Wednesday 2 September 2020

Can an English person become Scottish?


Can an English person become Scottish? According to Scottish nationalists any English person and indeed any other person becomes Scottish as soon as they move to Scotland. Scottish nationalists make a lot of this idea because it makes the SNP seem inclusive and diverse. For this reason, they emphasise that there are English people who support Scottish independence. There are French people too and Germans and people from all over the world who want Scotland to separate from the rest of Britain. This makes the SNP loving and welcoming and not at all like any other historical nationalist movement.

This loving welcoming SNP versus an ideology founded on hatred of our nearest neighbour is crucial for understanding the motivations behind Scottish nationalism. If it could demonstrably be shown that it was one or the other, it would justifiably affect perceptions of the SNP and Scottish independence. The sort of thinking that is behind the SNP would also affect what an independent Scotland would be like both for those who supported independence and for those who didn’t and for those who could trace their ancestry back to Robert the Bruce and for those who could not.

Let’s assume that an English person can become Scottish. He has just moved to Inverness to start a new job. He’s been talking to some SNP voters in the pub and decides that he likes their ideas. He asks can I be Scottish? They unanimously tell him yes. He joins the ranks of the English Scots and also joins English Scots for Yes.

This person is now Scottish because he lives here. But we immediately have a logical problem. What then makes him English? If nationality is a function merely of where we live how can an English person live in Scotland? If his previously Englishness was due to the fact that he lived in England, he must lose it as soon as it moves to Scotland.

This is the whole problem of defining nationality in terms of residence. It makes it something transient and indeed trivial. If every Scot loses his Scottishness by moving abroad why is such an emphasis put in Scotland on saltires and tartan and the other things that make up the Scottish identity. Why is every packet of strawberries called Scottish if being Scottish is merely a matter of where we live and something that we cast off like a lizard skin when we move to England?

The question of whether an English person can become Scottish cannot merely be a question of whether someone who has previously lived in England (i.e. an English person) can move to Scotland (i.e. become a Scottish person). This would make the question become trivial. Can someone move from one country to another?

But if the question is not trivial, then the English person must be obtaining his Englishness from something other than the fact that he was merely living in England. What could this other thing be? What is it that makes an English Scot maintain that he is both English and Scottish? It cannot be residence, because he cannot unless he has a house straddling the border live in both England and Scotland.

We have a choice then either there is no permanent identity and it is simply a matter of where we live, which would make it impossible for someone to be an English Scot, he would simply be a Scot, or there is a more permanent way of establishing identity, that endures even when we move abroad, but this cannot be based merely on residence.

If this is the case, then the English Scot is describing two different things when he describes his Englishness and his Scottishness. For instance, he is English because he was born there and his parents came from there, but he is Scottish because he lives here.

But if that is the case then the reverse applies also. The basis on which an English Scot is Scottish is different from the basis on which a Scottish Scot is Scottish.

If nationality were merely a matter of where we live, then there would be no Scottish National Party and there would be no desire for Scottish independence. Imagine campaigning for years for Scotland to become independent, only to move to England and cease to be Scottish.

Independence movements simply do not work that way. They are based on the idea that there is something intrinsically different about one people from the people from which they are separating. But that thing, whatever it is, cannot merely be where they live. Why would that be grounds for independence?

But trying to identify the grounds for the distinguishing feature that means some Scots wish to separate from the rest of Britain is much harder. It cannot merely be that we live in a part of Britain called Scotland that was once independent. There were other independent kingdoms in what is now Scotland before that, and we don’t wish to resurrect them. It isn’t that we speak a different language from the other parts of Britain or are in any important way culturally distinct. It isn’t that we lack political representation or are politically oppressed. We elect MPs like everyone else in Britain and we have our own devolved parliament too.

Why on earth then do we wish to separate from English people who we allow would be Scottish as soon as they moved here. It must be that we don’t think that they would be as Scottish as we are. No matter that they would be English Scots, they would lack something that we have and this something is the grounds for our desire to be independent from them.

This is the problem with the question can English people become Scots. If the answer is yes, then Scottish nationalism becomes without purpose and without reason. If our objection is merely that people who could become Scottish simply by moving here vote for Tories and vote for Brexit and don’t allow us a veto, then the same argument would apply equally to an independent Scotland. People living in Aberdeenshire might be outnumbered in voting by people living in Strathclyde. Aberdeenshire wishes might be vetoed.

The answer that is always given by Scottish nationalists is that Aberdeenshire is not a country and for that reason would have to accept the will of the majority. But what is it that makes Scotland a country, and what is this thing that distinguishes Scotland from Aberdeenshire, if people from anywhere in the world can move here and become Scots? If what makes Scotland a country is merely people  from anywhere residing here and thereby becoming Scots what distinguishes Scotland from anywhere else in Britain where those same people can move including Aberdeenshire. It cannot merely be the rocks and the mountains. Land alone does not make a country.

The sense that Scots have of being a country of being a nation with a grievance against the Tory, Brexit voting rest of Britain has to be grounded in something other than mere residency. The very desire for independence makes no sense at all if every British citizen living in the parts of Britain which Scots want to be independent from could immediately be as Scottish as us just by moving here. What then would we be trying to be independent from?

The inclusive welcoming Scottish nationalism is therefore self-refuting. If it really were the foundation of the SNP, there would be no SNP, because under those circumstances the desire for independence would be senseless.