There was an eccentric bloke at the Glasgow Herald many years ago who confused me by changing his style every time I saw him. Collar and tie one day then tee shirt to work; one day pony tail, next day not. One of the hacks summed him up: “He opens the wardrobe in the morning, looks along the hangers and selects a persona for the day.”
He came to mind when I heard a Yes voter say the referendum isn’t about identity, a view supported by the No side who complain about a false choice between Scottish and British.
What do they mean? I get the bit about inclusion…that your place of birth, antecedents, colour, culture and beliefs are no exclusion. I live in Kelvinbridge which is one of the most multi cultural places I’ve known. The connections of people I meet, excluding other Brits…. NO! Sorry…NOT excluding other Brits. That’s not what I meant. I’ll rephrase. Counting all nationalities, with English, Welsh and Irish folk – North and South – included, there is a constantly changing United Nations of North Africa, West Africa, South Africa, Kosovo, the sub continent (India, Pakistan, Bangladesh), Germany, France, Iceland, Canada, Spain, Korea, Iran, Iraq and Govan. That’s before we count the Polish contingent and the annual influx of foreign students.
Not only do I not exclude them from my view of my country, I wholeheartedly embrace them being here. Immigrants, asylum seeks, refugees – welcome. Few things make me as proud as knowing that when persecution gets intolerable, a beaten-down and crushed human thinks of my country as a refuge. If they are here and their heart is here, then they are Scots like me.
That means they have invested in this place, brought their skills, humanity and commitment and put them at the service of all. They are doing their bit. Just like me.
So I don’t worry that in being Scottish I am somehow against others. I don’t resent anyone from England. Well, not because they’re English! I am English on my mother’s side and a childhood spent partly in the Newcastle area has ingrained in me a love of the working class warmth and camaraderie of the North. And oh those accents.
But I’m a Scot. Whatever my feelings towards others, I’m not confused about my identity. I am Scottish. Yes, I know I’m a British subject with a passport but I can’t avoid that. It was inherited. As many have said before, whatever it says on my UK records, I am a Scot where it matters – in my heart.
And that’s where it ties in to the immigrant community because that is their option too, to regard themselves as Scots and their home as Scotland. As my mother came here with her accent, her Methodism, her different ways and Yorkshire puddings (family tradition), so new arrivals bring their distinct self-image and traditions too.
It just isn’t an issue, having a multiple identity as countless Irish folk in Scotland can testify. You can have both if that’s your choice – Pakistani and Scottish.
But the question in the referendum does require a choice. It is in essence asking who you are because it is inherent in the preference of status you choose for your country. When presented with the option, it is the clearest expression of nationality to choose statehood. To deliberately decline to do so is to downgrade your nationality.
The question asks, assuming you see yourself as a Scot, if you want your country to have the full range of government powers to run its own affairs and acquire the internationally acknowledged status of independence. In other words, do you aspire to be like every other member in the United Nations where all nationalities take their place as normal sovereign countries? Or, do you prefer to think of your country as Britain in which Scotland plays a subsidiary part as a regionally-administered province subject to policies largely decided for the needs of a majority based elsewhere? (By a parliamentary system in which Scotland now has 4 per cent representation)
A No vote accepts Scotland has subservient status in a larger entity and while there may be advantages to that arrangement, in order to receive those benefits, it is necessary to concede secondary status to your own country. By doing so, you acknowledge the superior status of Britain over Scotland. By voting No you make Britain, not Scotland, your country of choice.
No other people do this. It would be unthinkable for, let’s say, an Australian to spend more than a nano second on it. A politician in Canberra suggesting Australia couldn’t handle its own affairs and should let London decide monetary policy, defence and foreign affairs would be a laughing stock. Would a Frenchman or German put European government ahead of their own? I am a European first and a Frenchman second would be ridiculed even in pro Europe France.
Your double identity may be confirmed by a No vote but for the first time in our lifetimes and in the existence of the Union we will have been confronted with the choice and you will have chosen the UK over Scotland. In a No voter’s mind, the UK is the preferred country. Of course you retain a Scottish identity but only within the context of the UK.
It surely means your belief in Scotland and the Scots is compromised. Your Scottishness is expressed in limited terms. You are saying you are Scottish but only up to the point where you have to choose between Scotland and Britain. Then you opt for the UK.
So in terms of identity, that decision makes you a Brit first and a Scot second. How could it be otherwise? Asked to endorse the globally accepted credentials of nationhood, you will have declined, downgrading your country – Scotland – to provincial status.
In Scotland we have muddled along seemingly forever fudging the issue of who we are and what our country is. We say to ourselves we are Scottish and British – best of both worlds – and we’ve got away with it, although I suspect it has engendered in us a dispiriting inferiority complex or at least a cringe-worthy confusion alien to every other nationality.
In a year’s time that fudge, that awkward compromise, won’t do. We are the generation who get to choose. We are Generation X. And choose we must. There is no hiding place.
The national pride, the easily summoned passion for the icons and history, your genuine love of Scotland, won’t be enough. This is the moment of truth for every Scot. How much do you believe in Scotland, even at cost to yourself? If the answer is: Not enough to accord it the rightful status of every other country, then vote No. Vote for Britain. But remember that the next time a blue jersey or a pipe band or a nostalgic journey home or a Hebridean ferry stirs that familiar deep feeling in your heart.
You, alone among the Scots over 300 years, had the chance in your hands to do for Scotland what generations in the past gave their lives for and you said No….