Siol nan Gaidheal
If any single individual deserves the credit for the Twentieth Century’s renaissance of Scottish Literature and Philosophy, it would be Christopher Murray Grieve. He was contemporary and closely associated with Tom MacDonald (Finn MacColla), George Davie, Sydney Goodsir Smith, Norman McCaig, Sorley MacLean, Douglas Young and Hamish Henderson, all of whom acknowledged his undisputed primacy.
Christopher Grieve was a living link between the Roland E. Muirhead generation of no-hope Scottish Nationalist candidates (usually drawn from the ranks of our country’s artistic community) and the modern independence movement of SNP by-election victories, professional SNP politicians with assumed electoral credibility and Siol nan Gaidheal. Grieve was an agitator before the event and, thankfully, lived to savour the victories of the 1970’s.
From the writings and general records of those earliest Nationalists, and most specifically of Grieve himself, who left no doubt regarding his deeply held beliefs, it is demonstrably clear that these people, through their identification of culture as the core concept crucial to Scotland’s rebirth, are the spiritual ancestors of our own Siol nan Gaidheal Movement.
Current political advances for the party of independence and the emergence of a plethora of amorphous quasi-political bodies all seeking some form of self-government are the manifestation of a rising Cultural Awareness. Christopher Murray Grieve, more than any other, gave form and substance to the notion of a Scottish National Cultural Ethos, unified in its diversity, and upon which the very existence of the idea and ideal of Scotland has its foundation. Siol nan Gaidheal today, more than any other body of people serves to highlight the fundamental significance and the full implications of this culturally.
So it is that we claim Christopher Murray Grieve as our very own.
Writing about Christopher Grieve contains an inherent contradiction. He made it very clear that his “message” about Scottish Culture and the essential spirit of our nation, was the thing which he wanted to impart to people of his own generation and those following. He had no time for personality cults and was particularly scathing in his criticism of the cult of Robert Burns which he condemned for avidly preserving the man’s furniture while totally neglecting his message.
Grieve was a citizen of that Scotland of the mind, which, though barely tangible in terms of the surviving fragments of our former statehood, had an enduring idealised existence which is lent vitality by the intellectual nourishment of our living commitment.
Christopher Murray Grieve created an alter-ego whose destiny was to deliver the intellectual warheads which Grieve had contrived for his merciless and unrellenting attack against the supine hypocrisies and passive treasons which were then, as they yet remain, the watermarks of popular respectibility in Scotland.
In ‘The Dunfermline Press’ of 30th September 1922, C.M. Grieve presented a poem by an anonymous friend. The author of this piece, ‘The Watergaw’ was later identified as ‘Hugh M’Diarmid’ (as Mac was then abbreviated).
In the notional persona of Hugh MacDiarmid in 1923 or 1932 or 1944 or 1949 are as relevant today as they were on publication day. His poetry, whether in Scots or English, is the naturally outflowing product of a huge intellect which has captured the spirits of both languages, married to a genuine passion. His intense language is of a certain quality which resists all process of aging while his propositions, although fashioned for Scotland and the Scots, are influenced by such a comprehensive spectrum of human philosophical reflection as to have rendered them an immediate enthusiastic universal recognition.
Hugh MacDiarmid embraced Socialism before we were all aware of the seventy year nightmare which this flawed philosophy was to impose upon Eastern Europe. However, it must be stated that MacDiarmid never condoned a Socialism which would demand the acquiescent and obedient submission of an intimidated population. His vision, illucidated in his work, was one of a dynamic Socialism, tuned to local conditions, which would serve The Scottish People, acting as a catalyst to allow the natural healing of their cultural wounds by redressing the economic and social imbalances of the national life of our community. It could be argued that Socialism may yet be credited with achievements along these lines which will only receive open recognition as the entrenched demarcations of the former East-West confrontation fade into insignificance.
Thus, also, MacDiarmid’s flirtation with Fascism can be forgiven in the context of the 20’s and better understood through a full analysis of the closely and lucidly argued case which he made for its specific application to function as a radical stimulant towards Scotland’s rebirth. However, in 1922 Fascism had not yet murdered 20 million Russians, 6 million Jews and 1 million Gypsies among other statistics, nor had it yet been seen to tend, more than any other leftist political revolutionary trend before or since, to limit rather than to extend human freedom.
It is clear from his work that Hugh MacDiarmid’s interest in foreign political ideologies was stimulated by the desire to isolate that one great idea which would best serve Scotland in its crisis of identity. In this position he bears no relation whatsoever to the ‘toadies’ (his word) in the Scottish branches of the British political parties whose interests in their country is limited to just how far Scotland can be usefully drawn into the service of their favoured respective ideologies.
Having said all this about Christopher Murray Grieve and his intellectual offspring Hugh MacDiarmid, it remains the aim of this article that Siol nan Gaidheal members should come to an awareness of his timeless message of a Scotland reborn in vital self-confidence and playing a full part in the international forums of humankind.
Thus, you are not particularly encouraged to visit his house in Biggar, fully furnished and preserved just as he left it.
However, you are strongly advised to acquire and to read:
Hugh MacDiarmid — ’SELECTED PROSE’, Ed. Alan Riach, Published by Carcanet in 1992, and
Hugh MacDiarmid — ’SELECTED POETRY’, Ed. Alan Riach and Michael Grieve, Published by Carcanet in 1992.
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