A classic July debate over identity has flourished on the blogs – starting with Kenny Farquharson‘s pop-based analysis of the emotional arguments for Britain, then continuing here with Pete Wishart‘s “British-identifying Scottish Nationalist”Â post which attracted a bit of MSM attention, including Newsnicht last night. Responses included David Torrance‘sÂ rebuttalÂ that Scottishness and Britishness are the same sort of thing, also here, then Lallands Peat Worrier thoughtfully identified the parallels between the positions Kenny and Pete set out. Stuart Winton also piled in with hisÂ analysis this morning of the debate’s implications for the actual constitutional question.
These are a very diverse set of views, if uniformly pretty blokey – and apologies for extending that last aspect. In order, they are: a look at an emotional fondness for Britain as one basis for remaining within it, a reclamation of British as a term to retain for the post-independence social union, a separation of burgeoning Scottish identity from a desire for independence, a consideration of problems with the general argument that national identity should drive state boundaries, and an effort to bring the debate back to the question of how it will affect a independence referendum. Any authors above who think I’ve misrepresented them, please let me know.
They all have one thing in common, though, a key assumption which is both mistaken and which suits the SNP.Â Consider (h/t Malc) the Moreno Scale used to assess attitudes (pdf, see p5-6), which in the Scottish instance, asks people which best describes them, without even, oddly, an “Other” option:
Which, if any, of the following best describes how you see yourself?
a) Scottish not British
b) More Scottish than British
c) Equally Scottish and British
d) More British than Scottish
e) British not Scottish
The journalists and bloggers above – again, apologies if I’m misrepresenting anyone – assume, like Moreno, that everyone has an equally strong sense of national identity. Imagine it like a cocktail glass which is equally full for everyone, just composed of a different mixture of elements or, in some cases, a straight draught of a single drink.
You can have a glass full of Scottishness, or one full of Britishness, or perhaps an equal mix of the two. You might make space for a dash of Europeanism (although none of the posts above consider that element), or perhaps for a regional identity – try telling a Shetlander that there’s no local identity there. Would Margo perhaps go for a mix of Scottishness and Edinburghness? You might even have a splash or more of actual Englishness, or a shot of Welsh in there. You might also, to mix the metaphors thoroughly, like some bhangra with your bagpipes. But the glass is the same size for everyone, the underlying argument goes, and everyone’s glass must as a matter of fact be equally full of something.
A massive chunk of the issues I think are most important are either global (loss of biodiversity, climate change, resource depletion, peace and war, trade injustice and exploitative economics) or certainly partly international (poverty, threats to civil liberties etc).
I do feel more Scottish than European, and more European than British, but more global than all of those, pompous as that may sound. But largely I don’t think about it, and largely I don’t care about it. I’m sure I’m not alone.
National identity really doesn’t drive me at all, except for the odd 90 minutes. There’s very little of any sort in my glass. Identity questions are certainly entirely unrelated to my reasons for getting involved in politics. The fact that I feel more Scottish than British doesn’t even seem related to my support for independence – that’s about wanting decisions to be taken closer to the people, and about a rejection of the corrupt and intensely conservative Westminster system.
Debates about what our collective identity should be seem as absurd to me as a debate about what our collective sexuality should be. Both are personal, and both of varying levels of interest to different people. People mean different and personal things by these words – as Pete Wishart has demonstrated, which means debate about them is thick with misunderstanding and pointlessness.
As long as the contest is held on the woolly ground of identity rather than practicalities, and as long as the assumption keeps being made that identity of one sort or another is the dominant driver for the public and the parties alike, the SNP will be able to focus on their bogus claim to be speaking for the whole of Scotland and avoid all the tricky questions. And the Moreno Scale needs another option: “Frankly I don’t much care one way or the other – why don’t you ask me about something more important?”