BY EFFIE DEANS
In Scotland there are a group of people who want Scotland to be an independent country. But who are they and why do they want this? They are frequently supporters of the SNP though some also support the Scottish Greens or other less well-known parties. Some don’t support any party but have decided that they would vote for Scottish independence at any future referendum. But why?
The argument frequently goes that it is unfair that the Scottish electorate frequently gets a Conservative Government at Westminster though the Conservative Party doesn’t win the majority of seats in Scotland or that it is unfair that Scotland voted to Remain in the EU, but the UK left anyway. But why should this matter?
If I point out that in an independent Scotland a part of Scotland would not always get the Government, it chose or would not have a veto on EU membership SNP supporters point out a distinction. Aberdeenshire must accept the will of the Scottish majority, because it is not a country, but Scotland should not accept the will of the British majority because the Scottish people form a country that is distinct from the UK whole. This is the essence of the SNP argument. It always in the end is about there being a country called Scotland and a people called Scottish and that these are distinct.
But what is to be Scottish and what is it for Scotland to be a country that makes it illegitimate for these Scots to be outvoted by the UK whole? Scotland being a country is based on the fact that Scotland was an independent nation state until 1707. The basis is therefore historical. If Scotland had never been an independent country, it is no more likely that there would now be an SNP than there would be a Yorkshire National Party.
Likewise, the idea that there is a Scottish people is based on the fact that there was once an independent Scottish nation full of Scottish people and that the present people of Scotland are descended from them. If at some point in the intervening 300 years a wholly new people had moved to Scotland with no connection with the previous people, there would be no sense that the present Scottish people have a historical connection with the past Scottish nation. So, this too is based on history and ancestry.
When Scottish nationalists march or gather at the site of the Battle of Bannockburn they are asserting that we are the same people that fought against proud Edward’s Army and sent him homeward to think again. If that is not how Scottish nationalists think, then why do they frequently dress up as Jacobites and use the flags and symbols of the period when Scotland was not part of the UK?
The SNP symbol looks remarkably like an upside-down Odal rune (ᛟ). This symbol means heritage, inheritance, inherited estate. I do not know if the founders of the SNP knew about this symbol, but it would be appropriate if they had based the SNP symbol on it, because it is the essence of their argument. Support for the SNP today is based on heritage and inheritance. The sense of Scotland being a nation and Scots being a people is something that was handed down from parents to children. How else did it come down to today?
All nationalist arguments are based on identity and that identity being handed down from parents and grandparents. If there had been mass waves of migration into Scotland from the other parts of the UK and elsewhere so that there was no longer a distinct Scottish language, accent or identity there would be no SNP. If no Scottish residents could trace their ancestry to the Battle of Bannockburn and that Scottish ancestry was as likely to be French, West Indian or Chinese as anything else there would be no more demand for secession in modern day Scotland than there is in modern day Vermont.
Scottish independence marches are overwhelmingly full of people whose ancestors have lived in Scotland for centuries. These people nearly all look the same and speak the same. They are not multicultural. Rather they form a monoculture. It is for this reason that they march.
In many countries national identity is a matter of where you were born and where your parents came from. In Eastern Europe it is still common to think of identity as a matter of language and heritage. What made Poles continue to be Poles when Poland ceased to exist when it was partitioned was that they spoke Polish, were Catholic and had Polish ancestry.
In Britain we no longer think this way. We rightly believe that someone whose parents came from elsewhere and has British citizenship is as fully British as everyone else. We do not make the distinction between identity and citizenship. Rather in a similar way to the United States we have the idea that anyone can become British.
But there is no such thing as Scottish citizenship because Scotland is not an independent nation state that issues passports. Scottish nationalists have British passports even if they reject the UK and refuse to accept that they are British. But if it is not citizenship that makes residents in Scotland Scottish, what is it?
I might be a resident in the United States for many years, but I would not normally call myself an American unless I was a United States citizen. This is also the case in Europe. Scots who retire to Spain do not normally call themselves Spanish. Scottish people such as a certain blogger living in Bath do not call themselves English. Many people who were both born and raised in England such as a former ambassador to Uzbekistan think of themselves as Scottish because their parents were Scottish. Many Scots living in England resented not having a vote in the 2014 independence referendum even if they had not been to Scotland for years and perhaps even if they were not born and raised here. So, what is it that makes someone Scottish?
George Galloway has recently been criticised for writing:
Well #Humza you’re not more Scottish than me. You’re not a Celt like me. You’re not working-class like me. You didn’t go to a state school like me. You’re not more socialist than me. So stop pretending. You’re a poseur.
We should of course all accept that Humza Yousaf is Scottish. He was born in Scotland, lives in Scotland and the Scottish identity should not be limited to people with Scottish ancestry. But Mr Galloway does not deny that Mr Yousaf is Scottish. He merely says you are not more Scottish than me. But this is true. They are both equally Scottish.
Likewise, the statement that Mr Yousaf is not a Celt is true. Mr Yousaf’s father was an accountant, which suggests he had a middle-class family. It is also true that Mr Yousaf did not go to a state school. He went to Hutchesons’ Grammar School, which also suggests that his background was affluent. If Mr Yousaf were a socialist, why is he in the SNP rather than the Labour Party or one of the other parties of the left?
Everything Mr Galloway said was true, yet certain commentators have condemned him for saying it, or have suggested he said something that he did not say.
If it is wrong to point out that many Scots are Celts, why does the SNP go to such great lengths and expense to promote a Celtic language in Scotland. It doesn’t promote Polish or Urdu, but rather gives Gaelic special treatment to an extent far exceeding its relatively few speakers. It does this because Gaelic is indigenous to Scotland while Polish and Urdu are not.
It is common to describe Scotland, Wales and Ireland as being Celtic, though the Ancient Britons in England also spoke a Celtic language. Most British people have Celtic ancestors, but some do not. It doesn’t make them less British or Scottish. After all the Celts migrated here too.
But if my parents had emigrated to Poland in the 1960s, I don’t think I would have joined the Silesian National Party (SNP). It might be that other Polish people would be willing to treat me as equally Polish, it might be that Silesians might be willing to treat me as equally Silesian, but on what basis would I want Silesia to be independent? Even if lots of other Silesians wanted Silesia to be independent or perhaps to rejoin Germany it’s hard to imagine me thinking this had anything to do with me. Why would I have a sense of being Silesian making me different from other people whose parents had migrated to Warsaw rather than Wrocław. I might jump on the bandwagon of the cause of Silesian independence, but what would it really have to do with me?
It is for this reason that I’ve always found the motives of people like Humza Yousaf hard to understand. He of course can stand for any party he pleases and support any cause. But why get involved with a party that in the end is based on ancestry when you don’t share that ancestry? It feels like a pretence or else opportunism. There is something fake about it.
Scottish nationalism would not exist at all if all Scots based their Scottish identity in the same way that someone like Humza Yousaf does. He puts on and off whatever kilt he pleases and rightly so, but many if not most Scots feel a kilt is a matter of family and that you are either entitled to wear it or you are not. It’s to do with ancestry even if these kilt patterns were invented in the nineteenth century.
The idea that Scotland is a country and that the Scots are a people is not because of people whose parents arrived here in the 1960s. If being Scottish is just a matter of living here, then why feel any distinction between us and people in England who are also just living there. If the basis of identity is open to everyone who moves here, then there is no valid distinction between someone of Asian heritage living in Bradford or living in Glasgow. It becomes a matter of arbitrary choice of where your parents chose to live. But that is not a valid reason to campaign for independence for this group from that group, when the basis of their identity and nationality is the same. So called Civic nationalism make Scottish nationalism arbitrary and in the end senseless.
The only reason to suppose that the Scottish people should have independence is that we are in some important way different from the other people in the UK and that we have something in common which they lack. But what can this something be if it is merely the fact that we live in Scotland rather than England?
The campaign for Scottish independence only makes sense when it is based on Scots having a common ancestry, heritage and history and that this is something we share, but which is not shared by people in England. But the problem here then is that Humza Yousaf is fighting for something that he does not share and which none of the other SNP supporters from overseas or other parts of the UK share either.
Scotland rightly is welcoming to people from everywhere. The Scottish identity should be open to all. But the ideology of Scottish nationalism depends on a concept of Scottishness that is not open to all. If it is not about ancestry it is about nothing at all. It is this which makes it rather unwise for people from Poland, Portugal, or Pakistan to play around with Scottish nationalism. The SNP may pretend to be welcoming, but at root it has a concept of Scottishness that excludes people whose ancestors were not Scottish. This is carefully hidden today, partly by useful fools like Mr Yousaf, but it is there none the less.
Mr Galloway’s point I believe is the opposite of racism. Everything we know about Mr Galloway including his family tells us that he has no prejudice against Muslims. He is merely pointing out that Humza Yousaf is like a black man who wants to join the Confederate cause of Southern independence. It is at best an unwise pretence, at worst mere opportunism that is unlikely to end well.
Scottish nationalism is the cause of those Scots who are obsessed with ancestry, who look back to 1314 and an auld enemy. If you don’t share that ancestry, be careful helping those who think the most important thing in the world is recreating the place where their ancestors used to live. After all your ancestors did not live there. They were not Celts, nor indeed were they Scots.
The excellent Effie Deans writes at Lily of St. Leonard’s here.