Scottishness, Britishness and the UK



I don’t really care much for nationalisms, of any form, and I always have had great difficulty in recognising the person that is regularly pigeon holed and dismissed as a ‘Nat’ by political opponents. I believe in inter-dependence, international solidarity and social democracy. I am a passionate Scot who loves this country and fundamentally believes in the abilities of the people who live and work here. I believe that my country would be a better place if we had the normal powers of self-Government. That is why I work so hard to achieve a Yes vote.

It’s remarkable that in a campaign about independence so little has been said about identity and even less about ‘nationalisms’. Maybe it’s because everyone agrees that we are all ‘proud Scots’ and this applies if you are for or against independence. As a nation we are culturally secure with a profound sense of our Scottishness, we know there is no existential threat to what informs us as a nation and culture. There is also the fact that nearly all of our cultural institutions and arts administration bodies are effectively independent anyway. Our Scottishness has survived the Union and our parliament has ensured that it is forever safe.

Where Scottishness features little in the debate Britishness, or British nationalism, features even less. The Nos occasionally raise a sort of overtly sentimental Britishness (without actually calling it that) without any great enthusiasm. They know they have to be careful how this is presented as ‘Britishness’ ranks well below ‘Scottishness’ as an identity choice for the vast majority of Scots. For us on the Yes side we just look on with bewilderment as Unionist politicians present this dewy-eyed vision of a ‘glorious’ British past wondering what on Earth it has got to do with the debate that is currently being conducted about our future! For us, Britishness will be a feature of an independent Scotland as we go forward and we are keen to develop and build new British institutions as an equal partner. I wholeheartedly agree with the positive historic image of ‘Britain’ that the Nos present and shout a rousing ‘hear, hear’ when I listen to them talk of a Britain as the ‘idea’ that built the NHS and stood together in the war.

The thing is that our joint heritage is something that we are all proud of and is something that will inform our future journey as we go forward as an independent nation. Independence can actually even reverse the decline of the idea of Britishness, a concept that has consistently been on the wane and which I feared might even eventually go in a devolved Scotland. We also recognise the positive contribution that ‘Britishness’ makes to Scottish cultural life and if someone told me that I would now welcome my own Britishness a few years ago I would have almost choked on my jellied eels.

Where the referendum has absolutely nothing to do with Britain it has everything to do with the political union of the United Kingdom. The referendum will be decided on how we determine our relationship with this peculiar political institution. Some unionists try and conflate the UK state with Britain and Britishness by suggesting that by voting for the UK it means you are voting for Britain and equally if you vote Yes you would be voting to leave Britain and abandon ‘Britishness’. This is, of course, nonsense and even impossible. We are primarily British by virtue of geography (most of us live on the island of Greater Britain within the British Isles) but more importantly the institutions and joint culture we have built together is as much ours in Scotland as it is the rest of the UK’s. You simply can’t deprive a nation of its history like you can deprive it of the pound.

Where we will continue to enjoy our joint cultural institutions across Britain independence gives us the opportunity to regain our place in the world. Independence will allow us to make our own international contribution and speak for ourselves in multilateral institutions voicing our own distinctive approach based on our democracy and political values. We will be responsible for ourselves and we will at last secure that national self-respect and dignity that all other normal self-governing nations take for granted. Becoming independent completes the picture of ourselves.

I don’t really care for nationalisms, of any form, but I want our Scottish voice to be heard in the world. That is why I work so hard to achieve a Yes vote.

5 thoughts on “Scottishness, Britishness and the UK

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  3. Graham Connelly

    Pete, the phrase “those who live and work in Scotland” seems to me to subtly infer something about those who live in Scotland but do not work. Contemporary use of the phrase often asserts rights on behalf of those ‘who live and work’. Is the inference that those who do not work are not entitled to those same rights? Pensioners, students, stay-at-home parents and wealthy individuals are examples of people who may choose not to work, and validly so. Those who want a job but are unable to find one and those who are physically or mentally unfit for work are examples of people who are without work without choice. Why the exclusion of those who validly choose not to work and those who are without work through no fault of their own?

    I couldn’t disagree more with your perspective on identity. Your assertion that ‘we’ are primarily British is extremely presumptuous. I am Scottish. I am not, never have been and never will be British. Your geographical justification for the assertion is unsound. I live in Asia but that doesn’t make me Asian.

  4. Wurzel Boy

    Independence for the regions of the British Isles. Being a sovereign European country from London hegemony does not make us less British. An independent Scotland, Yorkshire and West Country would still remain part of the British isles and therefore be British.

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