Make way for the tartan crew

4th September 2009 at 01:00

The observant among you may have noticed that my column is now bigger than it has been for a couple of years. This is due to a change in layout of the comment pages, rather than recourse to something offered in a spam email. I have decided to take advantage of the extra 80 words or so by becoming more hard-hitting and controversial.

So today's theme: global warming is a hoax perpetuated by gay asylum seekers. Oh wait, I think that's been done by someone in another paper. Isn't it pathetic how, these days, you can't come straight out with it and call someone a rancid, ill-informed bigot? You've got to say that they're "politically incorrect".

Joanna Blythman, who seems neither rancid nor bigoted, has a column (substantially bigger than mine in oh so many ways) in a Sunday newspaper. A few weeks ago, she wrote about changes to Higher English, welcoming the new weight given to creative writing. She went on to applaud the SQA for not caving in to "pressure from the tartanisation crew to make Scottish literature and language a compulsory part of Higher English". I love that phrase "tartanisation crew". It brings to mind a ship full of plaid- obsessed interior decorators.

I'm not so sure I loved the rest of her article. Before she got to the tartanisation crew (sorry, but I can just see them marauding through coastal villages armed with red, green and yellow paint, turning living rooms into dens of Highland kitsch), JB talked of the relative lack of confidence of Scots students. I would have thought that studying texts written by one's own countrymen and women would be an excellent way of instilling the idea that Scots were as worth listening to as anyone else.

I loved English at school. I even enjoyed sticking my nose into the English department as a teacher. Look at my bookcase. Des Dillon, William McIlvanney, James Hogg, James Robertson, Matthew Fitt, Grassic-Gibbon, Brookmyre, Buchan, Banks. There's some cop stuff, a fair number of non- Scots, a couple of Broons books and a Haynes manual for the Vauxhall Cavalier. No, I don't know why I kept that either.

There is no Balzac, Zola or Dostoevsky. These three authors are all highlighted in Blythman's piece as ones that could be left out of Higher English in order to make way for Scottish texts. I have not read anything by these people, not because I think they lack merit but because I am not ready to.

My literary journey began with Enid Blyton and is, I hope, far from over. Biggles to Buchan. Buchan to Stevenson. There are treasure islands still to be discovered, and I am sure the tartanisation crew know where some of them lie.

Gregor Steele is happy to donate his Cavalier manual to a good home.

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