IN James McEnaney’s recent book, A Scottish Journey, he recounts visiting the emigrants statue in Helmsdale in Sutherland, a village planned in 1814 to resettle communities removed throughout Sutherland during the Clearances. Many left for the likes of Canada and are depicted in the monument’s 10-foot-tall bronze sculptures.

Unveiled by then first minister Alex Salmond in 2007, the inscription for the monument, which sits just up the coast from Golspie, says it “commemorates the people of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, who, in the face of great adversity, sought freedom, hope and justice beyond these shores. They and their descendants went forth and explored continents, built great countries and cities and gave their enterprise and culture to the world”.

The National:

The National puts it to Alan Bissett that some of those words could also be said of other Scots, who, as part of the British Empire, went on to help colonise other nations. He agrees.

READ MORE: James McEnaney on his newfound insights after Scottish Journey

The playwright, novelist and performer is perhaps best known for his astute comic creation Moira Bell, a straight-talking single mum from Falkirk.

After her return to the Edinburgh Fringe stage in 2017 for the acclaimed (More) Moira Monologues, Bissett is now about to present It Wisnae Me, a three-hander about Scotland’s imperialist past.

“Growing up you hear about all these great things that Scots took to the world,” says Bissett, who speaks with The National the day before he takes Moira to Moray as part of the Findhorn Bay Festival.

He continues: “In order to do all that, these things presented as being noble and progressive, we had to be in the world. And we were in the world because we were part of the British Empire, which exploited people.”

It Wisnae Me dates back to 2014 when Bissett and Andy Arnold of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre performed an early, script-in-hand response the former had written to colonialism – the subject of that year’s Mayfesto festival.

Later that year, during the Commonwealth Games, writer Louise Welsh presented the Empire Cafe, a series of events exploring Glasgow’s links with the slave trade.

“That year Scotland was very much in the air, and colonialism was a conversation that was just starting to be had, especially in the context of the referendum and the Commonwealth Games,” says Bissett. “You only have to look at some of the buildings in Glasgow to see that in some ways Scotland benefited from being part of the Empire.

“People tell two competing narratives about Scotland, often depending on their own political position: one about how Scotland has been exploited and another in which Scotland is an exploiter. Of course, it’s possible for both of these things to be true, and my play explores the complexities of that.”

Caught up in 2014’s referendum, Bissett forgot about the piece before subsequently developing it with Zandra Yeaman of the Glasgow-based Coalition for Racial Equalities and Rights, the organisation behind Black History Month.

Actors Andrew John Tait, Danielle Jam and Ali Watt will now star in the “much improved” play, which opens at a Play, A Pie and A Pint at Glasgow’s Oran Mor on Monday before a run at Edinburgh’s Traverse next week.

The piece was originally titled “Jock: On Trial”, Bissett says, after noting how It Wisnae Me reunites him with Cheryl Martin, director of his first play, 2009’s The Ching Room.

A medley of styles “to keep the audience on its toes”, it may evoke strong reactions, he says.

“Nobody is going to be indifferent to this play,” says Bissett, who is currently balancing busy family life with adapting Alastair McIntosh’s book on land ownership, Soil and Soul, for the stage, and finding producers for a film script.

He adds: “People might feel anger, they might feel guilt. But no-one is going to be bored.”

Monday to Oct 6, Oran Mor, Glasgow, 1pm, £10 to £14. Tel: 08444 771 000.

Oct 9 to Oct 13, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, 1pm, Oct 12 7pm, £14.50. Tel: 0131 228 1404.