alithea: (Mucha Fran&Katchoo)
[personal profile] alithea
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.

Date: 2014-09-22 07:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
hola. Mo pointed me over here (as she may have mentioned) because I was pondering about this at her just yesterday. The short version was, "would I sound like a total wanker if I described myself as Scottish?" So I read this and nodded a lot.

I get confused, because I'm not *from* anywhere. I grew up all over the place, in England, Germany, and Hong Kong, never staying in a single house for more than two years. My Dad was army, so we always moved (and his father was too so there weren't even grandparent roots). I was born in England (in a town I never lived in) but, I don't think where you're born makes your nationality (my sister, for example, is not German.) Like you, part of my family is endlessly-English, but there's a chunk of Irish and Scottish too (bizarrely, my mother claimed she was English despite being the half-Irish, half-scottish part of the family, because she was a mean old bigot who knew that "British" encompassed brown people, and she wasn't having any of that.)

Home is where I live, and, for the past 8 years that's been Edinburgh. It's the place we've chosen, certainly for the foreseeable future. It feels more like home than anywhere I've ever lived before. So when you say "Scotland in the last decade or so has successfully made Scottishness a civic identity rather than just an ethnic one" I feel I can nod, and say, "ok, yes, I'm Scottish."

And when I competed at an international competition for the first time this year, I wished I had a Saltire with me. Never even occurred to me to wish for a Union Jack, and I'd probably say no if you offered me one.)

Date: 2014-09-22 07:11 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I'm glad this chimes true to other folks with similar experience :)

I have another friend from my school days who now lives in Scotland and her comment a few days ago was similar - 'can I call myself Scottish yet even though I still have an English accent?'. She's lived up here 15 years the same as me.

Date: 2014-09-22 08:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I had thought of Scottishness as a more inclusive identity, but hadn't noticed the Scottish-Asian vs English-Asian example - I think you're right, and it's rather telling.

Date: 2014-09-22 09:13 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I hadn't really noticed it until the indy campaign I don't think, but then I hadn't really thought about this stuff that much before then really, other than to notice I now use 'we' to mean Scotland as opposed to England and feel the need to point out that this is my home and I've lived here for 15 years whenever people refer to me as English.

Date: 2014-09-22 09:21 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I also wonder how it plays into the issues with radicalization in the muslim community. The impression I get is that it is less of an issue up here because the community feels more a part of Scottish society but I have no idea if anyone has done any work to back that up.

Date: 2014-09-22 09:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Of course the other issue here is that I don't know how much of a bubble Dundee is in its very mixed but also very friendly atmosphere. I lived just down the road from a mosque in Aberdeen but I think a lot of the attendees were connected with the university.

Date: 2014-09-23 07:28 am (UTC)
ext_189645: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I suspect it's numbers. 5% of the English population are Muslim: whereas only 1.45% of the Scottish population are, and of course the English population is much bigger.

In a sample of 2.5 million people, it's more likely that a tiny number of them will decide to do something idiotic than in a sample of 77,000. When I lived in Leicester, I could see how some people could choose live there without really having much contact with non-Muslims at all, although on the whole the various different communities were friendly and there were lots of efforts going on to make sure everyone could understand each others language and habits.

Date: 2014-09-23 09:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
You may well be right. I tried to be clear that I didn't want to assume my experience was representative of wider society because I'm very aware that in Scotland I live in what is I think, the most ethnically diverse city by percentages, whereas everywhere I've lived in England (rural Staffs and Lancaster) is very white English.

Date: 2014-09-23 07:14 am (UTC)
ext_189645: (Default)
From: [identity profile]
I'm not sure it's telling in a racist way though. I think its not so much that people who are of English ancestry tend to identify as English, it's that English-British is not a very strong identity, so people who have any other identity to choose from tend to pick that.

For example, in most cultures I can think of, there's a tradition of pride in the flag, the traditional dancing, the traditional music, the history and achievements of the place and so on. But if you are English, being proud of your flag is complicated because it's been appropriated by the National Front, Morris dancing and traditional singing are considered at best deeply uncool, and if you are proud of the history you can lay yourself open to accusations of being a rampant imperialist. Much easier to identify as Scottish, Welsh, Cornish, a Yorkshireman, a Lancashire lass and so on: those identities are both more unique, and less difficult.

Date: 2014-09-23 08:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes, I know. I'm English myself.

I wouldn't necessarily say it's telling in "a racist way", I do however think that there is a definite ethnic element to English identity that's missing from your summary above. And while I agree with you about the complications of English identity, I think, as [ profile] alitheapipkin's pointed out in her post, that it's important to note that the making of Scottishness as a civic identity isn't something that just is, or has acidentally happened. It's the result of a concerted (though subtle and not always cohesive or successful) effort from institutions and people within Scotland. The same move to inclusiveness hasn't happened in England with English identity, at least it didn't for the time I lived there up until 2010.

Date: 2014-09-23 09:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yeah, slemslempike said more or less exactly what I was going to. I was just trying to show how I think the 'nationalism' behind a Scottish identity is subtly different to the 'nationalism' behind Englishness, because I saw a lot of people south of the border feeling all the saltire waving during the indy ref campaign was anti-English and focused on ethnic Scottishness, whereas actually there were a lot of non-ethnically Scottish folks doing it too, which I don't think came across on the national media coverage, which was very keen to play up divisions and belittle the yes movement as a bunch of Nationalists with a capital N rather than the it's our country and we love it inclusive brand of people who don't consider themselves nationalists in the same way.

Date: 2014-09-23 10:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
True, but move on one generation and immigrants to England are just plain English, no modifier for where their ancestors came from. See: my father's family. I was out with a Nigerian friend at the weekend, and because she's lived abroad a lot - her father's a diplomat - people in Nigeria tell her she's not Nigerian. Well, she's up for citizenship here soon, and then as far as i'm concerned she's going to be English.

I'm English. It's an accident of birth. But whenever I think about it, and how many different people have come here to make better lives over 2000 or more years, I'm quite happy to be part of a diverse and energetic people. I'm really hoping that looking at how the Scots want to change and improve their society makes the English look at the same things, it's something we can learn from.

Date: 2014-09-23 11:38 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ah, see that is what I've never come across. The person who said to me about being a recent immigrant to Scotland was born and bred in London but all his family are Greek Cypriots and he identifies as strongly British not English at all. I'm glad to be corrected on that front, maybe it is just that my sample size of immigrants to England is tiny because of where I've lived.

Yes, I would love for more people to have that attitude across the UK. Ethnicity is after all a pretty silly thing to get so concerned about, what matter is the community and society we live in. We are all immigrants if you go back far enough but it's the future that matters.

Date: 2014-09-23 11:43 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It could also be that a lot of English people don't realise they are English until they've lived in other parts of the UK. The differences are subtle, and it can take encountering them to make you realise they're there. I didn't feel English until I went to university in Wales.

Date: 2014-09-23 11:47 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Ahh, that is an interesting point I hadn't considered.

Date: 2014-09-23 11:53 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
The blindness of privilege. When the media are portraying your culture as the default and the default government is in your country, it's hard to realise things are a bit different elsewhere.

On top of that, nationalism is a bit of a dirty concept in England, so people would rather think of themselves as British than embrace an identity that might make others think of them as a bit UKIP at best... I think perhaps we need to learn from Scotland and Wales and celebrate our good things and enjoy sharing them.

Date: 2014-09-23 12:31 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
That is precisely it - moving to Scotland was a big awakening for me, I had no clue whatsoever how ignorant I was about Scottish society until I got here.

Date: 2014-09-23 01:47 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I don't know if I'm unusual or not, but I do feel quite a strong sense of English identity. I am definitely from England (and specifically from Stafford). That is where my current home is, it's where I grew up, it's where many previous generations of my family have lived. I'm sure that if you go far enough back there must be ancestors from other places, but none that I know of. I don't have any obvious links to any other country or any part of the UK. I've never felt a strong affinity to 'British' as a description for myself, though of course it's technically accurate.

Englishness has been my lived experience too. Wherever I've lived in England (and I have lived in quite a lot of places), I've felt more or less at home. When I was in the US, by contrast, I was homesick all the time. And when I was in Scotland I didn't feel quite so foreign as in Philly, but I definitely did feel like a foreigner or at least an outsider. I wasn't there for long (six months) and there were all kinds of other things going on in my life that made it hard for me to settle. But there were things that just made the place different: language (signs in Gaelic, university documentation in Gaelic, some people speaking in Gaelic); culture (widespread Sabbath observance, for instance - all the shops except Tesco were closed on Sundays); church (this was huge for me - church in Scotland was much more like church in the US than church in England).

I don't know what it's like to move to a new country and settle there for a long period of time and I can certainly see how you can come to feel that a new place is home. I do think your point about civic identity is also really interesting and important - possibly the most important kind of identity with respect to political discussions. It would mean we could get rid of the ridiculous questions about cricket on the citizenship tests for a start. But for me, I think it would actually take quite a lot to stop identifying as English.

Date: 2014-09-23 02:01 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I wonder how much your first paragraph highlights the difference between us. I mean we grew up in the same county but I have no family from Staffs at all, my parents moved there for work and had no prior connection to the place, so while it was home growing up, I was always made to feel like I didn't belong there.

Of course, our experience of moving to Scotland is very different too. I've only ever lived on the East coast where no-one really speaks Gaelic and the shops are open longer on Sundays than in England. And even saying that, Aberdeen would never have been home, maybe Dundee is just special :)
Edited Date: 2014-09-23 02:03 pm (UTC)

Date: 2014-09-23 02:48 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Right. It's hard to know how much of it is the family ties, how much is to do with general cultural/political differences, and how much is the lived experience.

Date: 2014-09-23 02:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Reading it through, that's somewhat unclear. I do know of ancestors (one grandparent and more in previous generations) who were not from Staffordshire. But none who were not from England.

Date: 2014-09-23 03:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I kind of assumed that would be the case anyway. To be fair, there could be non-English people in my mum's family tree further back, I only *know* that her grandparents were all English. But that is quite enough to be a stark contrast to my father's family where his parents were mostly the first generation to be born in Britain (I'm not entirely sure when the Jewish lot came over to be honest, my Dad's family history is somewhat murky given his mother was basically disowned for marrying a non-Jew. He is now trying to trace his Irish family but I have no idea if he plans to trace the other side).

Date: 2014-09-23 03:16 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Yes. This. So much this.

I'm a German citizen who grew up in Ireland and, until #indyref started poking thoughts on belonging and national identity loose in my head, mostly referred to myself as European. If pressed on the matter, I'd usually say I was German on paper but felt Irish. But I've lived in Scotland on and off for 20 years now. And Glasgow is home, more than any corner of Germany or Ireland ever was. And I think that's because in Glasgow, I'm allowed to feel at home.

In Germany, my entire family has been scattered around so much that I "belong" nowhere. In Ireland, even my closest friends refer to me as a blow-in. In Scotland, my "belonging" has never been questioned, I have never been made to feel as if I'm not entitled to an opinion or a space in our society.

There was a point during the general independence debate when I realised I would be eligible for a Scottish passport in the event of a Yes vote. And I got really excited, because being a Scottish citizen would feel much truer to myself than anything else. And when we lost, I actually mourned my little be-unicorned passport a little bit. I voted yes for social justice and the hope of building a better future. But I would have been happy to hand in my German passport for a Scottish one.

Date: 2014-09-23 03:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
It is a belonging thing, isn't it? That's exactly it. I might have been born and bred English but I never felt like I belonged where I grew up - I was an alien to the people I grew up with and equally alien to my relatives down south.

Date: 2014-09-23 08:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I think so. Perhaps also a certain amount of being actively welcomed into the community, which I'd never encountered before.

Date: 2014-09-23 03:32 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
I feel Scottish. Perhaps a product of Scotland’s civic not ethnic nationalism.

I was born in Birmingham, to English parents, one Cotswoldian, one Manchuanian. I’ve lived, on and off in Scotland since I was three. I hold Australian citizenship.

But I feel Scottish. I live here but even if I moved away I would feel Scottish.

Scottish is as Scottish does. Perhaps.

It's a complex question, nationality, when one is living in a multi-national state itself embedded in a multi-national or pan-national superstate.

Date: 2014-09-23 03:42 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile]
Complex indeed.

That was one of the deciding factors for me, the 'would I still feel Scottish if I didn't live here any more' question. Because one, I can't imagine not living here any more, and two, Scotland is a part of me now, if I moved back down south, I'd be glued to the Scottish media to follow what was going on up here just like all the Scottish exiles I know working in England.

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