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On with the Pooling and Merging

Neal Ascherson: The Incomparable Tom Nairn, 17 February 2000

After Britain: New Labour and the Return of Scotland 
by Tom Nairn.
Granta, 336 pp., £15.99, January 2000, 1 86207 293 0
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... contribution occurs in the last section, ‘Epilogue: The Last Day’, a sort of diary of what Tom Nairn did and felt on the unforgettable rainy Thursday of 6 May 1999. It was the first polling day for the reconvened Scottish Parliament. As Nairn drove back from Fife, where he had gone to say goodbye to a dying ...
... is to blame. Modernisation has attacked societies as they were, with utterly divergent pasts, customs and languages; hence it has precipitated state-forms which can only be ‘irrational’ fusions of old and new. The national-particular element, as Hobsbawm says, has remained internal to all subsequent general social development, and crucial to ...


Tom Nairn: On Culloden, 9 May 1996

... norm. Instead, they have tended to take refuge in an over-emotional closet. Unable either to stomach or to dismiss the Express line, they have fallen backwards into a prickly protective hedge of unreason. Yet today it is suddenly easier. Though one wouldn’t have known it at the ceremonies, part of the hedge has collapsed. Later in that same TV ...

Ghosts in the Palace

Tom Nairn, 24 April 1997

... or sovereignty either. Yet it is in the nature of taboos to be broken: they are founded on custom and tradition, not democracy. In the UK they were a substitute for democracy as well as nationalism. Once smashed up by the Thatcherite wave-machine they fell immediately beyond redemption, and good riddance to them. The future we have to get on with is ...

It’s a Knock-Out

Tom Nairn, 27 May 1993

The Spirit of the Age: An Account of Our Times 
by David Selbourne.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 388 pp., £20, February 1993, 1 85619 204 0
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... In his brilliant account of collapsing Yugoslavia, A Paper House, Mark Thompson meets a leader of the Vojvodina Ruthenes called Professor Julijan Tamas. Since 1989 this tiny people has been struggling back into political existence. In 1991 they managed to stage the first World Congress of Ruthenes and just before that the first Bible in Ruthenian had finally appeared ...

The Sound of Thunder

Tom Nairn: The Miners’ Strike, 8 October 2009

Marching to the Fault Line: The 1984 Miners’ Strike and the Death of Industrial Britain 
by Francis Beckett and David Hencke.
Constable, 303 pp., £18.99, February 2009, 978 1 84901 025 2
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Shafted: The Media, the Miners’ Strike and the Aftermath 
edited by Granville Williams.
Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, 176 pp., £9.99, March 2009, 978 1 898240 05 1
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... be used without doing unacceptable damage to the global climate. But that isn’t going to happen tomorrow. And as to the dream of coal becoming a zero-emissions source of power – forget it.’ The dream even so continues to appeal to both coal-using industrialists and the government, though the combination of the enormous investment needed, and the ...

Triumph of the Termites

Tom Nairn: Gordon Brown, 8 April 2010

The End of the Party: The Rise and Fall of New Labour 
by Andrew Rawnsley.
Viking, 802 pp., £25, March 2010, 978 0 670 91851 5
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What Went Wrong, Gordon Brown?: How the Dream Job Turned Sour 
edited by Colin Hughes.
Guardian, 294 pp., £8.99, January 2010, 978 0 85265 219 0
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Broonland: The Last Days of Gordon Brown 
by Christopher Harvie.
Verso, 206 pp., £8.99, February 2010, 978 1 84467 439 8
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... lapsed irretrievably from history’s mainstream just can’t accept their fate: this is an epitome of the Brown leadership years. The high point of his first prime ministerial visit to Washington was a declaration that ‘no power on earth’ could separate Britain and the US and destroy the special relationship. No power, that is, except the weevils and ...

Managed by Ghouls

Tom Nairn: Unionism’s Graveyard, 30 April 2009

Union and Unionisms: Political Thought in Scotland, 1500-2000 
by Colin Kidd.
Cambridge, 312 pp., £15.99, December 2008, 978 0 521 70680 3
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... words: cadavers lend themselves better to dissection and taxonomy. But even the admiring anatomist has to concede that, as an ideology, it has become ‘more overt, yet also shriller and less tolerant of ambiguity and complexity’. The Labour Party above all has felt impelled to prop up the Union, as demonstrated by the works of the present prime ...


Tom Nairn, 3 July 1980

Gramsci and Marxist Theory 
edited by Chantal Mouffe.
Routledge, 288 pp., £9.50, November 1979, 0 7100 0358 7
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Gramsci and the State 
by Christine Buci-Glucksmann.
Lawrence and Wishart, 470 pp., £14, February 1980, 9780853154839
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Gramsci’s Politics 
by Anne Showstack Sassoon.
Croom Helm, 261 pp., £12.95, April 1980, 9780709903260
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... like stones into the sea, a darkness so utter the only hope was to feel, one day, that the bottom might have been reached. Though Gramsci faced this with his customary toughness, it meant recognising that one had been turned from a would-be ploughman of the historical field into manure. ‘You don’t live as a lion ...

From the Outer Edge

Rory Scothorne: ‘Painting Nationalism Red’, 6 December 2018

Tom Nairn‘Painting Nationalism Red’? 
by Neal Ascherson.
Democratic Left Scotland, 27 pp., £4, February 2018
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... last whistle’. Ascherson’s homecoming in 1975 coincided with that of another ‘red Scot’, Tom Nairn, whose own journeys, intellectual and geographical, are now surveyed in Ascherson’s essay-length intellectual biography. The essay was commissioned by Democratic Left Scotland, a small, polite collection of left-wing intellectuals and activists ...


R.W. Johnson, 7 July 1988

The Enchanted Glass: Britain and Its Monarchy 
by Tom Nairn.
Radius, 402 pp., £25, June 1988, 0 09 172960 2
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... Tom Nairn has, for many years, been pondering the peculiarities of the British state with impressive intelligence and originality. His earlier work, The Break-Up of Britain, remains a landmark – but had the curious deficiency of devoting relatively little space to England, which is, even from Nairn’s Marxist and Scots nationalist vantage-point, the heart of the matter ...

Democratic Warming

Tom Nairn: The Upstaging of the G8, 4 August 2005

... sense. Like global warming, it has imposed itself by assorted and sometimes ill-understood symptoms, and shown itself to be a fact leaving no option but all-round implementation. Social-democratic warming happens to be what’s happening: restrainable, deformable, but not really dispensable. Market-force mechanisms can’t do without Third Ways, or ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: A Spasso con Gusto, 1 November 2007

... as if the recent hikes in the price of pasta weren’t bad enough. The appeal to the individual bottom line is typical of the rhetoric of the right; no cuddly new conservatives here. (For a while Forza Italia had a poster up showing Romano Prodi’s face with the simple slogan più tasse per tutti – ‘more taxes for everyone’ – plastered across it.) And ...

Mrs Thatcher’s Spengler

Tom Nairn, 24 January 1980

An Unfinished History of the World 
by Hugh Thomas.
Hamish Hamilton, 700 pp., £12.50, November 1980, 0 241 10282 0
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... wages. Ships’ biscuits remained edible, when mixed with water, for up to fifty years. The fore-stomach of the flea becomes blackened by ‘a solid mass of bacilli’ in the transmission of bubonic plague. Crocodile dung was used as a contraceptive in Ancient Egypt. And so on, and on. Pursuing this meandering course through the undergrowth of the human ...

What nations are for

Tom Nairn, 8 September 1994

The Politics of Dispossession: The Struggle for Palestinian Self-Determination, 1969-1994 
by Edward Said.
Chatto, 400 pp., £20, July 1994, 0 7011 6135 3
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Representations of the Intellectual: The 1993 Reith Lectures 
by Edward Said.
Vintage, 90 pp., £4.99, July 1994, 0 09 942451 7
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... The politics of dispossession is nationalism – an over-generalisation which at once calls for precise qualification. It is quite true that not all nationalists are dispossessed: possessors have their own (often strident) variations on the theme. It is also true that nationality politics did not originate among the crushed and uprooted: indeed its primary source was the nouveaux riches or upwardly mobile of Early Modern times, in Holland, England and France ...

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