The Breakup Of Britain? Conference has kickstarted a new wave of discourse in the media. The following are news stories, editorial pieces and comment about Tom Nairn, the Conference, and wider debate about the future of these islands.

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Still Yes courtesy of The National

Break Up of Britain conference: Tom Nairn was right

THE war over Gaza and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine are only the most violent of today’s world-shaping ­conflicts. US-China rivalry over Taiwan, Iranian defiance, Brazil’s “active non-alignment”, Brexit ­xenophobia … as the list of aggressive postures grows there is one grim sliver of intellectual satisfaction: Tom Nairn was right.

After his death in January this year, Nairn was described by then-first minister Nicola Sturgeon as “one of the greatest thinkers, ­political ­theorists and intellectuals that ­Scotland has ever produced”.

He was right when he argued that ­nationalism and ­nationality are not mere ­expressions of “­false consciousness”. They lie at the centre of modern ­history and are integral to what we call…

Anthony Barnett
15 November 2023, The National

Tom Nairn - courtesy of The National

Fintan O'Toole: What made Tom Nairn one of our greatest thinkers

ONCE upon a time, I was trying to write a piece about Scotland for a London-based magazine. To describe the Scottish fiction writers of the 1980s and 1990s, I flourished a brilliant phrase: “valedictory realism”.

It was meant to describe the way those novelists evoked the vanishing industrial world that was being purposefully demolished by Margaret Thatcher. There was a clarity of vision that came with the awareness that a whole way of life was being extinguished.

I was very pleased with the formulation but the editor who had commissioned the piece told me he didn’t like it and cut it out. Imagine my surprise, though, when that issue of the magazine appeared with the editor’s own introductory piece at the front. It was headlined…

Fintan O’Toole
11 November 2023, The National

courtesy of The National

The endless links between anti-climate activism and the far-right

WHAT hope is there when one can literally be on fire and still obstinately refuse to see any reality in climate change? Or when the palpable experience of ecological disasters leads, not to environmental consciousness, but to bloody, authoritarian fantasies?

The wildfires in the state of Oregon in the summer of 2020 were the worst on record. The temperatures in the blazing forests, as tropical storm winds blew the fires over the crest of the Cascade mountains and across the state’s impoverished rural regions, would have reached at least 800C.

In a state already blighted by “deaths of despair”, soaring opiate addictions, with suicide rates rising and unemployment …


Richard Seymour
12 November 2023, The National


Radical Scotland: Making connections and the case for Scottish self-government in Thatcher’s time

Part One: We need a new direction

This article is published ahead of the major conference The Break Up Of Britain | A conference salute to Tom Nairn celebrating the life and work of Tom Nairn and as a reflection on where we are today.

Forty years back, the bi-monthly magazine Radical Scotland made its appearance. A decade later it made a conscious decision to close taking the bold, perhaps even arrogant, view that with the groundwork for the Scottish Parliament completed, its work was done. It published during a very bleak time for Scottish politics, a time when Thatcher was in the ascendency and hopes of a Scottish Parliament had been all but


Douglas Robertson and James Smyth
10 November 2023, Bella Caledonia

Flags creditThe National

Break Up of Britain conference expands as initial run sells out

A MAJOR conference on the future of Britain’s constitution has expanded after selling out its initial ticket run.

The Break-Up of Britain conference on November 18, which was conceived as a tribute to the late theorist Tom Nairn (below), is set to feature panels from a diverse range of speakers from across the UK.

As all 550 of the first tickets sold out, organisers have now purchased additional gallery space in the Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh, which will make an extra 200 seats available.

Throughout the day there will be debate between representatives from an array of publications and political parties, including Labour, the Greens and SNP. Several figures from The National, including columnist …

Lucy Garcia
10 November 2023, The National

Kier Starmer - courtesy of The National

Break-up of Britain: Keir Starmer will not reverse Tory miseries

THE forward march of Keir Starmer’s Labour Party continues.

Twenty points ahead in the polls and buoyed by recent by-election victories, Labour are in “1996 territory”, according to Strathclyde’s Professor John Curtice.

What lies behind the recent turnaround in Labour’s electoral fortunes?

A “fiscal event” is the polite parliamentary euphemism. A “catastrophic Tory economic meltdown” would be a better description.

One year ago, Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng proudly unveiled their now infamous “mini-budget”. Backed by the Tory caucus at Westminster, a right-wing party membership, and a network of…

Scott Lavery
5 November 2023, The National


Tom Nairn’s European Dream

The Scuola Normale Superiore!” He rolled the phrase around his lips, a Freuchie lilt meeting a Pisan rasp. “And the estetica of Benedetto Croce…that’s where it all begins and ends.”

It was the end of another two-hour interview session with Tom Nairn—one of Scotland’s greatest prose writers and certainly our most original modern…


Pat Kane
3 November 2023, Bella Caledonia


Wales and the Break Up of Britain

“Our future has to be ours to determine” argues Leanne Wood ahead of the major conference saluting Tom Nairn and assessing the British crisis. 
Yes Cymru was born from the inspiration of the Scottish independence campaign. My first Yes Cymru rally was in September 2014. I’d just returned from a trip to Scotland. That country was fired-up and buzzing with expectation…


Leanne Wood
2 November 2023, Bella Caledonia

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The establishment thinks it’s seen off all challengers. But people are angry

Widespread discontent is unlikely to cost Starmer the election, but it’ll cause problems for his future regime

The establishment is a little elated. Even with the Conservatives unlikley to win the next election, the show is, it believes, set to remain firmly on the road. Jeremy Corbyn’s been…

Adam Ramsay
30 October 2023, openDemocracy


The Breakup of Britain

This is a major conference on the democratic future of the United Kingdom and its constituent nations. Speakers include Neal Ascherson, journalist Isabel Hilton, Clive Lewis MP, The Scotsman journalist Joyce McMillan, prize-winning novelist James Robertson, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood – with many more speakers from across…


29 October 2023, Bella Caledonia

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Help to chart the next stage of the independence campaign in Edinburgh

AS surely as the tide comes in, so too does it goes out again. We all watched the seemingly unstoppable wave of support for Scottish independence wash over a decade of political upheaval. But now – even though the democratic case for independence is, if anything, stronger than it was nine years…

Peter McColl
22 October 2023, The National

Scottish flags waving - credit - The National

It's crucial Scotland is involved in the EU's expansion

Seen from the perspective of English progressives, we need the Scottish campaign for independence to shift from leaving Britain to leading Wales, and eventually England, into a much healthier Union – the EU.

I’d suggest that such a shift would transform Scotland’s referendum, when it eventually comes, into a better way for all the UK’s nations to come together, as geographically and historically …

Anthony Barnett, founder of Open Democracy
22 October 2023, The National


UK Covid Inquiry sheds a devastatingly bright light on just how broken the British government system truly is

Evidence given to the Covid Inquiry suggests the UK Government, riven by infighting and contemptuous of experts, was entirely unequal to the scale of the crisis.

Four weeks from now, an extraordinary group of writers, thinkers and politicians will be gathering in Edinburgh, led by speakers including the MPs Caroline Lucas and Clive Lewis, Leanne Woods of Plaid Cymru, and the great former Scotsman journalist Neal Ascherson…

Joyce McMillan
20 October 2023, The Scotsman

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Break-up of Britain Conference honouring Tom Nairn adds to line-up

THE BREAK-UP of Britain conference has revealed “several new high-profile additions” to its line-up – one month ahead of the event being held in Edinburgh.

The conference is being held in honour of Scottish political theorist Tom Nairn who passed away this year and will see those in attendance dig into the broken British constitutional…

Lucy Garcia
18 October 2023, The National

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Is Ireland getting ready to unite?

Sinn Féin is preparing for government in the Republic, having already won in the North. What would its success mean?

If the British state is under the impression that the SNP’s crisis has stalled the movement to break up the UK, then it’s not paying attention to what’s happening across the Irish Sea. When Sinn Féin wins the next general election in the Republic – which polls say it almost certainly will…

Adam Ramsay
29 June 2023, openDemocracy

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'Break-up of Britain' event set to welcome top thinkers

NEAL Ascherson, Caroline Lucas, and Lesley Riddoch will be among the writers, activists, and politicians gathering in Scotland later this year for a conference on the “Break-up of Britain”.

Held as a “salute to Tom Nairn”, the late nationalist thinker whose seminal work of the same title was published in 1977, the Edinburgh…

Xander Elliards
28 June 2023, The National

Independence Rally - Credit, PA

Caroline Lucas: Ending the Union could be good for us all

BORIS Johnson may well have slunk away in a blaze of ugliness but he was just a symptom. The disease is something deeper. And it’s still very much here.

Seen one way, the problem is our political institutions.

The archaic and undemocratic first-past-the-post voting system, an over-centralised governance system, the unelected Lords (although it has to be acknowledged that they’re currently doing a far better job of holding government to account than the Commons), the populist abuse of sovereignty, the stuffy and outdated conventions and public school atmosphere

Caroline Lucas
28 June 2023, The National

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EXCLUSIVE - Caroline Lucas says England must catch up on independence debate

AN influential English MP has called for voters south of the Border to reconsider their approach to the Union – saying the break up of Britain “might be good for us all”

Judith Duffy
28 June 2023, The National


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…


Mike Small
27 June 2023, Bella Caledonia

London Review of Books

On Tom Nairn

Tom​ nairn was shy of superlatives. The way post-Brexit British governments insist that every project is ‘world-beating’ or shows ‘global leadership’ made him smile. It’s just the language of the senile Ukanian state which has to believe in its own uniqueness, its non-pareil altitude above comparison. After his death last month, Tom was mourned as…


Neal Ascherson
16 February 2023, London Review of Books