The Irish Review

The Irish Review published by Cork University Press

Cairns Craig, IR 8

IR 8 coverCairns Craig is a Scottish intellectual who has considered the connections between Scotland and Ireland. In his 1990 essay Irish Review essay he suggested that England, rather than Scotland, was now the country suffering an identity crisis:

In the ‘80s […] writers about Englishness began to adopt what had previously been a Scottish tactic – to define English identity through the continuity of its institutions rather than through the identity of its people, and began to defend those institutions from foreign encroachment (Brussels) in exactly the way that the Scots had previously defended their institutions from English encroachment.

The English thus came to seem the parochial, the backward, the insular, in comparison with a Scotland which, through its oil and electronics industries, its world-wide émigré community, its commitment to nationalism-in-Europe, was seen to be an open, advanced, European country. And a country whose lack of a national sovereign parliament no longer mattered in a context where Basques and Catalans on one side of Europe, Estonians and Latvians on the other, revealed the strength which regional identity gave without the trappings of the nation state which had become the bulwark of English identity and of English resistance to the realities of the new global community.

The failure of devolution ceased to be the end of Scottish identity, and only the beginning of a recognition that politics was not, by itself, the real foundation of cultural identity. Thus the real work of the ‘80s has been work to build a cultural infrastructure in Scotland, an infrastructure of theatres, galleries, film archives, schools of Scottish Studies, community writers workshops, television series, radio programs which begin to focus on the value of the local which cannot be deflected, defeated, warped or abolished by merely political events: the ‘80s have been the decade of the irrelevance of politics – except, of course, insofar as Mrs Thatcher has succeeded in making all Scots feel a sense of shared oppositional identity.

Cairns Craig, ‘Sham Bards, Sham Nation, Sham Politics: Scotland, Nationalism, Socialism’, The Irish Review, 8 (1990), 21-33 [29]

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