Edinburgh to host major conference on democracy and constitutional reform in honour of Tom Nairn
Anyone who has lived through New Labour; Starmer’s posturing; the endless Royal deaths, marriages, coronations, Jubilees and divorces; the Johnson debacle; or Gordon Brown’s endless Federalism wheeze; will recognise the Parody Britain described by Tom Nairn when he wrote of the UK as a
“changeling Kingdom of Thatcher, Major and Blair — a parody of Britain which strives to rejuvenate itself by will-power, charisma, histrionics, cascades of “new ideas” and ingenious policies from cones to domes — anything except a new political constitution. Within this non-stop, non-revolution from above, what we see are features of revered tradition reinvented as farce, and sometimes transformed into their opposites.”
This autumn there’s to be a major conference in Edinburgh – the Break Up of Britain – to celebrate Nairn’s work and explore his themes and ideas. Several speakers have already signed up to be part of the discussion on Saturday 18 November, including Fintan O’Toole, Isabel Hilton, Kojo Koram, Joyce McMillan, Neal Ascherson, Hilary Wainwright, and James Robertson.
The conference will address key aspects of Nairn’s thought and debate a range of issues related to Britain’s ailing democracy.
Lesley Riddoch, one of the speakers has said:
“The Break-up of Britain conference is a politically ambitious attempt to connect everyone across these islands who believe the days of Westminster sovereignty are over — and that’s a lot of people.
“It includes independence supporters in Scotland and Wales, but also folk in England who back the right to self-determination amongst other nations in the UK as well as their own; Irish people on both sides of the border exploring the possible conditions for reunification; and English activists who want to transform their country from being the most centralised in Europe.
“Can all these different interests find common cause? We intend to find out because the British status quo is archaic and untenable — as the late and celebrated writer Tom Nairn pointed out half a century ago.”
The event will also challenge the emerging authoritarian consensus at Westminster, which has seen successive UK governments attack immigrants, the labour movement and environmental protesters.
Conference partners include openDemocracy, the Scottish Independence Foundation, Compass, Bella Caledonia, Verso, Democratic Left Scotland, Europe for Scotland, the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust, and The Byline Times.
The event is being held in honour of the late Scottish political thinker Tom Nairn, who died in January aged 90. Nairn is best known for his 1977 essay collection The Break-up of Britain, which anticipated the rise of Scottish nationalism and the demise of the British state.
As Rory Scothorne has written about Nairn:
“Whether he was explaining the 1960s British class system for the New Left Review, or theorising globalisation in the London Review of Books decades later, at every step of his career he reached boldly into the future and came back bearing prophecies of extraordinary analytical and rhetorical power.”
“In 1977’s The Break-up of Britain, he gave us both a phrase and a framework for understanding the deep schisms of geography, identity and politics which continue to transform the strange place that he called ‘Ukania’. In 1988’s The Enchanted Glass he produced the most scathing and sophisticated critique of the British monarchy ever committed to print. Across a life that spanned continents and languages, he was a model intellectual: a brilliant, original writer, relentlessly committed to both his own country of Scotland and an international republic of ideas.”
As Britain staggers through the present ‘constitutional catatonia’ as Nairn called it, the self-harm of Brexit and the different straining voices of Ireland, Wales, Scotland and, yes England, Nairn’s ideas seem more relevant than ever.
Buy your tickets HERE.
Read more about the event HERE.