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By Jason Michael
IT HAPPENS WITH SHOCKING REGULARITY that someone will take it upon themselves to educate us in why we Scots are also British. As an independentista I can understand why a unionist would do this. Unionists have an agenda. When they tell us that we’re British they are doing it more to convince themselves they are British, and in doing this they are making a pathetic attempt to protect their precious sense of Britishness. This is easily dealt with. We can ignore them or on social media we can block them. But there are a few fellow independence supporters who do the same, and this bears all the hallmarks of being a pedant’s dream. People love to be pedantic, it makes them look – at least in their own eyes – well informed.
Their “point” is that we are Scottish and British. They reason this on the existence of Britain, the state to which Scotland belongs. Scotland is a nation and not a state, and so our passports are British and we are citizens of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Somehow then, in their understanding of the world, this is real and so we are British whether we like it or not. They see independence as the way of changing this, of correcting it – but they are wrong.
Pedantry doesn’t really apply here. Sure, there is no reason to school us on the unimportant differences between the constituent nations, Britain, Great Britain, and the United Kingdom. When it comes to national identity political constructs and impositions are irrelevant. The one distinction that is important here is the distinction between Scotland and Britain; Scotland is an organic nation and Britain is a political construct and an imperial imposition. Putting this more bluntly, Scotland is a nation and Britain is not. When we speak of our national identity we are Scottish, not British.
The nation is a reified idea. That is to say that it is something people imagine and make real in our socio-historical contexts and in our power relations. Nations do not exist in nature. As the product of human society and civilisation the nation is internalised by communities and individuals and becomes a powerful element of our identities; a broadening out of our sense of belonging, the extension of our family and clan to a wider geographical spread of culture which shares a number of social and cultural similarities and shared historical experiences. This is what we mean when we speak of an organic nation. This does not describe Britain or Britishness.
At the individual level the only person with the right to define personal identity is the owner of that identity. Someone in Paris, for example, can inform us that we are now French. They can even write this into law and legislate against all the things that make us Scots and reinforce our sense of Scottish national belonging. This has happened countless times in the past and all over the world. We are aware of the Britification of Scotland after 1707 and of Ireland after 1801. Russification was when Russia did it to the Uralic peoples, to Poland and Lithuania, and to Ukraine, Finland, and Bessarabia. But no amount of cultural and national suppression by an empire can stop us defining our own national identity. We may accommodate ourselves to power – speak another language, have the name of another country on our passports, and be citizens of a foreign invader – but no amount of power and state oppression can ever stop us self-identifying as we please.
Britain is not a nation. It is a vicious imperial political construct that has been imposed upon us, but it has power over us only for as long as we accept that it has a valid claim on us. We of course have to accommodate ourselves to some extent to this imposition by having a foreign royal and imperial insignia on our passports, by being UK citizens, and such like – we can’t function in the world without these things – but nothing of this means even in the slightest that we are British. We are British only if we choose to be British.
There is a greater danger in this question of national identity for the campaign for independence. If we are still at that stage of pro-independence development where we think of ourselves as both Scottish and British then we have internalised Britain and made Britishness part of our identity. This produces a dangerous contradiction; we cannot identify personally as British and yet seek the destruction of Britain through Scottish independence. This is a type of suicide. It is seeking to destroy a part of our own identity, and as we attempt to do it we will only discover hidden psychological roadblocks resisting our efforts. We will only be fighting against ourselves.
Scottish independentistas cannot be Scottish and British. Only when we are sure we are Scottish and not British can we be certain we are fighting for independence and the creation of an independent state that was a reality in our hearts and minds before it becomes a political reality. Our hearts and minds must be free before we can become independent. So, yes, we understand all the mind-numbing pedantic arguments, but they have absolutely no bearing on how we identify as individuals – and nor should they. These arguments and assertions are nothing more than a trap designed to persuade us of a greater loyalty to something that is not real. The best way, as someone once said, to defeat the British Empire is to ignore that it even exists.
Do we see ourselves as Scottish or British?
7 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me British”
Such a great post.
Westminster has long known that if they set the default language they get to set the default decision in peoples minds. It is gas lighting on an massive scale.
Its 2 most insidious terms were/are “British” and “The Mother Country”. To construct a world where colonised people refer to those who did unspeakable things to them and their lands in the term “Mother”…that is some dark sh*t. British is more subtle but equally degrading. It forces the colonised themselves to mask the true nature of English colonialism.
Anyone for a big serving of abusive relationships & Stockholm syndrome?
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The 2011 census asked everyone in the UK to self-identify their nationality. A large majority of Scots, Welsh and English identified as Scots only, Welsh only and English only repectively – even most English people don’t have British nationality. The 2011 census is the only time everyone has been asked to self-identify their nationality rather than have politicians or commentators tell us what our national identity is and should therefore be the ‘go to’ reference point..
I think of myself as British only in the way a Norwegian thinks of themselves as Scandinavian. Its a region, not a country.
As you are someone who uses the term, i am genuinely intersted in how you actually define the “BRITISH” as region.
I am asking as the term has so many rubbery meanings – that contaminate each other (its almost the Schrödinger’s cat of terms). Whereas the parallel you give “Scandinavian” is a clearly defined entity, geographic,cultural and linguistic.
I think this is great .I am not a History buff. but was born and raised in the United States and every single person I know here has always called people from Scotland Scottish & people from England- English. I hardly ever hear anyone use the term British for people who are Scottish. Generally people always though there was a gigantic difference between the two.
A thoroughly enjoyable and informative note. Thank you
A well reasoned article. I will print this and read regularly