The Scottish referendum. The British identity that dare not speak its name


The best article I’ve seen about the dearth of a cultural identity debate in Scotland by Alex Linklater, son of the great Magnus. Could Scots learn a thing or two from the Irish? Or maybe not?

 You’d have thought the Scottish cultural air would be thrumming with an accrued history of intellectual fighting and flyting over who we are, dating back to the unions of crowns and parliaments, through the Enlightenment and into all the scientific and artistic legacies of 19th and 20th-century Scottish culture, as manifested now, at a constitutional crossroads.

The accusation aimed at the Better Together campaign is that it has no positive vision of the UK. But, by exactly the same token, the yes campaign has little more than economic promises, based on speculation that an independent Scotland could be better off financially..

A vote for independence in September would not mean separation from England (a matter of cartography that was resolved 1,000 years ago). It would mean separation from Britain, a country that was created and constituted by Scots at least as much as it was by our partners in the union. But the Scottish Enlightenment, the diaspora, Scots in the empire, Scottish explorers and scientists and philosophers and inventors – the tartan seams in the British story – have been bleached out of a narrow debate,

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  • Old Mortality

    It was Salmond himself who launched the independence campaign with the limp appeal to the ‘people who live in Scotland’. They are determined only by ‘a matter of cartography’. Nationalists want to steer clear of culture because it might spill over into a discussion of national identity which could open up some unpleasant cans of worms.
    As the SNP would have it, all that binds the ‘people who live in Scotland’ is a shared enthusiasm for state benevolence and hostility to governments which threaten it.

  • Harry Flashman

    Of course neither side will revert to old-fashioned nationalist rhetoric (at least until it gets close to the actual vote and it seems like the gap is narrowing). The Mainlanders are not like us Provincers, they feel rather uncomfortable with all that flag-waving stuff and like religion they don’t “do” nationalism.

    Given that the pro-Union brigade in Scotland is led by the Labour Party who are dependent on the Catholic vote I don’t expect to see them wrapping themselves in the Union Jack any time soon.

    On the other side the Nationalists know that Scotland like the rest of the UK is made up of ethnic minorities, the biggest of which is the English and going all Braveheart might frighten some of the more wavering voters.

    So in a vote on national sovereignty, nationalism won’t enter the equation and all we will hear about is economic issues.

    Probably just as well really, we’ve seen what happens when protestants and Catholics of Gaelic/British origin in post-industrial corners of the Celtic fringe get too hung up on nationalism, and it ain’t pretty.

  • Master McGrath

    While the Labour/Catholic axis was true in he past, predominantly in the West of Scotland, the latest polls here (in Scotland) suggest that was a case of ‘before’ and now now. The Nationalists have been making a real effort into that previously secure ground and the likelihood is that the previous voting patterns will not be a real predictor of future voting intention – most especially in the Referendum.
    What should be understood is the extent of the Scottish antipathy to what is seen as an English, and very unpopular Government in Westminster, saying what is good, or not, for Scotland and the real possibility that this antipathy will be translated into large numbers voting for separation.
    The almost detached attitude of the NO campaign to the debate has concentrated on economic matters, in the EU/not in the EU, have the Pound/not have the pound, and the creeping ascent of the YES side ins alarming to the unionist side now it has woken up to the danger.
    The ‘day trip’ visitors from London who turn up to make what they consider important and fundamental contributions to the debate on Scottish soil is having the opposite effect on the population to that they intend. They are not blowing the Yes case out of the water at all indeed may actually be aiding it.

  • Morpheus

    “It would mean separation from Britain, a country that was created and constituted by Scots at least as much as it was by our partners in the union.”

    Partners 🙂

    Even though the UK was “created and constituted by Scots” the first thing they were told when they expressed a desired to have a referendum on maybe leaving was not “have a referendum and whatever you decide go in peace with the blessing of the UK and thanks for everything you have done” but instead they get a bunch of Etonians reminding how much of “partners” they really were by saying ‘well feck off then but you can’t use our currency” like a bunch of spoiled brats.

    There was a very interesting article from the Adam Smith Institute’s Research Director Sam Bowman when he said that Scotland should go ahead and use it anyway:
    “An independent Scotland would not need England’s permission to continue using the pound sterling, and in fact would be better off using the pound without such permission. There is very little that an English government would actually be able to do to stop Scottish people from continuing to use the pound sterling if they wanted to.

    As the American economist George Selgin has pointed out, what the Prime Minister really means is that the Bank of England would not act as a guarantor for Scottish banks or the Scottish government. Lucky Scotland: the implied promise of a bailout from the European Central Bank is exactly what allowed Eurozone banks and governments to borrow cheaply and get themselves into a debt crisis.

    Scotland’s position would be closer to that of countries like Panama, Ecuador and El Salvador, which use the US Dollar without American “permission”, and, according to research by the Federal Reserve of Atlanta, consequentially have far more prudent and stable financial systems than if they were part of a formal currency union.

    An independent Scotland that used the pound as its base currency without the English government’s permission, with banks continuing to issue notes privately and private citizens free to choose any currency they wanted, would probably have a more stable financial system and economy than England itself.

    “It’s up to Scots to decide whether they want independence, but the Chancellor’s announcement today should be seen as a feature, not a bug.”

  • IrelandNorth

    Reactions by both HMs PM and HMs Chancellor to the ‘threat’ of Scottish independence (ie “walking away from the Union”) smack of sniffy lovers miffed at the threat of a beloved spurning the ‘affections’ of a controlling and manipulative paramour or controlling parent. One might have expected greater constitutional maturity from leaders of a former global superpower. Neo-imperialist unionism isn’t the only paradigm. Even the relatively broad church that is Irish nationalism might well have (and may yet well still) have thrown in its lot with a less incestuous and less clausterphobic constitutional federalism/confederalism.