Alasdair Gray

Alasdair Gray

Gerry Hassan & Lesley Riddoch

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Stuart Allan & David Forsyth

IS Alasdair Gray a national icon yet? He hopes not. "They don't move, you know," he told a packed book festival yesterday. What he is, though, as yesterday's performance reminded us, is his usual eccentric, beguiling, sometimes infuriating, occasionally forgetful and now and again laugh-out-loud funny self.

"Artists are no more important than labourers," he pointed out when asked if the voice of Scotland's artists hasn't been heard enough in the independence debate.

That said, you could never hear enough of that unique Scottish squeaky toy voice of his.

Maybe in the first years of a better nation - a line that Gray has admitted is not his but which he says "hit me in the eye" when he first heard it - someone will sign him up to provide the voices of a TV children's cartoon show.

On a day when Scotland's past, presents and possible futures were all on display at the book festival, Gray revealed he was confident about post-referendum Scotland whatever the result.

Later yesterday afternoon both Gerry Hassan and Lesley Riddoch were asking why Scottish self-confidence took so long to appear.

Scotland, Riddoch pointed out is "the Saudi Arabia of renewable energy".

It has, she was prepared to risk saying, "the most spectacular scenery of northern Europe". Its people, therefore, should be healthy, wealthy and wise. "Are they?" she asked. We didn't need to answer.

The question then is why wasn't civic Scotland more confident in its own voice?

Hassan and Riddoch spent an enthralling hour trying to work that out, ranging over everything from inadequate housing, Scotland's loser mentality (one that took in everything from Flodden, Darien to Argentina '78, Hassan pointed out), to the democratic failure of British - and Scottish - politics.

Oh yes, and the fact that Scottish men don't say much. Too many Scottish women, Riddoch argued, have been driven into being facilitators for "grunting men who won't talk to each other".

Both worried about the narrowness of the independence debate but were sure that the turnout for the referendum will be high. Power, Riddoch argued, is an aphrodisiac.

A different vision of Scottish sexiness emerged earlier in the day as National Museum of Scotland curators Stuart Allan and David Forsyth examined ideas of Scottishness and soldiery and the First World War.

Their book - and accompanying exhibition, Common Cause - explored how the Scotish martial tradition had been carried around the world in the 19th century and then came back to Europe in the shape of South African and Canadian Scottish battalions serving in the First World War.

These expat Caledonian soldiers - complete with bagpipes, kilts and Tam O'Shanter caps - tapped in, Allan and Forsyth suggested, to a long-established idea of the Scottish warrior.

And along with notions of bravery and history, Allan suggested, maybe the visual image of the Scottish soldier in his kilt allowed men to be "flamboyant, distinctive but also extremely masculine".

And possibly that's why men who weren't even Scots - many who joined the Tyneside Scots were Geordies - were keen to sign up, possibly Forsyth pointed out, to attract women.

The ladies loved a soldier, especially a Scottish soldier.