Why Nationalism is Connected to the Referendum, But Not in the Way You Might Think


People voting Yes are Saltire-faced nationalists who want to shout about Scotland all the time.”

This isn’t a direct quote, but I’m sure you’ll recognise it as a fairly common line of argument in the recent debate. It aims to put down the average Yes voter into categories such as ‘irrational nationalist’ and ‘stubborn patriot’ and in doing so tries to scare off voters who might commonly be aligned with the diversity the Yes camp offers, and turn them against what might well be their natural allies. In reality, this is the exact opposite of why many plan to vote Yes.

Ignoring the convenient ignorance of the attempt at British nationalism by the No campaign, there’s a lot you can take issue with here. For starters, it brings up the embarrassing nationalism propagated only by Hollywood and football games (the only time when it’s actually okay to be a stereotype). It also dumbs down the perception of a large portion of the electorate. A large group of people, who might just be thinking it’s time for some change because the status quo isn’t so good, are being alienated and labelled as a crowd of nonsense-speaking See You Jimmy Hats.

The main problem however comes from the fact that it completely and entirely ignores the actual reasons (be they political, cultural, social, economic, ethical, philosophical, historical, chemical, biological, whatever) that this referendum and campaign have come about. It ignores that Scotland has been tied to an unfair electoral system for however many years, it ignores the ways in which Westminster continually enforces laws on areas which are in a majority against, it ignores the fact that the people who are voting Yes feel a genuine dissatisfaction with the current form the UK is taking, and it ignores the fact that there are plenty of people across the rest of the UK who feel exactly the same way. There’s an increasing dissatisfaction in this country and no matter how much the status quo try to quash and vilify and ignore it, it’s not going away unless they face up to the reality of the society and economy they’re choosing to sustain, that is, the same society and economy which is tearing us apart.

Political resentment in a country is perfectly normal thing, but when an entire nation (out of a Union of only four nations) decides by a clear majority to have a referendum on possibly leaving, surely that should be a sign for the UK Government to realise that what they’re doing might not be for the best of the country. Instead, they’re happy to dismiss a sizeable crowd of concerned voters as ‘stupid nationalists’.

One positive I have to give the No camp is Alistair Darling’s admission that the only way for them to really win next year is to win by a convincing margin, with Government sources warning “if 40% or more of the population backed calls to leave the UK, pressure could build for another referendum within just a few years”. This was an acceptance of the fact that if the vote is close, then the issue isn’t going away. The question of independence isn’t a flippant change we’re doing for fun that we’ll forget about if we vote No, it’s an issue which has roots stretching back for centuries, and is exacerbated not only by the current austerity politics of Westminster, but by the increasingly connected world which the UK is constantly trying to keep us away from. If businesses can operate without borders, why can’t the people?

Scotland’s position in the Union has led to a very interesting form of nationalism. It’s led to an attitude where Scots try desperately to justify ourselves from the perspective of the English, rather than justifying it to ourselves. We barely even speak our own language any more. Rather than being a nation which is self-assured in its qualities and abilities, we’re constantly under pressure to remind the rest of the world that we’re even a nation, never mind promoting what’s actually great about Scotland. This is what the Union has done to us, it’s turned us into nationalists.

I’m voting Yes because I don’t want to have to shout about the fact that I’m Scottish, I don’t want to go to a foreign country and have to spend ages justifying and explaining to someone why I’m not British at the risk of then sounding anti-English (I like England!). I don’t want my nationality to be something I insist on making a point of because people keep getting it wrong. I care enough about my nationality being Scottish that I’ll make sure that’s how I’m referred to, but it’d be a lot easier if I didn’t have to argue that. During the Enlightenment, and ever since, Scotland has made extraordinary contributions to global society. If independence happens, then hopefully as a nation we can move on from the confused sense of identity we force upon ourselves, and finally begin to prove to the world what being Scottish actually means, and what we have to give.

Hamish Gibson
National Collective

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About Hamish Gibson

Hamish Gibson is an arts journalist studying English and Politics at Aberdeen University. National Collective Arts Editor and Scotland On Sunday new music columnist.

There are 6 comments

  1. Connor

    I find it interesting that you decided Scottish Gaelic was “our language” rather than Scots. Don’t they have equal claim to being the language of Scotland?

    Otherwise, though: fantastic article.

    1. Hamish Gibson

      Very good point which I didn’t consider. It depends on how much you consider Scots as an independent language rather than a dialect though. Scots language is definitely something I need to read more about.

  2. Peter Herbert

    I am English.
    I live in Scotland as does most of my family.
    I shall be voting YES because I detest being ruled by both red and blue Tories.
    Let the Ukoks suck on that.

  3. Macart63

    Hamish, I think I can retire from posting now. You’ve just summed up everything I want to say in one small article.

  4. Gabrielle Bricknell

    I will vote YES … because the mere face that Westminster are fighting to keep the UK as a whole makes me wonder about what we contribute ….. AND we are not LEAVING the UK we are ending the union!! England together with N.Ireland and Wales becomes equally a new body!!

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