Hugh MacDiarmid, Tom Nairn and Scottish International Institute

Hugh MacDiarmid

By Russell Bruce

These are heady times as supporters, organisations and groups in the independence camp grow day by day. A creative energy that Scotland has not seen in 300 years is being released. With polls inching closer, stakes become higher and determination stronger, but we still have a mountain to climb.

Energy and creativity is on the Yes side. The No campaign is a collaborative entity of previously thought unlikely bedfellows, driven by agents of doom, and beset by a leadership distrusted from within its own ranks, but we must never for a moment forget Better Together is backed by everything the British Imperial State can muster.

Confusion may reign in the ranks of Better Together. Their only case for the Union is to cast doubt on the ability of Scotland to survive, never mind become, a forward-looking and successful nation. Hardly a strategy to combat the energy of the independence movement, but is possibly one that holds the doubters in the ‘don’t know’ and ‘a plague on all your houses’ camp.

Empires were not built on ending strife between tribal interests, but on binding them individually to the Empire. Little has changed over millennia.

The glue bonding the political parties in Better Together is the opportunity, within the Westminster system, that each might get a turn to rule the Empire. The maintenance of tribal tensions is part of Empire ruling strategy. If one tribe had ideas to act on its own, the others could be whipped into unison to defeat them, with the prize of enhanced influence in the Empire and moving a step nearer the ruling cabal.

As Hugh MacDiarmid wrote:

If there is ocht in Scotland that’s worth ha’en

There is nae distance to which it’s unattached

Unconscious Goal of History (1930)

MacDiarmid’s quote was used on the cover of a prospectus I designed for the short-lived Scottish International Institute in the 1970’s. Those too were heady days with a record number of SNP MPs, and a referendum on the horizon for an assembly with modest powers though little influence. It would be little more than a start, bringing the focus of government back to Scotland to act as a springboard for a more meaningful parliament. But it was not to be.

Scottish International Institute was headed by Tom Nairn, perhaps one of the most influential thinkers Scotland has produced in the 20th century. The list of Associates is a roll call of those who have contributed greatly to the independence and self-government movement. Hugh MacDiarmid, George Macleod, Neal Ascherson, Murray Grigor, Hamish Henderson, Stephen Maxwell, Brian Murphy, Lynda Myles, Tom Nairn, Michael Spens and Ben Whitaker.

In several articles I have written in recent years, I have quoted these perceptive lines of MacDiarmid. Today, I have dug into the files and want to share Tom Nairn’s vision for Scottish International Institute.

Scottish International Institute web

The attainment of self-rule by a relatively developed society will bring corresponding possibilities of social and cultural advance. While considerable research is being undertaken into the political economy of self-government, study is also required of the conditions of a more autonomous culture. Dependency and provinciality haunt both areas of Scottish life. They should be studied and attacked from both sides

Effective self-rule demands a new, more confident, cultural identity. This identity has to be outward looking. Its perspective is one of direct connection to the wider world, not dwelling upon old national obsessions. Internationalism is the necessary support of a new Scottish identity, not an obstacle to it.

This is why an institute promoting research into culture and politics should be international.

It is over 30 years since Tom Nairn wrote these words. Scotland has moved on, become more confident in itself, but many of his words are still true and much remains to be achieved.

One of the areas this site will cover is the international dimension and international comparisons. Our media is too often reluctant or can’t be bothered to look beyond these island shores for comparisons and reasoning. This website aims to add a new perspective and fresh angles contributing to the debate on independence. We seek to complement the output of already established sites. Collectively our power and reach grows daily.

Vote Yes Borders is pro internationalist, pro Europe, pro greater equality, pro business, and pro resolving conflicts by balancing such diverse aims in order to achieve a more equal society in which all our people can prosper.

Above all we are pro people. Political parties must exist to serve our ambitions. It is not for us, the people, to serve theirs.


About russellbruce

Writer, journalist and blogger. Worked in advertising and publishing. Former board member Loch Lomond National Park Authority, Chair of Borders Writers' Forum
This entry was posted in Arts, Politics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Hugh MacDiarmid, Tom Nairn and Scottish International Institute

  1. 84 years after MacDiarmid wrote Unconscious Goal of History we are at last very conscious of our role in a historic campaign to bring home control over all our assets. The people of Scotland deserve nothing less and all we have to do is vote for it.


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