What's So Wrong with the Working Class, Donald?; SO OUT OF TOUCH: WHY DEWAR IS WRONG OVER MODERN CULTURE

Article excerpt

A man of culture is our Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland.

He knows and cares about the arts. He has attended the Edinburgh Festival religiously for decades.

Just the other week he was announcing more government aid for culture and promising, quite rightly, to get rid of admission charges for the national galleries.

Donald believes the arts should be for all, and who could argue with that?

The trouble is he does not seem to be quite up to speed with a fair swathe of living Scottish culture.

In an interview the other day he denounced much new Scottish fiction as "heavy and depressing". More worrying than that, for a Labour minister and a Glasgow MP, Donald said he distrusted some of the most successful Scottish novels in recent years because they were "workerist".

He even seemed quite proud of the fact that he had never read Irvine Welsh's sensationally- successful Trainspotting, far less seen the movie.

But "workerist": what does that mean coming from the Scottish leader of what was once the party of the working class? What would Donald have us read instead?

And what is so wrong with being working class?

In some New Labour circles it is a medium-grade insult to label anyone as workerist.

Supposedly it means you romanticise the working class and exploit them for the sake of your own, usually left- wing politics.

The irony is that Welsh, for one, would probably agree with Dewar.

The hugely successful Edinburgh writer, busy making himself notorious again with a new book called Filth about the activities of a depraved Scottish policeman, long ago took a swipe at "proletarian fiction".

Welsh took the reasonable view that with much of Scotland's heavy industry gone, his tales of drug addicts and "schemies" were a more truthful reflection of modern Scottish life than the books of older writers eulogising the old working class.

But the minister, elected by "workers" in their thousands, is missing more than one point. Donald, who hasn't got the hang of Cool Britannia, begs the question: what is the crime in being "workerist", or writing about the working class? Scotland is a working class country and proud of it. Here even middle class people cling to their roots in working class communities, no matter where their careers take them, and it is a foolish politician who forgets the fact.

It is one of the things that separates us from England, after all, where Essex man long ago decided that upwardly mobile was the only way to be.

It was for that reason that Scotland voted Labour throughout the Thatcher years - a truly "workerist" thing to do - when it was pronounced "unelectable" elsewhere and the majority in England was busy embracing the Tories. Small wonder, then, that these truths are reflected in books, whether Donald likes it or not. Scotland has refused the choice made by England. Throughout the country working class attitudes, working class morality and working class traditions are as strong as ever.

Quite simply, people like it that way. …