Scottishness Dissimulated

BY EFFIE DEANS

How many SNP MPs do you know who claim to be English? Well why not? They live in London. Perhaps they might claim that their residence in England is only temporary. That their main residence is in Scotland. Well what about the approximately one million people born in Scotland who live elsewhere? Nearly 800,000 of these live in England. How many of these do you think claim to be English? I have never once met a Scot living anywhere else in the world who claims to be anything other than a Scot. I’m sure there are some Scots in Hertfordshire, Herefordshire and Hampshire who claim to be English, but such metamorphosis rarely occurs.

When I lived abroad, I never once thought of myself as being Danish or Russian. I never once met a Dane or a Russian who thought that I was. As soon as I spoke Danish or Russian, they could tell from my accent that I was neither from Denmark nor Russia. Did this make them xenophobes? No, of course not. They were perfectly friendly and welcoming and quite happy that I lived in their country and could speak their language.

If a Scot moved to Burgundy would he become a Burgundian? I’m not sure if even Burgundians think of themselves as such. If a Scot moved to Sicily would he become a Sicilian? I doubt even if someone from Milan moved to Sicily, he would become a Sicilian. If a Scot moved to Dresden would he become a Saxon and if so, would he be an Anglo-Saxon? What if he was an SNP supporter? The truth is that I doubt there is a single Scottish SNP supporter who lives anywhere in the world who thinks he is anything other than a Scot.

But there is a curious phenomenon in Scotland. Scottish nationalism has devised a fig leaf to cover a multitude of sins. Along with Northern Ireland Scotland is the most sectarian country in Europe. In no other European country are people hated because of being either Catholic or Protestant. This hatred simply does not exist in Germany. Partly because of this sectarianism and also because of the continued existence of an older hatred, Scotland is the most xenophobic country in Europe. The hatred I have witnessed this summer against English people is quite unknown anywhere else in Europe even including countries which have recently fought wars against each other. Serbs and Croats do not hate each other like many Scottish nationalists hate English people.

It is quite unimaginable that Angela Merkel would be harassed if she went on holiday in a part of Germany other than the one she was born in. Political opponents would not take out their spite personally against her. I can think of no other European country where people from one part would be unwelcome in another.

There are some Scottish nationalists who claim that hatred of English people does not exist. They are the equivalent of people who say hatred of black people does not exist.   

There are nearly half a million English living in Scotland. Are they Scots? Some are and some would like to be. But the near universal response to hearing an English accent in Scotland is to suppose that the person speaking with it is English.

Whenever there is Question Time on TV and someone with an English accent says something critical of the SNP, Scottish nationalists immediately claim that this is somehow illegitimate.

How many SNP supporters do you suppose think that the half million English people in Scotland are just as Scottish as they are? Perhaps we should test this theory by adding another half a million? If the British Government decided to ease overcrowding in English cities by building a new town in Scotland where English people could live and work, would these people immediately become Scots? What if these New Scots disagreed with Scottish independence? Would they still be welcome?

There are two aspects to nationality, which is reflected in the fact that nearly all countries give nationality to people who qualify by residence and to those who qualify by birth and parentage. I can obtain an Irish passport because my grandfather was born there. If Scotland became independent the SNP proposed to give Scottish passports to all those who lived here and to those who were born here and had a Scottish grandparent. In Britain decent people think that anyone who comes to Britain is as British as anyone else. It doesn’t matter where your parents come from nor does it matter where you were born.

But there are no Scottish citizens. So, what makes someone Scottish? Clearly it cannot simply be that someone says he is Scottish. If that were the case, then someone from Japan who has never even visited Scotland could claim to be Scottish. Likewise, someone who is merely on holiday in Scotland isn’t Scottish nor is someone doing a university course.

Well what makes someone British who has neither British parents nor was born here? It is his citizenship. We don’t say that a Japanese person is British even if he is living in London unless he is a British citizen. So too I would not be Japanese unless I became a Japanese citizen. But if a Japanese person living in London is not British, how could he be English? To be English and not British would be like saying I was a Breton but not French. It involves a contradiction.

The people who support Scottish nationalism overwhelmingly do so not because of residence. If five million Japanese moved to Scotland, they would not seek Scottish independence. Rather Scottish nationalists overwhelmingly seek Scottish independence for historical reasons. They look back to a time when Scotland was independent and celebrate those Scottish heroes who fought for independence. The traditions and the symbols that they use are nearly all from prior to 1707. But they use these symbols and this history because they think they are connected to them, not through residence, but through the fact that they were born and bred here. Independence movements are always nativist. They are overwhelmingly made up of people who claim a connection to the past who wish to redress an historical wrong and gain an advantage for themselves.

Foreigners in particular should be careful messing with nativism. It bites back. The first thing Scottish independence would do would be to turn all British citizens other than Scots into foreigners. If turning your fellow countrymen into foreigners is pro-foreigner, then I’m a Scottish nationalist.

It is for this reason too that independence marches are “hideously white”. They are almost exclusively made up of Scots who were born in Scotland and can trace their ancestry back to Jock Tamson. There are exceptions to the white seat of Scottish faces, but not very many.

SNP supporters almost all have Scottish accents and Scottish parents. Their nationalism like all nationalisms is founded in the past and based on the perceived connection of Scots today to that past. Without that there would be no sense of Scotland even being a separate country let alone the desire to be one again.

This is why they need the fig leaf that enables them to pretend that Scottish nationalism is welcoming, virtuous and liberal. One of the keys to this dissimulation is to recruit non-Scots to the independence movement.

If you arrive from France, meet Scottish nationalists and say you support the SNP, you will immediately become a Scot. You will feel happy and welcomed. But what if you say you vote Tory or oppose Scottish independence? Will you still be a Scot? What if you have an English accent and oppose Scottish independence? Will you still be a Scot? Of course, not. There is nothing civic about it. Anyone who doesn’t support Scottish independence is a Tory. He might be Red, Yellow, Green, English, French or Japanese, but he is not Scottish.

I grew up in a small town near Aberdeen where there were a lot of English incomers due to the oil industry. As children we made it clear to them that that there was one preeminent quality and they didn’t have it. We were Scottish because we’d been born there and had Scottish accents. They were not. Some of us grew up and grew out of this nationalism and hatred, but too many of us did not.

The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.