One of the most outspoken public figures in the UK is to deliver a keynote address examining national identity, in a memorial lecture for an influential Scottish Labour Party activist.
Trevor Phillips, until recently the head of the UK Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), will speak in Edinburgh next month as part of celebrations arranged to mark the life of Bob McLean, a key figure in Labour’s pro-Home Rule wing.
The first annual lecture, supported by The Scotsman and Edinburgh University’s school of history, is intended to focus on politics, culture and art – which were Mr McLean’s particular interests.
Mr McLean, who died last year aged 55, was one of the founders of the Scottish Labour Action pressure group in 1988 along with Jack McConnell, who went on to become First Minister.
The group was set up to pressurise the then Labour leadership into taking a more radical approach to the constitutional question in Scotland following the 1987 UK general election. After his death, Mr McLean’s friends set up the annual lecture to preserve his legecy and stimulate further debate in Scotland.
Speaking ahead of the lecture, which will be held at the Royal Society of Edinburgh, Mr Phillips said: “Dr Bob McLean was a rare beast – unchallengeably working class, unmistakably Scottish, and uncompromisingly internationalist.”
Mr Phillips said there were three challenges facing the world, all of which had shaped Scotland today, and all of which could be vital to its future.
His lecture will look at “the break-up of old empires leading to the creation of new nations, often based on the resurrection of even older tribal and ethnic loyalties” and ask have these new entities prospered. He will also examine “the enormous increase in global mobility” and the frictions brought about by “the flowering of respect for human diversity – gender, ethnicity, faith”.
Mr Phillips stepped down from chairing the EHRC last year. He has in the past provoked controversy by suggesting that “multi-culturalism” had encouraged divisions on British society.
Mr McConnell, now Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale, who will chair the event, said: “Bob McLean was larger than life throughout his life so we are going to remember him and his massive contribution in Scotland. Bob was at the centre of debates on culture, identity and politics for three decades and he always had a perspective that was wide in scope.
“That makes Trevor Phillips an ideal speaker for our first Bob McLean memorial lecture.”