Why Can’t We Be Scottish On Our Own Terms?


Largely as a result of the Britishness of our media and a limited indigenous Scottish alternative our sense of being Scots has been, and remains to a considerable extent, distorted. Historical cultural subjugation as both the effective northern colony of England and as the weaker partner in the brittle United Kingdom project has all but obliterated our Gàidhlig identity. Much the same fate has befallen our Scots linguistic heritage; it has been removed from our education and taken from us as an inferior dialect of proper English. Yet as we continue to answer the questions of our identity and nationhood in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic, and multi-faith Scotland we are met with the problem of Scottishness – what it means to be a Scot.

Only colonised people are caught in the crisis of being one thing and another. Our nationhood has only been allowed to be expressed in terms of being Scottish and British. Of course this statement will be countered by the fact that English people too will claim to be both English and British, but this latter assertion fails to grasp the de facto interchangeability of England and Britain, a relationship to Britishness that Scotland, Wales, and the north of Ireland may never have. Scotland and Britain are not synonymous in the way that England and Britain are, and so our relationship to Britain – unlike that of England – is that of a subject. That the Queen of England, Elizabeth II, is indeed and in law the second (Scotland has never had an Elizabeth I) highlights the very real subjugation of the Scots.

How this subject status translates into our national self-understanding is as a distorted understanding; as a permitted identity through the filter of Britishness qua England. This is not to say that this is the doing of individual English people, rather it is the controlled subject understanding as defined by the British-English parliament as the overlord. What this has become then is a Scottishness that seeks approval, and when that approval is not forthcoming it can be seen only as an act of sedition or rebellion against England, and it is for this reason that the BBC, for example, presents Scottish nationalism as anti-Englishness. English nationalism, we note – which is always highly racist – is never construed as anti-British. They are synonymous.

Scotland, Scottishness, and Scottish nationalism are only permitted insofar as they are in relation to England. Somewhere along the line, between the 1603 union of the crowns and the 2014 independence referendum, the majority of Scots acquiesced to this relationality as subject to England in the formation of Britain and interiorised their colonised position. In this process we Scots have accepted our sense of ourselves as a Scottishness through the lens of another instead of an understanding of nationhood without permission and on our own terms. Our journey towards national self-determination will have to include a fuller rediscovery of our Scottishness with reference only to Scotland and the Scots.


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