Siol nan Gaidheal
Race, Ethnicity & Nationality
Few subjects debated in Scotland can arouse at once such passion, such facile and cosy assumptions, so many claims and counter-claims as the question of what constitutes "Scottishness". It would seem that in the final analysis most of what is written and said on the subject of Scottish nationality and its defining characteristics is, simply put, patently ill-informed. Recycling half-truths, peddling views from the twee to the would-be-liberal has become the stock-in-trade of commentators rich and poor, pub-going, journalistic or academic. Even allowing for the justified scepticism which must greet attempts at all-encompassing definitions, there remains a quite stunning - some, for their own ends, would say "characteristically" Scottish - conceptual blurring (read ignorance) regarding the basic anthropological distinctions which need to be made if one is to understand and establish what makes us different from our neighbours in Europe and the world, and at the same time of course, what makes us a national community with a shared human experience and heritage common to all the peoples of the world.
The issue of definition and the way these often complex notions are hijacked for ideological ends, overtly or not, is symptomatic of the whole climate of misunderstanding surrounding "Scottishness". Though not claiming to be free of ideology or indeed cultural bias, it is important that an avowedly nationalist organisation such as Siol nan Gaidheal contribute positively and confidently to this debate, dispelling myths, rejecting reductionist readings of our national characteristics and at all times highlighting the agenda of those who, clearly, would want us all to believe that being a Scot is any number of ridiculous constructs ranging from some kind of "state of mind" to mind-numbing post-modern sound-bites about "ever shifting centres of self-definition". The concepts of race, ethnicity, nationality and citizenship are, in this context, very much a question of definition and any resolution to the cultural conflict which is at the heart of the debate on national identity must tackle these head-on.
It is hardly surprising that to the average Scot, the question "What makes you Scottish?" is literally "academic". It isn't something they will lose sleep over, resting as it does on assumptions comforted by family, friends, school, work and the media. The problem is that some of these assumptions at least, are, by definition, unchallenged. Within the context of a stateless nation such as Scotland with a long history of imperial imperatives at work in the progressive erosion of our distinctiveness, people have grown up to believe that their nationality is something that goes without saying. Literally so. Don't define it, don't explain it; don't analyse it. Commemorate it if you must, but tackling its essence, going back to its wellspring as a legitimizing statement of intent is an act of intellectual and emotional faith the forces of Union in all their diverse manifestations have never been prepared to accept. And for good reason. To know exactly or as exactly as one can the many factors coming together to constitute one's identity within and as part of a national community is dangerous indeed to those who would centre their ultimate allegiance outwith that very same community. In Scotland, the latter are and always have been the Unionists, the Imperialists, the Improvers, the "Modernizers" as they would see it, the "Progressives," the "Realists". If not all anglophiles, they are and always have been Traitors. Accusations of intemperate language are in this context the risible yet highly predictable response of an imperial clique, administrative, academic, journalistic and literary for whom "Scottishness" can and should only ever amount to the nostalgic pang one feels for one's native heather or the supposed joy of seeing Scotland score a goal at Hampden. Safe, easy, unquestioning Scottishness. Sad indeed.
So much inanity is spoken and written on what constitutes a Scot that it would take much more space than we have here to comment on and discard even a fraction of what is peddled as constitutive of our nationality. The Scots are in no sense a "race", the term is one which denotes the physiological characteristics of given human populations which because of natural isolation have evolved common genetic specificities, such as particular bone-structure, eye and hair pigmentation, height etc. Just as there is no "human race", but a species called "Homo sapiens sapiens", there are dozens and dozens of scientifically identified racial groups in the world, which in the European context vary from "Mediterranean" types, through "Alpine" and "Dinaric" to "Eastern"and "Nordic". Most Scots are for a variety of historical reasons which are principally migratory, a mix of "Nordic" and "Alpine" with for the darkest among us a significant admixture of "Mediterranean" features. If it is conceivable that in distant history, cultural groups coincided more closely with racial groups, the kind of so-called "racial nationalism" associated with far-right groups in Europe, the German nazi party being their spiritual forefather, is despicably out of touch with the historical fact of migration. While no rational nationalist should concern himself with skin colour, nose shape, hair texture or shoe-size, it is to the ethnic dimension of this historical phenomenon called migration which any attempt at defining "Scottishness" should look to next.
Are the Scots an ethnic group ? As currently and historically constituted the Scots have evolved a unique cultural fabric based on essentially Celtic societal/social foundations with manifestations as diverse as kinship-based social groupings, land tenure and management, house building techniques and of course, crucially, the unique linguistic, literary, mythological and musical configurations which migration has influenced but not irreversibly altered. More than anything else, it has been political edicts and their implementation which have eroded our distinctiveness. The role of ordinary Scots in this process of erosion has, on the most part, been one of unwilling or unthinking agents rather than malevolent catalysts. Malevolence of this nature must be sought in political decisions taken by successive English governments or by those indigenous rulers who from the early Middle Ages onwards saw fit to throw their lot in with the English interest, that traitorous faction who have always viewed a realignment with English cultural values as their passport to a quieter life as England's loyal northern vassals. Ingratiating oneself with the overlord starts off with the manifest aping and then adoption of their most salient ethnic traits, and by that should be meant cultural traits alien to the ethnic group which nurtured their own unique cultural worldview and practice. The forelock-tugging sycophant has a long pedigree in Scotland as has the anglomania which masquerades as outward-looking modernising "Scotchness". Ethnocide can therefore be an externally-sponsored process, as it has been in part since the Unions of 1603 and 1707, or else internally effected by collaborationist opportunists as it has been ever since the reign of Calum Ceann Mor and his supposedly saintly wife Margaret of proto-anglicizing infamy.
This notwithstanding, no-one is suggesting that Scottish ethnicity has never adopted elements of cultural practice from furth of Scotland which turned out to be enriching or beneficial to its own on-going dynamic. The point is that far from taking inspiration from neighbouring cultures equally, Scottish culture has had an overwhelmingly English linguistic, social and ethical prism held up to it, focused and polished by the above-described agencies. It is only now at the latter stages of the ethnocidal dynamic, now that most of the dirty work has been effected, now that Scottish ethnicity itself as a conceptual framework is being called into question, ridiculed or side-stepped that the issue of in-migration takes on a crucially sinister dimension.
This in-migration is not that of several different ethnic groups (or nationalities, as we shall discuss further on), each bringing minor additions to the host culture which do not in any way threaten its viability, but that of one group only - the English. That migration is a constant in human history should not obscure the very real fact that wholesale population movements and especially those of the overspill variety have tangible and in most cases permanent effects on the settled country and of course on the indigenous people confronted with this in their midst. Relative population distribution within the north-west European archipelago called the "British Isles" and which the English have always considered their natural domain, the lebensraum of rapacious Anglo-Saxonry, means that for Scotland and Wales at least, the existing process of anglicisation is intensified, heightened and accelerated by migrants who have not the slightest inkling that "up heah" or "out heah" could be anything other than slightly quaint but wonderfully clean-aired and spacious adjuncts to their overpopulated urban sprawl.
While earlier historical waves of migrants (Norman-French adventurers, Norwegian Vikings, the occasional Fleming) could become in certain cases if not "more Scottish than the Scots" (as in Ireland a convenient exaggeration used to illustrate ethnic integration) then certainly their equals in terms of cultural identification and perpetuation, Scottishness today on the other hand is under threat from pan-Britishness. This can only ever be shorthand for Englishness writ-large, which "white settlers" as they are known in Scotland would never dream of relinquishing, keeping as it does a link with their green and pleasant Vaterland. Basically, the English do not feel foreign in Scotland. Other recent manifestations of in-migration must however be assessed in different terms. Irish immigration in the 19th and 20th Centuries can in no way be bracketed with for example subsequent settlement by people from Italy, Poland and more recently the Indian sub-continent. Notwithstanding religious differences (church adherence and religious worship being only one, and certainly not the most salient of all the constituent determinants of ethnicity), the Irish are categorically not an ethnic minority in Scotland. That they should be so designated today is symptomatic of two things, the first being that the cultural continuum which existed for centuries between our two countries was shattered by those who saw continued ties with the ancient ancestral homeland as synonymous with rebellion, barbarity and of course popery, the second being that liberal orthodoxy cannot accept a concept of Scottish ethnicity while it has no problem with an Irish one. Hence "Riverdance" is trendy viewing for the urbane middle class critic, but traditional dance forms from Scotland are deemed trite, parochial, passé.
In all the debates surrounding the lot of ethnic minorities in Scotland, no conceptual definition is ever given of who constitute the ethnic majority. No satisfactory answer will be forthcoming from the ivory towers of trendy British social commentary. "Anyone white and Protestant with an address and postal code north of Gretna Green or Berwick-upon-Tweed" is probably the best one can expect from the idiot tendency within politically-correct but conceptually vacuous liberal thought. The sentiment that we are "aw Jock Tamson's bairns" is a laudable one which we would readily subscribe to, just as long as we know who we are as individual "bairns" and that this individuality is not only recognised but allowed to flourish. The first step in this process is getting the conceptual framework right, once and for all. The Scots are an ethnic community of overwhelming Celtic and eponymously Gaelic configuration manifest in our surnames, place-names, material and spiritual traditions, and this despite the steady historical erosion of the Gaelic language, the keystone to our historical difference with England. The English/Inglis/"Scots"/Lallans language tradition of Scotland is assuredly an honourable one, having given to the world the philosophical insight of a David Hume, the rustic lyrical musings of a Robert Burns or the tempestuous political poetics of a Hugh MacDiarmid. These indisputable achievements and their countless contemporary derivatives cannot and must not however marginalise and obscure the very essence of our inherent cultural difference from England. That one should recognise the obvious: that English has by fait accompli become the language through which much of Scottishness is expressed today does not invalidate the basic tenet that the cultural manifestations in question accentuate similarities with and not differences from English cultural models. If our separate ethnic identity is not a sham, not just a difference in accent, not simply a degree of Englishness, a self-satisfied northern adjunct to mercantile and philistine Anglo-Saxonry, then it is to the wellspring of our ethnic difference that we should turn to in order to express our distinctiveness in a world growing blander and more uniform by the minute.
The ethnically Gaelic surnames and also their translated English/"Scots" variants borne by the vast majority of our compatriots (either directly or through immediate parentage) speak volumes for the fact that despite so-called Highland lines, the Clearances, the industrial and even post-industrial age, the heart of our continued ethnicity bears the unmistakable stamp of the Gael, his seed no less. A seed first nourished in the rich soil of our closest and fairest neighbour, Ireland. A land to which we have always naturally turned, even perversely for the moronic traitors of orange would-be "loyalism". O'Donnell and O'Neill mirror MacDonald and MacNeill; no amount of revisionism and trendy social engineering can make those of Irish extraction an "ethnic minority" in Scotland. As ever, English conditions dictate what we should see as pertaining to Scotland. The Irish are an ethnic minority in England, ergo they must be just that in Scotland. Sorry, but no, the Irish and those of Irish descent in Scotland are of the same ethnic stock as the Scots. Ceud Mile Failte to historical fact. Despite the delirium of those obsessed with deviant lines of new-age "Pictism" (as if the Cruithni like their Brythonic-speaking brothers in Strathclyde and Lothian had not adopted the way and tongue of the Gael...), despite the unsubstantiated utterings of the significantly worse Anglian apologists, despite all this it is self-evident that the Scots and Irish have always shared a common Gaelic heritage. This heritage is linguistic, clannic, mythological, musical, vestimentary and architectural amongst other things. From playing shinty/hurling with camans, to burning peat for fuel, from mercenary warcraft to drinking whisky, the two peoples have in their own specific yet complementary ways carried an original common ethnicity forward, and this despite the early formation of their two respective nations. That is to say: two groups of particular ethnic configuration who over time and through adversity acquired a special collective consciousness linked to territory and a self-defining historical narrative which we would argue are constitutive of nationality. The fact that Scotland was an independent state for centuries with all the trappings associated with an organised state apparatus-a titular head in the person of the king, representative government, a legal system, royal institutions, a mint, ambassadors etc. ... crystallizes the whole notion of Scottish nationhood.
Scotland is a nation for these very reasons; an ethnic group with a territorial, institutional and historical as opposed to only mythological consciousness. That lowland Scotland lost - from the 12th Century onwards - some of the attributes of the ethnicity outlined above can be paralleled with the experience of much of Leinster and later vast swathes of eastern Ireland where Anglicisation made just as many early inroads in to the Gaelic fabric of that country... there can therefore be no question of a putative Anglo-Saxon ethnicity for southern Scotland-witness the on-going nonsense about a Highland line where no such stark division has ever been suggested for say an Anglo-Saxon Pale centered around the "burgh" of Dublin and a Celtic Ireland beyond. Wales has its "little England beyond Wales" in Pembrokeshire, its very own "Lowlands" complete with English-speakers descended from Flemish weavers and local indigenous Welsh. Does anyone however suggest that Wales is a divided country ethnically, and that only part of it is Celtic? If it is, it is due to massive English settlement in South and East Wales as borne out by the crystal-clear "NO" which came from these very areas during the Welsh Assembly referendum in 1997. In any book describing the modern Celtic peoples of Europe, the Bretons are uniformly called Celts, even those who live in the areas which have not been Breton-speaking for centuries, as far east as Rennes, Brittany's capital, in its very own "Lowlands", the "Pays Gallo". Take the same work and you are just as likely to see Highland Scotland and the Highlanders described as being Celtic/Gaelic, whereas of course the other Scots, Lowlanders this time, are hard-working God-fearing, shoe-scrubbing, cured herring-eating Anglo-Saxons. Palpable idiocy which unfortunately still has currency in much of our literature on history and indeed in the way we present ourselves to outsiders. What do these terms mean today in any case ? There are more Gaelic-speakers in urban Scotland than in the so-called heartland of the Western Isles. What difference now between a Highland Perthshire hill farmer and his Lowland Perthshire counterpart? Certainly not an ethnic one, they are more than likely both monolingual English-speakers bearing surnames and practising a residual traditional culture which despite the levelling (read dumbing-down) imposed by television, the media and a consumer-obsessed society generally, still echo with the throbbing pulse of Gaelic ethnicity. Where does the Gael of only a few generations removed now live? In the conveniently remote Gaidhealtachd? No, massively the Gael who does not know his name, who does not truly know who he is, walks the soulless housing schemes of central belt Scotland, the post-industrial wastelands of jobless, drug-infested Lanarkshire, the commuterland of Silicon Glen Fife, the plastic middle-class suburbia of greenbelt-encroaching Edinburgh.
If Scottish ethnicity is almost universally ignored, Scottish nationhood is almost never questioned. Whether you are a Tory-voting debenture holder at Murrayfield, a yawn-a-minute liberal journalist pining for the "greater sense of community" which you had to leave behind in pursuit of career advancement in London, or simply a pie-and-chips-eating punter down at the bookies, Scottish nationhood is non-negotiable. Why is there a Scottish nation ? "Because there is". Why? "Because we're different". How different ? "A lot". What makes you different ? "We don't like the English". The last one delivered with either burning passion, affected irony or plain matter-of-fact conviction. Not a lot to go on, admittedly, and no wonder given the brainwashing and obscuring of all those factors of ethnicity listed above and which form the bedrock of our difference from our so-called partners in Union.
If those who reject Scottish ethnicity also reject the very idea of Scottish citizenship (and most of them do) being hostile to the very notion, God forbid or more likely Mammon forbid, that Scots could actually bear Scottish passports, have embassies around the world, pass immigration legislation like any other self-respecting country, then they are more than likely to couch the concept of Scottish nationality in the oh-so-convenient terms of residence and post code. Hence the quite ineffable hogwash about being Scottish just because you happen to live in Scotland. This would be a quite laughable proposition if it were not peddled with such worrying conviction by people in the Scottish media and elsewhere whose supposedly internationalist, non-racist, inclusive, "civic", credentials are somewhat undermined by the breathtaking ignorance they show of how every other country in the world outside their own beloved "Blighty" deals with questions of nationality and/or citizenship. A written constitution backed up by legislation enshrining principles of citizenship; the rights, duties and qualifications thereof - these are aspects that the real parochialists, they know who they are, would do well to study.
Those quaintly referred to as "Britons" and who live in Germany for example, are not automatically German citizens, no matter how fondly the English among them secretly hark back to the glory days of blond, blue-eyed Teutonia from Northumbria to the Danube. Just because you pick your mail up every day from a mailbox in Southern California doesn't make you a citizen of the United States. A contact address in Phuket given to friends before moving from Milton Keynes to Thailand doesn't make you a denizen of Siam, it does however, make you an English paedophile. Just ask anyone from Orkney. The serious point in all of this, is that self-styled "civic nationalism", apart from the fact that it is a misnomer in the first place, cannot have it both ways. Scottishness cannot be reduced to the status of a non-Tory voting pattern. Those who touchingly campaigned "so passionately" for "Scottish democracy", who talk about Scots being all those who live in Scotland at any given time, undoubtedly talk bilge in relation to the current position of Scottish nationality in the Union (whether a devolved parliament exists or not won't change anything).
They talk an even stronger strain of pigswill when they suggest that post-independence the same instantaneous residential qualification would be applied to citizenship, though needless to say they would rather things didn't go to those "extremes", what with their Auntie Doreen settled in Macclesfield (wherever that is) and the fear of a Coronation Street blackout if "they" (the bad people) built Hadrian's Wall up again.
No-one would dare suggest that, for the sake of argument, Mr. Yamamoto, a senior electronics manager with Mitsuhiro Electrical (U.K.) based in some light industrial complex in East Kilbride for the last two years, is anything other than Japanese. A Scot, Yamamoto San ? No, not even the trendy cappuccino-swilling Brito-Scots would stretch ridicule to that extent. Although very welcome to our country, this Japanese resident could not and would not expect to be afforded, even if he so desired, Scottish nationality. What then of Toby Wrigglesbottom, the local community arts project liaison officer up the road in deepest Clackmannanshire; is he a Scot ? He certainly isn't adverse to the idea. "I got the job fair and square, I did". "Roz, Nikki and Roger on the interview panel were ever so amenable, suitably impressed, they were, with my blueprint for local cultural provision, I think it was my local savvy which won the day, the fact I had taken the A93 North to the deer-interferer's ball at Braemar in 1983" Undoubtedly a Scot, according to the "civic" definition or should that be the phone-book definition? Does playing for the old firm or any other team make the legion of foreign footballers in Scotland eligible for Scottish Nationality simply on the basis that they kick a ball on Scottish grass for nine months of the year? No! To suggest that foreign residents whether cretinous, eloquent or admirable are Scots because they like living here is nothing short of ludicrous. Are the Ramsbottoms from Knobsley Green as Italian as Piero della Francesca just because they own a villa near Florence and hope to sip Chianti there in retirement ? Are they Funtington.
As has been suggested before, in a world which would seem to be sleepwalking into the bland haze of planetary uniformity, it is vital that identity and the preservation of individual ethnic/national culture becomes a bulwark against the creeping inanity of mass-philistinism and à la carte life-style options. Joke nationalities, off-the-peg identities, supermarket culture, "Would you like fries with your Scottishness ? " constitute a doomsday scenario to all those who, like ourselves, view human diversity as a self-evident priority and therefore refuse to see our own individual contribution to it, eroded, prostituted, diluted to the point of non-recognition. This far and no further, Enough is enough.
In a new, fully independent Scotland, when our country is restored to its natural self-regulating, unfettered state, it is to be hoped that Scottishness will, through means of education and restored ethnic consciousness, cease to be the sad joke which in many cases it has become. The cringe-laden list is endless..... "proud" and incredulous Scots complaining bitterly about non-acceptance of Bank of Scotland banknotes in Spain... kilted Tartan Army members in disbelief that anyone could possibly suggest a united British football team.... eighty minute rugby patriots singing "and sent them homewards to think again" while orgasmically welcoming the SRU's patron and winner after a steward's enquiry in the 3.15 at Ayr, the Princess Royal... middle class critics of everything tartan, who see "Braveheart kitsch" everywhere, preferring, as they unfailingly do, to highlight the "robust yet profoundly moving human experience" of the "real" Scotland of late 20th Century drug-chic à la Irvine Welsh. All the happening addictions are in Scotlandshire, darling. As Rab C. Nesbit would put it, "We're scum, by the way." Chortle, chortle. We know our place. Who needs international representation, when everybody is talking about us in any case? Piper Alpha, Lockerbie, Dunblane, E-Coli, Dolly the cloned ewe. Wha's like us, eh ? Plastic Nessies, Irn-Bru, We hate Jimmy Hill, Save our Scottish Cannon-fodder, Full Scottish breakfast, Real Scots read the Record, it's a braw bricht disco-biscuit nicht, etc. Its time the cult of snivelling mediocrity from tartan tea-cosy to facile post modernist claptrap about "chameleon Scottishness" was swept into the siver of history. The work of the Sguab Uamhasach, the Terrible Broom of the Fianna is still there to be done. Scottishness is just a tad more than simply eating Tunnocks Tea Cakes, it is significantly more than having lived next door to "in your face" actor and North Briton, Ewan McGregor, is considerably more than being partial to the smooth, nutty, book-at-bedtime notes of a classic single malt, and infinitely more consequential than getting all excited because some poxy telesales firm from "down South"... Where in God's creation could that be ? Langholm ?....likes our accent so much that they have been kind enough to set up their call centre "up heah". All the nice girls like a "burr", don't they Jock? Where stands Scotland now ?...hopefully a bit further down the road to cultural regeneration than explaining over the phone how some fuckwit in Bognor Regis ("there be Saxons, lad..") can purchase a state-of-the-art toilet flushing mechanism from the comfort of his own bognor....
In the end, it will be up to the authorities in an independent Scotland to institutionalise the vital notion of Scottishness, as this will form the basis for the citizenship or membership of the nation. The criteria for the citizenship will be as varied and subject to verification as they are currently in any comparable country in Europe and indeed the world. Constitutional guarantees would provide a framework to the laws on nationality which would allow for qualifications on a case by case basis. It is our view that immediate parentage, ancestry, and birthplace should form the relevant criteria from which qualification or eligibility should be drawn in the first instance, and that education, marriage and residency should form secondary criteria which may be considered in certain cases to be valid subject to relevant ministerial approval. There is nothing in the above which need surprise, far less alarm anyone, given that the same criteria are applied in every other country in the world. The point is that automatic Scottishness on the mere basis of residency is an intellectual, moral and cultural non-starter. On Independence, are Scots; all those who fulfil the appropriate criteria, no more no less. Those who do not will be free to choose residency or else leave the country if they see fit. And no doubt many of English ethnicity will, and good luck to them. Given their love of Blighty, it would be surprising if most of them did not choose the then newly-asserted English subjecthood which of course no amount of Scottishness could ever hope to compensate for. Pan-European structures, no matter how crucial to this whole debate, are on the other hand exceedingly unlikely to signal the end, as some commentators have claimed, of the nation-state.... this smaller natural unit being better adapted to survive the collapse of artificially created, amorphous and therefore terminally fragile economic blocs. Nationality will thus continue in our view to be central to the way countries organise themselves culturally and socially. Free movement of people must not mean the end of the right to cultural sovereignty. In turn this has implications for citizenship and the attendant educational and cultural obligations which are implicit to and underpin the enjoyment of this status.
The fostering of Scottish ethnicity as the bedrock of Scottish nationality should in turn form the basis for Scottish citizenship. A conceptual framework which in real terms must represent, in our view, nine tenths of the law. The cultural dimension must not therefore be reduced to the status of afterthought on the wish-list of some base utilitarian or consumerist agenda; it must on the contrary be central to all things pertaining to the life of the country we call Scotland. Yes, this will create a norm, that of a vibrant community of ethnic Scots, educated as such, (believe it or not; Hungarians, Icelanders, Finns, Greeks, Portuguese and every other comparable ethnic/national community are actually instructed in and taught through the medium of their own language and culture.... What next, eh?)..a community deriving a consciousness and rationale from their education to be used in the carrying out of their daily lives... a process which far from being obsessive, will be the second nature of a people finally at ease with themselves, contributing to and looking out to the world through their own eyes and according to their own value system. A value system informed by language, history, mythology, literature, native social and environmental configurations, which the current schizophrenia experienced by most Scots in the way they view their country and its relationship to Union inescapably warps or hides from view. This ethnicity, this "nationality" in the original Greek meaning of the term, is what makes us the unique people we are in the world, no better nor worse than any other, but here at the end of the 20th Century, still able to speak differently and nobly but often remaining silent or embarrassing ourselves in self-conscious posturing. It is time we chose to be ourselves. Let us say clearly who, how and why we are. The day for this, our day, will come yet.
|Return to Culture||Return to Index|