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. 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.
History as a living and made reality is at its most liquid, but in a few weeks the facts will freeze textbook solid. Explanation will quickly usurp speculation. And so the indyref imaginary begins to pivot, worrying forward to dream back. See Martin Kettle’s wistful invitation to ‘Remember 2014, the last golden summer of the old Britain’, projecting us into a surreal and scrappy post-Yes reality, then puzzling out the complexity (and ultimate nullity) of post-British wrangling from a jaded 2024.
Alongside musings of the future-past, the empirical mania of what the Lallands Peat Worrier (playing hipster correspondent for The Drouth) fittingly deems ‘archival fever’, whereby no campaigning experience ‘is adequately authenticated without having been documented’, curated, catalogued.
What of this impulse to collect and record everything? Simply a nod to what is self-evidently historic about what’s unfolding – whatever it might soon mean –with the occasional dash of I-was-there self-regard? As with the rash of DIY polls, there is a powerful thirst to make your own evidence – owing much to a bristling mistrust of those taking the measurements and writing the first draft of this history. So capture ALL the facts (and spin) for later scrutiny: some clear-eyed scholar of the future will be equipped to see and evaluate everything – finally, and naturally, 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 on the hectic present 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 – Scots who can barely fathom a country different to what they know (independent or otherwise)?
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 literary discussion event with Jenni Calder, Meaghan Delahunt, Kerry Hudson and Hannah McGill
– 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 debate 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 email firstname.lastname@example.org to register 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. Not too long from now it will be the last time.
(With thanks to our sponsors the University of Stirling, the Saltire Society, and the Stirling Centre for Scottish Studies)