Scottish not British?

I can’t say that Nicola Sturgeon is wrong in her remarks regarding the complexity of personal identity. I can’t even deny that even I am British in the rather trivial sense that I live in a nation located on the Northern part of the largest of the British Isles. By a similar argument, Canadians are American and Norwegians are Scandinavian and Germans are European. What I find surprising and not a little disappointing is that the First Minister should volunteer such a comment in the course of a conversation before a live audience.

So, this might surprise people, but do you know I consider myself British as well as Scottish.

If Nicola Sturgeon is as aware of the complexity of personal identity as she implies, and if she is the skilled communicator many ─ including myself ─ have long supposed her to be, it is baffling that she should so lightly toss out what she must surely realise is a statement likely to cause controversy, even if not strictly a controversial statement. If she is cognisant of the complexity then we have to suppose her to be aware that the term ‘British’ carries a mass of implications and connotations, all of which are called into play when she describes herself as “British as well as Scottish”. She may intend this in the narrow and trivial geographical sense to which I have referred. But she must know that it will be heard by others in any of the other senses in which it can be used. So why say it?

Reports indicate that Nicola Sturgeon was under no pressure when she made the comment. This was not forced from her in the course of a grilling by a skilled and relentless interrogator. It was dropped into the conversation almost as if it was an impromptu remark. Something said on the spur of the moment and without due consideration. But this would not be the conduct of an accomplished communicator. Or the behaviour of an adroit politician. Sturgeon is supposed to be both. Which leads us inexorably to the conclusion that she spoke as she did quite purposefully. But for what purpose?

Is Nicola Sturgeon literally asking for trouble? Is she actually intent on drawing fire from certain sections of the independence movement? She may have made a point of explaining her ‘confession’ as no more than a concession to geographical classification, just as she made a point of explaining that her proposed October 2023 referendum is strictly “consultative and non-self-executing”. But in large part, the art of communication consists of knowing what the audience will hear and what it will not attend to. The skilled communicator knows more than the dictionary definition of words. They know what those words convey to a particular audience in a given context.

Nicola Sturgeon must be aware of how her comment about being British as well as Scottish in a geographical sense will sound to those of us who, with varying degrees of vehemence, insist that we are Scottish not British in the political sense. She must know that her remark will be regarded as provocative. And it is surely no coincidence that the part of the independence movement which is likely to be most irked by her words overlaps to a significant degree with those activists she deprecates. The part of the Yes movement that is outside her control. The part which she wants having no role at all in the coming campaign because she cannot dictate what that role must be.

Power is relative. Lessening the power of a countervailing force is effectively the same as increasing the power of a prevailing force. In relation to Scotland’s independence movement, Sturgeon and her party regard themselves, with full justification, as the prevailing force. That’s fine. There will always be a prevailing force. From the perspective of Scotland’s cause, it is obviously ideal that the prevailing political force in Scotland should be pro-independence. The problem arises when that prevailing force comes to perceive other activists for the same cause as a countervailing force which must be disempowered. To put all of this in the starkest terms, Nicola Sturgeon has come to regard the part of the Yes movement not under her sway as an enemy. An enemy she and her followers have identified as/with Alba Party. An enemy which, for Sturgeon personally, has the face of Alex Salmond

It would be a mistake to see too much wanton malice in this antipathy. It’s just politics. Nicola Sturgeon is only playing the political game according to its ancient and unchanging basic rules. It would be foolish to castigate her for this. It is, after all, why she was elevated to her present position ─ because she plays the game so well. The SNP did not drag us along on its quest for political power. We, the people of Scotland, pushed the SNP to the vanguard of our quest for independence.

It may not be entirely personal or particularly malicious, but Sturgeon’s attitude to what we may think of as the non-SNP part of the Yes movement is unhealthy. It is politically unwise. If the point of her ‘British and Scottish’ remark was to provoke an extremely adverse reaction from some in the non-SNP part of the Yes movement in the hope and expectation that this would delegitimise the dissenting voices, then it is a mistake. It is a mistake in terms of Scotland’s cause even if not in terms of ‘pure’ politics. The dogmatic dichotomy of ‘with us or against us’ may be a viable gambit in a game where the objective is political power. But in a fight for a specific political or social aim it makes no sense whatever to alienate natural allies. Of course, effective political power ─ the power to effect change ─ is essential if that aim is to be achieved. But it is folly of the worst kind to jeopardise the cause for a form or measure of political power which is not relevant to the purpose of furthering the cause.

If we recognise the folly of what Nicola Sturgeon appears to be doing, how much more foolish would we be if we were to make the same mistake? I may be wrong in thinking the ‘British and Scottish’ remark was intended to rile the non-SNP part of the Yes movement and provoke intemperate reactions from some. But it is difficult to see what other reason Sturgeon might have had for shoe-horning the remark into the conversation in the way that she did. But I am most assuredly not wrong about the need for unity of purpose across the Yes movement. If Sturgeon is doing what I suspect her of doing then we should not rise to the bait.

I long since gave up hope that the SNP and non-SNP sections of the Yes movement might work together. That simply is not going to happen and we should not waste time and effort and resources trying to make it happen. I am, however, firmly persuaded that the two ‘sides’ of the Yes movement can work in parallel. We may not be able to work together, but we can surely develop a working relationship. Which is why The People Say Yes must adopt a strict policy of not attacking the SNP. Call it a unilateral declaration of peace.

I disavow Britishness as part of my personal identity because the political connotations are anathema to me. So much so that I would go to some effort to avoid acknowledging any geographical Britishness lest it be misinterpreted as embracing political Britishness. It would surely have been better had Nicola Sturgeon been similarly minded. Not for the first time, I find her attitude disappointing and her actions ill-considered. But she is not the enemy. She is not an enemy to Scotland’s cause. She’s just rather less of a leader than I had hoped she would be. So, leadership must be found elsewhere. Leadership which supplements and augments that provided by our First Minister in the realm of the constitutional issue. We cannot replace Nicola Sturgeon. It is silly to even talk of doing so. What we might do, however, is reinforce the leadership of Scotland’s independence movement.

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13 thoughts on “Scottish not British?

  1. Well, can Sturgeon divide the indy movement any further, I didn’t think she could but this will, the Sturgeonistas will find a position with this that makes them comfortable as all sycophants do.

    I wonder what Sturgeon will identify next with.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I wonder what Sturgeon will identify next with.

      Probably the same 99.99% of Yes voters who want Independence, and hopefully enough of the 50% of the electorate who aren’t sure or who can be persuaded.

      Including the English, Welsh, Irish, Dutch, Africans, Ukranians, Canadians, Americans, Poles etc. who work here and have made their home here, that the handful of blood and soil “nationalists” hide their hatred of with a very thin veneer of deceit and pseudo-intellectuality.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. She may be playing to the “soft no ” folk that her spads aim to convert . At the same time , she must know that any mention of bwitishness will set hackles on end in the broader yes camps . You’re right to caution against over reacting .

    Liked by 3 people

    1. will set hackles on end in the broader yes camps

      In the narrow margins Brian, not the broader yes. The same few people who post in the few blogs amount to very few of the whole movement, maybe 100 or less.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Peter: if she was speaking on a personal level, we could all forgive her, but she isn’t. She never does. She always speaks for the SNP; she never qualifies; she never limits. She is no friend to independence because almost every move she has ever made – and, boy is she ambitious! – has been to cripple it.

    I have never found her cowardly or stupidly blabber-mouthed, and I can remember her from years back. I came to the conclusion when I finally decided to leave the SNP that she does and says everything from a personal perspective which is also from a party and movement perspective because she really believes she is the SNP, she is the movement, and therefore, what she does and says goes.

    It is a refined and less pompous example of ‘Divine Rule’; as is viewing those who disagree with her as dangerous dissidents – a la Westminster. That it could well have stemmed from a fundamental lack of self-confidence, I’d allow, but it has morphed into something else entirely. I believe she is laying out her wares like a stall-holder because she is going before the next Scottish election, perhaps even before the next GE, and her ambitions are soaring.

    She doesn’t want to alienate anyone for fear she will be toxic when she has to look for another job. I believe, and it is just my opinion, of course, that she allows cross-references with other party personnel to contaminate her ‘independence’: some, in her own party, have relationships with some in other parties or in high office, such as the civil service. This has poisoned the SNP and allowed it to become the ‘thing’ of elements that do not want independence: the ‘trans’ lobby is just one.

    Unless we begin to understand what is going on within the SNP, with those who basically ‘own’ the parliamentary groupings, we are in for a terrible let-down. If it is possible to change your mind about independence, if you were once against it, then it can work the other way around, specially when you have all kinds of inducements and temptations to lure you away from it. It happened with Labour, to an extent with the Lib Dems, and even the Greens, and even the Tories are not immune to turning their coats when it suits.

    I keep saying it, and I know we are not Ireland, but this happened in Ireland; it has happened everywhere that so-called independistas have been put in power. Human greed and weakness triumphs in weak, greedy, ambitious people, and, boy, is the SNP now weak, self-serving and greedy for power and personal enrichment. It is a tragedy in the real sense of that word: brought on by its own hubris.

    Liked by 8 people

  4. Superb comment, as usual, Lorna. I’d add that she is walking some kind of tightrope and trying to balance competing forces. Three possibilities, in no particular order and no particular merit:

    The UK will be remade, either through DevoMax or a new federation as a result of the economic turmoil of the next few years and she still wants a seat at the table.
    Being overtly nationalist in neo-liberal globalist circles is probably frowned upon and she wants to portray herself as pushing for change to make the lives of Scots better without actually tipping the apple cart over and triggering the breakup of the UK.
    She’s trying to head off the Sínn Fein-istation of the independence movement that might result in calls for the withdrawal of MPs from Westminster – particularly when the more extreme England as Britain policies start to get rolled out by Truss.

    As you rightly point out it’s vital to understand what upper layers of the SNP are or have become. After so long in power it’s likely that there’s little real cohesion left, which would make it a trivial target for disruption.

    Liked by 6 people

  5. An enemy which, for Sturgeon personally, has the face of Alex Salmond

    This is all absolute garbage, those who harp on and on about identity represent less than 1% of the Independence movement, and a tiny minority of the electorate at large – most of us are inclusive not blood and soil.

    As for anti-Alba and Salmond, even more uncognisant and forgetful garbage. Salmond is the leader of Alba, and in early 2014 being interviewed by James Naughtie, he said he was also British, so no difference there to Sturgeon then.

    Salmond: “I have Scottish identity, British identity, I’ve multi-layers of identity.”

    He argued, based on DNA studies of the population, Scotland was “proudly a mongrel nation”, suggesting Scots were welcoming towards immigrants and enthusiastic about the European Union as a result.

    We’re all mongrels. And Sturgeon, as a percipient Unionist activist said, is on a charm offensive – along with Blackford.

    The problem with standing on a soap box is that when it rains you get bubbled.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. As you imply, Peter, being an expert communicator she is playing to a particular audience at the Edin festival, which is usually mostly English, and the few that are Scots tend to be of the ‘I’m BRITISH and Scottish’ type; i.e. the audience are mainly holding to a British identity, so she opts to join the club. “Look, I’m British, just like you all.”

    However, here we should never ignore the fact that any independence movement depends on the solidarity of the oppressed ethnic group, and in Scotland’s case this is the Scots speaking community. An Scots speakers maistly dinnae see oorsels as British, iver.

    This means that the independence movement does not and cannot depend on those ‘Scots’ who consider themselves holding to a British identity, primarily because that ‘identity’ represents a contrary stance, ideologically, socially and politically.

    Moreover, peoples in self-determination conflict are always linguistically divided, and the Scots are nae different. An maist Scots speakers dinnae hiv ony dout aboot thair naitional identity.

    Liked by 3 people

  7. I don’t think I can read anything into Sturgeon’s Britishness other than she is in gizza job mode.


  8. I’m not in the SNP and have no desire to be. However, I have no issue with working with SNP members in my engagements with various Yes Groups. I personally think that this happens all across Scotland as most people are pragmatic enough to make it so. When I stand on the Yes Southside street stall, the SNP members on the same stall know exactly what I stand for and yet they are welcoming towards me. That’s pragmatism and it’s happening in an area that Nicola represents, so I don’t buy into the idea that “We may not be able to work together”. It’s easy. It just takes an acceptance that Scotland is diverse and that we won’t always agree with each other, but when it matters we all have the same aim.


    1. Sounds lovely. Sounds like ten years ago. I don’t doubt that activists from different factions will do streetwork together. But that doesn’t prove anything. Because the only ones who turn up to the street stalls are the ones that are prepared to work together. And for every one who turns up there is another in their own faction condemning them for working with the ‘enemy’. Away from the street stalls, the factionalism is rife.

      Looking at the state of the Yes movement now it is not possible to imagine it being able to mount the kind of campaign that will be called for if and when we get a real independence referendum. The diffuse, disorganised, disjointed, happy-clappy, relentlessly positive campaign of ten years ago simply will not be effective in the changed political environment. It was effective last time only up to a point and only due to the sheer weight of numbers and the effort put in. Nicola Sturgeon is hoping for that again. It won’t happen. It won’t work.

      But you’re not even allowed to say that out loud in the vicinity of the SNP/Sturgeon loyalists for fear of being burned as a heretic. I know from personal experience that no discussion of Sturgeon’s strategy is permitted within that party, beyond praising it. Certainly, there has never been any debate about alternatives. Mention reframing and you’ll get a mixture of blank stares and assurances that reframing is what is being done. Both responses indicate a total failure to understand what reframing is and what it involves.

      There will be some working together next time. But don’t it to be anything like the first time.


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