Siol nan Gaidheal


Scotland and English Identity

Scotland is a centrifugal force in English politics. The very existence of Scotland poses a threat to the English state, even in its current Anglo-British incarnation, since it represents a periphery that resists the claims to supremacy of the self-identified centre.

Historically England has always been one of the most highly centralised states in the world. Linguistic uniformity, geographical homogeneity and a history of struggle against the perceived enemies that have surrounded it have served to amplify the exertion of central authority in England, and the successes of that central authority have legitimised it and entrenched in the English imagination a sense of identity associated with institutions rather than place. It matters not that linguistic uniformity is as much a matter of definition as anything else, in terms of what the English deem to be English, nor that the perceived enemies had an equally justifiable sense of grievance against the English, the effect stands, that England is more highly centralised than any other state in Europe of similar size. This tendency has left its mark on the world through its successful deployment globally by means of empire.

However, those who assert that national identity is an artefact of authority, that the loyalty to a dynasty making territorial claims, transformed into a pride in the expression of a people through the institutions set up to enforce and administer those claims, forms the basis of that ineffable sense of belonging, find their surest counterexample in the English people. They find their assertions of the political contingency of nationality refuted and confounded by the occasions when the English people have risen in opposition to the very authority it is claimed has forged them. On that account we should salute the English people. We have no dispute with them on that account. It is when they concede to be the instruments of an avaricious state that they are objectionable. It is Scotland's role to educate the English people as to their true interests, that they are not coterminous with those of the state whose actions they consent to or are coerced by. Scotland can do this because it possesses the alternative focus of its own nationhood.

Scotland has historically been a centrifugal force in English politics. The Canmore dynasty was embroiled in the struggle by which the leading families of the north of England hoped to assert themselves in opposition to the Norman yoke, to an extent that manifested itself in dynastic marriage and gave us St. Margaret as a queen. In 1322 Sir Andrew Harclay proclaimed a separate peace between his territories in the north of England and Scotland, for which he received a traitor's death at the behest of Edward II of England. The existence of Scotland has always presented the regions of England with a possibility - more recently since devolution a tangible prospect - of an altered accommodation with England and its central authorities.

The senses of identity which companies would like to prevail are naturally those which serve their interests. A corporate executive would like his employees' sense of who they are to be determined by what they do, specifically what they do for the company. After all this is how he got where he is today. Brand loyalty is ultimately a work as well as a leisure activity. It is inimical to this hypothetical executive's ends for someone to have a sense of himself which is determined by more than the activities that result in instant gratification in the laboratory maze he inhabits, that someone should have a sense of identity that is grounded and not easily manipulated, that grants him a basis for resisting exploitation, that allows him (heaven forfend) to defer instant personal material gratification for a greater good. And so as these agents of globalisation walk the corridors of power that festoon the centres of authority, seeking to ensure that the state's interests are their own, they corrupt and pervert the identities which those states are available to express. Sponsorship ensures national identity becomes nothing more than a commercial tie-in - footballers and athletes endorse products made by children in sweatshops in some other country where other athletes and footballers are doing much the same. And so the wool is pulled over our eyes. As the agents of globalisation colonise the corridors of power, they disable the institutions that cluster round the centres of authority and render them unable authentically to express the national identities they purport to represent.

Often the extension of regional autonomy to English regions is portrayed as a bad thing for Scotland. The English regions are depicted as being in competition with Scotland - what for ? For the favour of these agents of globalisation and the state apparatus they manipulate. This perception of Scotland being in competition with English regions is exactly what they want. Instead Scotland should adopt its old historical role as a centrifugal force in English politics, and encourage English regional autonomy as a counterbalance for the highly centralised English state which perpetuates our humiliating predicament as Scots without an independent homeland.


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