Following Ed Miliband’s speech on national identity on Thursday, we were given a good look at the SNP’s communications strategy for their Independence campaign.
Responding to Miliband’s speech in a BBC interview, Humza Yousaf MSP likened ‘Britishness’ to ‘Scandanavian’ and asserted that an independent Scotland would still be British, by virtue of pure geography.
Later in the day, Alex Neil MSP made the same point on BBC Question Time. This is obviously disingenuous.
Ideas of Britishness and Scottishness and Englishness are all nebulous concepts, but that is precisely because we take them to mean more than a geographical descriptor. If it means anything, Britishness is a class of citizenship that the residents of an Independent Scotland would not automatically be granted.
My instinct is that few of the referendum voters will be taken in by this semantic smokescreen, but nevertheless such weak thinking needs to be highlighted by those of us who support a continued Union.
The SNP ruse that ‘Britishness’ is analogous to ‘Scandanavian’ implies that the campaign for Independence is motivated by primarily economic and practical concerns, with no cultural element whatsoever. But this does not capture the reasons that drive people to support Independence.
Whenever I have asked people in Scotland why they support Independence, they always, always cited cultural reasons. This was usually articulated in terms of TV sports and news reports – Scottish sportsmen and artists claimed as British, or worse, misidentified as English.
These examples were cited as symptomatic of a wider dismay at the cultural marginalisation at the hands of our London-based media.
This is not to say that there are no economic or straight political arguments for splitting from Westminster (an independent Scotland could have avoided Thatcherism, for example), but the cultural element is crucial. The SNP are avoiding talking about it because it is the most difficult aspect in which to distinguish the Scots from the British (and indeed, the English and Welsh).
Ed Miliband and other unionists spend their time making thoughful speeches, in which they wrestle with the problem of multiple identities.
What they should remember is that its a philosophical problem for Nationalists too! The entropy of the situation always increases – more cultural and ethnic overlap, more internal and external migration.
Distilling Scottishness from Britishness is essential to the SNP case for Independence… but their recent talking points suggest they are avoiding this issue.