by Pete Wishart
Probably one of the most passionate debates we’re going to have in the run up to the referendum will be around the whole idea of identity and Britishness. Like many proud nationalists I have struggled with the idea of being British and have never described myself as such. But what will happen to the whole concept as Scotland moves towards independence and can the idea make a comeback and even become respectable in nationalist circles?
Firstly, I suppose Britishness is as much about geography as it is about identity and history. Coming from Perth in the northern part of the island of Greater Britain I am as much British as someone from Stockholm is Scandinavian.
It’s when we try and add the other bits that we start to get into the difficulties. If Britishness is to work as a cultural idea a shared story as well as a shared geography has to be constructed. And that’s the hard part. No one has ever come up with a convincing definition of Britishness, because there probably isn’t one. And the concept has to be almost constantly rewritten – remember Gordon Brown’s clumsy and excruciating attempt and Michael Portillo’s recent nonsense about “anti-fanaticism”? Cultural Britishness is then a rather curious construct that can be almost anything, and usually is, hence the mom and apple pie attributes usually associated with Britishness when people are asked to define it.
But there is absolutely no doubt that people indeed do feel and identify themselves as British, even in Scotland. For me Britishness is so much more than the usual confused descriptions. For me cultural Britishness isn’t one thing but is the sum of the 300 years journey that we have enjoyed and endured on this island. It is what we have achieved and secured together in this partnership. It is about the great historic cultural achievements from the industrial revolution to our great rock and pop bands. It is about pride in our victories in the wars we fought together and the collective sense of shame in our historic crimes of colonialism and slavery. Britishness is in fact the social union, and being British belongs as much to me as a proud Scottish nationalist and Scottish patriot as it does to anyone from England.
Our gripe then isn’t with cultural Britishness, the social union, but with the current political arrangements within the United Kingdom. As civic nationalists we want the powers to grow our economy and make our own specific international contribution. We want to complete the powers of our Parliament and take responsibility for our own affairs. We have no issues with the past and our British inheritance is a crucial part of our own Scottish story.
Britishness will exist in Scotland long after we become independent. In fact I think that it could well be enhanced with independence. With independence we will get the opportunity to define a new Britishness, one based on equality and mutual respect. Britishness will still be all about our shared history and culture but it can also be about the new positive relationship we will seek to build.
I would also be happy to see any number of shared institutions being called British and it could and should be the brand name of our new enhanced and equal 21st century partnership. Who knows maybe independence can give Britishness a new lease of life.
So there you go, that’s me, British and proud of it in an independent Scotland.
Pete Wishart is the SNP Member of Parliament for Perth and North Perthshire
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