There are, broadly, two distinct scholarly accounts of Scottish devolution. For cultural critics, literary production in the 1980s was the forerunner of democratic renewal. In the words of Robert Crawford, ‘devolution and a reassertion of Scottish nationhood were imagined by poets and writers long before being enacted by politicians’. Political historians and social scientists have a rather different set of explanations, centred on electoral politics and largely ‘invisible’ processes of UK institutional reform. With few exceptions, the first school pays as little attention to the Kilbrandon Report as the latter does to Alasdair Gray’s watershed novel Lanark.
This project centres on the gap between these narratives, and the remarkable influence of 'cultural devolution' as a trope eliding demands for literary and political representation. Archival research into 1980s cultural and political debate will allow me to reconstruct the emergence of this trope and (via two inter-disciplinary research workshops) its legacy in post-devolution governance and literary culture.
Rather than debunking the culturalist narrative I aim to bring separate scholarly accounts of devolution into productive dialogue. What seems difficult to reconcile in these twin narratives has its own evidential interest, reflecting the complex status of devolution as a process largely devised and effected within the horizon of ‘administration’ but whose political warrant and significance are seen to reside at the level of national affect, territory, ‘identity’.
My research objective is to investigate the emergence and legacy of the 'culturalist' narrative explaining political change with reference to Scottish cultural production, expression, renewal. Drawing on archival research and workshop discussion I will critically examine the visible interplay between literary and constitutional debates (concerning representation, legitimacy, ‘identity’) after 1970, and specify how political devolution came to be valorised, and managed, as a cultural project.