By Jason Michael

LAST NIGHT ON TWITTER a friend voiced her concerns about her future in Scotland post-Brexit. Mel, an American living in Edinburgh with her son, said that she is genuinely considering moving to London to escape the hell-scape we all fear Scotland will become while the current Scottish government drags its feet on independence — the only sure way for Scots to protect our place in Europe and to safeguard and determine our own future. Naturally, not everyone was going to like this disclosure, and this was clearly evinced in some of the replies to her tweet. It was frustrating to read fellow Scots respond with the dismissive off you pop remarks; ‘Bye bye, then,’ and ‘If your not happy here in Scotland and think London will be better then get on with it [sic].’ Naturally, I feel a great deal of sympathy for Mel’s predicament — as you know, I live in Dublin.

In my own experience, my absence from Scotland has been used by unionists to dismiss me and my opinions as someone who ‘abandoned’ Scotland and by many independentistas when I publish something with which they disagree. Clearly, our belonging to the nation is an ambivalent concept; with our Scottishness shifting depending on our changing acceptability to other people’s agendas. In this regard, then, our Scottishness is similar to Stuart Hall’s analysis of race as a ‘floating signifier:’

The meaning of a signifier can never be finally or trans-historically fixed. That is, it is always, or there is always, a certain sliding of meaning, always a margin not yet encapsulated in language and meaning, always something about race left unsaid, always someone a constitutive outside, who’s very existence the identity of race depends on…

Who is and who is not white and who is and who is not Scottish are questions answered on something of an ever shifting slide rule, always subject to the whim of power and privilege. Gaels — the Scots, the Irish, and the Welsh — have not always been considered truly white, for example; not pure-blooded Saxons or Teutons, and therefore not worthy beneficiaries of white Anglo-Saxon privilege. Our racialisation has been floating, our racial status dependent on the priorities of the British state qua Greater England — the quintessential racial state. This is much the same within Scotland, with our Scottishness — our belonging to the nation — also a floating signifier.

At the same time I am Scottish in the eyes of some because I was born in Scotland, an alien in the eyes of others because of my Irish heritage, and a traitor to others because I left Scotland. Being born in Scotland is not universally accepted, more especially for people of colour, as a defining feature of Scottishness. While Scots are not particularly racist, we are all familiar with the question: But where are you really from? Asian Scots born in Scotland and New Scots are asked this question all the time. Determining who is and who is not Scottish — of the nation — is not as easy a question to answer as we might first imagine. And we can complicate this all the more by acknowledging the fact that there are many people throughout the world who were born in Scotland and who never spent much more than a year in the country before being taken ‘home.’ So it is this nativism — national belonging imbued by birth — I would like to discuss in this article.

Reflecting on the same tweet from Mel, another friend — KarenKel, the author of The Wee Detour blog — asked this of her readers:

Does this sound like people who would fight for this country, no. It sounds like someone who has made Scotland their home because it suited them at the time, or someone from Scotland leaving because the country does not suit their needs.

Would someone willing to ‘fight for this country’ ever leave Scotland? Historically, the answer to this question is yes — in every rebellion, insurgency, and independence struggle dissidents have been forced to continue their struggle from sanctuaries overseas. Charles Edward Stuart — ‘Bonnie Prince Charlie’ — was not on his way to Edinburgh when Flora MacDonald ferried him ‘over the sea to Skye.’ Not only has resistance been waged from abroad, it has also been discovered abroad. It was not until the young Indian lawyer Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi travelled to South Africa that his struggle against British imperialism began. And let us not forget the many Scots, like myself, engaged in the struggle for Scottish independence who do not live in Scotland — to name a few: Stu Campbell (England), Roddy MacLeod (Catalonia), Rhiannon Spear (wired to the moon).

KarenKel believes that ‘when it comes to the question of independence it should be a question for those born in Scotland or those of Scottish descent,’ and this thinking troubles my waters. Please do not get me wrong; we can all appreciate that this creeping nativist thinking comes from the frustration we all feel. The Scottish National Party — ‘the party of independence’ — has certainly not acted in a way that inspires the confidence of a significant part of the independence movement, we have been taken out of the European Union against our will, and now we have the British government touting an old fashioned brand of musical imperialist fascism to our school children. This is enough to drive anyone to more strident flavours of nationalism. But we must take care.

National belonging is not in fact native to the human condition. Nationalism is a psycho-political development with which both Wallace and Bruce were unfamiliar. When we ask how these heroes of our ancient past would react to Scotland today, we may have to prepare ourselves for the worst. Neither William Wallace nor Robert the Bruce would recognise their Scotland in our Scotland. They would not understand our language, that peasants elect other peasants to government — our democracy — would confuse them, and that we abandoned the Church of Rome and the idea that God is the supreme monarch in a feudalistic conception of the universe would disgust them. We do not live in their Scotland, and our Scotland is not theirs.

It will always be difficult to determine who gets a say in the future of the nation, but what is clear is that neither the land nor the blood in our veins transmits the nation to human beings. Geography and genetics are not essential ingredients of nationhood and national belonging. First and foremost the nation is a product of the communal human imagination. As Benedict Anderson reminds us in Imagined Communities (1983):

…the fellow members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of the communion …  Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity or genuineness, but in the style in which they are imagined.

Our nation, then, will always necessarily be largely imagined through the lens of how each of us understand our own community, and how we answer the question: Who is my neighbour? Is this an American living in Edinburgh? Yes, of course it is. Is this a retiree living in Barcelona? Again, yes. Must we live in Scotland to be Scottish? Is it necessary to have been born in Scotland, speak English, have a Scottish accent or heritage? No — and no because few of us imagine our communities in this narrow way, and those who do really oughtn’t to. The nation, like the community, is a fluid social arrangement — like a street — with people moving in and moving out. It will always be the human bonds of affection; of memory, friendship, and common experience that make us a community, a nation. Robert the Bruce, as a medieval Gaelic-Norman aristocrat, had more in common with Edward I of England than he would have with any one of us today. Strangely, in this analysis, it is him who is the foreigner to our Scotland and not the English person living at the end of our street.

Our nation, our Scotland, is set firmly and immovably in the here and now. It is, as it was in the fourteenth century, a commonweal composed and enriched by the people who constitute it. So, no matter how we go about determining who can vote in an independence referendum, it must begin from this starting point — that it is we, the people of Scotland, who are Scotland. And this is not decided by blood or by soil, but the immeasurable wealth of human relationships.


Immigration and the Rise of Nativism

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11 thoughts on “Nativism and Nationalism

  1. My view for what it’s worth:
    If you’re born in Scotland and your primary residence is in Scotland then you get to vote.
    If you’re an incomer then your primary residence must be in Scotland and you must have held residency for 10+ years.
    This would mean for instance you wouldn’t get a vote Jason despite being Scottish born because your primary residence is Dublin.
    I think that’s a fair system. Of course others will no doubt disagree. And it won’t matter anyway because I have absolutely zero influence and power 😂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The issue over who is entitled to vote hides one smallish elephant in the room. I live in Portugal and as a resident I’m entitled to vote except I don’t simply because it’s not my place to tell the Portuguese how to run their country. If Portugal had a referendum on “re-joining” Spain I’d stay well out of that one for the same reason. I’d expect people from countries to adopt the same attitude except there’s a trait in certain people from somewhere south of Scotland to “know what’s best for the natives”. We see it here in Portugal all the time. This is the issue that the entitlement issue needs to address and I’m not sure how you’re going to do that. The 10+ years of residency seems to be a reasonable starting point.

      Liked by 2 people

    2. I agree with this, I posted a similar viewpoint on Barrhead boys post on this subject. You must reside in a country to have a vote on your own future in that country. People who move here to make Scotland their home, should be allowed a vote but only after a set term of residency. I also suggested 10yrs minimum..

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Never mind Bruce and Wallace.
    Bearing in mind that this is the 50th anniversary of the UCS Work to Rule. Remember that time when the working men of the Clyde, Blue and Green or In Between set aside their differences and stood together.
    Remember the acceptance speech from Jimmy Reid on his election as Rector of Glasgow University. You know the one that the NY Times claimed to be the greatest since the Gettysburg Address,
    Can you imagine what Jimmy Reid would make of the transformation going on within the SNP in general and Nicola Sturgeon in particular?


  3. I endorse Duncaio’ reference to the UN rules on how an Independence Plebiscite should be run and suggest that for more details, those who are interested look at the chapters on culture, language and ethniciy in Alf baird’s Doun-Hauden’. Iain Lawson of ‘Yours for Scotland is going to publish a series of essays by Alf, from this book over the next few weeks.
    Like Stuart MacKay, most of us have come across incomers who do not identfy as Scottish and vote agains Independence as they ‘know what’s best for the natives’ as he says.
    Alf gives figures in his book showing how people from other parts of the UK hold many of the influential posts in Scotland, in the Civil Service, Industry, Busines, Culture and Universiteis for example, as such posts are adverised in London. The proportion of people doing this has increased over the years, particularly the last seven, Since it has been documented that a majority of people born in Scotland voted yes in 2014 but a majority of those born elsewhere swung it for No, this is a worrying situation for those of us seeking self=determination.
    The 10+ years residency idea has merit, though the UN rules go further and suggest a parent or grandparent born in Scotland, which may be the situation for anyone applying for Irish citizenship. Once Scotland is independent, we can decide who qualifies for citizenship.
    Incidentally, the UN rules state very cearly that no interference from outside should be allowed, and that would include from south of the Border.


  4. What a relieff to read this post! Earlier I was watching Roddy’s latest videocast on Barrheadboy in which there seemed to be an uncritcal acceptance of an ethnic nationalism. Now as I am an “Englishman” who lived the first half of my life south of the border but who has spent the last 30 years living in Scotland, canpaigning in my own small way for and voting for independence, to be told that I don’t get a vote on the future of what I consider to be my country is understandably anathema to me. Not only this, I believe it would also be revolting to many of my “native” Scots friends and would lose support, especially among those who we might comsider not to be solid nationalists, but people open to voting YES given the right circumstances and information.

    I agree absolutely with all the points in your post, and you explain things in a far better way than I could ever do.

    Best regards and keep up the good work!

    Brian (a Yorkshire Scot).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I might add to my earlier post on the franchise however, that it can be seen as perfectly reasonable to have a period of residency in Scotland in order to qualify as a voter in a referendum. 10 years perhaps? But I still believe it should be limited to residents of Scotland, NOT the diaspora. Apart from the practical and moral difficulties (should a person who left Scotland at 6 months old and never re-visited Scotland get a vote? A year old? 10 years old? An adult who hasn’t returned for 40 years?) I think that would really be playing into Westminster’s game. This, after all, is one of their latest wheeezes. No, the way to achieve this is by persuading more Scots of all origins and ages, across all demographics, to vote for independence. Polls earlier in the year proved that it CAN be done. I am not privy to the present thoughts of Alex Salmond but I don’t believe he has ceased to be a civic nationalist. Of course, such persuasion will never be achieved by the current leadership of the SNP. and therein lies our biggest problem.

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Hi Brian, I, too, think that, if we are to limit the franchise for a referendum, it should not apply to those who have been living in Scotland for at least ten years. I am not comfortable with taking the vote away from people who do see Scotland as their home and do not automatically think they have the right to scupper our independence. It is one of the reasons that I am, and always have been, opposed to a pre independence referendum of any kind, although not to a ratifying one after independence. The.Treaty is, as far as I am concerned the glue that holds the UK together and, indeed, created it. It should be the resiling of the Treaty the dismantles the UK on the grounds that it no longer serves our country – it never did – in the 21st century. The colonial aspect of the 2014 referendum also needs to be made clear to the international community: that English votes in Scotland actually, not possibly, but actually suppered independence for the born-Scots against all tenets of the UN Charter, natural justice and human rights. If this was to happen again, we would have a civil war the next day – and I’m not advocating one, just spelling out the danger of frustrating what are perfectly legitimate and democratic aspirations through Unionist selfishness and illegality.


  5. In trying to retain ‘Scotland’ for Balliol (Wallace) and for himself (Bruce), each came to understand the concept of ‘nationhood’ for our benighted country. maybe neither would recognize our Scotland, but they might just understand how we got here, and lament our situation?

    The fact that we are even discussing seriously the prospect of denying anyone in Scotland a vote on the constitution is down, mainly, not entirely, to those negative rUK and EU votes of 2014, the former much less in favour of independence than the EU citizens. In a straight battle, Independista Scots against Unionist Scots, we would have won. So, do we just allow them to do the same again or do we try to resolve the tension between independence and Unionism is a different way? Is the Pope a Catholic? Stuart, I think, has it right: the empire builders and colonizers are still with us. We either resile the Treaty and force the UKG to defend its stance in the international court or we resign ourselves to the empire builders and colonizers (and those of a colonized mindset – many Unionist Scots) deciding our future in their self-interest, or we follow international rules this time and deny them a vote. Decisions, decisions.

    Liked by 2 people

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