The Quality Of Britishness, Ctd

A reader quotes a previous one:

“Separation of Scotland has more than political implications. For many of us who do not have any vote in the matter, it carries profound implications about our identity, and what our nationality means.” Yeah, I feel this pain. I’m as Scottish as it gets, and I don’t have a vote in the matter either. I was born in Scotland, hold (only) a UK passport, have lived in England and the US, and now live in Canada. If independence happens, my life is turned upside down. The practical and emotional effects would be unimaginable. Every little page of immigration paperwork, my right to travel freely, my relationship to “home” – whatever that is – all in limbo. If I’m reading the propaganda – sorry, the White Paper – correctly, we will be forcibly repatriated to a new state while living abroad! God help us all.

Expat Scots will suffer as much disruption from this independence experiment as anyone, maybe more. But we do not get a vote. That makes me furious. I mean, 16 and 17 year olds living in Scotland have been franchised especially for this occasion, but I don’t get to play? Am I supposed to hope that they have my best interests at heart?

So I have to sit here, watch, and stew, while the future of my home, my nation and my identity is decided for me. Forgive me, but fuck the whole thing.

Another view:

I’m puzzled by your readers who worry about being unable to feel British if the Scots vote to secede. If, say, France were to leave the EU, does that mean I could no longer feel European?

Of course not. Europe is more than its political institutions. The concept of Britishness is not defined by the scope of the Westminster parliament.

I hope the Scots vote for independence, because I think they will create a kinder, fairer and happier society than the UK has become. Perhaps one day they’ll invite those of us in north-east England to join them: my roots are English not Scottish, but culturally, politically and geographically I feel closer to Scotland than I do to London.

Another draws a distinction:

To get a bit technical about it, Scotland cannot separate from Britain – at least not without employing a tremendous amount of earth-moving equipment. “Britain” is a geographic term, not a political one. It is, of course, short for “Great Britain,” the name of an island called such because it is the largest of the many British Isles.  Scotland can leave the UK, but it is stuck in Britain forever. The Scottish will always be British. If sharing an island with the English and the Welsh is part of the Scottish identity, then separating from the UK will not take that part away.

Another reader:

The letter you posted from the descendant of the Jacobite veteran of Culloden at first surprised me. How can an American, whose family has been in the USA since before the USA existed, be thrilled that “we” might be out from the English thumb?  You and your ancestors have been free of the English thumb for more than 250 years!

This is an example of how ancient political issues in Europe find a long echo in America. My own family is immigrant Irish, and like so many others, my ancestors came to America to escape the civil unrest in Ireland during the late 1800s and early 1900s.  They were devoutly Catholic, adamantly anti-British, and staunchly Republican.

I visited Ireland for the first time in the weeks after the Omagh bombing, and I was surprised to find that the locals I met were quite cool to me, and rather keen to have me on my way.  After awhile I realized that this was because they did not particularly trust Irish-Americans like me.  My – and so many others like me – views on Northern Ireland came to me almost unchanged from Grandpa’s views in 1916.  I think that is why there was such support for Irish republicanism (i.e. terrorism) from the succeeding generations of Irish Americans.  The locals were in no mood for another American’s nostalgia for Grandpa’s stories and how Grandma sang Republican songs as a lullaby.

In short, it caused me to realize that Ireland didn’t stop when Grandpa stepped on the boat at Westport. Obviously this phenomenon is not confined to the Irish-American experience, and can last far longer than the few generations of my family’s experience.

Another shifts focus:

As a Canadian, I’m fascinated by the parallels between England/Scotland and Canada/Quebec. Consider the following rewrite of your original post:

It’s a prickly country, bristling often at [Canada], its exports to [Ottawa] often having more than a bit of a chip on their shoulders. … It’s politically well to the left of [the rest of Canada], and is a big net beneficiary of [Canada’s] Treasury. After a while, if you’re [an anglophone Canadian], and right-of-center, and taxed to the hilt, endlessly subsidizing the [Quebecois] in return for their thinly veiled disdain, you get a bit irritated. Deep, deep down in my [Canadian] soul, there’s a “fuck ‘em” urging to come out.

This, I think, accurately captures some of the feeling in anglophone Canada around the time of the last referendum on sovereignty in 1995. The interesting thing to note is the way Quebecois separatist sentiment has ebbed and flowed over the years. When times are good, the separatists seem to lose sight of the real economic difficulties that an independent Quebec would face: concerns related to a separate currency or monetary union, how to divide up things like the national debt, what’s going to happen to growth and investment after the split, etc. – in short, many of the same issues facing Scotland. When times are not so good, the citizens of Quebec seem to recognize the benefits that they receive from remaining part of Canada and talk of separation largely disappears. This suggests to me that support for Scottish independence may move in the same way – greater support in good times and less when times are tough.

There is an important difference, however, between Canada and Britain: the division of powers between the provinces and the federal government in Canada is much more clearly defined than in Britain. The responsibilities of the federal government and the province of Quebec, while they have been tweaked over the years, are largely fixed by the constitution and other legislation; the situation in Britain seems much less well defined and, as a result, it seems like the politicians and citizens of Britain are more likely to misunderstand or misrepresent the relationship.

What I mean by this is that Scots who feel that Scotland should be independent have more latitude to feel that they’re getting a raw deal, since the deal they have is not really all that well defined. Similarly, the English who want to say “fuck ’em” to the Scots have more latitude to feel that the Scots are getting more than their fair share, again because the terms of the deal are not well defined.

One solution to this would be for Britain to hold a “constitutional conference” with the goal of spelling out, exactly, what exactly is the status of Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland – are they states in the American sense? Are they provinces in the Canadian sense? Are they something else? Removal of the uncertainty around this relationship might go some way toward resolving Scottish complaints about the union.

Another also looks at the Quebec parallel:

The aftermath of Quebec’s “no” vote was ugly – the reason the referendum lost was because the non-francophone minorities voted nearly unanimously against succession (many Native Americans – or First Nations as is the term up there – swore they would never be part of an independent Quebec given the ugly history with the Catholic church/Provincial government). After the defeat the leader of the successionists basically said they lost because of “money and foreigners” (many read money as “Jews” and foreigners was easy enough to understand). There was also more uncertainty surrounding that vote – nobody knew how Canada would have reacted to a “yes” vote. After the defeat, the Canadian Supreme Court issued a ruling that set out future ground rules for succession, but at the time of the 1994 vote there was no agreement re: potential currencies, etc. so the economic uncertainty was even greater.

And yet, it was 49-51%

My view from afar: If Scotland can’t even stay a part of the U.K., the Middle East is doomed to unravel into goodness knows how many tribal mini-states.

Update from a reader:

I just got a little taste of your life! A reader responded to my comment by saying:

How can an American, whose family has been in the USA since before the USA existed, be thrilled that “we” might be out from the English thumb? You and your ancestors have been free of the English thumb for more than 250 years!

I didn’t mean our family in America is under the English thumb. I meant we would be thrilled the Scots in Scotland were finally free of the English!

How you do this day in and day out, with people parsing every word you write, is beyond me.