2007 - 2021

Anglo-Scottish Anxieties

England_Political_Map_2_bigI come from a heavily Anglicised Scottish family. My mother is from Sussex. Although born in Scotland, my late dad was educated in Yorkshire and Cambridge and lived in England until he was in his late twenties. My sister has lived in Berkshire for the last four or five years, with her English partner. My aunt and uncle and cousins are from Harrogate. I have spent a fair chunk of my (still relatively young) life in London. I feel, to some extent at least, culturally English, and I’m quite happy to describe myself as “British”.

Until recently, I didn’t think any of this was particularly relevant to the debate over Scottish independence. I had assumed that, like me, most people looked at the issue in strictly political terms: how well is Scotland governed now and could it be governed better in the future?

I inherited this attitude from my dad, who, as an influential figure in the SNP during the 1970s and ‘80s, argued that independence was about transforming Scotland’s social and economic landscape not, as the traditionalists insisted, reviving some long-suppressed sense of Scottish national pride.

I still agree with my dad. I’m not voting Yes in September in order to feel more Scottish, or to make other people – people I don’t know – feel less British. I’m voting Yes because I think Scotland has been systematically mismanaged by successive UK governments, and because I think the Scottish people – however they choose to define themselves – would benefit from taking responsibility for their own future.

I was wrong, however, to assume that identity was irrelevant, because it isn’t. Identity matters. This point was hammered home last weekend when the Sunday Times published a provocative story about the overwhelming opposition of English-born voters to independence. According to the Times, 66 per cent of “English Scots” intend to vote No, compared to just 42 per cent of “Scottish Scots”.

In some respects, this shouldn’t have been all that surprising. There is a well-established link between an individual’s national identity and their views on the constitution. The more assertively “Scottish” a voter is, the more likely he or she is to support independence. Likewise, the more assertively “British” they are, the more likely they are to back the Union.

Nonetheless, I didn’t realise the divide was so pronounced. What, exactly, makes English-born Scots so anxious about independence? Are they frightened a Yes vote would seal Scotland off from the rest of the UK? It’s possible there is a class dynamic at work here; that Anglo-Scots tend to be better off, making them disproportionately hostile to constitutional change. But this is just conjecture, based, anecdotally, on my own experiences growing up in middle class south Edinburgh (where there happens to be a lot of English accents).

Another explanation – a more troubling one, from a Yes perspective – is that many English-born Scots remain deeply uncomfortable with Scottish nationalism.

There has been a lot of debate recently about the “civic” credentials of the SNP (and of the Yes movement more broadly). Quite a few unionists – Tom Gallagher, George Galloway and the entire editorial board of the Daily Telegraph, for instance – seem absolutely convinced that Alex Salmond is just a glossier, cannier version of Ratko Mladic. Others are more sensible. Mainstream unionists such as David Cameron and Douglas Alexander generally avoid trying to tie the SNP to blood-and-shortbread nationalism – although that doesn’t stop them from playing the identity card.

The leaders of the No campaign regularly present the referendum as a choice between competing identities: compound “Britishness” on the one hand (Scottish-English, Scottish-British, English-British etc.) and monochrome “Scottishness” on the other. The implication is pretty clear: the break-up of the political union means the end of the social one – vote Yes if you want to, but don’t go thinking you’ll still be British afterwards, because you won’t.

This is more or less exactly what David Cameron said in February: “The United Kingdom is an intricate tapestry, millions of relationships woven tight over more than three centuries. That’s why, for millions of people, there is no contradiction in being proud of your Scottishness, Englishness, Britishness – sometimes all at once. Some say none of this would change with independence, that these connections would stay as strong as ever. But the fact is: all these connections – whether business or personal – are eased and strengthened by the institutional framework of the UK.”

It becomes easier, in this light, to see why so many Anglo-Scots back the Union. They don’t want their “personal connections” to be “weakened” by separation. Who would? But it puts me in an awkward position. According to Cameron, my support for independence represents a direct threat to my sense of “Britishness”; I can have a stronger and more responsive Scottish democracy or a dual Anglo-Scottish identity, but not both.

At one stage, it would have been the nationalists who cast things in such binary terms. These days, it is the unionists who seem obsessed with flags and symbols and “belonging”. Identity shouldn’t matter in the referendum debate, but for as long as Cameron and others act like “Britishness” is something they can give and take away, it’s going to.

Comments (29)

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  1. robert says:

    An independent Scotland would still be British just as Norway was still Scandinavian after gaining independence from Sweden.

  2. Its still the British Isles and Westminster does not have the franchise on the geography.

  3. Brian Powell says:

    Rather strange to be concerned with some form of nationalism, when the express views of the SNP and Yes is inclusive.
    The vote specifically included all who live in Scotland, whatever their origin, so it seems odd.

    I did read that English expats in Catalonia have been strongly against Independence there too.
    It does make me wonder if there is an edge of small colonialism thinking involved.
    They want it to stay conveniently where where they find it comfortable and the ‘locals’ to play their part.

    1. daibhidhdeux says:

      Agreed, Brian.

      A remnant colonial mindset.

      They need to let go and consequently grow in a truly independent and balanced fashion.

      1. WB says:

        Do you understand irony? Same question to Brian Powell.

  4. deewal says:

    If you went to school in England you would know very well that Britain is England. Scotland was finally conquered in 1746 and then Scots were either killed or starved to death or shipped to the colonies. Over 200,000 of them. They were an inferior race but as Elizabeth Leveson-Gower, Duchess of Sutherland remarked in a letter to a friend in England, “Scotch people are of happier constitution and do not fatten like the larger breed of animals.”

    I wonder what the population of the Highlands would be today if those animals had not been exterminated ?

    Anyway I think that the English (British) fear another uprising by these damned Scotch (as the Indian sepoys did in 1857) and fear being slaughtered in their beds or thrown into the Black Holes of Glasgow and Inverness.
    Well that’s what a million people a day are being told by BBC Scotland every day.

    But not to worry old chap’s. The fear of the English is now deeply embedded in the genes of the Highlands and the massive statue of The Duke of Sutherland still stands proudly to remind them.

    (bit like a Statue of Adolph still standing in Munich or Bergen to remind the inferior animals not to get uppity again what ?) Pip Pip. Jolly good show.

    1. yerkitbreeks says:

      ……. and if you went to Eton, you would know you were to be a leader in society ( if not when you went there, certainly by the time you left ). The point about migrants often doing well and being middle class, and therefore Luddite, pertains.

      Returning to Scotland after years being fully accepted as a middle class professional in Kent ( and therefore generally voting for the status quo there, even though I was a leftie at University ) I seem to be unusual among my Aberdonian schoolchums who at the moment are NOs. Why should these Baby Boomers change ? They all appear to be well off with detached house, cars, holiday(s), pension(s) so everything to lose since it’s almost impossible to reassure them. This type of person wouldn’t send their child to the local school as a way of bringing up the overall performance of the establishment.

      Happily though, as with the feudalists here in the Borders, these Telegraph readers consist of relatively low numbers.

    2. Auld Rock says:

      Aye Deewal, but remember what happened to Nelson’s column in Dublin, LOL.

      Auld Rock

  5. Wikipedia:
    “Italian Scots or Scots-Italians are people of Italian descent living in Scotland. . . A recent Italian voter census estimated that there are 70,000 to 100,000 people in Scotland of Italian descent or Italian nationals, which is up to 1.9% of the Scottish population.”

    I am an English Scot, one of many who chooses to live here, and raise family here. I care for, and am responsible for what happens in and to Scotland more than anywhere else in the world. I belong as much as anyone who traces their ancestry differently, and they belong as much as me and you, if they, you and I care about the future of this place.

    Although the issue at stake on September 18th is one of democracy and democracy alone (do we say “no, do we say that what the Westminster parties and the City of London are doing is fine, and we don’t trust ourselves to do better”, or do we say “yes, it’s long overdue they we take responsibility for our own future, we will make our own mistakes, but we are grown up enough to navigate the uncertainty rather than bow meekly before the certainty of more austerity, more atrophying of democracy, more weapons of mass destruction”)

    Although the issue at stake on September 18th is one of democracy and democracy alone, this process, this debate, inevitably raises issues of identity.

    And the strongest realisation that I have had as a result of listening to the voices of inclusive democratic Scotland, is that I am welcome, that I belong.

    There is no confusion or contradiction or diminishing in having to clarify my identity as a result of realising that Britain is an island we all share, but that the Britishness the Westminster parties push is not who I am and probably not who anyone on these islands actually is.

    Are you Polish Scot?

    Are you English or Chinese or Asian and a welcome guest here for a while but intending to return back to where you came from?

    Are you unsure how your identity will develop and can’t say whether you are Indian or an Asian Scot, English or an English Scot?

    That’s all fine, take your time, but engage in the debate, listen to what people are saying. There are people saying that a particular outcome will diminish you (” ‘they’ll chase you out if it’s a Yes”, or “they’ll hate you if it’s a No”) but it won’t and they won’t.

    Depending in how you look at it, this is just about democracy, or it is also about an uprising of civil nationalism. One that is determined to reclaim a space for us all, and determined to abandon the divisive ‘Britishness’ that is defined as blaming the poor for where the greed of the rich has led us, blaming those from overseas who keep our health service going while the rich no longer pay their taxes, and blaming anyone who dares say we will no longer leave government in the hands of the elite who pretend they know better but only want us to be disillusioned enough to leave them in control.

    This independence process – whatever the outcome on September 18th – is a chance to be clear about who we are.

    An inclusive strong welcoming ‘We’ being clear that any mix of identity can be welcome and feel secure, whether as a guest or as someone who is gradually becoming one of the enriching threads in the tapestry of this place, one that helps enrich through diversity as much as those with long ancestry enrich through their history.

    This is not about separation and clashes of identity, it is about belonging and appreciation of people’s ancestries however local or however much it is made of mixed threads from afar.

    All having an equal place is what this democratic movement seeks to assert, and is what those with inherited wealth and elite positions use their economic dominance to seek to deny.

  6. setondene says:

    I lived and worked in the Irish Republic in the 1970s. Many of my friends and colleagues there were either English residents or Anglo-Irish protestants. The Troubles in the North were at their height and there was a degree of political tension that resulted, among other things, in the burning down of the British Embassy and the murder of the British Ambassador, Ewart Biggs (I heard the bang, just round the corner from my house). I was personally threatened by an IRA man, but he was from the North, not the Republic.

    Now, no one can say that there is not a strong degree of ethnic – Gaelic – nationalism in the Republic but I can honestly say that I never saw any personal unpleasantness directed at my English or Anglo-Irish friends. And I can honestly say that the British government was deeply disliked and distrusted by the vast majority of Irish citizens. People were accepted as individuals in a law abiding society despite any ethnic background. I felt very safe in that society. I hope the new Scotland will be equally civilized.

  7. Heather says:

    Being from NE England, which was mostly very poor, we never ever, felt ‘British’.

    I always was inclined to think that Scotland should be Independent really from the day I arrived, 25 years ago.
    Only ever once did I see a sign of graffiti over a motorway saying ‘English go home’ fair enough I thought, being a geordie usually equates to almost being kith and kin!
    Scotland is so different to England, in culture, in the landscape, in the infrastructure, population, mindset (coming from NE England, with little to cling into in terms of identity, the Scottish people have a strong sense of identity).

    It makes me very angry when I read about the thrashing that this fabulous country has been subject to by the English establishment, and for far too long. Time for change and to look forward, we must not be taken back into the dark ages by westminster, it will destroy Scotland, and I think it is a fantastic place to live, I want that to continue and develop.

  8. James Dow A voice from the Diaspora says:

    One thing is clear no matter where you are from before long you possibly, your children definitely, will be speaking with a Scottish accent now that’s inclusive. I emigrated to Australia in 1952 and returned HOME in 1999 I heard a Pakistani girl speaking broad Scot’s I took joy in that and thought anywhere she went in the World she would be identified as a Scot and be proud of it.

  9. alancuzen says:

    Just a thought on the UK and WM thinking it holds the franchise on everything . What if the Scenario was England voted for Independence and the rUK became Scotland ,Wales and Northern Ireland who would claim the Pound ? I think we all know what would be said.

  10. YESGUY says:

    Good article Jamie , Had to have a wee think on the topic and agree with Brian ,this nationalist thing is a wee pigeon hole to put us into a category. Why people need a label surprises me.

    I spent many a year in south England in the armed forces with English regiments and the feeling was “British” was the name of our Islands . We had Welsh Guards , Scots fusiliers and the like but the English regiments ( Duke of wellingtons , Royal Green Jackets) never had the prefix of their country. We were a team but over the years It led us to believe British was English.

    And that’s the point. Almost everyone i knew thought British was English.

    I have a wee chuckle every time i hear the word British . Unionist use it to describe themselves but in truth it’s a word that hides the truth. I’m Scots , always have been and always will. I don’t take my country as a symbol or a team, its the place where I belong . Where i now live. Serving in our armed forces did not make me feel more British , it made me feel more Scots. The fact i was based in England didn’t matter as i could have posted to Edinburgh or Inverness. but 14 years in England made it plain to me that Britain was England.

    Now as a Scot voting on independence , i’m a nationalist . REALLY . I cant see whats changed as I am still a scot who wants whats best for my country . Yet nationalism up here is seen with a suspicious eye……. unless its British nationalism, and we’re back to the beginning again . British is English.and yes we regard that as suspicious .

    Being a Scot should tell you where i live or come from. Being proud of Scotland doesn’t make me a nationalist it makes me a proud Scot. It doesn’t come with a DNA check (i have irish and English in me). Colour , accent religion or where my parents come from . Its where i “feel” i belong .

    But if i am branded a Scottish “nationalist ” then fine, . It really doesn’t matter . I just want the best for the place and people i live with ,

  11. Abulhaq says:

    I do not understand the sentimental attachment to “British”. Other than a convenient historical term what meaningful place could it have in an independent Scottish state. It represents the past. The state in which it had meaning will be effectively dissolved. The Irish regard the usage “British Isles” as outmoded, imperialist in tenor and resent its use. We do need to raise our sight above these antique taxonomic trinkets.

  12. Douglas says:

    The referendum is about whatever people want it to be about at the end of the day, but it’s not about identity for me either Jamie.

    It is about culture most certainly, among other things, and I would always prefer to talk about culture rather than identity, because culture is open, ongoing, dynamic, inclusive, international and always changing, whereas “identity” is a nebulous concept which is fixed, simplistic and excludes those people who live here and who do not identify with that concept, wherever they are from. There have been numerous amazing contributions to Scottish culture by non Scots over the centuries, not least the Englishman Dwelly and his huge contribution to Scottish Gaelic.

    It is often the case that people who talk a lot about Scottish “identity” are the same people with very little interest in Scottish culture. The Burns Supper is the perfect representation of that, for the most part the people who attend such events have little knowledge or interest in Burns as a poet, or Scottish poetry in general, and every interest in putting on a kilt for the night and having a few drams, wallowing in their “Scottish identity” and all its trappings.

    But every time somebody makes a rallying call using the words “Scottish identity”, there is somebody who is reading or listening in who probably feels excluded to some degree or other. So, it is not a useful term as far as I’m concerned, it’s a slogan, and it shouldn’t have a bearing on the referendum, though of course it will.

    As for “British”, I wouldn;t describe myself as British if I could avoid it, because it has so many negative connotations for me, not least Ireland, not least the Empire, not least militarism, war and the monarchy. But I have no problem listing the United Kingdom as my birthplace on a form either.

    On the other hand, there is an old term which nobody uses these days which is a noun, “a Briton”, and I would see that as something complementary and not at odds with being Scottish, like a European, or a Latin American. Briton doesn’t have the same negative connotations British has for me, though of course I would identify myself as Scottish and European first and foremost.

    1. Douglas says:

      PS: These things are obviously personal, and people should identify themselves as exactly they like, whether in an independent Scotland or not.

  13. PS I should have made a line break in my poem and it is called Soulful
    It should be
    To patiently await
    His final fate.
    Sorry, up late here in Australia more tired than I thought.
    Goodnight Scotland I’m going to bed.
    Actually it’s early morning 2.25 Just realised


  14. This is confusing, I included a poem with an earlier blog that I posted which has not appeared hence the correction that won’t make sense. Here is the poem.
    A poem from me, for me, to you
    Only in Scotland am I whole
    Reunited with my soul
    For the boy could be taken
    And his soul forsaken
    To patiently await
    His final fate
    Scotland forever, tattooed on his heart
    From very last breath, right back to the start.

  15. For all the English residing in Scotland and the consideration of Independence I understand their torn position in regards to their former homeland. the feelings of nostalgia and fondness for what you had previously identified with, in short homesickness, it’s only cure, time.
    As a Scottish emigrant to Australia I can well empathise with them. Having made what is a serious decision to resettle in Scotland I see their role is to embrace everything on offer as an exciting opportunity to establish themselves as new Scot’s, exactly the same as previous English settlers have done over centuries, where today their descendants are as Scottish as myself.
    If I still lived in Scotland I would be proud of anyone who had decided to join me, and embrace them accordingly.
    I feel a new tartan could be registered The Settler’s Tartan providing a dual outcome, embracing
    Scottish culture, and retaining a tactile graphic link recognising all new settlers as an intrinsic part
    of Scottish life. The Settlers Clan. I am here, I am Scottish.


  16. The referendum is about whether we want to be governed by ourselves or, in a Westminster Parliament where we have 4% of the membership, be governed by our neighbouring nation. I have lived in 6 countries on 4 continents. The only one in which anyone would consider voting to be governed by their neighbour is Scotland. What has done this to our mentality? The Union has been a big part of the cause.

    When I say that I don’t want to be governed by our neighbour, I’m not being anti-English. I’m very happy about English people living in Scotland. I’m sure we’ll continue to welcome them when we are independent. I certainly will.

  17. Duncan MacLaren says:

    If Jamie is the son of the late and sorely missed Stephen Maxwell, as I presume, then I have to say that his father would be very proud of him from this article. Stephen was my predecessor as SNP press officer and he was, in my view, the best intellectual force in the party which moved it from romanticism to internationalist realism. Jamie, I am sure your father’s heritage will be seen in our new Scotland shorn of all imperialist and neo-colonial pretensions. Regards Duncan

    1. Jamie says:

      That’s very kind of you Duncan, many thanks. Jamie

  18. Thomas William Dunlop says:

    “At one stage, it would have been the nationalists who cast things in such binary terms. These days, it is the unionists who seem obsessed with flags and symbols and “belonging” “

    Did it occur to you that there are two nationalism in this debate. British nationalism appears to playing out the role of the “unreformed” blood & soil type.

  19. MBC says:

    I have never felt British in my life. Without Scottish identity there is no point in pursuing Scottish independence. All you would be pursuing is technically better government. There can be no passion in that, it is not existential. It is merely technical. And likewise anaemic.

    However, I don’t think Scottish identity is purely ethnic or genetic. It can be transmitted. It can be acquired. It comes from a sense of belonging to a distinctive place with a distinctive geography and climate and the economy and social history and institutions derived from that geography. There has always been a ‘north Britain’, even in Mesolithic times, because geologically the rocks of Scotland are part of the Labrador coast whilst south Britain is a part of the European mainland. So the south has flint (found in chalk downs) but the north has a rock called chert. This affected the tools which could be made from these rocks. Which affected hunting practices. Which affected social structures and culture. Economy, derived from circumstances of physical geography, shapes distinctive societies and cultures

    I first realised this when I met a white African, that identity is not to do with race, but place. This lady was born and raised in an African landscape under an African sun and drank water that came from African streams and her feet tread on African ground. The minerals and sun of Africa made her bones, and shaped her appreciation of beauty, formed her soul. She breathed the spirit of the place, drank it in and it became part of her. She loved and responded to the native black African folk tales and illustrated them (she was an artist) because they were rooted in the landscape and they and it spoke to her.

    If I lived in England I would become English and I would defend England because the land and the culture would speak to me. I cannot understand why English people living in Scotland cannot do the same. To not do so means that you are pretty soulless and also something of a parasite; the place succours you, but you give nothing back.

    However, most of the English people I know living in Scotland say they are voting Yes.

  20. I would be very interested in the age distribution of the ‘English No’ contingent. Older, more affluent, more reactionary. It’s the generational and class divide, not the nationality divide. And the Sunday Times was just stirring it, the creeps.

  21. SteveEllwood says:

    Older (56) English Scot here. I chose to come here. Scotland is different. How can I keep it so? By being independent from Westminster. After independence? I’ll still be English, though I will take Scottish nationality. My brother and children will still live in England and we’ll still visit. I have no idea why you would choose to live here and not want us to run our country.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Well said Steve, thanks

    2. manandboy says:

      Thanks Steve.

      So inspiring.

      With four lines you have lifted me out of my IndyBlues.

      Thank you so much for coming to live in Scotland.

      It is wonderful to have you with us.

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