ImageThought I would put this up. 

It’s my piece from almost exactly two years ago and it kick started a debate about what Britishness would mean in an independent Scotland. 

Unionists make much of the idea that we would have to choose between being either Scottish or British in the referendum when this is almost as impossible as it is nonsense. Not only are we ‘British’ in that we share a land mass called ‘Great Britain’ we also share 300 years of ‘British’ history and cultural ties that will continue to be shared, appreciated and enjoyed following Scotland’s independence. What independence will give us is the best of both worlds. We will have the political control required to create a dynamic economy whilst continuing to enjoy and enhance our great social relationships across these isles.

I have always been interested in the debate about Britishness (and what it means) and in the 2,000s, as we increasingly moved towards independence, it did seem that all vestiges of Britishness would go. Back then, when we examined Britishness only a tiny 3% of Scots described themselves as more British than Scottish

Our British inheritance, though, is an important part of our Scottish story and there must be an ongoing place for Britishness in Scotland. With our shared history and cultural ties Britishness will surely still have a place in a Scotland heading towards independence.

I believe that there is an inherent shared Britishness that can be defined from a Scottish perspective beyond the usual tired definitions and symbols. I also think that these ties, and this ‘British’ cultural relationship, could even be enhanced by independence. 

So here’s the piece. Think it almost stands the test of time.

Probably one of the most passionate debates we’re going to have in the run up to the referendum will be around the whole idea of identity and Britishness.  Like many proud nationalists I have struggled with the idea of being British and have never described myself as such.  But what will happen to the whole concept as Scotland moves towards independence and can the idea make a comeback and even become respectable in nationalist circles?

Firstly, I suppose Britishness is as much about geography as it is about identity and history.  Coming from Perth in the northern part of the island of Greater Britain I am as much British as someone from Stockholm is Scandinavian.

It’s when we try and add the other bits that we start to get into the difficulties.  If Britishness is to work as a cultural idea a shared story as well as a shared geography has to be constructed.  And that’s the hard part.  No one has ever come up with a convincing definition of Britishness, because there probably isn’t one.  And the concept has to be almost constantly rewritten – remember Gordon Brown’s clumsy and excruciating attempt and Michael Portillo’s recent nonsense about “anti-fanaticism”?  Cultural Britishness is then a rather curious construct that can be almost anything, and usually is, hence the mom and apple pie attributes usually associated with Britishness when people are asked to define it.

But there is absolutely no doubt that people indeed do feel and identify themselves as British, even in Scotland.  For me Britishness is so much more than the usual confused descriptions.  For me cultural Britishness isn’t one thing but is the sum of the 300 years journey that we have enjoyed and endured on this island.  It is what we have achieved and secured together in this partnership.  It is about the great historic cultural achievements from the industrial revolution to our great rock and pop bands.  It is about pride in our victories in the wars we fought together and the collective sense of shame in our historic crimes of colonialism and slavery.  Britishness is in fact the social union, and being British belongs as much to me as a proud Scottish nationalist and Scottish patriot as it does to anyone from England.

Our gripe then isn’t with cultural Britishness, the social union, but with the current political arrangements within the United Kingdom.  As civic nationalists we want the powers to grow our economy and make our own specific international contribution. We want to complete the powers of our Parliament and take responsibility for our own affairs.  We have no issues with the past and our British inheritance is a crucial part of our own Scottish story.

Britishness will exist in Scotland long after we become independent.  In fact I think that it could well be enhanced with independence.  With independence we will get the opportunity to define a new Britishness, one based on equality and mutual respect.  Britishness will still be all about our shared history and culture but it can also be about the new positive relationship we will seek to build.

I would also be happy to see any number of shared institutions being called British and it could and should be the brand name of our new enhanced and equal 21st century partnership.  Who knows maybe independence can give Britishness a new lease of life.

So there you go, that’s me, British and proud of it in an independent Scotland.


  1. Alun D

    The idea of being able to claim ‘Britishness’ after independence is as absurd as an American citizen still claiming ‘Britishness’.. how far back do you go before its stops being acceptable?
    When you strive for independence from whatever nation state you currently share borders, you lose the right to share its successes, why should you expect to keep them?
    Surely the point of independence is in the name; when you get a divorce, albeit from a 300 yrs marriage, you split the assets and go on your way, you don’t ride on the back of the family name until you marry again (i.e join the EU).
    If you want independence then fine, I wish you well, but you can’t expect or demand assistance after that point, there’s a queue, and although we’ll still have a ‘special relationship’ like with the US, that doesn’t mean you can still go out for a beer with my mates… get your own!

  2. Chris Jones

    A very enlightened piece of writing Peter! I am sure many proud a Scottish nationalist in their hearts feels the same deep down! I hope that your article will be well read and taken on board – by folk on both sides of the border and debate! An excellent insight!

  3. John Mepham


    IMO there is no-one who writes more sheer commonsense about identity in the British islands
    than Alistair McConnachie. Here, he explains why it is natural for a Scot to support England at soccer, rugby etc, and vice versa. When each is not playing the other of course !

    It’s natural because we all share a British identity. Those who attempt to dumb this down do so for political reasons. But politics is not life and our lives are British too.

    Britain, the British identity and Britishness are much more united than the SNP want you to think. The SNP thrive on being divisive – it’s the nature of their game. But the reason for the strength of all three is that just about everybody in the British Islands speaks English. The SNP can’t change that.

    This British fact is not true at all in many countries. It’s not true for example in China, India, Indonesia and the Philippines where each country has many languages and no ubiquitous one. Unlike the U.K.

    An Indonesian once said to me that he was not sure what being Indonesian really meant, but he knew what being Javanese or Balinese meant. Java and Bali have their own languages which are much, much older than Indonesian. But in the British islands, English has no such competition.

    Loyalty is different to identity, but don’t think Scottish and British loyalties have to clash. They are complimentary, but the British one would fade away in Scotland with Scottish separation.

    In Singapore there is sometimes a real clash of loyalties when a national team is put together to play Manchester United or Liverpool. I’ve seen this, but the local media downplay it. In the Far East, Manchester United, Liverpool and some other English teams have thousands and thousands of supporters. So would Scottish teams if they played in a British league with the kind of T.V. coverage in Asia that the Premiership gets.

    The Better Together principle should be applied to soccer, and the best in Scotland will grow taller.

    But enough from me. Here’s what Alistair has to say about Scots support for England being natural. And vice versa. And Wales and N.Ireland too.

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