Richie McCaffery on the most beguiling and enduring poetry magazine of the early 1960s.
Poor. Old. Tired. Horse. (1962-7) is one of the pre-eminent international and avant-garde literary magazines of the 1960s. The creation of Scottish concrete poet Ian Hamilton Finlay (1925-2006), its fugitive lifespan belies that fact that it managed to run for 25 issues in just five years, a feat of remarkable creative industry. More than a poetry magazine, POTH was, in Mark Sladen’s words, a ‘cross-pollination of art and literature’. It is now highly collectable, and many important libraries have only incomplete sets. Its great desirability is testament to the continuing relevance of the magazine, its relatively small distribution and its comparative fragility.
Early issues were a single sheet of paper, folded in two to give four pages of poems and illustrations, with later issues being printed on glossy paper and sometimes running to as many as twelve pages. There are no editorials – surprisingly, given the editor’s vociferous letters to friends, foes and the press. Instead, the very aesthetic of the publication and its wide-ranging roster of contributors became the manifesto. Early issues look very similar, spare and elegant, black and white with four pages of poems, later issues being visually more ambitious, the cover art changing each time.
In nearly fifteen years of book collecting, I have managed to assemble a tatty harlequin set of seven numbers of POTH. Inside my copy of issue five is a letter from Jessie McGuffie (co-founder with Finlay of the Wild Hawthorn Press in 1961) to the playwright W. Gordon Smith (1920-1996) saying that the poem ‘Poem’ on page one was ‘sent specially to us by e e cummings just before he died’. That is an amazing coup, to host the last poem published in a major poet’s lifetime. In the poem cummings imagines himself as a young boy looking out of the window at the ‘gold’ of a ‘november sunset’:
(and feeling: that if day
has to become night
this is a beautiful way)
In their study of British Poetry Magazines: 1914-2000, David Miller and Richard Price describe POTH as ‘at turns interested in sound, visual, futurist, objectivist, concrete and minimalist poetry, not to mention art and photography’. Though wholly his creation, Finlay never treated the magazine simply as a platform for his own work. The bold syncretism of POTH must have been a fillip in early 1960s Edinburgh, not to mention an irritant to more narrowly nationalist members of the Hugh MacDiarmid set. It’s clear that Finlay did not actively discriminate against members of the Scottish Renaissance, happily publishing the likes of Helen B. Cruickshank, Hamish Maclaren, George Mackay Brown and his friend Edwin Morgan (through whom Finlay was first introduced to concrete poetry). Indeed, some of his choices are quirkily traditional in such a pioneering magazine (for instance, featuring of poems by the archetypal fin-de-siecle poet Fr. John Gray in issue nine). Edwin Morgan argues that POTH was looking for ‘connections between […] different categories’ as part of a drive to ‘surprise and stimulate’. Others treated POTH as provocation.
Opposition to Finlay and POTH was a minority sport fronted by MacDiarmid and his most fanatical acolytes, Sydney Goodsir Smith and Douglas Young. The main diatribe is MacDiarmid’s own pamphlet The Ugly Birds Without Wings (Allan Donaldson, 1962), published when only a few issues of POTH had appeared. It is a gratuitously mean-spirited attack on a youthful culture trying to do something novel and for themselves, dismissing them as nothing more than ‘teddyboy poetasters’ (an outdated insult even at the time).
Younger Scottish writers are disparaged as ‘the little men, the hopeless mediocrities, ganging up against their betters’ and Finlay’s Wild Hawthorn Press is deliberately mis-labelled as the ‘Wild Flounder Press’. MacDiarmid denigrates the editor and his followers as ‘jeunes refuses’ (‘recalcitrant youth’), in much the same spirit as he had attacked entrenched attitudes in his own Contemporary Scottish Studies back in 1926. Much of MacDiarmid’s argument gets sucked into irrelevant territory, muddying the waters by comparing young poets to pop singers. In truth the two poets had a good deal in common, and began as friends (MacDiarmid was best man at Finlay’s wedding). Both were fixedly taken up with ‘the global range and multiplicity of [their] own contacts with foreign writers’, in MacDiarmid’s phrase. We might even detect a faint homage to the older poet in POTH. Duncan Glen suggests that Finlay was not after praise or approval but rather wanted to shake things up – we might recall MacDiarmid’s self-description as the ‘cat-fish that vitalises the other torpid denizens of the aquarium’ – and that he ended the magazine when he became disillusioned with mainstream acceptance of concrete poetry.
POTH put out its last issue in 1967, nearly 55 years ago. The last issue was dedicated to ‘one-word poems’ and was a masterclass in how to put emphasis on one word through a clever title:
‘The Man with Seagulls’
‘The Friend of the Dove in the Doorways of Bread’
(both by George Mackay Brown)
During the evanescent course of its life POTH published a wealth of writers of international stature. There is no organ to match it in Scotland other than Alex Neish’s Sidewalk (1960) and Bill McArthur’s Cleft (1963-4) both of which died after two issues (while retailing for much more than the 9d of POTH while still appealing to students). No other journal in Scotland can boast e e cummings, Pablo Neruda, Theodore Enslin, Lorine Niedecker, Ernst Jandl and many more as willing contributors. In Edwin Morgan’s requiem for POTH (published in Wood Notes Wild) he asserted that ‘good or bad, convincing or irritating, it [POTH] will be missed’. The magazine’s title is drawn from Robert Creeley’s 1959 poem ‘Please’, itself a plea for a space for consideration:
This is a poem about a horse that got tired.
Poor. Old. Tired. Horse.
I want to go home.
I want you to go home.
So Finlay’s horse got tired in time, tired of carrying a heavy load of something outré and new. But even Creeley’s poem calls for a homecoming. Isn’t the pull of origins rather odd when you’re trying to blaze a new trail? I don’t think so. Like MacDiarmid before him, Finlay was trying to widen the scope of internationalist writers like himself, to find a home in the wide-open world.
Richie McCaffery is a poet and critic from Northumberland, who completed a PhD on Scottish poetry of World War Two at the University of Glasgow in 2016. He is the editor of Sydney Goodsir Smith, Poet: Essays on His Life and Work (Brill, 2020).
Josie Giles on an anarchist newspaper from Orkney, and why it was “not absurd but inevitable”
In the spring of 1979, the Free-Winged Eagle landed on the shelves of Orkney newsagents – or, at least, on three of them. Others refused to stock it. The front cover of the inaugural issue proclaimed that the magazine was for “the only cull worth having – for an autonomous Orkney, based on self-managed collectivism, individual freedom, solidarity and fun!”
The magazine, Orkney’s premier and only anarchist periodical, was published by Stuart Christie’s Cienfuegos Press, a publisher and distributor based in Sanday. Christie, known for his attempt to assassinate Franco as a teenager, had moved to Orkney following his acquittal of involvement in the Angry Brigade bombings, partly on the advice of a Special Branch officer who advised he was not safe in London. Most of the articles in the paper were written and edited anonymously, though I am informed by local sources that Ross Macgilchrist, lighthousekeeper and anarchist, was author of more than those for which he is named.[*]
The opening issue included a biography of Ricardo Flores Magon, an essay by Esther Breitenbach on the oppression of women by the Calvinist church, a case for organic farming, and a call to hit back against the police as a politicised force against working class organisation, as well as cartoons and reviews. The style mixes punk and academic analysis, political rhetoric and speculative theology, with plenty of humour. The back page of the first edition includes reviews of the Orkney West Mainland Goat Society Journal (“very informative”) and the Kirkwallian (“very progressive by school standards”).
The majority of the pages, though, were dedicated to the anti-nuclear movement in Orkney. In 1976, the South of Scotland Electricity Board sought permission to carry out exploratory drilling of uranium deposits on and around the cliffs of Yesnaby, north of Stromness. With the opening of the Flotta oil terminal in 1977, Orkney was becoming a major energy extraction site for the British economy. The North of Scotland Hydro Electric Board, the Highlands and Islands Development Board and the European Commission all supported the proposal, but it immediately faced mass local opposition.
The Free-Winged Eagle’s protest against the proposed uranium mine is less well-known now than that of Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, later Master of the Queen’s Music, whose piano and voice composition the Yellow Cake Revue debuted at the 1980 St Magnus Festival, including the now much-played interlude Farewell to Stromness. The anti-nuclear movement prompted an extraordinary alliance between local radicals, prominent artists (including George Mackay Brown, whose 1972 Greenvoe was a similarly anguished cry in the face of the oil industry), farmers, teachers and councillors – a cohesive political alliance rarely if ever seen in Orkney since.
The Free-Winged Eagle sought to seize the anti-nuclear moment to radicalise local activists and propagandise for wider anarchist causes. Later issues covered Indigenous resistance to American nuclear testing and the aftermath of the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster, likely to receive significant local sympathy and understanding. An advert for An Phoblacht / Republican News (“Orkney movement? For news of the IRISH MOVEMENT, subscribe to…”) alongside a translated article from Combat Breton pushed the island envelope a little further, but editorials against the Orkney seal cull were met with local fury. As for an advert for books published by Paladin Press including Home Workshop Guns for Defense and Resistance and CIA Methods for Explosives Preparation, printed under the headline “NO URANIUM” and with a cartoon of a Viking thinking “I don’t know much about dynamite, but I’d use it”? – well, I can only speculate how many orders were placed. In the end, faced with near-unanimous and highly vocal and mobilised local opposition, the mining plans folded without the need for force, to the relief of many and, perhaps, the disappointment of a few.
Another aim of the magazine, allied with the mission of the press, was to link the wider Scottish and international radical scenes with political movements in Orkney, bridging urban/rural divides as it hoped to build local alliances. The magazine carried adverts for Black Flag (also co-founded by Christie) and the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal, alongside reprints from various anarchist periodicals. Its vast ambitions are best indicated by a final advert: “Orkney publishing group urgently requires about 18,000 people to fill a variety of posts. […] No qualifications required. No payment will be available but job satisfaction guaranteed.” 18,000 was the entire population of Orkney at the time.
To the relief of a few and the disappointment of many, the magazine closed in the January 1981 edition, priced at 20p. I believe this was the fifth, though a complete run is hard to track down: the National Library of Scotland has only three, and the eccentric numbering obscures the British Library holdings. “Just think – in 20 years time copies of our issue number one might be considered a rare piece of Orkney ephemera, changing hands at prices up to £30!” The author’s foresight is close to perfect: this is the price I paid for copies of three issues in 2020. Two can be viewed for free at the Internet Archive, courtesy of Glasgow’s Spirit of Revolt, a vast and essential repository of Scottish radical culture.
That sincere irony is key to understanding the magazine. The Free-Winged Eagle is never unaware of the absurdity and grandiosity of its position, or its mixed reception in Orkney. The magazine is aware, too, of how people outwith Orkney would perceive an anarchist newspaper published in a rural island community. Its short run, however, is a document of a particular political moment in which the Free-Winged Eagle was not absurd but inevitable: a necessary outcome of a popular, multi-faction alliance against internationally-supported, ecologically-ruinous extractive industry. Orkney was and is a centre of energy production, a keystone in the UK’s energy economy, and contemporary conflicts with the Crown Estate over seabed rights for fishing and marine energy carry echoes of the Yesnaby campaign. The Free-Winged Eagle was shorter-lived than many periodicals produced in Edinburgh’s or Glasgow’s radical scenes, but longer-lived than many others, and the movement it sprang from is strong in local memory.
When the magazine was published, the white-tailed eagle from which it took its name, and which is seen breaking its chains with its beak in the magazine’s logo, was extinct in Scotland. The first successful reintroduction was in Rum in 1975, and the first successful breeding in Mull in 1985. In 2018, for the first time in 145 years, white-tailed eagle chicks hatched in Orkney, in the hills of Hoy.
Josie Giles is a writer and performer from Orkney, and her most recent book is Deep Wheel Orcadia: A Novel.
[*]CORRECTION: The first three issues of the Free-Winged Eagle were not distributed or published by Cienfuegos Press, but rather simply used Over-the-Water as a correspondence address for practical reasons. The paper was originally published and edited independently by Ross Macgilchrist, before being passed to Stuart Christie and Colin Badminton, who ran it for two further issues before closing. Many thanks to Ross Macgilchrist for this correction.
Richie McCaffery introduces a key editor and poetry magazine of the 1960s-80s.
The magazine and imprint Akros began in late 1965, when the first issue, a small yellow journal, emerged from Bishopbriggs. (Its maker, Duncan Glen, soon left for more congenial work in Preston.) From its inception, Glen as editor, typesetter and designer knew exactly what he wanted his distinctive creation to be. These early issues were hand-stitched by Glen’s wife Margaret at the kitchen table, as were the limited-edition pamphlets Akros also issued, bringing forgotten poems by Hugh MacDiarmid to a new audience. As Akros gained momentum over the years, the visual appeal and ambition of the journal noticeably increased. It’s worth noting that Glen eventually became a professor in Visual Communication at Nottingham Trent University and was an authority on type-setting, fonts and print design. These skills are evident in back issues of Akros with striking covers and sometimes polychromatic pages made up from different coloured sheets of paper (and Glen occasionally used different materials like sugar paper which add something to the haptic experience of reading a magazine).
The contents of Akros issue 1 show an emphasis on Scottish writers, though not exclusively so. There is work from the old guard – Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig and Robert Garioch – as well as up-and-coming Alan Bold, Rory Watson and James Rankin. This was going to be a magazine where writers young and old were welcome. Akros was open to submissions, not a clique, but certainly heavily male-centric. But Glen was not always so: see his continued support of Tessa Ransford, Margaret Gillies Brown or publishing Cheryl Fullon’s first pamphlet.
The first Akros editorial strikes a similar querulous note as Edwin Morgan in his well-known essay ‘The Beatnik in the Kailyard’ (1962, in New Saltire 3), lamenting the lack of support for grass-roots Scottish writers and poets in their own country. In Glen’s words:
Of course the stock answer to suggestions for publishing Scottish poetry is that it does not sell, but it is strange that while the American and English houses that publish Hugh MacDiarmid, Norman MacCaig, Iain Crichton Smith, W S Graham, Tom Scott, etc, etc. remain healthy the Scottish houses are falling, one by one, to English and American take-over bids.
We’ve heard this fighting rhetoric before, from dozens of flash-in-the-pan little magazines, but what makes Akros remarkable is its longevity. It ran for 51 issues, from 1965 to 1983 and managed to publish myriad poets and writers, often long before they’d made a name for themselves. Surprisingly, some of the younger writers he championed felt an oedipal animus towards the older Glen, as if they had outgrown him and his worth, or Glen had somehow become marginalised and irrelevant. Tom Hubbard recalls: ‘a former protégé told him: “I shall always be grateful to you for printing my early poems but we have to crush you”’.
After winding up Akros in 1984, Glen went on to publish another literary journal, Zed2O from 1991 until 2008, the year of his death. The new title carried on very much like Akros though not quite as impactful and aesthetically not as recognisably sui generis. One of the reasons for the relatively long life of Akros is that, although Glen moved to Preston, he remained devoted to the cause of Scottish writing in all its forms and struck upon the idea of ‘themed’ issues. This strategy has clearly had an influence on successive Scottish magazines, such as Joy Hendry’s Chapman and Gerry Cambridge’s The Dark Horse (1995-present), which is also immaculately designed. I don’t possess a complete run of Akros but from the copies I have, there are special issues dedicated to long poems, Edwin Muir, Sydney Goodsir Smith, MacDiarmid, MacCaig, American Poetry, Gaelic Poetry and, perhaps most desirable of all Glen’s issues, the March 1972 ‘Visual Issue’, focussing on Concrete Poetry and featuring Ian Hamilton Finlay, John Furnival, Edwin Morgan and Herbert Spencer. It’s this eclecticism that helped keep Akros vital and exciting.
We need to remember that Glen’s position as an editor of a poetry journal, a largely Scottish poetry journal, was an inherently embattled one. He is to be praised for his restraint in many debates and allowing the work of others speak for itself, as in the ‘Visual Issue’. However, Glen does sometimes get carried away into garrulity and polemics. For instance, an excerpt from the editorial to issue 3 (April 1967):
We are also pressured into the social use of “proper” language and thus we have the attempted linguistic castration of the vast majority of the Scottish people as they are forced (by communal, social authoritarianism) towards abandoning their virile, natural-to-them Scots and towards attempting proper “received” English.
This drags on for ten pages, and the fiery hectoring tone is straight out of a MacDiarmid essay from the 1920s or 1930s, though this is in 1977 and Glen is most likely preaching to the converted. Glen’s editorials are often entertaining and informative but as the 1970s wore on, he felt that his own writing was being eclipsed. He increasingly gave space in Akros to his own poetry and (laudatory) criticism of it. Like the ‘aggressively minor’ poet and bookman John Gawsworth, his main genius was as an editor, talent-spotter (‘animateur’ in Tom Hubbard’s lexicon), advocate and publisher of the overlooked. Into the 1970s and 1980s, Glen continued to publish and promote his own work and even published a somewhat boastful autobiography, The Autobiography of a Poet (Ramsay Head Press, 1986). Even his friend Alan Bold titled his withering review of the book ‘A Surfeit of Self-Satisfaction’.
Glen’s major achievement will always be Akros. It is without doubt one of the major Scottish magazines of its time, and really gained momentum in the 1970s. Glen’s winning formula was to opt for special issues and themes, promoting young but promising writers but also putting equal value on a culture of criticism. Even a quick glance at the reviews section of the magazine is not for the faint-hearted – this is not the sort of tepid, anodyne criticism we’re used to today, but rigorous and at times scathing peer feedback. Here, for instance, is Tom Scott on the Scottish poetry scene of the early 1970s:
[…] Let us turn instead to what we have. Well, we have talent: it’s not the lack of talent that’s wrong with the present scene, but some ghastly spiritual malaise; lack of enterprise, daring, passion, the ardour of youth’s mad assault on the absolute, the aspiring eye and vigilant heart of the poetic pioneers who face the vast forests of the inarticulate not with scalpels and penknives but with two-headed axes, two-man saws, climbing-irons and bulldozers. Instead of lumberjacks we have sparetime wood-carvers, knick-knackers, hobbyists, Sunday-afternoon pastimers, the foreign-office-by-day-holy-office-by-nighters, the craze-starters, fashion-mongers, would-be gauleiters, doodlers, the poetastinacademics, the wide boys, the Establishment bum-suckers, and all the rest of them. (Akros 16 / April 1971, p. 52)
His work on the reappraisal of MacDiarmid is naturally one of the lodestars of Akros but as much as Glen had one foot in the past, and was reverential about his elders, his work significantly contributed to the efflorescence of print and literary culture in Scotland in the 1970s and 1980s.
In a 2006 interview with Walter Perrie and John Herdman (both writers published early on by Akros), Glen expressed frustration that academics and careerists overshadow the tradition of criticism and publishing in Scotland by acting as arbiters of taste and gatekeepers. For Glen, editorial opinions are important and need to be more inclusive and idealist, rather than following brute market trends of what sells and what doesn’t. His triumph as an editor was to put aside his own ideology – that of Scottish nationalism – and publish writers, such as Alan Jackson, who had opposing views to his own. There is an all-embracing magnanimity to Glen’s role as an editor at Akros and this deserves to be mentioned more often and remembered. He also deserves praise as one of the most active champions of MacDiarmid’s work when it was in the doldrums; the 1960s saw a new flourishing of interest in his poetry, a much-needed rediscovery and recalibration. To finish, I’ll quote Glen quoting in turn the Irish poet John Hewitt: ‘if you cannot get a civilisation which is rooted in the local and in the parochial, you don’t have a civilisation’. With Akros Glen added hugely to Scottish culture.
Richie McCaffery is a poet and critic from Northumberland, who completed a PhD on Scottish poetry of World War Two at the University of Glasgow in 2016. He is the editor of Sydney Goodsir Smith, Poet: Essays on His Life and Work (Brill, 2020).
Rory Scothorne explores a path-breaking radical magazine of the 1970s, a Highland ‘vehicle for a revolutionary Scottish Gramscianism’
“Vietnam: Victory to the NLF”, proclaimed the second issue of Calgacus magazine, published in Summer 1975 shortly after the Viet Cong’s capture of Saigon. Page 48 was surprisingly low billing, however, for the long-awaited conclusion of the Vietnamese liberation struggle that had animated and helped to transform radical politics across the western world. Calgacus reflected that transformation, albeit in a uniquely Scottish form.
The magazine’s editor, helming a rather prestigious editorial committee, was the 29-year-old teacher and journalist Ray Burnett, who produced the three issues of Calgacus – two in 1975, one in early 1976 – from his home in Wester Ross before the magazine fizzled out of existence. Burnett had spent the late 1960s on a Forrest Gump-like tour of radical flashpoints. Not only had been on the frontline of the famous anti-Vietnam War demonstration in London in March 1968, when 246 protesters were arrested amidst clashes with police, he was also present at the Battle of the Bogside in Derry the following year, when fighting between unionist marchers and predominantly Catholic locals led to days of police violence followed by British Army intervention.
These were battles between great powers and plucky underdogs, and Calgacus sought to articulate a distinctive Scottish radicalism within that global tradition of resistance. It was named after the first-century Caledonian chieftain who challenged Roman invasion, to whom Tacitus attributed the famous anti-imperialist speech that was quoted in each issue of the magazine:
We, the last men on earth, the last of the free, have been shielded till today by the very remoteness and seclusion for which we are famed. We have enjoyed the impressiveness of the unknown. But today our boundary is exposed; beyond us lies no nation, nothing but waves and rocks and the Romans. Brigands of the world, they have exhausted the land by their indiscriminate plunder, and now they ransack the sea. They are unique in being as violently tempted to attack the poor as the wealth. Robbery, butcher, rapine, the liars call Empire; they create a desolation and call it peace.
Such overtly left-nationalist symbolism was intended as a provocation, reflecting Burnett’s growing frustration with what he saw as the British left’s neglect of Scottish questions. Until the early 1970s, Burnett had been an active member of the International Socialists, a precursor of the Socialist Workers’ Party. British Trotskyism was highly London-centric, and while the SNP’s rise since the late 1960s had not been lost on Trotskyist intellectuals, their responses had largely dismissed the idea that this reflected a distinctive Scottish polity worth engaging with more positively.
Burnett disagreed. “The present crisis of capitalism,” he wrote in Calgacus’ first editorial, “is neither a particularly Scottish problem nor even particularly British: it is an economic trough of global dimensions.” However, “when such a universal phenomena is related to a specific reality then that juncture is in our case an economic, political and social prism both definable and recognisable as Scotland.” The magazine’s identity was thus not just self-consciously Scottish but defiantly so: “Calgacus is guilty of that most heinous sin in the catalogues of the British Left – we admit that Scotland exists.”
Burnett had laid out this position in more detail three years earlier, in an essay for Scottish International titled ‘Scotland and Antonio Gramsci’. Alongside a panoramic critique of what he saw as the prevailing left-wing approaches to the national question in Scotland, Burnett offered his own pioneering analysis, drawing on Gramsci’s distinction between “political” and “civil” society (and later quoted prominently in Tom Nairn’s 1977 Break-up of Britain): “While we have a homogenous British state,” he argued, “the organisations and institutions in civil society which comprise its bulwarks and defences have an azoic complexity, the most significant feature of which for us is that civil society in Scotland is fundamentally different from that in England.” Thus Scottish culture and its distinctive institutions mattered profoundly to socialists seeking to counter bourgeois ideology: “Much of our shared ‘British’ ideology as it manifests itself in Scotland, draws its vigour and strength from a specifically Scottish heritage of myths, prejudices and illusions.”
Alongside this need for a more thorough socialist critique of Scottish identity, Burnett also emphasised the importance of defending its liberating and collectivist features. “The left must uphold and expound the merits of past achievements and the richness of our inheritance,” he wrote: “we must cherish the diverse contributions of the flowering Makar and the rantin’ ploughboy, the radical weaver, the passionate Gael, and the rovin’ tinker. If we do not, then what price ‘the revolution’?”
This position also reflected the influence of the folklorist, poet and Communist fellow-traveller Hamish Henderson, whose 1940s translations of Gramsci’s prison letters were first published in the New Edinburgh Review between 1973 and 1974. Henderson was central to Calgacus’ conceptualisation, though ultimately not formative. In an interview, Burnett told me that Henderson suggested the name Mac-Talla (after a successful Gaelic periodical based in Nova Scotia between 1892 and 1904), which Burnett rejected due to the limited Gaelic audience. Henderson also proposed Christopher Grieve (aka Hugh MacDiarmid) for the editorial board, but Burnett rejected this, too – MacDiarmid had alienated much of the Scottish new left with his support for the Soviet repression of Hungary and Czechoslovakia in 1956 and 1968 respectively. Calgacus was thus intended as a vehicle for a revolutionary Scottish Gramscianism, staking a socialist claim on Scotland’s “national-popular” that placed the rights – and radicalism – of minority identities at its heart.
For this reason as well as its location, Calgacus stood out amongst the largely Edinburgh-centric national periodicals of the 1970s due to its focus on the Highlands and Islands. Burnett had previously written for the West Highland Free Press based at Kyleakin on Skye, which had been established in 1972 by a group of Dundee University students, and the newspaper’s publishing arm also produced Calgacus. This ensured a distinctive interpenetration of regional and national questions, and issue 2 foregrounded the Gaelic slogan Tir is Teanga (“land and language”) on its front cover.
This was accompanied by articles about the land reformer and newspaper editor John Murdoch and excerpts from his work; maps of land ownership on the Argyll Islands; an essay by the Gaelic scholar John MacInnes on Sorley Maclean’s Hallaig, and an essay by the German poet Hans Magnus Enzensberger on “A Theory of Tourism”. Other issues also paid close attention to the region: Issue 1 featured an essay from Sorley Maclean on Gaelic poetry as well as detailed coverage of the North Sea Oil industry and its workforce, while Issue 3 included an article by James Hunter on nineteenth century land struggles and an essay on the land question by the SNP activist Frank Thompson.
While there was a clear rural and ethnic minoritarianism to much of this coverage, Calgacus also reflected the politics of a largely Anglophone, urban and university-educated intelligentsia that was looking to Scottish nationalism as a source of authenticity and self-legitimation. On the opposite page from “Victory to the Viet Cong” was an enthusiastic review of the Red Paper on Scotland, a major mid-70s statement of self-confidence from Scotland’s up-and-coming left intelligentsia edited by Gordon Brown in Edinburgh. The vague, radical-reformist and cerebral constitutional politics of the Red Paper – clearly pro-devolution, but also toying with independence in some places – jarred with another item on the same page: a folksy, populist protest lyric in favour of Scottish independence and opposed to the European Economic Community. Burnett’s own position, however, was closer to the politics of Tom Nairn and Scottish International’s editor Bob Tait, who pioneered the ‘Independence in Europe’ argument in the 1970s that would eventually be adopted by the once-Eurosceptic SNP. Calgacus’ nationalism was aware of its own potential pitfalls, pitching a cosmopolitan, outward-facing vision of cultural and political revival against the insular, homogenising state-nationalism of the UK.
Calgacus’s distinctive vision of cosmopolitan nationalism conceived of European minority-nationalism as a general rather than uniquely Scottish phenomenon, and a fundamental rather than marginal question for socialists. The composition of the (advisory) editorial board was itself a statement of intent, with a geographical spread significant enough to ensure that it never actually met. Alongside Burnett and Hamish Henderson were Tom Nairn and the Red Clydeside veteran Harry McShane; these Scots were augmented by Ned Thomas from Wales and Brian Trench from Ireland, key figures in Planet and Hibernia respectively – both vital, ground-breaking magazines in their own nations. They were joined by the Mersey-born Irish Catholic John McGrath, the author of The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil, on which Burnett had worked as a researcher.
The magazine’s content expanded this cosmopolitanism beyond Britain and Ireland, countering the left’s sceptical vision of a corporate, capitalist Europe with a distinctive vision of “Europe’s forgotten minorities”. This was focused not just on “the Europe of the Celtic periphery” but also “the Europe of Occitania, Galicia, Friesland, the Basques, Catalonia, Corsica, and a myriad of linguistic minorities,” reproducing translations of left-wing minority-nationalist literature from across the continent. This was justified by a particularly cultural – we might even say ethnic – idea of socialism, focused on “the salvation of humanity, the celebration of man’s achievement’s, not the annihilation of his rich diversity [italics added]”. Calgacus’s socialist, cosmopolitan nationalism can thus be understood as an attempt to redeem the idea of Europe, as a “carrying stream” of myriad precious and intertwined traditions, from the homogenising pressures of capitalist modernisation. This could be stretched to especially controversial lengths: in its third and final issue, Calgacus published Tom Nairn’s essay – later updated for The Break-up of Britain – arguing that the Irish question could be resolved by an independent Ulster.
By 1976, financial problems at the West Highland Free Press exacerbated tensions between Burnett and the WHFP’s fiercely anti-nationalist editor Brian Wilson, leading to the magazine’s demise. Calgacus was unable to find an alternative to WHFP’s already fragile access to both production and Scotland’s fraught apparatus of print-media distribution, and bad-tempered disputes on the letters pages of other magazines ensued. A fourth issue had been promised on “the place of women in Scottish society”, and its absence only amplifies the silence of women in the pages of Scottish political and cultural magazines during this period. Calgacus’ business manager Catherine MacFarlane, who married Burnett in 1967, was the sole woman involved in the magazine’s production.
Reflecting on a decade of the “revolutionary left in Scotland” in 1978, the Trotskyist intellectual Neil Williamson – who died tragically young in a car accident that year – remembered Calgacus as “almost an object lesson in irrelevance.” Any clear political impact is undoubtedly hard to find in the subsequent decades: the devolutionary form of Scottish nationalism which prevailed was far more reformist and institutionalised, deploying the majoritarian ethnic symbolism of twentieth-century Clydeside far more than the Celticist minoritarianism of Tir is Teanga. Yet class was also a vital part of Calgacus’ politics, reflecting the “land and labour” combination advocated by the Irish revolutionary James Connolly – a profound influence on Burnett, who grew up in the same Edinburgh Cowgate community as Connolly had.
While Calgacus tended to overstate – as many have – the revolutionary potential of ‘Red Clydeside’, many of Burnett’s political instincts have been vindicated, albeit without much political success to show for it. SNP activists like Frank Thompson and Rob Gibson were welcome in Calgacus’ pages, despite widespread left scepticism towards the party at the time, and this openness became common sense with the rise of the ‘79 Group. The magazine’s effort to generate a radical, multinational vision of Europe, resistant to the homogenising pressures of the EEC, is now sorely lacking from Scottish politics after Brexit.
Most importantly, Calgacus’ explicit effort to generate a “Scottish left” out of the implicitly British or de-nationalised “left in Scotland” (which was Williamson’s formulation) outlined a collective project that would animate the Scottish intelligentsia for the subsequent two decades. Just six years after Calgacus finished, the editorial collective of the left-nationalist magazine Crann-Tàra would repeat Burnett’s decision to dismiss a Gaelic title in favour of a more popular one, renaming themselves Radical Scotland to attract a broader, less fundamentalist audience.
Though it was short-lived, Calgacus was an inventive attempt to reformulate Scottish radicalism for a political world that had been transformed by the rise of the SNP. The magazine’s chosen priorities and themes can be traced through political projects from Jim Sillars’ “breakaway” Scottish Labour Party (of which Burnett was a member) to the Scottish Socialist Party, the Radical Independence Campaign and the Scottish Greens, as well as media outlets like Bella Caledonia.
Rory Scothorne is a writer and historian who recently completed a PhD on ‘The Radical Left and the Scottish Nation Print-Cultures of Left-Wing Nationalism, 1967-1983’. He writes on Scottish and British politics for the New Statesman.
Charlotte Lauder and Rachael Alexander on the emergence of Scottish feminist print culture
The 1970s was unquestionably a decade of a new feminist print culture. As the women’s liberation movement gathered speed across the UK and Ireland, there was a renewal of feminist publications that combined the content of a magazine – articles, essays, poetry, and letters – with an informative and communicative style similar to that of a newsletter or newspaper. This feminist print culture grew out of consciousness-raising groups, collectives, and workshops. In England, this developed more quickly and more diversely than in Scotland. For example, Shrew (1969-74, 1976-78), a newsletter that started at the London Women’s Liberation Workshop had a circulation of about 5,000 by 1974.
Well-known English feminist magazines such as Woman’s Voice (1972-82), Spare Rib (1972-93), and Red Rag: A Magazine of Women’s Liberation (1972-80) were organised by collectives and similarly aimed to provide analysis-based articles and opinion pieces with essential information akin to a flyer or bulletin. WIRES (1975-86), created by the Women’s Information and Referral Service was the so-called ‘internal newsletter’ of the women’s liberation movement that acted as ‘a central facility for feminist news’.[i] Other magazines from collectives in England show a range of viewpoints within the women’s liberation movement, such as Roman Catholic FeministsMagazine (1977-82), Link. Communist Party Women’s Journal (1973-84), Catcall (1976-84), and the Association of Radical Midwives Newsletter (1978-86, 1986-9). Ireland, too, had feminist print scene by 1972 with Fownes Street Journal (1972-4), Banshee. Journal of Irishwomen United (1975-77), Wicca. A Monthly Feminist Magazine (1978-c.80), and Status (1981-2).
The emergence of a Scottish feminist print culture has been described as ‘a trickle’.[ii] Although there were newsletters produced by women’s groups throughout the 1970s, such as the Edinburgh Women’s Liberation Newsletter (1975-1996) and The Tayside Women’s Liberation Newsletter, which was a joint effort between women’s groups in Dundee and St Andrews,[iii] 1976 was the turning point for a more determined Scottish feminist print culture. At the annual Scottish Women’s Liberation conference in Glasgow that year, a proposal was passed to form a feminist magazine and at the next conference in Aberdeen in May 1977 the first issue of Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal was launched.[iv] The magazine was organised by a collective of nine women, with production assistance from four others, and ran for 4 issues at 25p per issue. The principal aim of Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal was to represent the issues and concerns of women in Scotland, rather than relying solely on the viewpoint of publications from England:
The journal will also provide a forum for discussion for women in Scotland. A vehicle for debate on various controversial issues is badly needed. It is simply impractical to attempt to conduct discussions through already existing journals based in London. It is to be hoped that the journal will encourage active participation in discussion from women both inside and outside the movement.[v]
Like other feminist magazines, the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal (1977-78) published a variety of content including poetry, fiction, news, conference reports, book reviews, and political articles. Its list of ‘Contacts’ was especially important and provided a central source of information on women’s groups, collectives, and workshops that were operating across Scotland.[vi]
Geographical representation was another major concern for the magazine’s collective: articles such as Frances Bower and Joan McLellan’s ‘Women in Rural Scotland’ drew attention to the lack of access to healthcare, support groups, and educational opportunities faced by women in more remote areas of Scotland.[vii] In November 1977, a short article on the Shetland Women’s Group discussed that the group was facing “a limit to what can be done effectively in a small community where everyone knows everyone else, and to the kind o’ tactics we can use”.[viii] By 1978, the magazine’s ‘Contacts’ list has expanded to include Dumbarton, Inverness, and Falkirk, and calls were made for volunteers to distribute copies of the magazine on the west coast and the western isles.[ix]
Despite the magazine’s non-sectarian and inclusive policy, it was quickly caught up in the divisions between radical and socialist feminists that dominated feminist debate in the late-1970s. These tensions were splattered across the pages of most (if not all) feminist magazines in the UK and Ireland, and the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal was no different.[x] ‘In Feminism and Socialism’, Finella McKenzie (the St Andrews contact in the editorial collective) discussed the limitations of socialist feminism,[xi] and the article was reprinted in Scarlet Women (1976-82), a national newsletter produced by a women’s collective in North Shields, Tyneside, which emerged from discussions begun by socialist feminists at the 1976 National Women’s Liberation conference in Newcastle.[xii]
As Sarah Browne sets out, divisions could become nasty.[xiii] An open letter from a feminist in New York criticised one member of the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal’s position on radical feminism that was put forward at a radical theory conference in Edinburgh in July 1977 in a particularly heated and personal attack.[xiv] By the winter of 1977, rifts in the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal were obvious. Collective member Fiona Forsyth reported that:
The main disagreements were between feminists who saw women’s oppression by men as the fundamental structure which has existed in all forms of society, and the socialist feminists who wanted to discuss the links between male domination and capitalism.[xv]
Ultimately, these divisions, as well as disagreements about whether the magazine should include more literary content or focus especially on Scottish politics and the nationalist question, were too difficult to uphold in the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal collective and there was a split in 1978.[xvi]Esther Breitenbach and Geri Smyth, founding members of the collective and sympathetic to the socialist feminist cause, went on to produce Msprint: A Scottish Feminist Publication (1978-81).
Msprint – a play on the word ‘misprint’ and a reference to Ms., the liberal-feminist magazine founded by Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes in 1972 – was similar to its predecessor but operated a closed editorial collective (initially 7 members in 1978 and 3 by 1981) in which prospective members had to be sponsored by a member before being admitted.[xvii] The initial run was 1,000 copies priced at 25p and contained 24 pages of familiar feminist content including political articles, letters, book reviews, conference reports, and literature, and a list of contacts for women’s groups and help centres.
The aim of Msprint was to “develop analysis of the position of women in Scotland and the role of women in Scottish politics”.[xviii] Whilst Scottish issues had also been at the heart of the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal, this position certainly reflects the growing discourse on constitutional matters in Scotland magazines by 1978. In practice however, Msprint was much more concerned with wider British feminist debate. Indeed, whilst the magazine was critical of Spare Rib and the way its two Scottish issues of 1980 “handled Scotland”,[xix] far more attention was paid to the national question in Ireland than Scotland across the seven issues of Msprint.[xx] This was not a unique position: both Red Rag and Scarlet Women dedicated space to women’s concerns in Ireland. Scarlet Women’s eleventh issue was put together by the Belfast Women’s Collective and published articles on Irish feminism, the British occupation of Northern Ireland, abortion in Belfast, Belfast Women’s Aid, and a personal account of life in Catholic Belfast.[xxi]
It is worth mentioning that the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint were both printed by Aberdeen People’s Press (1973-84), an alternative printing service established by members of the Aberdeen Arts and Community Workshop in 1972 which printed a variety of socialist and community-led publications, including the newspaper Aberdeen People’s Press (1973-6) and books such as Oil Over Troubled Waters: a Report and Critique of Oil Developments in North-East Scotland (1976).[xxii] Feminist publications like Msprint were as reliant on their collectives as they were on their community printers and publishers. Scarlet Women was printed by Moss Side Community Press (later Moss Side Community Press Women’s Co-op) which also published the Manchester Women’s Liberation Newsletter (1973-87), Lesbian Express (1977), and a retaliation publication to Msprint entitled Whatever Happened to the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal? (1978), which was edited by members of the Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal’s collective who did not agree with Breitenbach and Smyth.[xxiii]
In the wake of Msprint there followed a gentle stream of Scottish feminist publications including the Dundee Standard “a closed feminist newspaper in Dundee”, NESSIE: Radical and Revolutionary Feminist Newsletter from Scotland (1979-80), Our Times: the Bulletin for Thinking Women (1986-8) published in Ayr, and Harpies & Quines (1992-4).[xxiv] Of course, the corpus of cultural, literary, and political magazines examined by this network also published articles on feminist issues, including Radical Scotland, Catalyst, Cencrastus and, most notably, Chapman under the editorship of Joy Hendry, who became the first female editor of a literary magazine in Scotland in 1979.[xxv]
The impact of Scottish feminist publications on the women’s liberation movement in the 1970s can seem fairly modest. Indeed, feminist publications in England appear to have been more active in engaging with issues of sexuality, class, and race than their Scottish counterparts. Arena Three (1963-72), the first openly lesbian newspaper, and Sappho (1972-82), a magazine for lesbian feminists, were both published from London, as were Outwrite (1982-88) a newspaper aimed at Black British women, Mukti (1983-87) which addressed British Asian women, and Candice: For the Woman of Colour (1992-4). Nevertheless, articles on class, imperialism, sexuality, race, and anti-colonialism appear regularly in Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal and Msprint, alongside specific Scottish issues, and an in-depth analysis of these will provide a richer picture of the role of Scottish feminist print culture in wider feminist debates. Likewise, an intersectional perspective that includes within its scope magazines aligned with feminist issues highlights the lack of research on titles such as the St Andrews Lesbian Feminists Newsletter (?), Red Herring (Scottish Lesbian Feminist Group, 1975-6), and Gay Scotland (Scottish Homosexual Rights Group, 1978-97). Ultimately, feminist magazines in Scotland proved to a generation of women that feminism was an important source of debate, criticism, and analysis in Scottish cultural, political and social life in the late-1970s and early-1980s.
Charlotte Lauder is a PhD student at the University of Strathclyde and National Library of Scotland researching Scottish magazine culture from 1870 to 1920. Her work on Scottish women’s magazines has been featured on BBC Radio Scotland.
Dr Rachael Alexander is based at the University of Strathclyde and is the author of Imagining Gender, Nation and Consumerism in Magazines of the 1920s (2021). Her research focuses on constructions of gender in twentieth-century periodicals and print cultures, in Scotland, Britain, the US, Canada and Scotland.
[i] Sarah Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement in Scotland (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2014), p. 85. [ii] Ibid., p. 86. [iii] Lynn Sampsell, ‘Women’s Liberation in Scotland’, Womanspeak, no. 1 (March 1979), p. 8. [iv] Esther Breitenbach, ‘“Sisters are Doing it for Themselves” The Women’s Movement in Scotland’, Scottish Government Yearbook (1990), p. 214. [v] ‘Editorial’, Scottish Women’s Liberation Journal (SWLJ), no. 1 (Spring, 1977), p. 2. [vi] Ibid., p. 27. [vii] Frances Bower and Joan McLellan, ‘Women in Rural Scotland’, SWLJ, no. 1 (Spring 1977), pp. 7-9. [viii] Jane Cook, ‘Shetland Women’s Group’, SWLJ, no. 3 (November 1977), p. 13. [ix] Ibid., p. 3. [x] Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, p. 90. [xi] Finella McKenzie, ‘Feminism and Socialism’, SWLJ, no. 1 (Spring 1977), pp. 21-3; Finella McKenzie, ‘Feminism and Socialism’, Scarlet Women, no. 5 (1977), pp. 3-7. [xii]Scarlet Women, 1982-2019, Tyne & Wear Archives and North Tyneside Women’s Voices, https://www.twmuseums.org.uk/files/320304-scarletwomen.pdf. [xiii] Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, p. 88. [xiv] Deb Symonds, ‘An Open Letter to Lorna Mitchell’, SWLJ, no. 3 (November 1977), pp. 27-9. [xv] Fiona Forsyth, ‘The Radical Feminist Theory Conference’, SWLJ, no. 3 (November 1977), p. 14. [xvi] Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, pp. 88-9. [xvii] Ibid., p. 90. [xviii] ‘Editorial’, Msprint, no. 1 (August 1978), p. 1. [xix] ‘Editorial’, Msprint, no. 5 (n.d., 1980?), p. 3. [xx] For example, see Esther Breitenbach, ‘Women in Northern Ireland’, Msprint, no. 3 (n.d., March 1979?), pp. 12-3. [xxi]Scarlet Women, no. 11 (June 1980), pp. 1-37. [xxii] ‘Aberdeen People’s Press’, Aberdeen Protest Blog, (September 2014), https://aberdeenprotest.wordpress.com/2014/09/07/aberdeen-peoples-press-fl-1973-early-1980s/. [xxiii] Lois Stone, ‘Manchester Women’s Liberation Newsletter and the Lesbian Community’, Queer Beyond London, (June 2017), http://queerbeyondlondon.com/manchester/manchester-womens-liberation-newsletter-and-the-lesbian-community/. Browne, The Women’s Liberation Movement, p. 90. [xxiv] Rachael Alexander, ‘“Alive, Practical and Different”: Harpies & Quines and Scottish Feminist Print in the 1990s’, in Laurel Forster and Joanne Hollows (eds.), Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture, 1940s-2000s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 307-24. [xxv] Eleanor Bell, ‘“Leaps and Bounds”: Feminist Interventions in Scottish Literary Magazine Culture’, in Laurel Forster and Joanne Hollows (eds.), Women’s Periodicals and Print Culture, 1940s-2000s (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2020), pp. 215-28.
Magazines are for making enemies as well as friends. Richie McCaffery revisits the pugnacious Sidewalk via the furious pencil-marks of one of its targets.
One of the most important Scottish literary magazines of the 1960s was also one of the shortest lived. Sidewalk (which ran for two issues in 1960) was formed when the then editor of Jabberwock (an Edinburgh University student publication) splintered away from what he saw as an increasingly cronyist and reactionary editorial outlook, supporting older Scottish nationalist poets and very little else. In his final ‘American’ issue of Jabberwock, Alex Neish, now a local historian and pewter-ware expert, printed the opening chapter of William Burroughs’ The Naked Lunch much to the excitement of his readers, but to the consternation of the press and Burroughs himself, who had no knowledge that Allen Ginsberg had submitted it for publication.
With Sidewalk Neish was free to pursue his own vision, one that was transatlantic and syncretic, not merely a grandstand for the political bloviations of the older kenspeckle Scottish bards. In his valedictory editorial for Jabberwock in 1959 Neish made his thoughts swingeingly unambiguous, saying that he wished to jettison ‘that inferior romantic drivel of misdirected Nationalism which for too long has been a millstone around the necks of younger Scottish writers’. By the time Sidewalk 1 appeared, Neish’s stance had clearly not in any way mellowed, drawing very firm battle-lines in his editorial, guaranteed to antagonise older Scottish writers: ‘Lallans today […] has an academic insular artificiality which is inherent in the work of those who use it. The more Lallans poetry that appears, the more reasonable becomes the tenet that in the 1960s literary pastiche is being created by poetical eunuchs’ (p. 11). Curiously enough, ‘eunuchs’ was one of the favourite insults MacDiarmid liked to throw at writers he regarded as enemies.
Putting his firebrand rhetoric into action, Neish printed between 500-750 copies of each issue of Sidewalk and the magazine was aimed at an audience most likely to be ‘open-minded’ – university students. The magazine introduced its readers to the likes of Marguerite Duras, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Ian Hamilton Finlay, Charles Olson, Allen Ginsberg, Robert Creeley, Gary Snyder and William Burroughs. This small Scottish periodical was not just tokenistically international, but vitally eclectic, embracing French and British writing, Black Mountain Poetry and Beatnik literature. Let’s just compare the dramatis personae of that line-up with a 1960 copy of Lines Review (a major organ of the Scottish Renaissance). Lines Review 16 has on its cover a reproduction of a woodcut by Moira Crichton depicting Sydney Goodsir Smith, Hugh MacDiarmid and Norman MacCaig all enjoying a guid-willie-waught in The Abbotsford Pub (Rose Street, Edinburgh). The contents are predictable: MacDiarmid, MacCaig, Garioch, Crichton Smith et al. (It’s interesting to note that Lines Review retailed at 1 shilling and sixpence whereas Sidewalk was 2 shillings, at a time when a student grant was perhaps 140 shillings (£7) a week). This is no slight aimed at Lines Review – one of the literary backbones of Scotland for decades – but to show that youth culture and other strands of avant-garde culture needed a room (or magazine) of their own.
Sidewalk might have been a flash-in-the-pan in terms of its lifespan, but it sent intellectual and aesthetic shockwaves through both young and older writers. In 1963, Bill MacArthur, a university student who had acted as an illustrator for Sidewalk, established his own magazine Cleft (which, like Sidewalk, only ran for two issues). Cleft is a seminal small magazine because it not only carried on Sidewalk’s transatlantic and European scope but also introduced concrete poetry and was more tolerant of the veterans of the Scottish Renaissance, like Hugh MacDiarmid and Robert Garioch, both of whom appeared in its pages. This fracturing of an old vanguard and an emergent youth culture is a crucial turning point in the history of the Scottish Renaissance. Jim Burns, in his 1977 article on Sidewalk points out that Alex Neish’s promotion of American writing was not unique in 1960 in a UK-wide context but that it certainly was significant in breaking up the provincialism or favouritism of the Scottish scene: ‘Neish obviously kept his finger on the contemporary pulse’.
This brings us round to Sydney Goodsir Smith (1915-1975), a New-Zealand born poet who converted to writing poetry in Scots in the late 1930s and remained in Edinburgh until his relatively early death. One of Alex Neish’s particular bêtes noires was what he termed the ‘bombastic lackeys of the Nationalist movement’ and he could well have intended this damning phrase for Goodsir Smith who was a fervent disciple of Hugh MacDiarmid’s Scottish nationalist programme for the arts. In 2004, nearly three decades after the death of her husband Sydney Goodsir Smith, Hazel Williamson died and the contents of the New Town flat they shared were sent to auction, including Goodsir Smith’s extensive library which had remained untouched since his death. This meant that for a few years books heavily annotated by the poet would appear all over Edinburgh, in second-hand bookshops and charity shops. It was in the now defunct ‘Old Town Bookshop’ that I bought for £2 Goodsir Smith’s pungently annotated personal copy of Sidewalk . It’s a fascinating time capsule of the clash of values between younger writers like Alex Neish and older Scots stalwarts like Goodsir Smith.
The first thing to note is that he kept this magazine, so he realised it was of importance even if it was offensive to his own tastes. Many of his pencilled comments in the margins are funny but also slightly reactionary. On the contents page he calculates the nationalities of the contributors – four French, at least one English, seven Americans and seven Scots. Many of the pieces are dismissed as ‘Dada’ or ‘transition Dada’ (proving that there is nothing ‘new under the sun’), Ian Hamilton Finlay’s piece is ‘joky’ and Alain Robbe-Grillet’s is ‘dull, windy, vague’ but crucially Alex Neish is deemed ‘a didactic type’. There is also a pencilled remark guiding us to p. 81 where we can find a ‘comment on the whole thing’: ‘But remember, things have been moving so fast in the States that by and large it’s already dated’. There is also an editorial attack on poets who write in Lallans on page 11: ‘The real point surely is this: that Lallans is neither a national language nor a genuine one’ to which Goodsir Smith’s pencil riposte is: ‘Whereas Ginsberg’s is?’
Many of the pieces have comments showing Goodsir Smith’s frustration and bafflement at what he considers the ‘emperor’s new clothing’ of contemporary writing. His umbrage may have also been directed at the magazine because issue 1 carries a particularly wounding review of Goodsir Smith’s latest poetry collection Figs and Thistles by George Todd: ‘This book is aptly named. But there are damned few figs and too many thistles […] this collection bears all the marks of scraping the barrel’. The coup-de-grâce of the review is this observation: ‘One wonders how seriously Sydney Smith takes it. Does he see himself in there lowsing the bands of an oppressed people? It would be better if he showed us he still has his tongue firmly in his cheek and was not squandering his talents on behalf of the parochial, pettifogging fashions which he can be so skilful at knocking’.
Perhaps as a placatory offering, Sidewalk 2 carried a full-page advertisement for Goodsir Smith’s books still in print and a review, again by George Todd, of his play The Wallace. Not quite as acerbic as his review of Figs and Thistles Todd nonetheless dismisses Smith’s play as two-dimensional and simplistic, essentially a ‘good Western’ where the ‘goody’ and the ‘baddy’ are clearly delineated. Sidewalk in this respect is a symptomatic text of its time, giving a clear indication of the fissiparousness of Scottish letters and culture in the 1960s, where a generation that had previously held sway was being challenged younger aspirants and upstarts. Todd, in his review of The Wallace notes that Scottish nationalists will draw parallels from the play to a contemporary Scotland ‘still beset by internal back-biting and schisms of one kind or another’. Sidewalk gave younger writers a platform and the opportunity to discover writing which wasn’t first and foremost Scottish nationalist or Scottish Renaissance-related, and in this sense it broadened aesthetic horizons. However, by attacking the older nabobs of the Scottish Renaissance, like Goodsir Smith, it could be argued that the magazine was merely adding another level of factionalism to the story. Every literary magazine that has a clear identity and outlook also, no matter how much the editors deny it, has a clique, or rather a circle of writers that it is sympathetically disposed towards. By 1960 it was high time someone stuck their neck out to challenge the dominance of ‘The Poets’ Pub’ generation and through the pioneering efforts of magazines like Sidewalk many now essential younger Scottish writers began to break through in the 1960s and 1970s.
Richie McCaffery is a poet and critic from Northumberland, who completed a PhD on Scottish poetry of World War Two at the University of Glasgow in 2016. He is the editor of Sydney Goodsir Smith, Poet: Essays on His Life and Work (Brill, 2020).
Sarah Leith investigates some mid-century satire on the ‘tartan monster’
In September 1952, a new periodical appeared on the Scottish literary scene, aiming to paint a ‘month by month picture of Scotland – our doings, thoughts, humours and aspirations’. This magazine was the devolution-seeking Scottish Journal (1952-4), edited by Hugh MacDiarmid and Compton Mackenzie (amongst others). It emerged as questions of Scottish self-government were becoming more serious, first via the Scottish Covenant campaign in 1949-51 – which gathered up to two million signatures calling for Home Rule – and then by the 1952 Catto Report on Scotland’s share of UK expenditure and revenue, which strengthened calls for administrative devolution and led to a Royal Commission on Scottish Affairs (1952-4). The possibility of even minor constitutional change prompted reassessments of the national self-image, looking backwards to contemplate a different future. In the first number of Scottish Journal, we find Australian John J. Alderson’s speculations about a federated Britain printed alongside Harold Stewart’s intriguingly titled ‘Moths in My Sporran’. While we cannot be exactly sure who Scottish Journal’s Stewart was, it is possible that he may be the Daily Record journalist who authored the novel Bats in the Belfry (1935). Although his identity is uncertain, we do know that he embraced the Scottish Literary Renaissance critique of sentimental visions of Scotland.
Evoking images of decaying tartan and moth-eaten fur, this article is recognisably part of a much broader battle against ‘inauthentic’ images of Scotland and Scottish culture, one that stretched across the twentieth century from the Scottish Literary Renaissance to Tom Nairn’s famous evisceration of the ‘vast tartan monster’ in the Red Paper on Scotland (1975), and far beyond. Literary and political magazines played their role in this critique. It is clearly present in the 1968 launch issue of Scottish International, which promises ‘to look for what is really there [in Scotland], and to call people’s attention to it’. A sobering high-point in this endeavour is Father Anthony Ross’ article ‘Resurrection’ (May 1971). Ross, the University of Edinburgh’s Catholic Chaplain, emphasised ‘the struggle of living here in the fog of romantic nostalgia for a world that never existed, and lies and half-truths about the world that does exist’. For him, Scotland was ‘sick and unwilling to admit it. The Scottish establishment at least will not admit it. The tartan sentimentality, the charades at Holyroodhouse, the legends of Bruce and Wallace, Covenanters, Jacobites, John Knox and Mary Stuart, contribute nothing towards a solution’.
‘It might help’, Ross argued, ‘if we could set aside for a time the image of Scotland presented in the glossy magazines which decorate our station book-stalls’ and consider instead
the distressed girl of sixteen drifting round the city, turned out of a home she had five months ago, pregnant, it was believed by her own brother […] or the defeated woman who longs for the day when another of fourteen children will leave school and she can tell him to go and look after himself […] The list could stretch until this [book] was full, a roll call of those people in Scotland whose tragedy is buried in statistics but who challenge all the conceit with which we brag about our great traditions.
Attacking a different set of myths, concerns about the decay and appropriation of Gaelic culture were raised in Scottish International in November 1969. Donald John MacLeod’s ‘The Sellers of Culture: A Look at Interpretations and Some False Interpreters of Gaelic Culture’ blamed Lowland tourist and native ‘interpreter’ alike for the perpetuation of ‘false’ images of the Highlands. MacLeod observed a circular quality to this traffic in myths:
In interpreting their native society to the Gall, the exiled Gaels – both because they wish to popularise and so perpetuate the culture and because they value acceptance by the city middle class – have amended their model to make it as acceptable as possible to the non-Gael. The interpreters on the other side of the fence – those Lowlanders, from comedians to scholars, who feel qualified to comment on Gaelic culture – have contributed an image of their own to which that of the native interpreters has gradually assimilated. This popular stereotype often appears in humorous caricature – the Highlander as a kilted, whisky-sodden, sentimental giant.
‘In fact’, MacLeod noted, and ‘(as many may have already suspected), most Gaels do not wear kilts, sing all the time, compose village-poetry, or speak Gaelic all day long’.
Now let us return to the September 1952 edition of Scottish Journal, and the perturbing predicament of Harold Stewart. ‘Moths in My Sporran’ only appeared in three editions of Scottish Journal, but Stewart’s three columns wittily mock the pervasive images of kilts and kailyards that were sold both to visitors and to the Scots themselves. Stewart’s cheeky title implied that authentic Gaelic culture, symbolised by the sporran, and used to (mis)represent both the Highlands and the Lowlands, had been left to fester and rot in a dusty cupboard, while at the same time being abused for financial gain. Scottish Journal was not as radical as Scottish International, but it did have a clear sense of what the Lowlands and the Highlands were not, and it poked fun at those it blamed for commercialising a false and tawdry image of the nation.
The first ‘Moths in My Sporran’ column emphasised both the alleged fakery of popular tartanry, and the uses and abuses of Highland culture. Through his use of satire, Stewart highlighted a worrying Bonnie Prince Charlie problem:
Then there is the traffic in Bonnie Prince Charlie’s lovelocks, based on the historical fact that the Young Pretender, during his brief bid for a throne, went up and down Scotland scattering curls in all directions. Satisfied as we are with the Board of Trade returns which show that some 1,000,000 bushels of the Chevalier’s chevelure are sold to romantic visitors annually, there is a darker side to the business.
For one thing, it deprives the stranger of the pleasure of seeing Scotland’s handsomest dog, the golden Labrador, which vanishes from view at the outset of every tourist season, leaving its hair behind in antique lockets and pathetically shaded sachets of silken ribbon. And while it probably does the shorn bowwows no harm to go to the dog-racing tracks and masquerade as greyhounds for a time, I am against the practice. I invariably back those dogs.
The Young Pretender’s dusty and moth-ravaged ‘locks’ may have been on sale in Edinburgh at festival time. ‘Hail Ceilidh-donia’, the third ‘Moths in My Sporran’ column, satirised the fashion for ceilidh parties held by members of the Scottish Labour movement in the period, including by Hamish Henderson (leader of the modern Scottish folk revival movement) at the Edinburgh People’s Festival, as well as the ceilidhs held by the Bo’ness Rebels from 1948 onwards.
For Stewart, the first People’s Festival Ceilidh (1951), was no better than either J.M. Barrie’s sentimental Kailyard novels or Edwardian song-collector Margery Kennedy-Fraser’s Anglicised folk-song. In ‘Hail Ceilidh-donia’, Stewart began by ‘remembering’ that ‘a thinker firmly on returning home from the Rothesay Mod’ had explained to him that ‘only in the ceilidh does the essential nature of the Gael find full and free expression’. However Stewart’s description of this ceilidh presents his reader with a palpable atmosphere of fakery as he recalls ‘the subtly nostalgic scent of peat-reek in the room. Or maybe the aroma came from the fag-ends smouldering on the carpet. No matter. The atmosphere was just right. There was the singing! […] And poetry!’ It is in his description of the ‘Highland’ dances that Stewart’s wit and frustration reach their peak, as he describes the dancers as enjoying
The rumba (named from the wave-washed Hebridean isle of Rum [sic]), the conga (invented, as the title implies, by Conn of the Hundred Battles), [and] the mamba (traditionally derived from Mambeg), [which] invited our light-springing footsteps to trample the floor in the ancient rhythms
In Stewart’s opinion, the folk revival was not only promoting a false image of Gaelic culture but also actively repressing this culture and spirit. Of course, Hamish Henderson intended the folk revival to unearth and liberate authentic Scottishness, not to traduce it. Perhaps a suspicious Stewart simply had the wrong, unromantic end of the stick: arguably, Henderson and his fellow folk revivalists were just as averse to cultural appropriation and nostalgic peat-reek.
As Scottish Journal’s ‘Moths in My Sporran’ columns show, then, pointed critique of sentimental Scotland and its ‘great traditions’ did not vanish for a time during the mid-twentieth century, and an impulse to expose harsher and more unsettling truths about Scotland exists alongside popular tartanry.
Sarah Leith has just completed a PhD at the University of St Andrews, on repression, counterculture and Scottish national identity, c.1926-c.1967.
 ‘The Journal of a Nation’, Scottish Journal (September, 1952): 1-2 (p.1).
 John J. Alderson, ‘A Federated British Isles’, Scottish Journal (September 1952): 8-9; Harold Stewart, ‘Moths in My Sporran: Pss! Wanna Nice Feud?’, Scottish Journal (September 1952), p.9.
 Many thanks to Dr Paul Malgrati for helping to find a possible identity for Harold Stewart.
 Tom Nairn, ‘Old and New Scottish Nationalism’, in The Red Paper on Scotland, ed. by Gordon Brown (Edinburgh, EUSPB: 1975)
Scottish International (January, 1968): cover-p.3 (p.3).
 Anthony Ross, ‘Resurrection’, Scottish International (May, 1971): 4-10 (p.6).
Joy Hendry looks back on the long, storied and combative history of Chapman, ‘Scotland’s Quality Literary Magazine’
The Scottish literary scene in 1970 was a veritable minefield: embattled, embittered by decades, if not centuries of neglect, distortion and misrepresentation and ignorance. Aspiring practitioners or scholars of literature like myself at the time, aged seventeen, could not be blamed for not even being aware of its existence, due to its absence from the curricula in education at every level. In terms of public recognition and funding, it was similarly invisible, deemed unnecessary, or a low priority in bodies like Arts Councils and universities.
Chapman began that year as The Chapman, a tiny, eight-page demi-quarto affair, the central impulse being simply to provide publication for poets (initially) in a scenario where much of quality was being written, for outlets very few. In no time, however, the combativeness of the scene and the struggle for scarce resources led to an editorial desire for controversy and ‘stirring it up’, especially when the founding editors had their application for Scottish Arts Council funding roundly rejected. The rude remarks made about other more fortunate magazines, and ‘established’ literary figures in The Chapman no 6 editorial, still make entertaining reading. (Straight intae the fechtin, almost…)
George Hardie, Hamilton-based poet, was the founder, and he teamed up with local poet Walter Perrie, whom I met in my second term at Edinburgh University, where we were both studying. He looked at my poetry and promised to publish two of my poems in the next issue. Eighteen months later, I found myself joint-editor of a literary magazine, aged only nineteen, though initially editorial policy came primarily from Walter. He wanted to place the magazine in the European and international mainstream, à la Pound, Eliot and Wyndham Lewis, and with a commitment to intellectualism and new ideas. From that lofty perspective, he tended to devalue current writing in Scotland. There was a firm commitment to quality in writing, giving airtime to new voices, including those espousing unfashionable and unpopular ideas, and to ‘speaking out’ about important cultural matters. We both wanted to avoid the destructive in-fighting going on in some of the magazines, and regretted the feuding between dominant personalities of the time. From the first, we sought out areas and authors suffering neglect or marginalisation. It’s hard to believe, now, that Sorley MacLean came into that category, as did Tom Scott and others.
The smaller the duck-pond, the fiercer the fight among the ducks, it seems. From a UK perspective, Scottish literature barely existed, and its individual cultural mores were misunderstood, perhaps wilfully – this despite its astonishing fecundity over centuries. We were young newcomers on the scene, but it became quickly evident that ‘the establishment’ (UK and Scottish) favoured endeavour in English only, and that both Gaelic and Scots suffered as a result. There was a strong and distinct bias against nationalism, which was almost treated with intellectual contempt. (Socialist ideas and postures were more acceptable, especially Internationalist, though Hugh MacDiarmid remained largely beyond the pale in university literature departments into the 1970s.)
As Scots, we’ve always been more than keen on vicious feuding, fechtin, flyting of a terrifyingly ferocious kind, and, the duck pond being a small one, this happened big time. Individuals even of ‘the native species’, once secured in a position of power or influence, had a grim proclivity to use that to marginalise any rivals. As editors of Chapman, we were keen to promote precisely those writers whose work was being marginalised, though the magazine itself suffered as a result, its grant being withdrawn in 1977 on grounds of poor literary quality. When we’d just been publishing Tom Scott, Sorley MacLean (and others more favoured too)? Both Scott and MacLean had powerful enemies, and both had hardly been published or featured on the BBC for years.
By 1975, I had begun to get my bearings in this duckpond, and was exercising more editorial muscle, making the magazine much more centrally Scottish. We published one issue on the wonderful Rainer Maria Rilke, but when I began work on a second, mostly already commissioned, and with a third in view, I stopped dead, thinking: Why are we doing this?– and changed direction, though not entirely abandoning the magazine’s original aims and ideals. I became sole editor and redirected the magazine to prioritising Scotland – not as any backward-looking restoration, but so that the sheer quality and range of Scottish literature in English, Scots and Gaelic achieved better promotion and exposure. Inevitably that involved politics, though with a non-partisan small ‘p’.
A key moment in this process came in 1975, when we visited Sorley MacLean in Braes, on a crazy impulse arising late one evening in Sandy Bell’s, and travelled overnight to Skye, arriving drookitly on his doorstep unannounced – three of us, dishevelled toe-rags, with two dogs – to an immediate welcome. At the time he was writing his long poem, ‘Uamha ’n Oir’, the first two parts of which had already been published in English magazines. Starting off to tout for the third part, I was horrified to find out that Sorley had no expectation that any part of this poem would see publication in Gaelic, given the setup then. I immediately committed to publishing all parts written to that date, three in all, in Gaelic only, which I did (Chapman 15). Earlier that year, because of our collaborations with magazines and writers south of the border, Chapman was able to ensure Sorley’s appearance at the first Cambridge Poetry Festival, where had had made an enormous impact.
The Scottish magazine scene, in parallel, was similarly fractious and war-torn, with some though not all of the main protagonists slugging it out in their pages. Over the course of the twentieth century, some very fine magazines had come and gone: The Voice of Scotland (1938-61), Scottish Art and Letters (1944-50) and others too numerous to list here. In the 1970s, there were nine in hot competition for the limited funding: a long-running magazine in Gaelic (Gairm) since 1952, Lines Reviewalso founded around then, published by Callum Macdonald and edited by a series of hands (1954-98), New Edinburgh Review (various editors, 1969-84), and Akros (Duncan Glen) appeared in 1965, running until 1983. Beginning around the same time as Chapman were Scotia Review (1972-1999, initially Scotia 1970-72), very much nationalist in thrust, edited by David Morrison, Lallans, devoted to Scots language (1973-) and Tocher, from the School of Scottish studies (1971-2009).
We were very much the upstarts, being the youngest editors by quite a long way. There was a Trojan horse at the time, the magazine Scottish International, founded by the Scottish Arts Council itself in 1968, edited for most of its run by Bob Tait, regarded by some as a favoured child of the Scottish establishment and in receipt of as much funding, just about, as the rest of us put together. The scene throbbed with suspicion and distrust. That SI did good and worthwhile work over its duration is beyond doubt, but it was generally felt that its stance was ‘anti-nationalist’ and the sheer disparity in the funding levels seemed deeply unfair. The very good, strongly nationalist magazine Catalyst (1967-74), similar in range of content, had been refused any funding from SAC and it was felt this could only be because of its political stance. Since most of the editors were nationalist, to differing degrees, this left people feeling wary and insecure.
Some of these were in outright war with each other; but almost all felt embattled and suspicious, guarding what little funding they had as best they could. To some extent at least, Walter and I were brought into the fold by SAC Literature Director, Trevor Royle, who became a close friend and, insofar as he could, supporter. Weary of the feuding, Trevor and Walter dreamed up a magazine association (SCAMP – Scottish Association of Magazine Publishers) which brought all the editors together in an attempt to maximise distribution. Before long we became friends and collaborators, organising events, holding regular meetings and employing magazine reps. Sadly, perhaps, the only thing that really worked, distribution-wise, was yours truly trudging round universities, trawling pubs, selling hand to hand. My record in one day was 144, sold at The East Kilbride Mod in 1976. Walter and I tried hard to foster a quasi trade-union mentality amongst editors, with at least some success, and there’s a hangover from that amongst editors working today. An abortive attempt to revive SCAMP was made by Gavin Wallace and myself in the early 2000s, but it didn’t (and couldn’t) work.
In editing Chapman, I didn’t allow feuding or gratuitous nastiness in its pages. While quite prepared to champion one writer to the chagrin, perhaps, of another, I did so for literary reasons and managed, over time, to ensure that both ‘parties’ appeared in its pages. At no time did I allow anybody, or any body, to dictate who or what I should publish, though I was open to ideas from everywhere and learned what I needed to learn from wherever I could.
Thanks to benign and careful manipulation, especially from SAC directors Trevor Royle and Walter Cairns who argued tirelessly for more support for literature, the whole literary scene in Scotland became much more harmonious and well catered-for, with everyone involved – writers, publishers and the rest – feeling that we were working towards common goals to the benefit of Scotland as a whole. Indeed some, myself included, now lament the lack of a good centrally disputatious issue, because things are maybe just a bit too cushy and ‘dumbed down’. I always tried to be even-handed, making literary quality, insofar as my judgement allows, my principle criterion; losing friends from turning down their work and publishing people with whom I was not exactly ‘at one’. I even published work I found personally abhorrent or distasteful in some way, because it had some quality or other I thought important.
From issue to issue, I would look out for some area that needed exploring, or radical change, and often devote an entire issue to discussion of that area of Scottish life; Scots:the Language and Literature (No. 23-4, 1979) looked at the language across the boards and tried to adumbrate what action in each aspect was needed to better its status and condition; Woven by Women (No. 27-8, 1980) was the first ever attempt in Scotland to open Pandora’s Box and look at the contribution of women to culture in the twentieth century. Another important issue was No. 35-6, The State of Scotland: A Predicament for the Scottish Writer? (1983) in which writers aired views about Scottish identity, its pros and cons, from all the political airts and perspectives (that caused a storm). And the Theatre Issue (No. 43-4) provoked a major re-think of the whole theatrical scene, pointing to the absolute necessity of giving more support to ‘the native industry’. The National Theatre we now have grew uninterruptedly, though not without huge difficulty, out of that issue, and both the magazine and I were heavily involved in the process right along the line.
Chapman of course had its critics, and its detractors, some of whom tried to accuse it of unthinking Tartanry, or ‘narrow nationalism’, neither of which charge sticks at all. One of the things I most value in hindsight is serving on the committee, headed by Professor Sir Robert Grieve, which produced A Claim of Right for Scotland (1988), which lead directly to the Scottish Constitutional Convention and the Holyrood Parliament. I find it amusing, and quietly satisfying, to observe writers gradually adopting positions which they had previously criticised the magazine for espousing, for example, realising the potentials of Scots language, which they declared had no future. And many swung away from looking primarily to influences from south of the border or across the Atlantic to realise for themselves the sheer amazing originality, fertility, and creativity that has emerged from Scotland over the centuries. Now, it is no longer deeply un-cool and backward-looking to be Scottish, but something to exploit and enjoy. At no time did I completely ditch the policy to publish international work, but, having realised in those early years just how much had to be done to build a deserving cultural framework here, it simply made no sense to do anything other than consider, as priority, the needs of Scotland and its writers. From about 1995 onwards, as huge progress was made, I felt able increasingly to publish work from all over the world.
And what of being a woman in that very male world (especially up until about 1980)? I think I am the first solo woman editor of a magazine, certainly a literary magazine, in Scotland. It’s been my great fortune to know and work with so many of the mainly male writers of the Scottish Literary Renaissance. I never felt, or was made to feel, in awe of any of them, though one or two gave me rather less regard than I might be due because I am a woman, and at first such a young woman. Without any self-consciousness at all, I approached even Hugh MacDiarmid as someone I could interact with on equal terms. I spent wonderful evenings with Norman MacCaig, Hamish Henderson, Iain Crichton Smith, Tom Scott, Alasdair Gray (who provided our covers for years) and many others; and those I didn’t meet so often were hugely supportive and always happy to write for me: Edwin Morgan, George Mackay Brown and many others. I missed knowing Helen B Cruickshank, which I deeply regret, but became very friendly with Jessie Kesson and Naomi Mitchison, both of whom I published regularly.
I would say that most (not all), like MacCaig, Crichton Smith, Hamish Henderson and others, appreciated me more for doing what I had done, because I was a woman. I used the magazine to encourage and support as many women as I reasonably could. However I am certain that both Chapman and I suffered in being unthinkingly passed over for many benefits and ‘official’ opportunities (in respect of status and reputation) due to two factors, one being my gender, and the other that Chapman operated independently from any officially-recognised institution. Being the particular age I am, I luckily ‘caught’ that older generation in a crucial cross-over period from neglect to recognition, but I notice women even ten years younger have a self-confidence which was systematically knocked out of the age-group I was born into. Looking back, I am narked, feeling I could in fact have done quite a lot more. In 1980, it was still possible for an established Scottish male poet to remark, when I probed him during researches for the Woven by Women issue: ‘Scottish women poets? You mean there are any!’ Nobody could ever say that now.
I think there were in fact advantages in my being female in this very male world, simply because I didn’t have to cope with having a ‘male ego’ myself, and could look dispassionately, sometimes even amusedly, at the trouble caused by the inter-tussling of the men, and see it clearly for what it was. Chapman has never been a vehicle for my ego, but a means to get certain things achieved in Scotland. I’m trying, nearing 70 now, finally to pay some attention to my own ego and personal needs – though finding it more difficult than one might expect to switch focus. But I am gratified that both Chapman as a magazine and I as an individual have played a significant role in the journey towards the devolved, thriving and much more robust Scotland we now enjoy.
Joy Hendry is a poet and editor based in Edinburgh. In 2019 she was honoured by the Saltire Society as one of the ‘Outstanding Women of Scotland’. In 2020 she became the inaugural winner of the Scottish Poetry Library’s Outstanding Contribution to Poetry in Scotland Award.
A key aim of the network is recovering lost or forgotten magazines. Ben Jackson revisits Question Magazine, ‘the independent political review for Scotland’
On 6 September 1977 Neal Ascherson, at that time political correspondent of the Scotsman, confided to his diary some gloomy observations about the publishing scene in Scotland: ‘As Tom Nairn predicted to me a few days ago, the publication of Q magazine is stopped. The figures are sickening. The circulation was down to about a thousand (max. 1500 a few months ago), and only five out of 2000 libraries in Scotland, and only two universities out of eight subscribed.’ Ascherson was struck by the incongruity of this failure taking place at the very moment that Scottish politics and culture had never seemed more dynamic: ‘It’s unbelievable that in the most important decade of its recent history, at the moment when the country should be alive with fateful debates, Scotland can’t support one serious political review.’
Q magazine – or, to give the publication’s full title, Question – has not subsequently acquired the cult status now enjoyed by publications such as Radical Scotland or Scottish International, nor has it been subject to the same level of academic attention. It was fated to have a shorter lifespan – running from October 1975 to August 1977, a total of 34 issues. Crucially, it did not embody an obvious political or cultural agenda that would enable it to be easily slotted into subsequent historical narratives. Nonetheless, the magazine was an audacious presence in Scottish public life that deserves to be more widely discussed. Q was an attempt to produce a regular magazine of political and cultural commentary in Scotland in the same vein as the New Statesman, the Spectator, or even the Economist. It was not intended to be a small-scale publication circulated among the cognoscenti but rather an influential public forum sold in newsagents while a new Scotland confidently awaited its devolved destiny. The first issue announced the magazine’s mission: ‘Q is an independent political review for Scotland, not tied to any political party. It is the editorial policy of Q that the review is open to interesting contributions, whether they agree with Q’s opinion or not. With the coming of the Assembly there is clearly a great need for a review such as Q.’
It was certainly true that the pages of Q published contributions from all sides of the political debate in Scotland. But there was also some artifice in this description since the team behind the magazine had a discernible leaning towards the SNP. The founder and editor of the magazine was Peter Chiene, a lawyer and supporter of the SNP. He produced the magazine with a small editorial board: Alfie Donaldson, a law lecturer originally from Northern Ireland but based in Edinburgh; Michael Grieve, the prominent journalist and former Vice-President Publicity of the SNP (and of course son of Christopher Grieve/Hugh MacDiarmid); and, perhaps most intriguing of all, Alexander ‘Sandy’ McCall Smith, at that time a legal academic but later of course the world-famous novelist who authored TheNo. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series (McCall Smith officially became Q’s deputy editor later in its run). Michael Spens, the architect and critic (and SNP parliamentary candidate), was also added later to the editorial board.
Q initially appeared monthly, in a compact 24-page format, before moving to a fortnightly publication schedule from October 1976 (No. 13). The fortnightly magazine increased its size to tabloid and reduced the page count to 12. In design terms, Q was an orthodox, even rather dry, publication: print was laid out across several columns with the odd pull quote to break up the text. Initially, there were few images beyond the cover, a cartoon or two, and the occasional photo. The use of images increased markedly when the magazine shifted to its new tabloid format and by the end of its run Q’s design had become much slicker. Editorially, the magazine followed analogous publications edited from London in providing a powerful blend of serious political commentary; in-depth coverage of business and science; and a strong culture section that afforded plenty of space to the high arts and book reviews. Longer features were mixed with regular fixtures such as a diary-style set of short observations on the news, ‘Flyter’; a short editorial column expressing Q’s official view; a letters page; and a crossword. What set Q apart from, say, the New Statesman or Spectator, obviously, was that it viewed the world through a distinctive Scottish lens.
Reading Q now is to be reminded of the vibrancy of Scottish political culture in the 1970s – a time of high hopes and trenchant debates, populated by a cast of fascinating characters, many of whom would continue to play a significant role in Scottish and British public life well into the twenty-first century. Q’s contributors included an eclectic list of luminaries such as Neal Ascherson, Alan Bold, Gordon Brown, Henry Drucker, Owen Dudley Edwards, Duncan Glen, Christopher Harvie, James Hunter, Neil MacCormick, Stephen Maxwell, Edwin Morgan, Tom Nairn, Jim Naughtie, George Reid, Malcolm Rifkind, David Steel, Jim Sillars, Teddy Taylor, Brian Wilson and many others. As this list suggests, a major deficiency of Q was that it printed almost no articles by women and provided only the most meagre coverage of the women’s movement (in this it was representative of the deficiencies of Scotland’s 1970s political culture more generally). As best I can tell (some articles were written anonymously and some writers used initials rather than full first names), only three female authors ever wrote feature-length articles for the magazine: the author Naomi Mitchison (twice); the then director of the Edinburgh Film Festival, Lynda Myles; and Alison Bruce, a researcher at Glasgow University. There was also a strong public and voluntary sector representation among Q authors: many of the pieces in a given issue were written by academics, politicians, and employees of pressure groups and charities, with journalists making a respectable showing as the principal representatives of the private sector.
Despite these limits, the pages of Q provide a fascinating window into a period in which the structure of contemporary Scottish politics was taking shape. Looming over everything was the question of devolution. When would it happen? What would it look like? But hovering behind those questions were the rise of the SNP and the possibility of independence. Q hosted animated debates about each of the four main parties and Jim Sillars’s new Scottish Labour Party (SLP); European integration; the implications of North Sea oil; land-ownership and the Highlands; the Scottish universities and their relationship to devolution; the Scottish cultural scene; Irish nationalism; the rise of nationalism in Quebec; and many other topics. Q also prepared for devolution by investigating the delivery of Scottish public services and the scope for their improvement when a new assembly took charge. Health, education, housing, local government, the legal system, and policing were all treated in depth.
The quality of the writing was usually high. Tom Nairn contributed several scintillating articles that are essential to understanding his level of practical engagement with Scottish politics in this period (as a member of Sillars’s SLP), as opposed to his more Olympian pronouncements in his contributions to New Left Review. The SNP theorist Stephen Maxwell was also a regular contributor, penning an important review of Nairn’s book, The Break-up of Britain (1977). Maxwell also engaged the Labour MP John Mackintosh in a fascinating exchange that illuminated the emerging fault-line between Labour devolutionists and independence supporters that was in the event delayed by twenty years because of the failure of devolution to launch in the 1970s.Q hosted a lively debate about the politics of the 7:84 theatre company and their seminal play The Cheviot, the Stag and the Black, Black Oil. Neil MacCormick used Q to challenge the SNP orthodoxy that it would secure a mandate for independence by winning a majority of Scotland’s parliamentary seats. MacCormick argued that a majority of votes rather than seats would be necessary to secure democratic legitimacy for a new Scottish state. This is just a flavour of the range of analysis aired in Q, though it does underline that the magazine’s most influential work tended to be penned by supporters of independence. Some intriguing names and juxtapositions were also to be found among the book reviews, such as David Trimble reviewing Robert Fisk’s book on the recent Ulster Workers’ strike; Ted Cowan reviewing Christopher Harvie’s Scotland and Nationalism; and Donald Campbell reviewing William McIlvanney’s Laidlaw (‘a kind of Glasgow Kojak’). Appropriately, the final issue included a cover feature by Peter Chiene celebrating the 85th birthday of Hugh MacDiarmid. Chiene argued that MacDiarmid’s great achievements in poetry had yet to be matched by Scots in other fields, notably fiction and political theory. But he was optimistic that the rise of the SNP at least indicated that new Scottish political thinking was underway, even if it had yet to attain the heights exemplified by MacDiarmid’s work.
Q was sadly not to play any further role in fostering this novel political thought. Neal Ascherson, for one, felt the loss of the magazine keenly and vented to his diary about the failures he thought it revealed in Scotland’s intellectual infrastructure:
For journalists, Q was quite indispensable, the only place where really free and intellectual argument, as well as many very practical suggestions, took place in print. If Hibernia has a circulation of 20,000 in a smaller country, why could Q not have reached a miserable six or seven? Too ‘Edinburgh’, too identified with the SNP? The real trouble is the extreme weakness and stuntedness of the political intellectual here, and reluctance to commit money and time. Can there only be 1500 people who want to speculate on their country’s future and understand its present, when so many hundreds of thousand vote for a new future?
Ascherson’s lament remains a resonant one for anyone interested in publishing serious analysis about Scotland, even (or perhaps especially) today.
Ben Jackson is Associate Professor of Modern History at Oxford University. He is the author of The Case for Scottish Independence: A History of Nationalist Political Thought in Modern Scotland (CUP, 2020).
 For example, Tom Nairn, ‘The Radical Approach’, Q, No. 10, July 1976; ‘Scotland the Misfit’, Q, No. 13, 8 October 1976; ‘1931 – A Repeat Performance?’, Q, No. 14, 22 October 1976; ‘Revolutionaries Versus Parliamentarists’, Q, No. 16, 19 November 1976.
 Stephen Maxwell, ‘Review: The Break-Up of Britain’, Q, No. 31, 24 June 1977; ‘The Trouble with John P. Mackintosh’, Q, No. 24, 18 March 1977; John Mackintosh, ‘The Trouble with Stephen Maxwell’, Q, No. 26, 15 April 1977.
 Ian Bayne, ‘Ideology and 7:84’, Q, No. 3, December 1975; John Forsyth, ‘7:84 Replies’, Q, No. 4, January 1976.
 Neil MacCormick, ‘The Mandate Question’, Q, No. 12, September 1976.
 David Trimble, review, Q, No. 3, December 1975; Ted Cowan, ‘The Reds and the Blacks’, Q, No. 29, 27 May 1977; Duncan Campbell, ‘MacLaverty and McIlvanney’, Q, No. 29, 27 May 1977 (quote at p. 10).
 Peter Chiene, ‘Poets versus Philosophers’, Q, No. 34, 26 August 1977.