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The Break Up of Britain? (Edinburgh)

November 18, 2023 9:00 am - 7:00 pm

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Credit: The Democracy Network,

This is a major conference on the democratic future of the United Kingdom and its constituent nations. One of the speakers, Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton Pavilion, calls the event “incredibly timely and important.”

Other speakers include The National columnist Lesley Riddoch, writer Neal Ascherson,  journalist Isabel Hilton, Clive Lewis MP, The Scotsman journalist Joyce McMillan, prize-winning novelist James Robertson, Professor Richard Wyn Jones, former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood and Radical Independence Campaign founder Jonathon Shafi – with many more speakers from across Britain, Ireland and Europe soon to be confirmed.

Why Now?

Tom Nairn was a political thinker and theorist of unparalleled range and audacity. His work on nationalism, the British state and globalisation in the era of market supremacy remains an inspiration to radicals and reformers everywhere. We want to celebrate Tom’s life not by looking back on his thought but by embracing his spirit of restless engagement with reality.

The greatest danger to our democracy is the status quo. A once suffocating but stable consensus has been replaced by an increasingly authoritarian state coordinating assaults on immigrants, the labour movement and the right to protest. Meanwhile, Scotland is trapped in an involuntary union, Wales strains for more autonomy, and Northern Ireland is held hostage.

The cry for an ‘independent global Britain’ in the Brexit referendum made sovereignty a live issue, as it expressed a desire to end unaccountable elite rule. Tragically, this sentiment was displaced onto the EU, distracting from the major culprit: Westminster. Now Brexit is failing and progressives across the UK, Ireland and Europe need to develop a coherent alternative vision for the future of these islands. This is an urgent strategic priority for democrats of all parties and none. It demands engaging with the disruptive democratic energies that emerged during the 2014 and 2016 referendums.

In Edinburgh this autumn, we plan a major gathering of progressives to start this process. We will challenge the reactionary drift of British politics and assert the right of Scotland, Wales, England and Ireland to self-determination as a core principle of any democratic future. We will also debate the central questions raised by Tom Nairn’s work. Do we need to break up to shape up? What does nationalism mean in 21st-century Europe? What should come after the United Kingdom?

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November 18, 2023
9:00 am - 7:00 pm


The Democracy Network
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