Wednesday, 5 September 2012
My British Identity
I've read a lot about us all getting behind team GB and their achievements somehow affecting the way Scots feel about their nationality. Maybe it has, but if it has I think something more fundamental has been happening than getting enthused about the Olympics and the Paralympics.
You see, I believe many of us have a sort of two pronged nationality - we are both British and Scottish at the same time - they are not mutually exclusive. Britain is a very old country and has grown organically that way. It is quirky and ancient. Great Britain and Northern Ireland - the United Kingdom to give it its Sunday best title - is a country of nations and regions. That is just the way it is - but it is a nation state and one that makes plenty of sense.
After the remarkable victory of the SNP in 2011 I was beginning to think that maybe - just maybe - the SNP might be on the right side of history and maybe there was an appetite for independence.
I began to hear the arguments repeated loudly over and over again: 'The Union has had its day', 'Independence will solve our problems', 'The union is broken and dysfunctional', 'Scotland is just like the last colony and the Secretary of State is like a Governor General', 'We must stand up and look after our own affairs', 'Where is the positive case for the Union?'
I thought - ok, these people have a cause, and it has gone on for a lifetime! Every argument has been refined, every line trialed and every objection answered. The National question has not pre-occupied the other side, and the other side, although probably bigger, is a more disparate group. The case for the union will come - instinct tells me there is plenty to say here.
But, for a while, I thought maybe the case for the union would stumble and would never become clear?
But, this summer it has begun to come and it has begun to deepen and it has begun to spread out. The case for Independence on the other hand has begun to look a little threadbare, a little predictable in comparison perhaps.
For me the Olympic opening ceremony began to express some of it. Someone tweeting about it (not a Scot and not hooked in to our National question) noted just how much there was to being British. We captured that sense of a quirky, eccentric spirit and a sense of humour. We captured a sense of invention and ideas - in science, in technology and in engineering. We captured an off the wall, open, dare I say it - liberal - spirit that helps fuel our diverse arts and music. We captured our political progress - and this is a hard one - but we have always been able to progress on a journey improving and making better what needs to improve - adult suffrage, the fight against slavery, religious emancipation, a dignified retreat from empire, rights for women, the welfare state, the journey away from racial discrimination and to a multi-cultural society - one we are probably still tackling. The list can go on. But what a marvellous, open, liberal, progressive, inventive people we are.
And no - we are not a dysfunctional Tory conspiracy, we are not some regressive Westminster power block somehow alien to Scotland and holding her back. We are so much more than that.
And nor is Scotland a colony or something grafted onto a foreign and alien body.
Many nationalists regard Scotland as a separate entity to England and Wales. They regard the UK as a union of separate parts. It is almost as if they are separate pieces stuck together like a couple of Lego bricks - related but separate.
Scotland is absolutely part and parcel of Britain and Britain is part and parcel of Scotland.
That inventiveness has so much to thank Scotland for. Scots engineering is widely respected and that feeds into British engineering. Scots financial governance has a high reputation and that contributes to the success of the City (and I'm talking about high standards of banking and accountancy here, not the casino banking that has contributed so much to our troubles).
Scotland and all the constituent parts of the UK have their traditions intermingled like waters from different streams converging together into a great river. And that is something you can't simply separate.
Gordon Brown talked about some of this recently. He argued that “Scottish ideas of justice and community” combined with “traditional English ideas of ordered liberty and individualism” to create not only “common political rights” but also “common social and economic rights”.
I believe quite a view nationalists are romantics at heart. They have a patriotic vision of what Scotland is and of what a separate Scotland can be - sometimes a little Ruritarian perhaps. But we are an essential part of Britain and I want to argue that Britain is a nation state.
One language, one integrated economy, one island (almost). And while there are cultural differences they are not large enough to amount to being a separate country. Indeed much of our culture is a fully shared culture - and again an intermingled one.
Danny Boyle showed that to be a very modern and dynamic country - not something where we are always looking into the past.
I believe Scotland is a marvellous place, a great nation and a distinctive part of the United Kingdom. But so much of who we are is as British people, not just Scottish people. And its not so easy or particularly desirable to separate that out.
For Britain is a nation state - a nation of nations and regions - its quirky that way!