The Break-up of Britain

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Abstract

This twenty-fifth anniversary edition of Tom Nairn’s The Break-up of Britain reviews the arguments of his classic study and expands his thesis into the new millennium. He confirms his contention that civic nationalism—but not ethno-nationalism—would play an increasing role in the breakdown of the United Kingdom. This, he says, has now assumed an even more rapid pace than when the book was first published. The cumulative strains of Thatcherism and Blairism have had their effect. Reprinted now, after the almost-successful referendum to make Scotland a country of its own, this edition has additional resonances. ‘The Break-up of Britain’, Nairn writes in his Introduction to this edition ‘began its life in a still imposing, if narrowing river; by the time the 1981 paperback edition had appeared, the river had begun to feel the approaching rapids—which have accelerated for over twenty years, and attained a crazy pace even in the few weeks between beginning and finishing this new edition. The thunder of a waterfall no one conceived of in 1977 is in everyone’s ears, as Tony Blair sends off his ships and troops to assist America’s assault on the Middle East… In the altered world lying beyond these falls, it is surely unlikely the United Kingdom will survive in anything like its historical form’.