Most of Trainspotting is set in Leith, a largely working-class neighborhood of Edinburgh. Welsh wrote most of the book in different varieties of Scottish English, which is how most of the characters in the story speak. This focus on Scottish identity helps convey pride in Scottish culture. One of the most significant elements of Scottish culture in the book is how Scotland differs from England. Although Scotland and England are both part of the UK, characters in the book like Rent Boy feel strongly that his Scottish identity is more important than his British identity, which Rent Boy rejects so strongly that he doesn’t even like it when a pub’s name in London changes to “the Britannia.” Not all Scottish characters feel the same way as Rent Boy, however. In fact, it’s Rent Boy’s own brother Billy who joins the British army to fight on behalf of Britain in Ireland, where he dies (perhaps without even appreciating the full context for the conflict). Billy died during the Troubles, a decades-long conflict between the largely Protestant British loyalists who wanted Northern Ireland to remain part of the United Kingdom and largely Catholic republicans who wanted a unified and independent island of Ireland. For Rent Boy, the historical parallels between Scotland and republican Ireland are clear, since both have fought for independence from England, and so by joining the British army, Billy betrayed his own heritage.
Still, Rent Boy also has mixed feelings about Scotland. On the one hand, he believes that patriotism in general is bad, a belief he puts into action when he leaves Scotland for good at the end of the novel. Rent Boy says that the main reason he leaves is violent, sexist Begbie, who stands for everything bad about Scotland that Rent Boy can’t escape while he’s there, namely his drug addiction. Yet Rent Boy can’t help feeling loyal to him. Ultimately, Rent Boy realizes that his loyalty to Begbie is holding him back, just as his environment in Scotland was holding him back by encouraging him to stay in cycles of addiction. The empty train station in Leith symbolizes how Rent Boy’s surroundings keep him from moving on. Trainspotting thus depicts a nuanced view of Scottish identity, using the specific culture of working-class Edinburgh to dramatize the nation’s larger struggle to reconcile its position as part of the UK with the desire of many of its residents to obtain greater autonomy and ability to self-govern, similar to how Rent Boy and the other characters seek greater control over their own lives.
Scottish Identity ThemeTracker
Scottish Identity Quotes in Trainspotting
The sweat wis lashing oafay Sick Boy; he wis trembling. Ah wis jist sitting thair, focusing oan the telly, tryin no tae notice the cunt. He wis bringing me doon. Ah tried tae keep ma attention oan the Jean–Claude Van Damme video.
The train was nearly twenty minutes late, an excellent performance by British Rail standards. Stevie wondered whether she’d be on it. Paranoia hit him. Waves of fear shuddered through his body. The stakes were high, the highest ever. He couldn’t see her, couldn’t even picture her in his mind’s eye. Then she was almost upon him, different to how he thought of her, more real, even more beautiful. It was the smile, the look of emotion reciprocated. He ran the short distance to her and held her in his arms. They kissed for a long time. When they stopped, the platform was deserted and the train was well on its way to Dundee.
Ah sing out, a twisting, pogo–ing mass of rubber. Iggy Pop looks right at me as he sings the line: ‘America takes drugs in psychic defence’; only he changes ‘America’ for ‘Scatlin’, and defines us mair accurately in a single sentence than all the others have ever done.
Myth: Begbie’s mates like him.
Reality: Begbie’s mates fear him.
An unspoken contract was forged between them in a split–second. Jackie’s screams reverberated around the stairwell, as they booted and dragged him from landing to landing. He vainly tried to protect himself and, through his fear and pain, hoped that there would be something left of him to move out of Leith, when the ordeal was over.
Ah chums Dode tae the hoespital. His wounds wir likesay no as bad as they looked. Ah goes intae see um lyin oan a trolley eftir thuv, likes, patched um up.
Perhaps, he allowed himself to speculate, they had some perverse parental feelings for her. He had noted that with older people. They often try to control younger, more popular and vivacious people; usually due to the fact that they are jealous of the qualities the younger people have and they lack.
Rents picks up a stane and flings it at the squirrel. Ah feel likes, sick, ma hert misses a beat as it whizzes past the wee gadge. He goes tae pick up another, laughin like a maniac, but ab stoap um.
Ah walk tae freedom; perr auld Spud gits taken doon.
A polisman gestures tae him tae move.
—Sorry mate, ah sais, feelin cuntish.
Ah have an unresolved relationship wi ma deid brother, Davie, as ah huv been unable tae work oot or express ma feelings about his catatonic life and subsequent death.
He wis ma felly. Ye eywis think it’ll be different, thit ye kin change. Thum, thit ye kin make a difference.
The pub sign is a new one, but its message is old. The Britannia. Rule Britannia. Ah’ve never felt British, because ah’m not. It’s ugly and artificial. Ah’ve never really felt Scottish either, though. Scotland the brave, ma arse; Scotland the shitein cunt.
Anywey, ah widnae mind gaun aw the wey wi a gadge, if it felt right. Jist fir the experience. Problem is, ah only really fancy birds. Guys jist dinnae look sexy. It’s aw ahoot aesthetics, fuck all tae dae wi morality.
“I always find the term ‘opportunistic infection’ amusing. In our culture, it seems to invoke some admirable quality. I think of the ‘opportunism’ of the entrepreneur who spots a gap in the market, or that of the striker in the penalty box. Tricky buggers, those opportunistic infections.”
The guys are looking embarrassed, really shit up by the crowd that’s developed. It’s sortay like, feeding off itself.
—Ah well, ah’ll leave yis tae it. Keep up the trainspottin mind! He staggered oaf, his rasping, drunkard’s cackles filling the desolate barn. Ah noticed that Begbie seemed strangely subdued and uncomfortable. He wis turned away fae us.
It wis only then ah realised thit the auld wino wis Begbie’s faither.
—It’s the fuckin best. You ken the Mother Superior, Rents. Ah believe in the free market whin it comes tae drugs. Ah’ve goat tae gic the NHS its due though. Since ah hud this pin oaf n went oan the maintenance therapy ah’ve started tae believe thit the state kin compete wi private enterprise in oor industry, n produce a satisfyin product at low cost tae the consumer.
No. He had to stay in control, There was too much at stake. There was everything at stake. There is nobody looking at Begbie though. Those who are not oblivious to him, can feel the vibes he is giving out. They employ that special talent people have: Pretending nutters are invisible. Even his companions won’t meet his gaze.
Ironically, it was Begbie who was the key. Ripping off your mates was the highest offence in his book, and he would demand the severest penalty. Renton had used Begbie, used him to burn his boats completely and utterly. It was Begbie who ensured he could never return.
Now, free from them all, for good, he could be what he wanted to be. He’d stand or fall alone. This thought both terrified and excited him as he contemplated life in Amsterdam.