Saturday 6 October 2012

Why Scottish nationalism is founded on ancestry

Why would someone with a Scottish surname, living in Canada, whose ancestors moved there in the 18th century, campaign for Scottish independence? Yet many do. Frequently on Twitter, or somewhere else online, I have come across someone who seems desperate to break up my country, while I strongly suspect he would be horrified by the idea of someone from Britain campaigning to break up his. After all, secession is much more likely to happen in Canada at some point, not least because there are good reasons for Quebec to seek independence. The majority of people living there speak a different language from the rest of Canada, have a very different culture and are descended from people who originally came from France, whereas the majority of people from the rest of Canada are descended from people who originally came from Britain. A Canadian whose ancestor came from London and has an English surname is indistinguishable from one whose ancestor came from the Highlands of Scotland, but both are likely to recognise that they are very different sorts of Canadians from one whose ancestor came from Paris. 

No doubt the SNP are happy to gain the support of the so-called Scottish diaspora. That was one reason why Mr Salmond organised his Homecoming Scotland in 2009. But it’s interesting to note that this only really applies to certain sorts of Scots. David Cameron’s father was born in Huntly, Aberdeenshire and our Prime Minister is therefore far more Scottish  than someone whose great, great, great etc grandfather left the Highlands to settle in Nova Scotia. But while David Cameron has to be careful not to be seen to interfere too much in Scottish affairs, while his Englishness bars him from even being a  part of the Better Together campaign, someone from Canada is welcomed “home” and encouraged to interfere all he likes. 

But on what basis is the Canadian welcomed home at all? Why does a Canadian with a Scottish surname consider himself to be Scottish? The basis, of course, is genealogy. A Canadian who considers himself to be a Scottish Canadian, does so because he thinks he can trace his lineage back to the old country. No doubt he can. Moreover, some Canadians can even trace all their ancestors back to Scotland on both sides of their family. When looked at from the perspective of genealogy, the logic of pedigree would suggest that such a pure blooded Canadian would be far more Scottish than someone who moved to Scotland from England thirty  years ago and now lives and works in Scotland. For after all, the English person living in Scotland can not trace his lineage back to Scotland, he’s not a native Scot, he’s only a settler.  

Living in Scotland can not really grant someone the badge of Scottishness. For Imagine if a Canadian had an ancestor who was born in England, but  who lived and worked for some years in Scotland, before then moving to Canada. Would such a person be welcomed home in Mr Salmond’s homecoming, because his ancestor once had a home in Scotland? Of course not, because such a person would not have a Scottish surname, and would not be able to trace his lineage back to Scotland. He would not have the crucial Scottish ancestry, which makes Scotland still his homeland. 

But the ideology of the SNP is supposed to be civic nationalism, which says that someone is Scottish by virtue of the fact that he lives here. It is commendable that the SNP has such an ideology, for the alternative is the less than commendable ethnic nationalism, which bases citizenship on the idea of membership of an ethnic group. There are many countries which grant citizenship on the basis of jus sanguinis (the law of blood), but civic nationalism grants citizenship on the basis of jus soli (the law of soil), which does not consider ancestry or race as a basis for nationalism. 

I have absolutely no doubt that the SNP intends to be a liberally minded political party, which would set up an independent Scotland based on civic nationalism. Everyone who lives here would be a citizen, no matter where their parents came from. The SNP is not going to offer the right of return to people who can trace their ancestry back to the Clearances, but who now are Canadian citizens. However, it is my contention that, the ideology of civic nationalism, is underpinned by that of ethnic nationalism and that without the foundation of ethnic nationalism, civic nationalism would collapse. The veneer of civic nationalism is real, but the ethnic nationalism keeps peeking through as can be seen by the SNP organizing a Homecoming of people of Scottish ancestry, accepting the support of people whose ancestors once lived here.  What has ancestry to do with it, if they are civic nationalists?

The fact that ethnic nationalism underpins civic nationalism can be shown by a number of hypothetical examples. If Scotland can become independent why can’t the Kingdom of Fife? There are, after all, smaller countries in the world. Why not Shetland? A collection of islands, which is only a part of Scotland due to an accident of history and which otherwise could have been similar to the Faroe islands. The answer, which is normally given by nationalists, is that Scotland is a nation and that it cannot be divided. The inhabitants of Scotland are a people and they cannot be split.
But by the standards of civic nationalism anyone living in the Kingdom of Fife would be a Fifer automatically, as would anyone living in Shetland automatically be a Shetlander. Splitting from Scotland would, by the standards of civic nationalism, make a Shetlander cease to be a Scot as he would no longer be living in Scotland. So where can there be the objection other than that there is something inherent  and ineradicable about the people called the Scots? But if that is so,  what makes this people a people can not be simply that they live in Scotland. Otherwise there can be nothing to prevent the secession of Fife and a new people being created out of those living in Fife. The inherent quality which makes the Scottish people, must have something to do with lineage. These are the people whose ancestors have always lived in Scotland. 

To show this further, take the following example. What if the people of northern England and southern Scotland wanted to resurrect the Kingdom of Northumbria? What could be the objection other than that this country would be being formed from different peoples, and that to create such a kingdom would be to split the people of Scotland and to break up the nation of Scotland? But this objection, once more, depends on an ideology different from that of  civic nationalism. Because, If there were a Kingdom of Northumbria, by the standards of civic nationalism the people living in it would all be Northumbrians. So there would not be a split, with Scots living on both sides of the border, there would be Scots living on one side and Northumbrians living on the other. If nationality is conferred by living somewhere and not by an inherent quality, the previously Scottish people of southern Scotland could lose their Scottishness to become Northumbrians. If on the other hand, this is considered to be impossible it is to imply that there is something inherent in being a Scot, which means such a people would remain Scots even if they lived in the new state of Northumbria. But to believe this is to cease to believe in civic nationalism. 

Let’s take the example of Britain. By the standards of civic nationalism, the people of the UK have, by virtue of living here, a common identity, normally called British. By the standards of civic nationalism, the people living in the UK form a nation. What right then do Scottish nationalists have to split this people, divide this nation, if they won’t allow the same right for Shetlanders or Fifers or even Northumbrians? 

Nationalists often claim that the UK is an artificial construct formed from different peoples. But this is once more to fall back on ethnic nationalism and arguments about the ancestry of peoples. If the English living in England are a different people from the Scots living in Scotland, this can not be because of the standards of civic nationalism, which sees no difference at all between peoples just a difference in where they live. Thus a civic nationalist says that  an Englishman living in Berwick becomes a Scot as soon as he moves to Peebles. But if there is really no difference between the peoples of Scotland and England, such that we can each take on the identity of the other simply by moving house, why would we want to split this people?

By the standards of civic nationalism, there is no reason to split Scotland from the rest of the UK. What underpins the desire for separation is the idea that the Scots are a distinct people, who are different from the other inhabitants in the UK, and that this people called the Scots should be free and have the right to determine its own political future. This is a coherent ideology, which has been held by many peoples throughout the world, but let’s be clear, this is not civic nationalism, it is ethnic nationalism and it is this which underpins and forms the foundation for the independence movement.
The SNP, to its credit, is attempting to be inclusive, saying that anyone who lives in Scotland is a Scot simply by virtue of living here. But this civic nationalism is not the reason for the rise of nationalism in Scotland, nor is it  the reason why some Scots want independence. It is ethnic nationalism, which underpins the SNP and forms the foundation for their dream of independence. And it is for that reason that those who have never lived in Scotland, who have nothing to do with what we are now, who by virtue of the blood that flows in their veins want to interfere with the future of a Scotland of which they know nothing.