By explaining these things, my essay ‘Settlers and Colonists’ got some to call me a racist bigot, which did not hurt because I did not believe them.”