At this year’s Edinburgh International Book Festival to speak and to promote his latest book, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins, iconic modern Scottish novelist Irvine Welsh, who has probably done more to push contemporary Scottish society into public awareness than any other writer, diverted from the American theme of his new book to address the whole Scottish independence referendum debate – in terms that cast a spotlight on the entire UK as a whole.

Asked simply “Yes or No, and why?” Welsh replied:

I can’t vote so I’m not telling anybody how they should vote, just  giving what I believe, but I think Yes, definitely. It has to happen for the good not just of Scotland, but for the good of the UK in general; because with 35 years of neo-liberalism, the British state can’t do anything to resist that. All it does is enable that. It enables this transfer of wealth, from everybody to the very smallest elite of society, transnationally. I was at a pal’s in London, and all he does is sell flats in London to people from all over the world, from rich Arab countries, Russian oligarchs, people who go to the place for maybe two weeks a year. And people that are Londoners, like my other friends who are born and bred Londoners from the East End of London, they’re driven out, and can’t afford to live there. And that’s in the East End. Basically you can’t afford to live in East London any more.

This kind of centralized elitist government we have in Britain doesn’t suit anybody. But it’s so entrenched. I think the UK will have to be broken up as a state, and then democracy can begin to thrive again in these islands. I think it’s essential for us to have a Yes vote. I think there won’t be a Yes vote this time, but I think it’ll be fantastic, but I think it’s going to happen anyway, whether it’s next month or a few years down the line. I just can’t see anything holding the islands together in the way we used to have. It was all put together for Industry and Empire, and sustained by this through the course of two world wars, and sustained by a welfare state, and that’s all gone now. I think now the islands are naturally reverting back to their constituent parts.

And asked how living in America had changed his views on Scotland, Welsh said: “When you get people’s perceptions of Scotland in America, it really opens your eyes … People think you’re kind of a bit strange … You’re forced to have a look at yourself and the society, not just Scotland but the whole UK.”

And just to remind everybody, this is what Welsh had his characters say about his own people in Trainspotting:

Fuckin failures in a country of failures. Its nae good blamin it oan the English fir colonising us. Ah don’t hate the English. They’re just wankers. We are colonised by wankers. We can’t even pick a decent, vibrant healthy society to be colonised by. No..we are ruled by effete arseholes. What does that make us? The lowest of the low, the scum of the earth. The most wretched servile, miserable, pathetic trash that was ever shat intae creation. Ah don’t hate the English. They just git oan wis the shite thev got. Ah hate the Scots.

Sounds like his thinking has turned a corner since then.


  1. Alas, the UK is the prime example of a historical principle that I’ve yet to read about elsewhere or come up with a name for.

    The principle is simple. Societies that are known for one trait don’t simply have that trait weaken over time. Instead, they flip, becoming the very opposite of their former selves.

    For instance, as the Romans grew from a city to an empire, they were extraordinarily disciplined and relentless. They lost battles and even wars in their urge to expand, but they rebuilt and went to war again. What anyone describe today’s Italy that way? I think not and by the three century AD, the Romans themselves sensed they were no longer their former selves. They ended up hiring foreign mercenaries to defend them.

    The same is true of the UK, as the article above suggests, and even for its component cultures, particularly England and Scotland. G. K. Chesterton once said that, while England has its problems historically, “there was never an English wrong without an English protest.” Even the ability of the English to protest seems to have disappeared.

    Of course, I detect no clear evidence the French or Germans are changing, although I do suspect the Swiss, who used to be so fierce no one dared invade them, are growing a bit soft. And Russia doesn’t seem to be changing, perhaps because things there have always been so bad they can hardly get worse.

    I disagree with writer Welsh’s claim that a UK broken-up will allow democracy to survive. Africa’s many hell-holes are as small and tribal as his broken-up UK might be. Stable democracies require discipline and self-sacrifice. Lacking that, a dictator will step in to fill the vacuum.

    All I see in today’s UK is decadence and self-indulgence. A drunken youth, a working-class that doesn’t work, and a government bureaucracy that protects rapists and child abusers all provide no moral opposition to that centralized elite hogging London housing. I’m sure good British people remain, but they are all but invisible.

    Perhaps that’s why blockbuster young adult novels are trending dark and anti-utopian, with the Hunger Games being a prime example. They sense a world going rotten and are steeling themselves to live in such a world.

    –Michael W. Perry, Inkling Books

  2. Yes to Scotland and Independance, Then those people who vote will know that their vote counts, at present the Scottish vote counts for zero in UK elections.Scotland as a Nation will only improve the plight of the English, as their success will highlight Englands failures.

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