Sep. 22nd, 2014

alithea: (Mucha Fran&Katchoo)
National identity is a funny old thing. As a young person, I think you probably start off inheriting your national identity from your parents but as you get older, particularly if you move away and make your home some place else, it becomes a more complicated. Unsurprisingly, the indy ref has brought up a lot of issues regarding national identity and one person of my acquaintance just straight out said to me 'I'm surprised that as a recent immigrant to Scotland, you are supporting independence'. Now as it happens, my support for independence is not about national identity, it's about democracy and representation. I'm a federalist at heart but as we are quickly finding out now, the UK is not in the least set up in a way to achieve federalism any time soon. But the national identity thing is still an interesting discussion. So here are my thoughts:

I don't think I've ever felt British in my life. I was always English.

For context, my mother's family are very English on both sides and probably go back to the Doomsday book in the Beds/Bucks region. On the other hand, my father is Irish Catholic on one side and German Jewish on the other. Rather than being 'British', he has always referred to himself as being a mongrel and I think would probably identify as a European more than anything else (he infamously had a blazing row with the modern language teachers at my high school about how they should teach Spanish rather than German because Germans spoke English anyway and communicating in Europe was the future). Scotland was never on my radar until I lived here (my parents used to holiday in Kirkcudbright but the last time we did so as a family was when I was still too young to remember), Wales was somewhere my father hated with a passion (he lived there for a few years as a small boy and got bullied pretty badly for being English I think) that I only ever went to on biology field trips, and Ireland was a place across the water that my name and love of potatoes came from (a day trip to Dublin was my sole experience of the place until I met the Boy).

So regardless of actually *being* British, if you'd have asked teenage me what I was, I'd have said English every time.

Then I moved to Scotland.

Now for those of you who have never lived in Scotland (or Wales, or NI) let me share this - you don't have to live up here very long at all before you quickly realise how England-centric all the national news/media/whatever is and how utterly ignorant your average English person is about life and politics up here. I know because I *was* that ignorant English person. When I announced I was moving to Aberdeen to my friends at uni, one of them thought it was in Wales, and believe me, lack of knowledge of geography is only the start of the issue.

Now in Aberdeen, I was only at home in the bubble that was the old city, the university campus populated by folks from all over the world, so my Englishness remained. Also, I was miserable and there is nothing more inward looking than a depressed PhD student (I exaggerate for effect).

But when I moved to Dundee, I made a *home* for myself. Now home is a funny old concept just like national identity. Home had always been a difficult subject for me because I had been an outsider growing up because my parents weren't local and no-one ever believed I'd been born and bred in Staffs because I didn't *sound* local. Now don't get me wrong, I wasn't an *outcast*, I made friends for life at school, but I also spent my entire school career being bullied about my voice/accent, and not just by the other pupils. Anyway, at some point in the last 10 years, Dundee has gone from being the place I live, to *home* and therefore *where I come from*, and similarly I've gone from feeling English to feeling Scottish.

But you're not Scottish, I hear you thinking. Ah well, feelings don't always fit with logic now do they? So here is the thing you are missing - unlike in England where, in my experience, immigrants identify as British if they aren't *ethnically* English, Scotland in the last decade or so has successfully made Scottishness a civic identity rather than just an ethnic one. Obviously not entirely and completely but for example, you often see Asian immigrants on Scottish TV who identify as 'Scottish Asian'. Now I don't know about you, but I have never come across any Asians or indeed anyone else with non-British ancestry who identifies as 'English' anything.

And then there is the other side to this - why don't I identify as British? And now we get to the bit that is further complicated by having an Irish Catholic (pagan) husband from Northern Ireland. It's hard to be a proud Brit when a lot of stuff you are supposed to be proud of involves an army who terrorised your husband as a child, empires and wars when you're not far off a pacifist, and sporting tribalism when you are the sort of person who enjoys watching people triumph regardless of their nationality (I love ice skating; I don't believe Torvil and Dean were cheated of gold at their last Olympics, I think they were damned lucky to get the bronze and probably didn't deserve it). Visit NI in July when you have catholic family that you love and then tell me the sight of a union flag makes you proud. Listen to the anti-immigration nonsense parroted by all the Westminster crowd when you have very dear friends who have been at risk of being deported because of the stupid new rules despite Scotland desperately needing more working age immigrants and tell me it makes you proud to be British.

And then there are the great British institutions we can all be proud of like the NHS and the Welfare State. But what are we doing to these things in modern Britain? Tearing them apart is what. The more I see of the modern Labour party and the rise of UKIP in England, the more I buy into the notion that the post war to 1970s period was the blip and actually the majority of folks in Britain basically want to live in the 19th Century. And I don't thank you very much, regardless of how much I love the fashions, architecture and Arts and Crafts, and I think the majority of Scots agree with me, whereas I'm afraid despite knowing English folks who do too, I don't have faith that they are a majority.

So there we have it, I might *be* British, it is after all what it says on my passport, but I don't feel loyalty to a nation that doesn't really exist (our country is the United Kingdoms of Great Britain and Northern Ireland) over a place that is my home. If we can be the Scotland I want us to be within the UK that suits me just fine, but if we can't then I'll be Scottish even if that means I'm not British any more.

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