Scotland has never been closed off from the life of Europe. What has gone on over the water has shaped us, and we have shaped Europe. Our culture is the product of our longstanding willingness to welcome others. Let it stay that way.

The British Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s proposal to list foreign workers in UK firms has sent a cold shudder across the country, and rightly so. Those of us versed in the history of the twentieth century – the Armenian genocide, the Nazis’ Final Solution, and Rwanda – know all too well that this rigid state bureaucratic thinking takes people and nations down into the darkest recesses of inhuman depravity, cruelty, and barbarism. The clinical and mundane administrative profiling of human beings by the apparatus of the state, especially into racial and national categories, for the purposes of identifying those who are and are not of the nation form and inform the collective identity of those who identify with the nation – and always results in the intended or unintended alienation and victimisation of those who are defined as outsiders.


Scotland is a nation, but it is a nation that has had a long history of defining its sense of nationhood around the people who live in Scotland and who contribute to the many communities that together make up what we know to be our home. Auld divisions within Scotland, like those of class and religion, have never produced a discourse of othering or de-nationalising. Perhaps this is because precious little of what we can hang our Scottishness on is intrinsically Scottish or even native to Scotland. We can say of course that we are a Christian nation or that our modern secular worldview has been shaped by Christianity, but the faith of the Christian came to Scotland in the fifth century with the help of Ninian, Kentigern, and Columba over a route across Europe now being trodden by Syrian refugees fleeing Westminster’s airstrikes.

Our claim to democratised sovereignty, unlike the monarchic sovereignty of England, was established in 1320 by the acknowledgement of Scotland’s unique identity by the Frenchman Jacques d’Euse – Pope John XXII – at Avignon in France. Later in our history others will claim that the Reformation and the formation of a Protestant nation played a part in defining Scotland, and to some degree that is also true. Yet Scotland’s Protestantism – that of the established kirk – is unlike that of England; ours was not indigenous. Presbyterian Calvinism, the form of religion of the Church of Scotland, as its name suggests, was the fruit of the theological reforms of another Frenchman – John Calvin.

We are now, for better or worse, less religious as a nation, but this takes nothing from the role Rome and Geneva have played in forming the culture and traditions of Scotland. We have inherited this cosmopolitanism, and it continues to shape how Scots understand and articulate what it means to be Scottish. Scotland has never in its history been a nation apart. We have never been isolated as a stretch of turf on the north of the island we share with our Welsh and English neighbours – rather we have always been a feature in the interconnected world of the North Sea; trading with and moving back and forth from Norway, France, Holland, Denmark, and others.

England’s petty right-leaning Conservatives might want to shut themselves away in a museum of small-state nationalism – tilting at the windmills of national ius sanguinis purity – but this is all it is, a museum. Sooner or later its brittle notions of empire will ossify, leaving it nothing but dust and a whole world of lapsed friendships. We can’t take this road. Not only because it will take us to the same economic and cultural dead end, but because the moment we set foot on that doleful path we betray something essential of what it means to be Scotland – and so become something other than what we are; not Scottish.


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