ID Cards

Earlier this month , David Tobin critiqued visions of a Post-colonial Scotland, examining the “national identity politics” which are shaping us on our course to independence. This is indeed a key question for us as a nation as we forge an identity of ourselves in the world – what narratives and images represent Scotland in this modern era?

Tobin situates this discussion within the discourse of identity politics, suggesting that artifical barriers are being drawn on the basis of geography while the differential is (or should be) class.  This argument is certainly not a new one to anyone familiar with the debates that have gone on within feminism, Black politics or LGBT liberation in the past 50 years. There is a constant tension between the call of class politics and acknowledgement that class differentials use subtle strategies of power to divide the class.

Identity politics seeks to undermine these differentials by isolating and addressing them. By demanding that those situated within oppressed groups forge their own identities – reflecting the realities, rather than imposed viewpoints. Female, Black and gay activists seek to undermine the ways in which that power imbalances are supported through narratives of sexism, racism and homophobia which tell the stories of the weak from the position of the powerful. 

In that vein it is worth looking at the visions of a Scottish Identity presented to the Scottish populace and in wider realms

The traditional narrative of the Scots is that of <em>”Tartan and Shortbread”.</em> A conservative vision, it plays on the romanticism of the untamed Scottish Highlands, presenting Scotland as exotic, yet homely. Beloved of rich tourists, and consequently of much of the hospitality industry it represents Scotland through the eyes of the visitor, the coloniser and the purchaser of Scottish culture. It is a vision which bears no resemblance to real lives of Scots, benign yet patronising, its is us and our homeland as seen from the outside, by those who can afford to dip in.

An alternative narrative, growing in popularity, is that of “Booze and Benefits”.  It presents the Scots as subsididy junkies, living off the benevolence and indulgence of the English Working Class.  It portrays Scotland as a remote colonial outback, one incapable of managing its own affairs where to even to raise such a question as control over our own resources is stupid.  Heavily promoted by Unionist politicians and journalists fearing an independent progressive nation on their doorstep and the unfavourable comparisons that may be made, it seeks to raise English ire at Scottish health and education provision.

Tobin notes the “Burns and Bannockburn” narrative being promoted by the SNP. Coupled with the support for indiginous minority languages and the introduction of Scottish Studies in schools, it suggests strong support for culture and history from a Scottish perspective.  This is Scotland seen through the eyes of Scots, but still a distanced and formal vision – time has sanitised the 14th Century Wars of Independence and the insurrectionary power of Burns is muted by his adoption into the Cannon.  The romanticism may be less overt and the vision orginating from within Scotland but as Tobin points out, it is a vision situated in an oppositional struggle to the English and one which reifies Scottish culture, preserving it as a static monument to which we should give worship.

The left has its own narrative of “Red Clydeside and Ravenscraig”, drawing on Scotland’s tradition of heavy industry, engineering prowess and the working men which made Glasgow the workshop of the world. Heavily urban, male dominated and white, this vision encapsulates the oppositional spirit forged in the ironworks and shipyards, and also the references may be more modern than Feudal clans or Bannockburn, it is still dated and bears little resemblance to the post-industrial landscape of modern Scotland.  The vision here may come from within the Scottish working class, but celebrates the white male heterosexual in a macho and aggressive fashion

It is critical that the vision of Scotland presented to the world is one which comes from within Scotland, one which is rooted in our communities and workplaces and which celebrates the diversity that comprises modern Scotland.  Scotland has enormous potential to be a beacon for the world – leading the way in renewable energy, critiquing the macho culture and taking advantage of the inclusive Scottish narrative that many of our new citizens have created in opposition to the racist British state.  To create that narrative however we must fashion it in reality and root it in modern Scotland, embrace modern clean energy generation, work towards abolishing the macho culture which dominates much of Central Scotland and ensuring that the culture of new citizens are valued and respected as it is fused into our cultural landscape.

Our national culture and identity is not something own, it is something that we make and continually refashion, each generation holds it in trust for the next.  We must take care not to squander the gifts passed down to us from previous generations by dwelling on the lies of past glory that they use to keep us all in line.

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  1. Shortbread McShortbread says:

    You no like shortbread? That makes me a saaaad panda.

  2. Paul Flannery says:

    “It is critical that the vision of Scotland presented to the world is one which comes from within Scotland, one which is rooted in our communities and workplaces and which celebrates the diversity that comprises modern Scotland.”

    What happens if a sizable percentage of the population view their ‘Scottishness’ as being part of the Union and don’t want independence?

    1. The last Ipsos poll showed the trend of independence versus union with the independence vote now just ahead 39% to 38%. Given that prior to 2007 independence was only supported by 23% of Scots this is quite a shift in public opinion in just four years. The last three polls all show support for the Union dropping. In 2010 pro-union support dropped below 50% for the first time ever amongst Scots.

      The latest polls for both Westminster and Holyrood voting intentions do not make good reading for the pro unionists as the SNP are way ahead of Labour by between 9 to 10% of vote share, the Libdems in low single figures and the Tory Party stuck around 12%.

      The Edinburgh University analysis of Labour’s vote share for May 2011 indicates it only achieved this level because of Libdem voters switching to Labour. The indications are Labour’s Scottish Region is loosing its core vote.

      As for pro-union Scots – they have been badly let down by the arrogant and ignorant policies of the Unionist Parties who thought (and still seem to think) that all they have to do is bully the Scots to win the argument. 2007 was when they should have taken note of the Scot’s unanimous wish for FFA. They did not, they still are not and the rise of support in support of independence is directly thanks to the duplicity of the Calman Commission and the poorly drafted, thought through and costed Scotland Act Amendment Bill created by Gordon Brown and Wendy Alexander. This bill to fails to address the sovereign Scottish people’s desire for autonomy, an autonomy we would have preferred within a Federated UK but this is not on offer – hence the growth in support for independence.

      1. If the vision of Scotland that comes from Scottish communities and workplaces is a Unionist one, I’ll challenge it there, but I have never found the need. Maybe all the communities and workplaces that I have ever encountered are strange little pockets of striving for national liberation, but somehow I dont think so. I hear unionism from politicians and sections of the macho left – particularly those with London leaderships – beyond that, not a whisper.

        It is only the imbalance in access to mass communication through the traditional media that unionism has any presence at all. Everyone else thinks that its not a daft question to ask for control of our own resources and destiny. Only those who would seek to control those for us think its a good idea.

  3. bellacaledonia says:

    Depends what you mean by a sizeable percentage? There’ll be a vote. Unless there’s gerrymandering like in 1979, then the winner decides. People really unhappy could leave and go and live somewhere else

  4. Interesting points Mhairi. One of the biggest historical disasters of nationalism was a British empire which reified itself and spread its ‘superiority’ in the name of elites and workers alike across the globe. If Scottish independence is to produce a different type of politics, one that seeks to co-exist rather than dominate the Other, we should realise our identities are not given but like you say continually refashioned.

  5. doonhamer says:

    We are not leading the world in renewable energy nor will we. We buy the turbines, the solar panels from abroad. The world is not interested very much at the moment. Do you really think that a country of 5 million in a world of 7 billion is likely to make much of an impact? It is not difficult to make electricity from turbines etc. The trick is to make it affordable. Scotland is a pathetic poor little country on the edge of Europe which is barely surviving. When the oil goes we are stuffed. If we do get independence (and you do not need to be rich to be independent) we should name our currency the peso. That gives a fair idea of what it will be worth.

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