I love being Scottish. We are a very proud nation, and happy to think of ourselves as a bit more progressive than other parts of Britain. But in 2019, I made the big decision to leave my homeland for the big city: London, in England – the part of the UK that Scottish people stereotypically hate. It’s been interesting, to say the least.
I have an obvious Scottish accent, and was born and brought up in Glasgow. I strongly identify as Scottish rather than British, and feel that in a lot of ways Scotland is quite a different place to England. Upon visiting Wales, and living in Northern Ireland for the summer of 2017, I also sometimes feel like I have more in common with the Welsh and the Irish than the English. I know a lot of other Scots feel the same – something which has only become more pronounced in the wake of the political developments of recent years. As I write this I’m on holiday in South Africa. Whenever people ask where I’ve come from, I’ll always say Scotland, over the UK, or Britain – and definitely not England, even though that’s where I live now.
When it comes to national identity, I think the only time I’ve ever felt truly ‘British’ was during the 2012 Olympic Games in London. I am, in fact, half English (don’t tell Nicola) and I was visiting my dad and half-sisters at the time in England. We all watched, and celebrated together.
It was nice. It made a refreshing change from the Scots-hating-England situation we get every World Cup. But this is a sentiment shared by many across Scotland – surveys show that Scottish people overwhelmingly identify as Scottish over British, or any other identity. Outside of Northern Ireland, London and Leicester – both highly multicultural cities – are the only places in the UK where a majority of people identify as “British” over anything else. In my London flat of four, only one is English. The city is a true melting pot and far more diverse than Scotland, both racially and culturally. It doesn’t feel much like what Scots traditionally think of as England – middle-class, rural, posh, conservative – but perhaps the same could be said of any large English city.
Some Scots like to think of their country as progressive and almost utopian, but this attitude of exceptionalism is not wholly justified. I could sit here as a middle class, white-passing, homesick Scot, saying that Scotland is the best country ever and has no issues. But this would be wilfully ignoring the very real racism and xenophobia that many people of colour still face in the country. My own grandfather, a South African Indian immigrant, received hate mail in the late 50s when my mixed-race mother was born. With the rise of nationalism, Scotland has at times seemed increasingly reluctant to recognise its own history and the complicity of Scots in imperialism. Glasgow was built on the spoils of the slave trade – it was known as the ‘second city of Empire’ for good reason. Many Scottish people participated fully in the colonial enterprise. We should bear our share of shame, and I fear that the nationalist movement has a blindspot towards the all-too common experiences of racism in our minority communities.
December’s general election saw the SNP sweeping 48 out of 59 Scottish seats. Whether this means there is a clear mandate for an independent Scotland in the European Union remains to be seen. However, there are many on the left, like myself, who support the idea of independence but are wary of the SNP’s nationalist agenda. As well as this, many of us have been disappointed by their record of propping up Tory austerity over the last decade and failing to fund schools, hospitals and much more. A second independence referendum in the near future looks not unlikely, and I am honestly unsure how I would vote.
I feel Scottish, I love Scotland, but I hate nationalism. The SNP are not a left-wing nor radical party, and an independent Scotland run by them would be my worst nightmare. I voted Yes in 2014, but have since yo-yo’d back and forth between either side in the wake of issues such as Brexit and the upsurge in populism and nationalism.
The election result was also very difficult for the left, for Labour and even for those voting SNP in Scotland. We’re still a part of the UK, which the Tories will continue to devastate: devolved parliament or no devolved parliament. But one thing that struck me was the amount of English, Northern Irish and Welsh people saying they wish they could move to Scotland. And why wouldn’t they? Hell, I even considered moving back in the despair of that Friday morning. They’ve seen the staunch pro-European, anti-union stance of the SNP who seem to have only become more popular as time has gone on. They perceive a more effective, better funded, fully devolved NHS with free prescriptions, and other progressive policies. But they don’t see the hostility and hate crimes against minorities that are just as common as in any other part of the country. I fear that nationalist rhetoric covers this up, intentionally or unintentionally, and that it works. Which is scary.
In my London office, I’m often asked where I would stand as a Scottish person now living in England. Would I get a Scottish passport upon independence? Would I get dual citizenship of Scotland and the UK because my dad is English, and because I live in England? I’ve only been out of Scotland for a few months – would I be able to vote in a second referendum without committing electoral fraud? Who knows. I worry that in the event of a vote for independence, the UK and Scottish governments would struggle to successfully negotiate the terms of Scotland’s exit, especially since Scotland would presumably want to rejoin the EU as Brexit kicks in.
Whatever happens in the upcoming months and years, I’ll sit there in London, watching from afar, trying hard to feel proud of my little nation – and hoping that whatever happens, we do the right thing for all of our people regardless of creed or colour.