On May 6, Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National Party (SNP) came within 2,000 votes of winning an outright majority at Holyrood, the country’s devolved national parliament in Edinburgh. Holyrood’s proportional voting system was designed to discourage majority results. Sturgeon has won every election she has fought as SNP leader – six in seven years. By the time the next Scottish election takes place in 2026, the SNP will have held power at Holyrood for 19 years, more than two-thirds of the total lifespan of the parliament itself. Under Sturgeon’s leadership, Scottish nationalism has become virtually hegemonic. The SNP has no serious electoral rivals; the party draws support from a sizeable cross-section of demographic groups.

Sturgeon is the lynchpin of this success. She has been a member of the Holyrood chamber since it was created, or ‘reconvened’, by the House of Commons, in 1999. She became (de facto) leader of the opposition at the age of 34, deputy first minister and health secretary at 36, and first minister at 44. Journalists have spent the last few months poring over the breakdown of Sturgeon’s relationship with her bitterly estranged former boss and mentor, Alex Salmond. Increasingly, however, Salmond – who ran the Scottish government with Sturgeon as his deputy between 2007 and 2014 – looks like a supporting act in the history of modern Scottish nationalism. His newly established party, Alba, took less than 2 per cent of the vote on May 6.

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The late Alasdair Gray is widely believed to be the author of the unofficial slogan of Scottish nationalism: ‘Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.’ In fact, the line was paraphrased from the Canadian poet Dennis Lee, who wrote in his 1972 poem Civil Elegies: ‘And best of all is finding a place to be / in the early days of a better civilization.’ To be fair, Gray never tried to disguise where the expression had come from. ‘I have always attributed it to [Lee],’ he once said. ‘But people started quoting it as if I had invented it’.

In The Literary Politics Of Scottish Devolution: Voice, Class, Nation, Scott Hames — a lecturer in English Studies at Stirling University — examines how Scottish cultural luminaries like Gray have shaped our national political discourse, both consciously and unconsciously, over the past half century.

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