Scott Hames looks ahead to a conference that looks back at what we are in the midst of, if you follow? If Scotland August 23 -24 history, politics , literature
After years of looking forward, we grow weary of possible tomorrows. With history about to pick a side – and as both sides try to make history – fevered minds turn to the politics of the past-in-prospect. Meaning: the result on September 19 will profoundly colour the meaning and memory of everything leading up to it. On the cusp of that verdict, our current moment seems emptied of its own ‘live’ significance, awaiting the roar of impending retrospect. In the words of a James Kelman story, ‘not too long from now tonight will be that last time’ – a time we inhabit but cannot know.
But there’s another strand of the indyref imaginary also growing in strength, looking forward in order to face backward. Martin Kettle’s wistful invitation to ‘Remember 2014, the last golden summer of the old Britain’ projects us into a surreal and scrappy post-Yes reality, puzzling out the complexity (and ultimate nullity) of post-British wrangling from the somewhat baffled standpoint of 2024.
And right alongside this dreaming of future memory, the empirical mania of what the Lallands Peat Worrier (playing hipster correspondent for The Drouth) calls indyref ‘archival fever’, whereby no campaigning experience ‘is adequately authenticated without having been documented’, curated, catalogued.
What is this impulse to collect and record everything? Simply a nod to what is self-evidently historic about what’s unfolding – with the occasional dash of I-was-there self-regard? Is social media clogged with two-term presidents buffing their ‘legacy’ in advance?
Less (or perhaps more) cynically, there is the bristling mistrust of those writing the first draft of this history, and a desire to capture ALL the facts (and spin) for later scrutiny. Perhaps we fantasize some clear-eyed scholar of the future will be equipped to see and evaluate everything – finally, of course, coming to vindicate our own view here and now.
There is something lively and brittle in the public memory this weather, beginning to wonder seriously how this – and we – might eventually come to look.
So go on, take a speculative selfie. Imagine that we’re looking back, ruefully or nostalgically, on the present ructions from a few decades into the future. How do we look here in 2014 — prescient? Foolish? Admirably sober? Het up about nothing?
On August 23-24 the If Scotland: Posting 2014 conference will explore just this premise, asking how the indyref will be remembered, historicised and understood a few decades from now – whatever the result. What will our children find puzzling, appalling, banal about what we’re gripped by today? Who and what will future historians be chortling at?
What will veterans of 2014 struggle to get across to a future generation of the uncomprehending – kids who can barely fathom a Scotland different to what they know (independent or otherwise)?
- Will the Reverend Stuart Campbell have become a storied national figure, or a quiz-night curio?
- How long before indyref nostalgia becomes focused on tender longings for Bernard and Rhona?
The conference will explore all facets of this question at one remove from the cross-fire of the campaigns, looking forward to a moment when current divisions have faded, and it matters a bit less which side anybody was on.
Naturally the conference will explore both post-Yes and post-No futures – and future ‘pasts’ reflecting on what came after 2014. The whole weekend is FREE to attend for all but salaried academics, and boasts a stellar line-up including:
– Lesley Riddoch, looking back on 2014 from 2034, reflecting on the cultural shift that came with independence. (Teaser: Charlotte Square is now Margo’s Market.)
– Ken MacLeod on the ‘New Improvement’ that followed a decisive No vote
– set-piece debates (post-Yes and post-No) featuring David Torrance, Kirstin Innes and Aileen McHarg
– a discussion event with Jenni Calder, Hannah McGill and Kerry Hudson
– historian Catriona Macdonald on conjecture and Scottish memory
– Amy Westwell, Andrew Tickell (Lallands PW himself), Jenny Morrison and Ewan Gibbs on the politics of future Scotland(s)
– a letters workshop with Dearest Scotland
– Gerry Hassan on how Scotland became a democracy (unless it didn’t)
– literary discussion with Ewan Morrison, Nicola White and Alan Wilson
– Robert Crawford on 2016’s game-changing moment in Scottish fiction
– online activists from both sides of the debate comparing notes
– Plus plenary lectures from Professors Michael Keating and Cairns Craig, a So-Say Scotland gaming session, a retrospective exhibition on Scotland in 2044, and dozens of academic papers on everything from the language question(s) to the ‘high-rise kailyard’ of the future.
All this, and a specially commissioned bit of youth theatre with BBC Scotland’s ‘Generation 2014’.
If there is a more thought-provoking event anywhere in this debate, we’d like to hear about it.
Entry is FREE but you need to register at this link for catering purposes. (There is a limited number of places, so be quick!) You can check out the full conference spiel and programme at the If Scotland website.
(With thanks to our sponsors the University of Stirling, the Saltire Society, and the Stirling Centre for Scottish Studies)