What Sort of Nationalism? Anti-Englishness and Ideas for Tackling It

The history of Scottish -English relations is complex and simplistic explanations really do not work that well; glib ideas can only deal with one or two aspects, in a situation full of nuance, subjective experience and widely differing viewpoints.

Certainly there has been an imbalance in power between the two nations. It is not a simple matter of Scotland the oppressed and England as a whole the oppressor however. One can argue that in many ways the treatment of Scotland was not that much worse than what was inflicted on vast swathes of England itself. Even the clearances were paralleled by the enclosures in England and the bulk of the clearances were by Scottish landowners. Scotland participated in Empire just as much as other parts of the United kingdom, with many Scots directly involved in the project.

However many in Scotland do seem to assume that all oppression was English inflicted and that narrative has deep and historic roots. It is a story that has impact, fed with sources as diverse as the Wars of Independence, Cromwell, the religious problems of the 17th Century, the suppression of Gaelic and so on.

I suspect anti-Englishness is a variation on the “Scottish cringe”, that inferiority feeling in the face of dominance of English culture and ways of doing things. I suggest this gives rise to an on-going inverted snobbery, the sort that seeks to put down anything that looks like confidence as “arrogant”. It makes sense that anti-Englishness will be experienced more by anyone who has anything like an educated or “posh” voice; and that accords with what has been reported to me by various people. It seems that nearly every English person living in Scotland that I have known has experienced expressions of it, even if it is dismissed as chaffing or banter.

Anti-Englishness gives rise to the narrative of Scots having a chip on the shoulder, and being complainers. The idea has gained a lot of traction in England, and seriously impedes the cause of Scottish Independence gaining sympathy and support south of the border.

Further, a good few Anglo-Scots, their friends and families are deterred from supporting Independence by anti-Englishness. Yes, I know a lot of them support Independence anyway, but there are others who are seriously put off the idea. I can understand why. The conflict is one over what sort of nationalism exists in Scotland.

Is it ethnic nationalism which depends on descent, culture and national myth, i.e. the stories a nation tells about it self?

Is it civic nationalism based purely on residence and accepting certain political ideas?

Ethnic nationalism has, historically, a tendency to be exclusive. It cannot be otherwise. The Independence movement tends to promote civic nationalism, but also needs to face up to the existence of ethnic nationalism in Scotland.

The issue of anti-Englishness is one that is special case, it is not the same as even anti-Irish feelings, or any other form of discrimination in a Scottish context. For several hundred years Scotland has had problematic relations with with her Southern Neighbour, and has in recent times had to define herself as being British, but not English. So it is a special concern.

My suggestions in dealing with anti-Englishness, in the context of the Independence campaign especially, would be:-

1-Accept that it exists. Even if you call it banter, it is still about. Some may never experience it, some will get it in a mild form. Sometimes it is jokey, sometimes it can be vicious. People’s experiences of it vary by location, social would be class. It needs taking seriously. Failure to accept the reality means promoting a false prospectus and undermines credibility.

2- Stop blaming the victim. It is an old game, and does no one any good. The perpetrators of “jokes” based on sexism or racism do not get to decide of it is funny, the butt of the joke does.

3- Take steps to look ahead and not nurse old grievances. Stop trying to excuse prejudice. It is not good arguing that there are worse cases of discrimination, or that the English do similar things, the fact is that Scotland and her people can only solve the things they can control themselves. However they can take steps to stop feeding the whinging Jock story by treating their neighbours with respect, both personally and nationally.

4- If this means doing better than the English so be it, that would be good in itself.

5- Accept that the real enemy is a small number of elite people who have oppressed others for centuries. They can be found in the aristocracy, government and big businesses. These are not the ordinary people living in Scotland.

6- Take steps to avoid any discrimination, bullying or other action aimed against those who are English or of English descent. Where it exists condemn it unequivocally and firmly. Stop making excuses or turning a blind eye. Every time it happens it makes the situation worse.

7-The condemnation needs to be especially demonstrated by anyone fighting for independence.

In this it is important that any on positions of leadership take that line, clearly, and publicly. It is important, for instance that the SNP are demonstrably taking that line. So far there have been statements about everyone welcome, but that is also seen as “everyone but the English”.

It is important that English who are settled in Scotland are reassured they have a place in Scotland and that they can be assured they will continue to be welcome in an independent Scotland as well.


One thought on “What Sort of Nationalism? Anti-Englishness and Ideas for Tackling It

  1. I’m a bit torn on this one… it drives me nuts that there is a reticence for ordinary working folk ( Scots or English) to start or get involved in something they would benefit from but- throughout my whole life, the perception was the big institutions knew better.
    That could be the school, the Kirk, the BBC the list goes on and perhaps it’s only now that a certain generation are saying hold on here “Just because Bob is the head honcho of the golf club, doesn’t mean he knows heehaw about what’s best for our community” etc . Maybe a view spoken openly in the kitchen but not expressed outside and perhaps for many of us, that’s why the Referendum was such a positive experience.
    Have you never noticed the old ‘ what school did you go to either?’ That kind of conversation also closes down many conversations so you can work alongside someone and not realise they hold certain views whether that be on religion or culture.
    As far as the racism goes, there is a fine line between questioning say, why it was necessary to bring in the big guns to cover the Commonwealth games? Was that to appeal to an English audience or was it because the commentators based here were considered inferior that said, there is no excuse for treating/blaming someone differently because of their accent. As you say, it’s decisions made by the elite.
    I once ( through work) was told repeatedly by a lady she couldn’t understand what I was saying. I must admit I was slightly bemused as she yelled this in a broad Yorkshire accent in Glasgow city centre but then I also had to smile when in Chichester my better half ( born and bred in England ) was asked ‘ Jock what’s the time?’
    Possibly ( and I’m not making excuses) it is the constant comparison to England. You know yourself news about the NHS or education or take your pick is broadcast nightly on the ‘ big news’ so perhaps the perception is one of everything being second rate and then the Scottish media insist on putting a Mc on any story which makes it parochial at best so even a small suggestion is taken as an offence?
    You know, it’s been kind of eye opening really almost as if the overbearing, we know best, we’ll take it from here, why would you want to do that, do as yer telt brigade have been sidelined and the quiet ( ish) compliant ones are finding their feet.
    Och we know they still run the show but maybe they’ve suddenly realised what theyve been churning out isn’t good enough anymore? While they were organising the festival, gala, awards ceremonies, we’ve been away travelling, listening and learning and if it’s good enough for they ‘furriners” it’s good enough for us.
    Personally as Cunningham Graham said and I paraphrase, it’s not the English for they were ever a great and generous folk , quick to respond when justice calls, our real enemies are amongst us , born without imagination ( unfortunately still holds true) but we’re working on it .


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