“The thing I've always liked about the English ... ” begins Irvine Welsh, before pausing to take a slug of mineral water outside Bar Italia in London's Soho. Oh dear, here's a sentence that can't end well. Is festooning the ramparts of Edinburgh Castle with their effete colonialist viscera? Is glassing their pretentious hides as they emerge from a subtitled Russian production of Aeschylus' Oresteia, the highfalutin English bawbags?
But no. Welsh puts down his water and concludes with something altogether less combative: “... is that they never care about what people think of them. They go around the world doing terrible things but never ask to be liked. That's what I hate about the post-imperial Blairite mantras. ‘Please love us’ and ‘Let’s apologize for what we've done in the past.’ No — don't apologize. It was a long time ago.”
This desire to be loved is what drove him potty during the World Cup. “Why did they expect Scots to support England? It's like saying to a Manchester City fan: ‘So your team's out of the cup, you must be really rooting for Man U now.’ The problem is that the English want to be liked.” But it's not going to happen? “I think not!”
The 47-year-old novelist has always enjoyed sticking his Caledonian thistle into Anglo-Scottish relations. In his 1993 debut novel, Trainspotting, he had smackhead Renton make this point: “Some people hate the English, but I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonized by wankers. We can't even pick a decent culture to be colonized by. We are ruled by effete assholes.”
For someone who had voted for the Scottish National Party (in 1983 — he hasn't voted since), this was refreshing: it showed that in the risible decade of Braveheart, Welsh did not buy the tartan hype.
But has he now changed? The right-wing British newspaper the Daily Telegraph has reported that Welsh found the leader of the British Conservative Party David Cameron “attractive” and was pleased to admit a debt to Thatcherism; several papers leapt on this to claim that the formerly gritty socialist was now a Cameroon. At least Sean Connery, Edinburgh's most famous expat, has maintained his nationalist credentials. Has its second most famous turned soft?
“Somebody at the Telegraph was taking the piss,” he pleads. “I was trying to make a more subtle point. I have always thought Tony Blair was oily and sleazy, and Cameron is very similar — he just doesn't have the baggage. But in the same way as I have a sneaking admiration for Blair for destroying any principle in his own party, I have the same feeling for Cameron for doing the same to his.”
So he's not a Tory? “Apart from calling me a pedophile or a Hearts (Edinburgh soccer club) supporter, describing me as a Tory is the worst thing that anybody can say about me.”
He must, then, seek revenge. But how? An idea comes from his new novel, The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs. Welsh describes it as a “treatise on hate,” and one of its most engaging ideas is that, through the power of hatred, alcoholic environmental health officer Danny Skinner makes his prissy colleague, Brian Kibby, suffer his hangovers, liver damage, the pain inflicted during a post-match brawl, and — in poorer taste — a rape.
Welsh draws parallels between the notion of one character suffering for another's misdeeds with the suffering of soldiers and civilians in Iraq. “This is how conflicts should be stopped,” he says. “If political leaders could not put themselves up for a square go, they should not be allowed to send their soldiers to war.” Is he suggesting that if US President George W. Bush or British Prime Minister Tony Blair weren't prepared to go toe-to-toe with Saddam Hussein, the invasion should have been put on ice? “Exactly. And not Saddam when he's been on hunger strike, but when he was full fit. I reckon he could have taken Blair.”