Radical Left and the Scottish Nation: print-cultures of left-wing nationalism, 1967-1983
Scothorne, Rory James
This thesis examines the origins of the discourse of ‘Radical Scotland’, which presumes a significant link between radicalism and Scottish nationhood. It identifies the origins of this discourse in the period 1967-1983, emphasising the ‘opening’ of a ‘Scottish radical imagination’ in the aftermath of Winnie Ewing’s Hamilton by-election victory for the SNP in 1967; and the ‘closure’ of this imagination in 1983, as radical intellectuals responded to the Conservative dominance of British politics by abandoning the horizon of social and cultural revolution in favour of constitutional reform. It focuses on the development of a distinctively Scottish radical left tradition through a wide range of political and cultural magazines, as well as historical societies, political parties and campaigns. Its three chapters are organised around the themes of the ‘territorial imagination’, the ‘social imagination’ and the ‘political imagination’. Chapter one explores the territorial imagination. The radical left began the period covered here concerned by their marginalisation within a transnational renewal of left wing politics, and sought to embed the cosmopolitan and revolutionary energies of the “long 1968” in their distinctive Scottish context. This chapter focuses on the emergence of a radical intelligentsia in Scotland, oriented towards universities and print-culture, which was separate from a labour movement left that was culturally Scottish but politically British. The new intelligentsia was culturally internationalist and politically unaligned, and this chapter shows how these contradictory territorial imaginaries were combined into a new focus on Scotland as the default territorial focus of the radical left. Chapter two explores the social imagination. It examines the ways in which Scotland’s radical intelligentsia interpreted their alienation from wider society, leaving behind ideas of both the “organic intellectual” and political vanguardism and opting instead to identify the figure of the ‘outsider within’ – reflecting their own self-image – as a radical force who they believed could tie together a divided nation. Chapter three explores the political imagination. The radical left’s growing self-confidence in claiming the nation for itself led them to support a series of political projects which emphasised their continued alienation from the wider public, from the “breakaway” Scottish Labour Party, the referendum on devolution in 1979 and the SNP 79 Group. It explores how they sought to close the gap between intellectual utopianism and political reality by taking up a subordinate role within the campaign for national self-government, providing utopian energy and intellectual support to more compromised political strategies. In doing so, they allowed their more critical vision of Scottish nationhood to solidify into a more self-affirming myth, celebrating Scotland’s political difference from England.