Thursday, 9 February 2012

Whither identity?

In these early weeks of the referendum campaign the Scottish public has been blitzed with argumentation.

Both sides - for secession and against it - have dangled any number of arguments in front of us. Listen to one side and we'll be richer and happier if only Holyrood had more powers, if only power was closer to the Scottish people and wasn't skewed towards the English. Listen to the other and we'd be poorer under such a system and that we'd struggle to hold on to our AAA rating.

You've heard it all. You've heard misdirection from both sides and half-truths from both sides. The populous at large, in a room full of smoke and mirrors, is supposed to be able to carry out some fairly complex analysis.

What we have heard precious little about is national identity or, for that matter, identity at all.

What no one is telling you is that this referendum will split families and, indeed, individuals. As I said in my first post, there are patriots and good people on both sides of this debate and there are patriots and good people who are still to be convinced but I am unsure that many have considered what this referendum is really asking us to do.

It is, of course, asking us  to define Scotland's future - should we remain part of the United Kingdom or should we secede from it and become our own nation? But more than that we will be defining ourselves as a people and individuals. People across Scotland will be faced with questions they do not normally ask themselves.

Last weekend, at Murrayfield, many individuals who support the continuation of the Union wore their Scotland shirts, sang God Save The Queen and Flower of Scotland and hoped beyond hope that the boys in blue would beat the English. They are comfortable in that system in the same way that many immigrants view themselves as ''British-Indian'' or ''British-Pakistani''.

Most of us have more complex identities than we are given credit for and, generally, people do not want to have to choose between different parts of their identities. It is not a nice thing to have to do that. It is something we would rather avoid doing.

Therefore, it is perfectly natural for many Scots to feel both Scottish and British. They see no distinction. They see no contradiction. They realise that we are made up of various parts and these parts rub along together. 

There are also good people who view themselves as Scottish and not British. That is fine too. Who am I to question someone's identity? Who is anyone? But, over time, this issue will come up and it will be uncomfortable for many.

In many ways, as the First Minister's fairly bizarre comments about ''... that union, that United Kingdom if you like, would be maintained after Scottish political independence'' point to something a little deeper. Increasingly, it seems that what some in the Nationalist movement want is an independent Scotland in a United Kingdom or - I suppose - devo-max. They want sovereignty but they do not want to force individuals to face the psychological dilemma of choosing between parts of their identity.

No one wants to say any of this. It is why the parties are talking about power, authority, the economy and the pound in their pockets. Ultimately, few Scots will be bought or sold for a few hundred pounds a year in tax. They will vote with their hearts, how they feel, what they feel. That's not the sort of stuff that is swayed by guineas and rhetoric.

The referendum will cause much soul-searching. That is when this debate will truly come alive and become much more sombre than the knockabout stuff we've got at present.



  1. Great post Rob! The issue is complex and you are quite right that many Scots will have a dilemma when forced to reveal their allegiance.

    Also an unreported fact is what consideration, if any, is given to the view of the other nations in the Union? Englishman, Welshmen, Irishmen all have a stake in the union and so shouldn't they be asked if they want to devolve power absolutely?

    If all states were in favour of Scotland breaking away then so be it but until then it shouldn't be up to Salmond or solely the Scottish people to decide?

  2. Great post. I may respond at greater length tomorrow, once I have worked out where Dan Parks fits in to this analysis.

  3. My suspicion is that most Scottish people would prefer to go for further devolution (a federal model?) than complete independence. Mainly because - as you've said - we identify ourselves as proudly Scottish but also happily British. I just hope that's an option kept open for us...

  4. Nicely phrased, and something that we Nationalists need to pay careful attention to. I would say, however, that I think it is a false dilemma you have thrown yourself into in so far as no one on the SNP side of the fence is saying you will be forced to discard a part of your identity in an Independent Scotland. It's not either/or; it's both/and. This is what the FM means when he speaks of the UK being maintained - on a social level. It's not a Civil War - there's no need for families or individuals to take sides. The only question at issue is whether the Scotland and England will do better as separate political entities - that does not of itself entail being forced to make a choice between personal identities.

  5. BTW, I have put a link to this post on the WCSNP twitter a/c (@WCSNP if you want to follow) where I try to put most of the best stuff about #indyref. If you are a politics junke, you might find it useful,

  6. Finally (and apologies for cluttering up your comments) this piece by Stephen Noon (always worth reading) might help to clarify things?