James Kelman in conversation with the New Statesman

Book your place for the event on 23 January.

On 23 January, NS culture editor Jonathan Derbyshire will be in conversation with the Scottish novelist James Kelman at the Goldsmiths Writers' Centre, Goldsmiths, University of London. 

Kelman is the author of eight novels, nine collections of short stories and two essay collections. He won the Booker Prize in 1994 for his novel How Late it Was, How Late. He was shortlisted for the Man Booker International Prize in 2011. In 1994, Angela McRobbie defended Kelman against his metropolitan critics, arguing that they focused on his way with the Scottish vernacular, at the expense of his formal innovations. 

Greatness, it seems, cannot be conferred on the writer of the local . . . The myopia and confusion about Kelman arise because he is a "high" formalist, an apparent realist and a very political writer, all at the same time. This is not what the English expect of their writers. It is a blend more typically connected with so-called third-world writers . . .

Kelman will read from his latest novel, Mo Said She Was Quirky, and then talk to Derbyshire about the art of fiction.

The event begins at 6pm. Admission is free. To book your place, click here.

In conversation with the NS: James Kelman.
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Leader: Brexit and the future of the UK

The UK is worth preserving, yet it must be reconfigured if its constituent nations are to be better served.

The economic consequences of the Leave vote are becoming ever more severe. Rising prices, deferred investment and reduced vacancies all threaten prosperity and growth. The Conservative government’s signal that the United Kingdom may leave the single market has had the chilling effect that many warned of.

England and Wales can at least reflect that they voted for Brexit, but Scotland and Northern Ireland did not. By 62-38 and 56-44 respectively, both nations voted to remain in the EU. Now they face the prospect of a long, painful withdrawal. After the narrow vote against independence two years ago, Holyrood is understandably assessing its options. At the Scottish National Party’s conference in Glasgow, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon vowed to publish a draft bill for a second referendum on independence. “Hear this: if you think for one single second that I’m not serious about doing what it takes to protect Scotland’s interests, then think again,” she declared.

When a majority of Scots voted to remain in the UK, David Cameron had already promised to hold a referendum on UK membership of the EU. Yet he made this pledge in the belief that the vote would be won. The ensuing result and the UK’s likely withdrawal from the single market entitle the SNP to hold a second referendum. Should Britain leave the EU without having secured a new trade agreement with its former partners, Scotland’s economy would inevitably suffer.

Senior SNP figures are considering a pre-Brexit referendum in the hope that they would inherit the UK’s vacated seat in the bloc. That might be wishful thinking. “Twenty-seven [member states] would become 28 again,” said Mike Russell, the SNP’s Europe minister. A vote could be staged in the two years between the government invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and the UK’s anticipated withdrawal.

As well as the Scottish Question, there is the Irish Question to consider. The risks posed to Northern Ireland and the republic by Brexit are greater than those facing Scotland. The UK is one of the republic’s largest export markets, with €1.5bn of transactions each week. However, it is the political fallout on the island of Ireland, rather than the economic consequences, that should trouble us most.

Although the prime ministers of both countries have ruled out the return of a hard border between the north and south, the Leave vote has undermined the peace settlement. The principle that no change should be made to the constitutional status of Northern Ireland without the consent of its people has also been imperilled. In Northern Ireland as in Scotland, the problem remains a UK that exaggerates the power of an overmighty England.

For Theresa May, the disunities within the kingdom are a threat and an opportunity. We have long argued that the UK, the most centralised state in Europe, should fully embrace federalism, with far greater powers devolved from Westminster. The UK, perhaps the most successful multinational state in modern history, is worth preserving. Yet it must be reconfigured if its constituent nations are to be better served. Brexit makes this task not merely desirable, but essential. 

This article first appeared in the 20 October 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Brothers in blood