Wednesday 1 January 2014

Do you have to feel British to support the UK?

People who live in Scotland have a variety of identities. Someone might just have arrived from elsewhere in the European Union. Such a person might feel wholly Polish, not at all Scottish and not at all British. Alternatively, someone living in Scotland might have come from another part of the UK. Such a person might feel wholly Welsh, not at all Scottish and not at all British. Likewise there are some people who have not come from elsewhere, who have always lived here, who feel wholly Scottish and not all British. On the other hand, it is just as possible for people living here to have complex identities. Let’s imagine someone whose grandfather arrived in the UK from Poland during the the last war. Such a person might feel partly Polish, but also feel Scottish and British. Equally someone who has always lived in Scotland might feel British. That’s how I feel, but I also recognise that these matters are complex and are often a matter of family circumstances, upbringing and chance. 

It is important to realise that people with many different identities will vote in the Scottish independence referendum. The franchise is such that anyone living in Scotland who is a citizen of Britain, the Republic of Ireland, the EU and in certain circumstances the Commonwealth can be a voter on September 18th. Now it is certainly the case that not all of these people will feel British. Nor will many of them feel Scottish. Yet they will, in part, determine the result. But is it possible for someone who does not feel at all British to support the maintenance of the UK? Well let’s look at the issue from the other side. Is it possible for someone who doesn’t feel at all Scottish to support Scottish independence?

To their credit the SNP have a number of supporters and MSPs who are not Scottish in the traditional sense. There are people who were born in England who support the SNP and want Scotland to be independent. There are also people who were born in parts of the Commonwealth or can trace their origins to these countries. Some of these people may feel wholly Scottish, but it is equally possible that some of them may feel not at all Scottish. They live here and they may agree with the SNP’s case for independence. They may think that independence would be beneficial both to them and to others living in Scotland. Perhaps they agree with the SNP’s case with regard to decisions being made in Edinburgh rather than London. Perhaps they agree with the SNP’s economic arguments. The SNP are appealing to all voters in Scotland no matter what their origin or sense of identity. That is as it should be.

But what then of those people from Scotland who feel wholly Scottish and not at all British? Should these people inevitably support Scottish independence? Not at all. Those of us who support the UK should equally well be appealing to them. Why would we want to give up on any section of the electorate? What if someone who feels wholly Scottish and not at all British, disagrees with the SNP case for independence? What if he thinks that it is better for Scotland to remain in a union of nations with England, Wales and Northern Ireland? It is far from inevitable that someone from Poland, who does not feel at all British will vote for Scottish independence. Some, no doubt, will be persuaded by Mr Salmond’s arguments, some will prefer that Scotland remains a part of the UK, others will be indifferent. But what is true of Poles who don’t feel British, should likewise be true of Scots who do not feel British. The fact that such a person does not feel British need not hinder his recognising the benefits of Scotland remaining in the UK.

Someone who feels wholly Scottish and not at all British may have lived in Scotland his whole life. But for all of this period Scotland has been part of the UK. Has being a part of the UK in any way hindered his sense of identity? Has this person been any less of a Scot because he’s lived in the UK? Well let’s imagine that this person had been living in France for the past twenty years. Would his Scottishness have been diluted by his living in France? Not necessarily. He could still feel 100% Scottish. But if someone felt 100% Scottish and not all any other identity, could such a person be more Scottish? Clearly not. Well then if Scotland were to become independent would such a person become more Scottish? But how can you become more Scottish if you are already 100% Scottish? This would only work if Scottishness were like the amp in Spinal Tap that goes up to 11. What if Scotland votes no and we remain a part of the UK? Would this person’s 100% Scottish identity be diminished? Why should it? He feels 100% Scottish now living in the UK. Why should his Scottishness go down if this situation continues? So we can conclude that the result of the referendum will neither help nor hinder this person’s sense of 100% Scottishness. Therefore the person who feels wholly Scottish and not all British should feel equally free to look favourably on the case for independence as the case for the UK. His sense of identity need not cloud the issue. 

But why if I did not feel any sense of Britishness would I want to remain in Britain? Isn’t it more natural for someone who feels wholly Scottish to want Scotland to be independent? Well let’s look at this issue in terms of another sort of union with which we are all familiar. How many of us feel European? I know that I don’t. I’m not even quite sure what it would mean to feel European, though I recognise that I live on that continent. Somehow it’s far too abstract. I accept that there may be some Europeans who have this feeling of Europeanness. But I somehow doubt that it is common. But many people who have no sense of Europeanness can see the benefit of their country being in the European Union. This issue of an independent Scotland remaining a member of the EU has made up quite a large part of the debate about independence. I don’t wish to get into the merits or otherwise of EU membership. The point I am making is that someone can clearly wish to be part of the European Union without feeling any sense of Europeanness. A German and a Frenchman may have no particular feeling of Europeanness, but recognise that it is a good idea that both their countries are in the European Union. But what is true of the EU is likewise true of the UK. A Scot can feel no sense of Britishness, but recognise the benefits of his country remaining in a union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. This is really a matter of simple logic. Just as I don’t have to feel European in order to want to be a citizen of the European Union, so I don’t have to feel British in order to want to be a citizen of another union, the United Kingdom. There is no requirement to feel British in order to recognise the benefits of this membership. Of course, no one is preventing you feeling British if you want to, but it’s not a requirement. 

Someone who feels 100% Scottish is probably something of a Scottish patriot. But what should someone who is really patriotic do with regard to the future of his country. Such a person should do the thing that is best for his country. What this means in the context of the independence referendum is that the patriot should weigh up the arguments of both sides and vote for what is best for Scotland. It may seem inevitable at first that the Scottish patriot, who feels 100% Scottish, would vote for independence. But on reflection he might realise in the same way that it is probably in our best interests to remain in the European Union, so it is probably in our best interests to remain in the UK. If a Scottish patriot recognises that remaining in the UK will lead to a better future for Scotland, then voting against independence would be the patriotic thing to do. Scottish patriotism is not synonymous with independence, otherwise there would have been few enough Scottish patriots these past few hundred years.

I understand why some Scots who feel themselves wholly Scottish and not at all British are drawn to the cause of independence. But it is important to realise that Scottish patriotism and Scottish identity does not control how we vote. Rather we must weigh up the arguments and reflect on what we think is best for our country. Most of us recognise that there are advantages to Scotland being in the EU, which logically means there would be disadvantages to us leaving. The same goes for the UK. If there had not been advantages to being in the UK, how do you suppose that this union would have lasted for so long? Logically if there are advantages to being in the UK there must be disadvantages to leaving. That in essence is the whole debate. To suppose that there were no disadvantages to leaving is really to suppose that we would not leave. So always maintaining that there are no disadvantages to independence is peculiarly self defeating. Recognising this fact is to realise that there is nothing to prevent someone who feels wholly Scottish from voting No. Indeed if such a person were to be  persuaded by the arguments of people like me that remaining in the UK is in Scotland’s long term best interest then it would be his patriotic duty to vote No. I’m sure that many such proud Scots will vote No when the chance comes.