Scottish. British. European? Today’s True Scotsmen and Their Future | Matthew Taylor
“Identity Politics” has become a great shibboleth in our present discourse and is oft rebuked as a symptom of the regressive left from those of us on the other side of the aisle. However, as conservatives, we must not forget the role that national, religious, and ethnic identities have in moulding and maintaining the communities that form the body politic. Our continued failure to discuss such factors will inevitably lead to general neglect of community concerns in conservative thought and policy.
I am a Scot. My blood is Scottish, my customs Scottish, my vocabulary Scottish, my accent Scottish, and my residency in Scotland. Which of these makes me a Scot? It cannot be the first, as anyone who has met an American of Scots-decent will readily testify. One can be largely or entirely of Scottish ancestry and still be a clear non-Scot when speaking with one “in the know”. A couple centuries of American Civil Religion can seemingly wash away any authentic Scottishness from a family line.
In examining the role of customs, we must remember that the Scottish life is similar to that of England, with near identical day to day activities. This is hardly a surprise in the globalised West and the general trend would likely be the same even if union between the kingdoms had never occurred. Distinctly Scottish custom is found now at formal events, where the national dress truly comes to the fore and the Celtic folk scene celebrating our traditional music and dance.
Attendance of and participation in a ceilidh is most definitively a Scottish action. However, would I be any less Scottish if happened to live my whole life without one? Whilst ceilidhs are common occurrences not just in Scotland but wherever a significant Scottish diaspora resides, there must surely be a “true Scotsman” alive today who is yet to attend.
Regarding vocabulary, the waters are certainly muddied by the 21st Century. On the one hand, my speech contains many clear Scotticisms of the form expected of a Lowlander. On the other, my main language is English. This hardly makes me an Englishman any more than it makes Scotland, the USA or even India regions of some Greater Anglia. As such, if my English language cannot make me English, is it really my Scottish turns of phrase that make me a Scot? No.
Alas my accent provides few clues as I have spent sufficient time on each side of the Anglo-Scots border that the peoples of each tends to identify mine as that of the other.
So does my Scottishness fall simply down to my residency? If that is true, does my time in England make me any less Scottish? This is surely not the case for I find myself feeling my most patriotic for my homeland when I am elsewhere.
Despite analysis of each potential component of my Scottish identity, it drifts like a ghost in the machine between them all. Perhaps it is the nature of such instinctive constructs as national identity to elude the glare of analysis. It must be remembered though that something need not be well defined in order to exist. We may not have discovered a roadmap to Scottishness but that does not mean it is not out there somewhere.
The nature of my Britishness is considerably easier to determine. I am British since I am a citizen of the United Kingdom, loyal subject of Her Majesty Elizbeth II and support continued union between the constituent nations bound together into the British construct. These when held together provide a clear explanation for Britishness that can be far more easily examined, tested, and refined than Scottishness.
I am left with two layers of national identity, my ethereal yet visceral nature as a Scot and my strong yet fundamentally political nature as a Briton. Unlike our dear cousins on the continent whose identity can generally be found in their connection to a nation state, we who live in the United Kingdom find ourselves straddled between two pillars, one ancient and rooted in the Catholic past, the other modern and built in Protestant and increasingly Secular times.
Whilst it would be a major oversimplification to claim all Catholics in the Celtic Fringe to be nationalist and equally to label all Protestants as Unionists, there is a clear pattern to be found from the Jacobites to the IRA that a rejection of the Protestant status quo by angered Catholics can quickly turn to anti-union sentiment.
With the nature of Scottishness, Britishness and Celtic Sectarianism established, we may now examine the other Union of our politics, that which is to be found across the channel and over the Irish border. The idea of a United Europe is a double-sided coin. On the heads we have the post-war globalist project to dissolve the nation states blamed for the suffering of the World Wars. This is a neo-Babel project which flies in the faith of any Judeo-Christian understanding of the people of earth being divided by God to contain our worst excesses of pride. If one looks at the cultic reverence paid to the European Project by its supporters, particularly in the wake of Brexit, one can see fine well why the God of Israel may want to confuse their tongues and scatter them across the earth to different countries. This side of the coin has been the main topic of British politics for the past several years with the arguments of both sides now well established to the point of cliché.
There is of course the tails side of the continental coin. This side dreams of a Europe united as Christendom in succession to Constantine and Charlemagne. The Catholic-American writer Charles Coulombe openly promotes the idea of the European Union “ensouling” its institutions with the spirit of the Holy Roman Empire. Noble though this vision may be, I can hardly envision the day when the flag of stars is replaced by a great eagle-bearing banner of an Imperial European dynasty.
There are but two paths available for the great behemoth, total collapse, perhaps initiated by the current struggles of certain member states to keep any semblance of an economy running, or total union with the local liberties of Medieval Christendom cast away with power resting in Brussels. In all honesty, neither the rubble nor the monolith represent a desirable outcome, with the former meaning chaos now but the other accelerating towards tyranny later. Whilst I know which poison, I would pick, it is no longer our place to decide on such matters.
Despite seeing no good future for European integration, I still see myself as European. Europe is my heritage, the vast lands from which the peoples of Britain once came. To pretend that 21 miles of Anglo-French waters is enough to cut us of from our ancient history is naïve. Nonetheless, Europe must not be our future. With an approach to politics and order so different to that developed under the English and later British constitutions, union with Europe can only ever mean sacrifice of both our liberty and the “proper order” built by those that forged our Kingdom.
For partners in our future the United Kingdom must look instead to another period of its past, not too long ago, when Britain was the great superpower and its Crown boasted of the widest Empire on Earth. Amongst the multitude of colonies and protectorates, three of the former Dominions, now equal Realms, namely Canada, Australia and New Zealand are obvious candidates for Britain’s future core relationships.
As settler colonies the peoples of these countries inherited our own Westminster Parliamentary system and retain a Crown to this day which, whilst divided in legal office, is united in shared personhood of Her Majesty. One may argue that the great distances between us, particularly between the United Kingdom and New Zealand, spanning right round the globe make union not only impractical but undesirable. Such concerns are trivial when we remember the success of our own British union, despite the great difficulty of voyaging from the Outer Hebrides to London in 1707. Oceania is now only day away in the 21st Century and as the years progress, this difficulty will fade in response to improved transport.
In Britain we have seen the union of the Scots, the English the Welsh and the Irish create a greater, though broken, whole. What wonders may we see the day that the Aussies, the Kiwis, and the Canucks join the mix?
When the Celtic diaspora in these nations are united once more, who will be the True Scotsmen?
Photo by John Lees on Flickr.