Seems like as good a day as any to write about politics. Well, about writing and politics anyway.
In the Scottish Borders, political engagement is rife amongst the artistic community. The vast majority of those in the creative industries down here, particularly writers and musicians, are politically active one way or another, with those on the left outnumbering those on the right something like four or five to one. I won’t attempt to guess why that is – let’s just assume my explanation involves a long, self-aggrandizing list of the shared virtues of the creative community and the political left – but it’s an important and encouraging fact that the resurgence of engagement by Scottish voters is also paralleled amongst our artists.
I’m not saying that art itself should be politically motivated. But I do think it should at least be politically aware. Orwell famously wrote about the impossibility of remaining an “artist” in a fascist state, of somehow rising above the murky political landscape, of keeping your mind clean in a dirty world. There are plenty of reasons why that’s not practical, but there are just as many reasons why it’s not desirable.
Politics isn’t about elections and parties and constituency boundaries and legal precedent. Politics is simply the science of how we are to live together. That’s one of the most basic values we as human beings have to think about. It’s so core to having a coherent worldview, so vital to our sense of who we are (collectively and individually) and where we’re going, that without it there’s no basis to anything we do. I guess what I mean is that anyone who is “not bothered” about how human beings agree to treat each other really has no business writing. They don’t have anything to say.
Everybody has got their little internal checklist of what it means to be a “proper” writer. Snobbish and exclusive things, sometimes, like having an agent, or a proper income. Me, I think being serious about reading and serious about writing are all that’s needed. You definitely don’t need to be serious about politics to write something good. That’s only for if you want to write something important.