Scottish identity has nothing to do with race, ethnicity or religion. Scottishness is an outlook on life and society specific to Scotland and attributed to both immigrants and the native population.
There are two common conceptions of nationality: ethnic and civic. Both are linked to the development of nations and states in Europe. Civic nationalism encompasses both nationality and citizenship, and such states are referred to as nation-states. People in these societies associate themselves with the citizenry and the political and legal institutions of the state.
National identities in societies with a concept of civic nationality are defined by attachment to the state rather than by tradition, language or religion. But in ethnic nationalism, tradition, language, religion and ancestry are important factors. So, in societies with an ethnic conception of national identity, there is a distinction between citizenship and nationality. The most common perception of national identity in Britain is a combination of civic and ethnic factors: civic factors like language that can be acquired over time, and ethnic factors like being born in this country, which are largely determined early in one’s life.
Around 95% of people in Britain think that being able to speak English is important for being truly British, and most people in the UK attribute the importance of national identity to both ethnic and civic aspects. Those who see the British national identity only in civic terms are not Eurosceptics. In other words, those who see national identity as completely civic are more likely to be internationally-oriented. Conversely, people who see national identity with some ethnic elements are more likely opposed to immigration.
Even though the younger generations in comparison to the older generations in Britain think that civic factors matter most for a British identity – and while they do not pay much credit to ethnic factors – the outcome of the Brexit vote showed that the British public considers immigration as the single most important issue which should have been dealt with in Britain. Furthermore, the rate of hate and racist crimes increased in the UK after the Brexit vote.
Things, however, are different in Scotland. This country is a good example of civic and territorial nationalism rather than an example of ethnic and cultural national identity. Brexit effectively increased the sense of Scottishness among the people of Scotland, who had strong feelings towards the British identity. Scotland’s good experience of membership in the European Union, and a majority vote opposed to Brexit, may increase the chances of a second referendum.
The political and economic consequences of Brexit, and the rise of the Scottish National Party (SNP) with its increasing support for independence, reflect the importance of nationalism in Scotland. In fact, Scottish politics is increasingly defined by national identity. Scotland has had a UK government it did not vote for more than three-quarters of the period between 1945 and 2020; but in the recent parliamentary elections, the Scottish National Party (SNP) was able to win most of the peoples’ votes, so it is noticeable that voters in Scotland have become more Scottish and less British since 1945.
All political parties in the Scottish Parliament emphasise Scottishness based on the birthplace and place of residence rather than ethnicity and parentage. Politicians consider someone who lives inside Scotland as Scottish. Attachment to Britishness disappeared around devolution time to some extent, but national identity has grown among Scotland’s politicians to become an important factor. Michael Rosie and Ross Bond conducted a survey on national identity in Scotland, according to which more than 8 out of 10 people selected Scottishness as one of their national identities. From one perspective, it shows the importance of the birthplace in how people define themselves, among other factors. Several factors such as gender, age, ethnicity, religion, national identity, employment, social class, etc, were presented to the people in this survey. Among the answers, Scottishness was an important aspect of self-identity, even more important than employment or marital status, and being Scottish was much more important than being British for the responders.
There were different approaches to Scottishness in the survey, either as a national identity or a social identity. The answers can be categorised into three groups: 49% regard themselves as Scottish, and Scottishness is a very important identity for them; 36% see themselves as Scottish, but not as a sense of the central identity; and 14% do not see themselves as being Scottish. The re-establishment of the Scottish Parliament has clearly been a manifestation of public interest in the Scottish national identity. Devolution has encouraged an atmosphere in which more resources have been devoted to finding answers for Scottish questions, such as national identity.
Constitutional change and popular interest have increased the salience of Scottish national identity as a subject for research in a country where national identity is multilayered, since people may consider themselves as both Scottish and British or just one of the two. Scottishness is a vast discussion and has become an area of interest in the multicultural society.
All the political parties in Scotland’s Parliament, whether nationalist or unionist, stress their belief in a general Scottishness explained by factors such as a person’s birthplace and residency. All of Scotland’s nationalist and unionist parties welcome immigrants and newcomers as Scottish nationals. There are coalitions and campaigns like the “One Scotland Many Cultures” that highlight the positive aspects of Scotland’s diversity. The “New Scots” or “Fresh Talent Initiative” want to create conditions in which more people from outside Scotland can be involved in working and living in this country. While the prominence of Scottishness has remained very high during recent decades, belonging to the British identity may have disappeared to some extent. Scottish identity is chosen more by people to identify themselves, even more so than the gender identity choice. Birthplace is a vital source of identity for the responders; 95% of those who were born in Scotland have some sort of Scottish identity, but many of those responders (around 60%) who were born outside of Scotland describe themselves as non-Scots.
The survey suggests that people can “become” Scottish, and it is possible for immigrants to adopt this identity. Although people who are born in Scotland may be of other origins, Scottishness is an open and civic national identity to be chosen as opposed to a mere ethnic one. Although 96% of those with two Scottish parents, and 86% of people with one Scottish parent, identify themselves as Scottish, parenthood is not important, because more than one-third of responders without Scottish-born parents said they could adopt Scottishness as their national identity. Choosing the Scottish national identity, to some extent, depends on the length of their residence in Scotland. A majority of those who have long stayed in Scotland prioritised it, but that feeling also exists among those who have been living in the country for a short period of time, though in a smaller percentage.
Overall, the historical background, parentage and ethnicity were not the most important choices for responders in identifying themselves as Scottish. But the length of residence was one of the main reasons why many people coming from non-Scottish backgrounds identified themselves as Scottish. Scottish convergence has nothing to do with religion, race, ethnic or other cultural characteristics. Instead, it relates to every aspect of life specific to Scottish society, which cannot really be found in England.
Scottishness is not a cultural or ethnic identity. Rather, geographical factors play a much more important role in identifying oneself as Scottish. So the Scottish identity is more a civic phenomenon, mostly based on territory and the country. The political parties and people of Scotland are open to the civic conception of national identity and consider people born in the country and long-term residents as Scottish.
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