The Early Days of a Better Nation

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Sage of Freuchie

Tom Nairn: 'Painting Nationalism Red'?
Neal Ascherson
Democratic Left Scotland, n.d. (2018)

This is an odd pamphlet which is well worth getting. Some day it'll be a collector's item. It's well-produced on glossy paper, with a striking cover and, inside, a fine reproduction of the portrait whose gift and sitter the pamphlet celebrates. In these pages three big names meet: the author Neal Ascherson, the subject Tom Nairn, and the painter, Sandy Moffat.

It has already been reviewed, briefly and enthusiastically by Davie Laing, and lengthily and discursively by Rory Scothorne. There's no need for me to review it here, inevitable quibbles though I may have – I can only recommend it, as a small piece of history, and a useful summary of an argument that is still influencing that history.

The title, apt as the pun on 'painting' no doubt was for the occasion, does less than justice to the content: a concise intellectual biography of Nairn by the journalist who did a great deal to make his ideas part of common sense. Ascherson saw Scotland in an international context provided by his own wide-ranging life; Nairn's intellectual formation was likewise cosmopolitan; and for both Scotland was key to dismantling the 'archaic' structures of the British state.

The pamphlet can be obtained by sending a cheque for £4 (10% discount for orders of 10 or more) to:

Democratic Left Scotland,
9 MacAulay Street, Dundee DD3 6JT

If the archaic structures of 'cheque' and 'post' are too constraining, you can always enquire of the publisher by telephony and the interwebs:

Telephone 07826 488492
Email stuartfairweather [at] ymail [dot] com


Firstly, thanks for the blog.
Now for some crits.
Surely Scot indy needs sturdier foundations than Tom Nairn. The Break up of Britain and his wider nationalism is chock full of contradictions. 1) The notion of the self-determining nation state (French Rep or German Volk) is itself a European imperialist conceit and the vast most humans currently live in multiform premodern civilisation states (Russia, China, SE Asia, Brazil, all of Africa) and they aren’t going anywhere thus rendering his thesis relative. 2) Historical determinism is logically fallacious (see 1+ Popper.) 3) Even if you accept his thesis, it logically follows that it is ‘only’ the structures of governance, not the prospect of a modern reformed British state that is archaic so does not necessarily ergo Scot indy. 4) Scotland itself is a premodern state and therefore subject to exactly the same analysis as Britain. 5) When you scrape all the confirmation bias away, it validates the ethno-cultural state.

Surely a more pragmatic and less 'sketchy' intellectual basis is preferable?

I don't advocate Scottish independence, or Nairn's views in general.

Thanks for the reference Ken. As a sometime lecturer on and student of nationalism, it looks very interesting. I will order one forthwith.



I study the political situation in Scotland, for the entire period of development of the country. I think this brochure will be interesting to read.

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