From the Outer Edge

Rory Scothorne

  • Tom Nairn: ‘Painting Nationalism Red’? by Neal Ascherson
    Democratic Left Scotland, 27 pp, £4.00, February 2018

‘The subtlest of insults to Scotland is, it seems, to return to it,’ Neal Ascherson wrote in the Scottish political review Q in 1975. The historian Christopher Harvie described the emigrant intellectuals who pepper Scottish history as ‘red Scots’: ‘cosmopolitan, self-avowedly “enlightened” and, given a chance, authoritarian, expanding into and exploiting greater and more bountiful fields than their own country could provide’. The ‘black Scots’ who remained were ‘demotic, parochial, sensitive about community to the point of reaction, but keeping the ladder of social promotion open, resisting the encroachments of the English governing class’. Ascherson had just left his job as the Observer’s Eastern Europe correspondent to report on Scottish politics for the Scotsman. ‘Coming back,’ he wrote, ‘is not an action which is familiar in the pattern of Scottish activities, if I except coming back to die, coming back with shiny luggage from Calgary to see the folks before they die or coming back – even more briefly – to make fish in the river and sheep who stand in the road die.’ Returning to Edinburgh in anticipation of a devolved Scottish Assembly – in the 1979 referendum devolution gained more than 50 per cent of the votes, but less than the required 40 per cent of the overall electorate – and a rejuvenated public sphere, he still felt ‘the curious, hostile glances of fans who see a man elbowing his way towards the stadium as they are pouring out after the last whistle’.

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