‘Bella Caledonia: An Anthology of Writing from 2007–2021’, ed. by Mike Small

Launched at the Radical Book Fair in Edinburgh in 2007 by Mike Small and Kevin Williamson, Bella Caledonia is a disruptive, challenging and subversive online publication that interrogates the conventions of traditional media through the deployment of cutting-edge cultural commentary, progressive and vitriolic observations, and a series of journalistic depth-charges which, once in print, cause an increasing number of ripples among the readership. Bella Caledonia: An Anthology of Writing from 2007–2021 showcases the variety of output from a publication established to ask difficult questions and offer innovative and progressive solutions to contentious issues. A true ‘state of the nation’ anthology, it contains more noteworthy pieces of writing than a review of this length could cover; I will endeavour to identify the eye-catchers and edited highlights in order to provide a sample of the delights within. 

Alan Bissett’s prose poem ‘Vote Britain’ is a righteous, angry, thunderous voice venting about the English perception of Scotland with its accompanying stereotypes and patronising attitude to the ‘region’ (like East Anglia or Yorkshire), drawing on the language of the publishing conglomerates and tabloid headlines to highlight the deleterious effects of the Conservative Government and Thatcherism on Scotland and its industries. It rightly went viral. 

Playwright and author Peter Arnott’s caustic ‘Dinner with No Voters or: What I wanted to say before the Pudding hit the fan’ muses on the complacency he associates with the ‘No campaign’ for the Referendum and the feeling that voting ‘no’ will remove the division, doubt and uncertainty that has riven Scotland. He demonstrates the emergent complicity between voters in Scotland and the historic barbarities undertaken by the British State and Westminster, where no longer will we be able to say ‘you didn’t vote for them’. He demonstrates the culpability that will come with Scotland voting ‘no’, decrying the manner in which, however uncomfortable, a ‘yes’ vote would present a moral hazard of a different type for Scotland and its electorate. 

Meaghan Delahunt’s chapter laments the death of the progressive Gough Whitlam in Australia who came to power in 1972 and became the first Australian Prime Minister to be removed from office, leaving in 1975. Despite being too young to vote at the time, Delahunt recounts the atmosphere around the election campaign, indicative of an energetic, optimistic and generation-changing moment. Whitlam was a politician of his time in a radicalised era defined by Vietnam, Gay Rights and Women’s Liberation, among other movements. Notably, Delahunt traces a direct cultural line between Whitham’s government and the rise to global prominence of Australian artists such as Richard Flanagan who won the Booker Prize. There is a pointed analysis of the political complicity between the Westminster Government, MI6 and the CIA in bringing down the Whitlam government, observing that most people would be more familiar with the activity occurring in Chile or Greece than Australia. The chapter concludes with a comparison between the election of Whitlam and the referendum in Scotland, the parallels between the two campaigns no better highlighted than by the presence in both of Rupert Murdoch and the problems posed by ‘the threat of a good example.’

Katie Gallogy Swan writes passionately about the plight suffered by professional women with a public profile in the online space, indicating that this demographic ‘needs a health and safety protocol’. Swan details how women publishing their work is a radical act given their ongoing and increasing alienation by the media, describing the retaliation against the proclamations of Roosh V as a bubble of resistance but warning of the dangers associated with being too congratulatory. The opportunity to challenge the structural inequalities that have led to such a polarised and dangerous system is one that, Swan emphasises, presents a challenge to maintain the women’s struggle as high profile – ‘keeping it there’.  

Alistair Davidson follows Alan Bissett with his short but powerful poem ‘The trouble with the council tax is the sounds your buzzer makes’, which highlights the desperate inequality and financial persecution that faces out-of-work families who are perpetually under pressure from debt recovery companies and bailiffs. Told from the perspective of a man, there is a darker undertone that dwells on the effect of money worries on mental health, with the subject describing themselves at one point as a ‘burden on the world’ and considering where such ‘dangerous thoughts’ may lead.

These are just a sample of the striking contents of the anthology, with publisher Leamington Books once more leading the charge when it comes to the quality and variety of their output. Bella Caledonia is a remarkable collection which demonstrates the skill and finesse of the editors in gathering such a representative cohort of commentators whose incisive and prescient articulations will long remain in the imagination.

Bella Caledonia is published by Leamington Books

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