Thursday, 6 February 2014

Scottish vs British

I live in Scotland, and everyone here is aware of the independence referendum coming in September, and we're talking about it a lot. I mean, we talk a lot about things generally, we're a talky country, but we're talking about the referendum a lot even by our standards.

The UK-wide press isn't so much. The occasional article in the papers, a reference or two in speeches, a snippy or comedic aside here or there, and not much else. In fact, I'm told that the London scene doesn't even consider Scottish independence to be likely at all, which seems really badly informed, given that the Yes vote is hovering around the one third mark and the No vote on just over half, with everyone else still undecided.

What commentary I've seen by British pro-Unionists seems to default to bafflement. Why would Scotland want to be independent? What could they possibly gain? They have such a good thing going, why leave? Being British is much better than just being Scottish.

There is one major problem with this argument which the commentators don't seem to be able to grasp: it presumes that Scotland feels British. Now, a lot of people in Scotland do feel British. I am one of them. I always mark myself as British White on anything which asks about ethnicity, because I know that my ancestry is as varied and meandering in location as everyone else's is, and calling myself Scottish White is a disservice to those ancestors who came from other parts of the British Isles and beyond.

But I've always felt that my Britishness is something that I have to fight for. Like it's not proper. Like I'm worth less, as a Scottish British person, than my English British compatriots.

Privilege and micro-aggressions

There are two concepts which I've learned from feminist thinking which I want to explain before going any further with this post. The first is "privilege", and the second "micro-aggression". Feel free to skip the next couple of paragraphs if you know this.

The word privilege has not radically changed meaning in feminist debate, but its usage has become a lot more varied. Privilege is defined as "a right, immunity or benefit enjoyed only by a person beyond the advantages of most" (from This is frequently clarified in equal rights movements as specific privileges, like male privilege, white privilege, straight privilege, or cis privilege, which are umbrella terms covering all the different individual privileges which individuals fulfilling these criteria possess without them realising that life is not like that for everyone. It can be used pejoratively, and it makes people really uncomfortable, but it's not meant to blame the people involved; these identities are innate and as such don't carry any absolute ethical values.

Micro-aggression, meanwhile, is used to describe everyday instances of bigotry which are faced by people without specific privileges. This is stuff that most people don't think of as abuse, but the underlying reason as to why it's not considered inappropriate is because of a wider culture of racism, or sexism, or all of the other forms of discrimination. Stuff like a woman being asked to make the tea all the time in an office, or a person of colour being asked if they're planning on going home for their holiday, are both examples of micro-aggression, because they both contain assumptions which are hurtful and not true: women belong in the kitchen, if you're coloured you're not from here.

If you've been following me so far, I'm fairly sure you can see where this argument is going. In Britain, the English are more privileged than the rest of us are. "British" and "English" are used interchangeably in the media, and the English don't notice it, or realise how alienating it can be. This is predominantly seen via micro-aggressions, rather than any major anti-Scottish/Irish/Welsh/[insert island] sentiment. So, every time there's a World Cup, the whole country rings with the phrase "they think it's all over, it is now" and references to 1966, even though that was England vs Germany, not Britain vs Germany, and as such only really concerns the English. Or the way names referred to as British names always seem to be English ones, although Celtic derived names are arguably much more British than the names Christianity gave us, to say nothing of the Saxon/Norman can of worms.

What this leads to is a situation whereby it's really hard to think of yourself as British unless you have some recent English ancestry, and even then, the actual English are still going to sneer at your accent, make jokes about potatoes or shagging sheep or being a skinflint, and not know anything about your geography and weather beyond "hilly and rains a lot". Really doesn't make you feel like we're all part of one big happy country.

The P Word

And then there's the actual politics. Scotland is pretty socialist and has been for a long time, whereas Westminster has been getting progressively more neoliberal for decades, to the point where literally everything except the Queen has been privatised, and children are getting scurvy and rickets because their parents are being denied benefits, whilst The City grabs all of the money and refuses to pay any of its sodding taxes. That's a pretty big gap right there. (It's very connected to class, as well, although I think that's a rant for another time.)

Europe is another big sticking point; Scotland loves to bang on about "the Auld Alliance" with France (despite the fact that as far as I can tell France doesn't remember it and doesn't really care) and we have strong ties to various European nations which are separate from the relationships held by Britain. Sure, right now we're being total wankers to the Poles, but we're much more pro-EU than most of the rest of the country. And with Cameron promising an EU referendum in 2015 if he gets back in, and Miliband likely to do the same, it looks like we might be taken out of Europe whether we like it or not, as the Little England Daily Mail brigade vote us out with nary a thought as to where we actually do most of our trading and the fact that, language barrier aside, we have much more in common with Europe than we do the US at this point.

I'm one of the undecided voters. But the No campaign is not addressing any of my concerns at all, and that leaves me increasingly looking towards Holyrood as the answer. As with most people with privilege, the English commentators I've seen don't even hint at understanding that not only are a lot of the political and philosophical concerns valid, but that they should be being discussed across the whole of Britain and they're not. If it's hard to be Scottish and British, how much harder is it to be another race and British? It's hard for Scotland to watch her brightest and best leave for fairer climes and better jobs, but that's true of everywhere, and it's hard for everyone not in London to see London booming and the rest of us still in the grips of an icy and ideological recession.

No-one in Westminster seems prepared to have a national debate about this, and the media is just as bad - if not worse, seeing as we're frequently being told how to be British by papers owned by American corporations and headed by an Australian oligarch. But the referendum means that these discussions are being had in Scotland, all the time, and that's what leads me to think that if the No vote wins, it'll be much more marginal than anyone in Downing Street expects. Whatever we choose, we will be choosing it consciously and deliberately, not sleep-walking into it as we seem to have been doing for so long.

I have a lot of problems with the SNP and the Yes campaign, but whilst they're not offering me anything I actually want (except free prescriptions and no bedroom tax, I'm good with those) they're at least not offering me things that I emphatically don't want and telling me I'm stupid not to want them and don't deserve them anyway. That's not the way to win my vote. In fact, it's the biggest thing in the Yes campaign's favour, by far. And even Big Eck's ego isn't large enough to eclipse that yet.

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