Dewar off message with Trainspotters of Edinburgh

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The Independent Online
NEW LABOUR has fallen out with its newly cultivated Cool Britannia friends north of the border. Donald Dewar, Secretary of State for Scotland, has risked shattering the cultural harmony of the Edinburgh Festival by denouncing some of the cult heroes of contemporary culture in Scotland as "workerist".

He even takes pride in admitting that he has neither read nor seen Trainspotting, the book and later film that became internationally famous.

Last night, Irvine Welsh, the author of Trainspotting, was reading at the Edinburgh Book Festival to a packed crowd of young people from his latest novel Filth.

Faith Lyddell, director of the Edinburgh Book Festival, who is championing Scottish writers at the festival, reacted strongly to Mr Dewar's comments.

She said: "It is unclear whether he is objecting to the vision these authors portray or the reality. But it is a bizarre thing to say. He should certainly read Trainspotting to understand what his young constituents are reading, to understand their lives and the choices they have to make."

Arriving at the festival, Mr Dewar a lover of theatre and music, recalled that he had attended most festivals since 1949. Asked by the Scottish press to name his cultural heroes, he named the artist William McTaggart, the playwright Robert McLennan, and the composer James MacMillan. He said his favourite architecture was Craigievar Castle in Aberdeenshire.

These may all have been politically correct north of the border, but when he was asked about popular and earthy prize-winning Scottish novelists, such as James Kelman and Jeff Torrington, who write about working-class life in Mr Dewar's native Glasgow, he replied that he distrusted their "workerist" attitudes.

Mr Dewar went on: "I find it rather heavy and depressing. That's a side of life, but it is not all of Scotland."

And in one interview for the Sunday Times Scotland, he somewhat bravely criticised the standard of Scottish playwriting, even though many of the country's playwrights are gathered in Edinburgh this week.

Mr Dewar said: "I think the problem with the Scottish theatre is that there are a lot of plays now which are kind of conversational slices of life. They are very nicely observed and very witty, with wonderful dialogue. But at the end of them, what are they all about?"

Philip Howard, artistic director of the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh, famous for its premieres of Scottish plays, said last night: "Mr Dewar could not be more wrong. Most commentators say theatres like the Traverse are too full of a non-narrative, non-linear, experimental form and why don't we have more story-telling. To be honest, Mr Dewar needs to come and see more plays here.

"But his comments do show that he has an interest in the arts, even if he is wrong. One gets so cynical about ministers and it is brilliant that this one has opinions about plays. It means that we might have a First Minister of the new Scottish Parliament who has a cultural policy."