Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Minister of Low Culture in His Own Words

Fans of the Book Quiz can almost hear Kirsty Warke ask who wrote these words:

"The tiny Borders town of Wanlockhead looks like a Scottish version of the American Deep South terror film Deliverance, it is difficult to walk through Glasgow without falling over a drug addict and the Union flag over Edinburgh Castle is an 'awful mutant tablecloth'."

The answer is the new minister of Arts and Culture Mike Russell it comes from a book he wrote in 1988 In Waiting: Travels in the Shadow of Edwin Muir. The Minister tried to distance himself by time and saying that the the SNP government has made significant improvements to each place he insulted.

Places like Glasgow:

"Pull over the car (if you dare) and walk into the closes loses smelling of urine and rubbish, cluttered with dirt and debris. The walls are decorated with spray-paint graffiti and it is not uncommon to have to step over a comatose body, with or without a needle by its side."

Or Aberdeen:

"It feels no more hospitable than when I first came here – there is still a snell wind that blows through the town, and dark corners by the harbour that make passers-by walk more quickly."

So the SNP have obviously sorted out the weather in Aberdeen.

The Union flag over Edinburgh Castle is dismissed as "an awful mutant tablecloth", and of Dumfries he said: "The town centre … has the usual sprinkling of chain stores and the usual complement of skinny, ill-dressed women in their early twenties who seem to hover around cheap Scottish shops like importuning wraiths."

Even the National Trust for Scotland, which now falls under his remit fails to escape, being described as 'elitist' and 'arrogant'. Indeed the Labour MP for Dumfries Russell Brown says such proclamations are 'arrogant and pompous' and it is he who is elitist 'looking down his nose at local people'.

So having insulted most of Scotland the culture minister now has an uphill task to make amends.

1 comment:

Scott @ loveandgarbage said...

The line "Fans of the Book Quiz" suggests over-generosity to the show. While I watch each week this is merely to encourage the Beeb to do more programmes about books on the telly (where is the later lamented BBC4 The Book show of yesteryear?). Wark is a quiz presenter of glorious ineptitude. I find her humourless, graceless, and fully equipped to bring out the worst of her contestants. Perhaps Martha Kearney, who seems to genuinely like books or better still A Good Read's Sue Macgregor (or Kate Mosse) or - heaven forfend Sky Arts - Mariella Frostrup would be a better host.

Aside from that I have a bit of sympathy for Russell. It's an old book - and if we're to encourage people with experience furth of political life (even if it's journalism) to enter parliament(which is good for parliament) then we have to accept that what is written in a past life does not necessarily represent current views. There's stuff I said in lectures 9 years ago that I would not necessarily agree with now. Opinions change. And I'd be disappointed if articles I'd written or lectures - in a different context and environment - and which I'd given a decade before were used against me now. Sadly, it's this sort of thing that puts me off more actively participating in politics.


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