In the truly excellent Unstated: Writers on Scottish Independence Janice Galloway makes an interesting contribution in response to the Guardian’s asking her how it felt to be Scottish and British. Interestingly the challenge proved too emotional for her and she sidestepped this issue choosing to focus only on her feelings about the British side of the equation.
But it got me thinking and I share my thoughts here.
As an advocate of Scottish self-determination you’d perhaps think I’d choose to diss the whole notion of Britishness, but you’d be wrong. I’ve been brought up British. I’ve been taught that to call yourself Scottish on official forms is not right. We are British first, Scottish second. Right?
Technically, I guess that’s true but I think you could, even in the current Union, argue the opposite.
Britishness and Scottishness can, and do, sit happily together, or at least they have for the 50 or so years that I’ve had to deal with this sometimes schizophrenic sense of nationality.
Let me take an easy example to demonstrate. At the Olympics I’m 100% British. On the football field 100% Scottish.
In every sporting conflict I adopt an ‘Anyone but England’ stance (I know, sorry, I just can’t help it – I’m Scottish you see) but not in Cricket. That’s because the England cricket team is really British; Scots and Welshmen from time to time feature in their ranks.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m as annoyed as most Scots when Andy Murray is referred to as British and it really irritates me when BBC commentators refer to England when they mean Britain; foreigners, particularly Americans, are prone to this deeply annoying faux pas.
But that’s all a shallow argument and is hardly a reason to promulgate a breaking up of this oft-glorious Union (or perhaps that should be past- rather than oft-).
I like many aspects of Britishness. I like the fact that it is a country with many distinctive micro-cultures, accents, dialects, climates, terraines. I have holidayed many, many times in many different parts of Britain and had a diversity of great experiences.
I like London. From a cultural perspective it’s, pound for pound, dollar for dollar, the most diverse and interesting city I have ever visited. I like Londoners too. I just don’t like what London has become in relation to the British economy. I don’t like what it has done to British politics, with its huge population and its honeypot attraction to wealthy Home Counties residents who made their money there before colonising the surrounding countryside.
I don’t like that, aside from the Inner City it has turned vast swathes of the South blue in hue, to the extent that London can’t overcome conservative dictats. For God’s sake, Clegg sounds more Tory than the Tories.
Blair completely upended Labour to try to out Tory the Tories.
It’s become a Cuckoo in Great Britain’s nest. Gobbling up the lion’s share of the food so that the regional chicks have to scrabble for scraps and become the runts.
I don’t even fundamentally oppose Conservatism. The Scottish Tories will be a necessary agent provocateur in an independent nation, checking the excesses of Scottish Labour and, in Ruth Davidson, they have an articulate and reasoned leader.
I like Wimbledon, I like roast beef, I like the seaside. I like the BBC (OK that comes with massive caveats) and I like the British press (that’s a generalisation because some of it I abhor, but fundamentally it’s a good, balanced organ). So these bastions of Britishness, not Englishness, are good.
But I like being Scottish more.
It means more to me, it has fewer ‘yes buts’ attached to it.
Whilst Edinburgh (pound for pound, dollar for dollar the most culturally diverse city in the world for four weeks of the year) is undoubtedly a rich capital it does not divide the country like London does. Glasgow and Aberdeen, and the rising voice of Dundee, sets Edinburgh straight on that one.
Even with an independent parliament in place Edinburgh will be kept in check.
I like the fact that Scotland has a richness and diversity of cultures within striking distance of one another. Life in Perth is very unlike life in Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Glasgow and yet it’s barely more than an hour away from each of them.
I like the fact that when you tell people you are Scottish it nearly always elicits a positive response. Sure, the London Cabbie response to our funny money might be an exception to the rule.
I like the fact that we are so very pro-European, perhaps thanks to the Auld Alliance, in stark contrast to the way that Farage’s Britain with its ‘bloody foreigners’ auto response is not.
I like that we are a country that leans left, but won’t become raging communists given the chance.
And I like our weather, or at least the dramatic range of it. Four seasons in one day can be an enthralling thing. Four seasons in one hour, even more so. Where else can you get that?
So, come September 19th when we sit round the table, like grown ups, dividing the spoils, planning our new constitution with all that Better Together negative balderdash just an amusing historical footnote it will be with fondness that I reflect on the fact I’m finally truly Scottish nee British.