The eminent writer and broadcaster, Billy Kay, returns to the airways this month with a major series on Scottish Nationalism. In “The Cause” on BBC Radio Scotland, he explores themes of identity, culture, history and politics to trace the development of Scottish nationalism and the rise of the SNP.
He speaks to people who have devoted their lives to a movement which a few decades ago was regarded as peripheral and irrelevant, but which is now at the centre of national life.
Former Party Chairman, James Halliday, and the editor of the Scots Independent, Jim Lynch, along with seminal figures like Gordon Wilson, Winnie Ewing, and the family of the hugely important figure of “King” John MacCormick all tell their version of their story from within the movement.
However, as Billy points out, “others recall the sneers, the personal hostility and animosity their Scottish patriotism provoked at one time and the sacrifices many people made for the cause of Scottish independence in the past.”
Modern Scottish nationalism is discussed by Humza Yousaf MSP, whose father was the first Asian member of the SNP, and by First Minister Alex Salmond who looks forward with optimism to the future.
The commitment and passion of many of the activists interviewed is put in context by eminent historians such as Professors James Mitchell and Richard Finlay of Strathclyde University and Dr Peter Lynch of Stirling University.
They are joined by authorities on earlier periods of Scottish History – Fiona Watson from the University of Dundee for example highlights the importance of the Wars of Independence in the creation of our national identity.
The series also hears from the people and samples the atmosphere at live gatherings which celebrate that history. There are many of them, everything from the battle field of Bannockburn to Arbroath Abbey where the Declaration of Arbroath was proclaimed.
In Bonnymuir, the 1820 Society commemorates the “Radical Rising” of working class men who carried a banner with the words “Scotland Free or a Desert”.
In the former mining community of Redding near Falkirk, the men of the Sir William Wallace Grand Lodge of Free Colliers hold their annual demonstration to remember the struggle of Scottish miners for freedom and their identification with the struggle of Bruce and Wallace for Scottish independence.
Billy also stresses the crucial role of writers, thinkers and artists, people like Hugh MacDiarmid, R B Cunninghame Graham, Eric Linklater and Compton Mackenzie. Their role is considered by commentators on Scottish cultural history such as Tom Nairn, Paul Henderson Scott and Tom Normand of the University of St Andrews.
“This cultural dimension,” he says, “will grace the series, with poetry from Barbour to MacCaig and readings from Burns, Scott, Stevenson and MacDiarmid. Music and song will also feature from Burns “Scots Wha Hae” to the Corries “Flower of Scotland” and Hamish Henderson’s “Freedom Come All Ye”.
The moving theme music is by Sarah MacNeil’s band Cherrygrove – Sarah is a student at the Royal Scottish Conservatoire who composed “Free or a Desert” to commemorate the Scottish political martyrs of 1820, John Baird, Jame Wilson and Andrew Hardie.
The series of five programmes starts on September 24 at 14.05, repeated September 29 at 6.04 and October 1 at 02.00 on BBC Radio Scotland.
– Billy Kay has been documenting Scottish life and culture for many years. His award-winning production company, Odyssey Productions, has made programmes which have been broadcast around the world. Billy’s contribution to Scottish culture was recognised when he won the Heritage Society Award, joining the distinguished company of previous winners Sorley Maclean and David Daiches.