Better Nation is delighted to welcome David Torrance in a guest post, in part responding to Pete Wishart’s from yesterday, but also positing ideas and opinions of his own. David is an accomplished author, journalist and broadcaster, and will be known to many BN readers. He tweets @davidtorrance and  blogs at Mugwump.

David TorranceOn one level, Pete Wishart’s recent blog (“Proud to be British in an Independent Scotland”) was a fascinating restatement of what “independence” means in the early 21st century. He would “be happy to see any number of shared institutions being called British” after independence (my italics), while speculating that it could even “give Britishness a new lease of life”.

Yet on another, the politics of national identity, Wishart appears almost as confused as he claims Britishness is. Surprisingly, he concedes the geographical dimension almost straight away (why? It’s integral to so much of the argument, not least in terms of oil), while focusing his attention on Britishness “as a cultural idea”. “No one has ever come up with a convincing definition of Britishness”, concludes Wishart, “because there probably isn’t one.”

Now I wouldn’t quibble with this assertion, far from it, but Wishart singularly fails to – although it is implied – articulate a definition of “Scottishness”, which presumably he believes exists. “Cultural Britishness is then a rather curious construct that can be almost anything, and usually is,” he writes, “hence the mom and apple pie attributes usually associated with Britishness when people are asked to define it.”

I would apply the same critique to Scottishness, for dwelling on national identity for any length of time inevitably steers political debate into a cul-de-sac. Once you move beyond constitutional definitions, it’s all – frankly – a bit meaningless. Yet the SNP retains a peculiar fascination with trying to pigeonhole people as “Scottish” or “British”, the recent census (which classified Scottishness as an “ethnicity”) being a case in point.

Wishart then offers a generous – and actually quite convincing – definition of Britishness (“great historic cultural achievements…pride in our victories in the wars we fought together”), but then spoils it by labelling this “the social union” which, of course, is a relatively recent Nationalist construct. “Our gripe”, explains Wishart, is with the “current political arrangements within the United Kingdom”. Doesn’t it occur to him that those “political arrangements” were central to the cultural achievements and wars he rightly lauds?

In my mind, John P. Mackintosh hit the nail on the head when he spoke of many Scots seeing themselves as Scottish and British, also arguing that with this “dual nationality, there is a simple alternative if the pride in being British wanes; just be Scottish. It is an ‘opt out’ solution which allows each person to imagine the kind of alternative to the disappointment of being British which he or she wants.”

As polls demonstrate, more and more Scots are opting out, although that doesn’t necessarily mean they want independence. Which brings me back to my opening point: Wishart says independence will facilitate “the opportunity to define a new Britishness, one based on equality and mutual respect”. Elsewhere in his blog he refers to “moving towards independence”. In doing so, he’s simply echoing a recent speech by Alex Salmond, but why, I wonder, don’t they just say “independence”?