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New Left Review I/83, January-February 1974


Tom Nairn

Scotland and Europe

For a number of reasons this seems an appropriate moment to reconsider the problem of Scottish nationalism. With its November 1973 electoral victory in the Govan Constituency the Scottish National Party has recovered from its setbacks in the 1970 general election. At the same time the Kilbrandon Commission has supplied a stimulus to regional self-government in the United Kingdom, by recommending the establishment of Scottish and Welsh parliaments. Both the tenor and the reception of these recommendations indicate, significantly, that nothing will come of them unless they are strongly and vociferously supported in Scotland and Wales. The English majority will not enact such reforms unless pushed. But then, why should it do so? In Ireland we are at the same time witnessing a wholesale alteration of the constitutional status of Ulster. But it is not only the United Kingdom’s multi-national state which is in motion. In continental Europe too important movements have arisen in a similar direction. In a recent study of the present condition of the nation-state, Nicos Poulantzas wrote that we are seeing ‘ruptures in the national unity underlying existing national states, rather than the emergence of a new State over and above them: that is, the very important contemporary phenomenon of regionalism, as expressed particularly in the resurgence of nationalities, showing how the internationalization of capital leads rather to a fragmentation of the state as historically constituted than to a supra-national State . . .’ [1] ‘L’Internationalisation des rapports capitalistes et l’état-nation’, Les Temps Modernes, no. 319, February 1973 pp. 1492–3. More recently, Les Temps Modernes has devoted a special issue to an extensive survey of national minorities in France, perhaps the most strongly unified of the ‘historically constituted’ European nations at the state level. [2] Les Temps Modernes, nos. 324–6, August-September 1973. In Italy, where regional self-government has become a question of practical politics, intellectual concern with the topic is also increasing. Perhaps the most valuable overview of repressed and resurgent nationalities in western Europe is provided by Sergio Salvi’s Le nazioni proibite: Guida a dieci colonie interne dell’Europa occidentale [3] Vallecchi, Florence 1973.. Hence, it is indispensable to try and view Scottish or Welsh developments in a European perspective. This is the aim of the present paper. [*] This paper was originally presented at a post-graduate seminar of the Glasgow University’s Department of Politics, held in Helensburgh in October 1973. I would like to take this opportunity of thanking the students of the Department who asked me to speak there. As printed here it still largely consists of notes for a talk, with only minor changes and the addition of some quotations and references. Only the concluding section is mainly new, and has been influenced by working on the preparation of the International Conference on Minorities, due to be held in Trieste from 27 to 31 May 1974. This will be the largest forum so far for the expression and consideration of minority problems in Europe, including those of repressed or resurgent nationality. I would like to look at certain aspects of Scotland’s nationalism and modern history in a wider, more comparative, and more objective way than has usually been done in the past.

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