Scottish Cultural and Political Magazines

Sparked by Scottish International (Review) in 1968, a range of independent magazines played a major creative role in Scottish literature, culture and politics over the next three decades. Writing in Radical Scotland in 1983, George Kerevan noted that ‘politics is no longer confined to the Establishment and Labourist agenda of economic tinkering. Cultural values represent a new Second Front’. The arena of this ‘second front’ was established – and gradually expanded – by titles such as New Edinburgh Review (from 1969), Chapman (1970), Crann-Tàra (1977), MsPrint (1978) and Cencrastus (1979). By the 1980s, these magazines had significant influence on the ‘first’ front – the field of electoral politics – in yoking together assertions of Scottish cultural identity and demands for constitutional change. Looking back, we can see post-1960s magazine culture as the laboratory in which the discourse and identity of the ‘new’ Scotland was experimentally debated, strategised and disseminated.

Working with a range of scholars in Scottish literature, history, politics and publishing, and in partnership with the National Library of Scotland, I’m developing various projects on the small-circulation Scottish periodicals that shaped the cultural politics of Scottish devolution. These include an edited anthology, a research network (with accompanying book of essays and interviews), and a planned digitisation project. For the latest, see @ScotMagsNet.


The Literary Politics of Scottish Devolution: Voice, Class, Nation

This research monograph is a cultural history and political critique of Scottish devolution (forthcoming in 2019; Edinburgh University Press). Considering a range of archival materials and critical theories, it explores how questions of ‘voice’, language and identity featured in debates leading to the new Scottish Parliament in 1999.

Tracing both the ‘dream’ of cultural empowerment and the ‘grind’ of electoral strategy, it reconstructs the influence of magazines such as Scottish International, Radical Scotland, Cencrastus and Edinburgh Review, and sets the fiction of William McIlvanney, James Kelman, Irvine Welsh, A.L. Kennedy and James Robertson within a radically altered picture of devolved Scotland.

Brilliant, trenchant, at times disconcerting, Scott Hames’s critical history of devolution offers an exemplary analysis of the interplay between cultural nationalism and practical politics. It’s essential reading for anyone who cares about the current state of Scotland. - Ian Duncan, University of California


James Kelman and Lyric Freedom:
Language, Action, Silence

My current monograph project draws together some earlier essays and ideas on James Kelman, with a focus on lyric action and subjectivity.

Kelman aligns his work with American Realist and European Existentialist traditions; both strongly informed by the Romantic valorisation of the personal, vernacular and quotidian. Viewed from this angle, Kelman’s fiction of liberty, disenchantment and the swallowed cry of protest may be productively linked to Romantic political and aesthetic ideals, and to the linguistic philosophy of ‘the Romantic performative’ (Angela Esterhammer).


De-Localising Dialect

With Professor Maria Fusco (PI, Northumbria), I run an AHRC Research Network on ‘De-Localising Dialect’. This project cuts across literature, performance, theory and linguistics, and explores practices and possibilities of ‘dialect’ which go beyond the verbal embodiment of roots and origins. Instead, we conceive dialect as style, method and creative practice. Our first two events (in Glasgow and Newcastle) have featured work by and with Raman Mundair, Harry Josephine Giles, and Lisa Robertson. Our final event, in London, will be with Denise Riley. Some further details of the project are here. Audio of a related talk I did for Maria’s DIALECTY project is here.


Narrating Scottish Devolution

Supported by the British Academy, Narrating Scottish Devolution was a research project exploring the different ways in which devolution has been explained, understood and made culturally meaningful in Scotland.

Workshop discussions among writers, critics, politicians and historians (recorded for a podcast and journal article) were particularly focused in the idea of ‘cultural devolution’ — the notion that Scottish writers and artists paved the way for the politicians, — and its influence in post-1999 governance and literary culture.


If Scotland: Posting 2014

A few weeks before the 2014 referendum on Scottish independence, we held a two-day conference to imagine how the referendum might be remembered by future historians. Highlights (fully archived here, including video) include commissioned youth theatre with the BBC’s Generation 2014, and debates between writers, journalists, historians and constitutional experts. Conference proceedings were published as a special number of the Journal of Scottish Thought (co-edited with Adrian Hunter).


Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence

This anthology invited 27 writers based in Scotland to explore the question of independence, noting the commonplace view that writers and artists had made devolution (and thus the referendum) possible.

A range of media controversies ensued, with writers from the book contributing to a number of highly engaging events throughout 2013-14.

In September 2019, I organised an event reflecting on Indyref: Culture and Politics Five Years On.


International Journal of Scottish Literature

With Eleanor Bell and Ian Duncan I co-founded and co-edited the International Journal of Scottish Literature (2006-14).

IJSL was an attempt to do something different in Scottish literary journals, which has now gone to sleep for a bit.