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Robert Crawford: 'The only major English novel set in Scotland is To the Lighthouse'

The award-winning poet and biographer tells Nicholas Wroeabout Dickens, Daveheart and devolution

Guessing where Robert Crawford stands on the question of Scottish independence is not difficult. As a critic and academic, his books include The Scottish Invention of English Literature, a biography of Robert Burns and, earlier this year, Bannockburns, in which he examined writers' responses to the issue since the emblematic Scottish victory at the battle of 1314. As a poet, Crawford's 1990 debut collection was called A Scottish Declaration and included not one, but two poems entitled "Scotland". Since then his eight volumes of verse have featured poems named after Scottish places and public figures as well as "Scotch Broth" and "The Auld Enemy". In his latest collection, Testament, published this month, there are poems called "The Scottish Constitution", "Flodden" and "Daveheart", in which the prime minister "St George o' Osborne tae hi richt / And SamCam by his side" and his stance on independence do not emerge well: "Nae every battle's won, ye ken / On the playin fields o Eton".

"Yes, I would like to see an independent Scotland," Crawford announces straightforwardly. "But at the same time, I'm conscious that political poetry is not fashionable or easy to pull off. So on the one hand, I didn't want something that was simply sloganeering; on the other, I didn't want something that was so even-handed that it didn't do anything. Like most Scottish people, I have mixed feelings about Britain and Britishness, and so part of the attraction is playing with different acoustics. While something like 'Daveheart' is a plain balladic acoustic, I also like to use language and rhyme in ways you can't quite predict. In the same way that I hope the politics of this series is not absolutely predictable, either."

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