I'm not surprised Pete Wishart's article on how Britishness may well survive and flourish after Scottish independence has provoked such an instant reaction. After all, it strikes at the very heart of one of the articles of faith of unionism, namely that while a dual Scottish/British identity is possible within the context of union, somehow the prospect of independence forces people to choose. Hmmm. We only have to look as far as Scandinavia to recognise that argument for the nonsense it is.
David Torrance's response to Wishart is, as you'd expect, exceptionally well-written, but in places it seems to be a classic example of someone saying things that don't really make a lot of sense in an extremely elegant way. For instance -
"Yet on another, the politics of national identity, Wishart appears almost as confused as he claims Britishness is. Surprisingly, he concedes the geographical dimension almost straight away (why? It’s integral to so much of the argument, not least in terms of oil)"
Why concede the geographical dimension, ie. that someone from Scotland is by definition British? Because it's true. Scotland is geographically part of Britain in an unambiguous way that Northern Ireland unionists would love to claim for themselves, but can't. If Torrance thinks this statement of the bleedin' obvious has any bearing at all on whether a state called the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland (ie. not "Britain") would have a claim on Scottish natural resources, he's the one that's confused. It certainly appears that it'll be a jolt for some to discover that being British does not mean the same thing as being part of a state that has London as its capital city.
"Now I wouldn’t quibble with this assertion, far from it, but Wishart singularly fails to – although it is implied – articulate a definition of “Scottishness”, which presumably he believes exists. “Cultural Britishness is then a rather curious construct that can be almost anything, and usually is,” he writes..."
When people talk about what they identify with being Scottish, in my experience it's usually things like "the scenery" or "the sense of humour". Torrance might well scoff at such sentimental notions, but they're a hell of a lot more concrete and instantly understandable than the attempts to define Britishness that Wishart rightly dismissed as ludicrously contrived, such as Michael Portillo's offering that it's all about "anti-fanaticism".
"Wishart then offers a generous – and actually quite convincing – definition of Britishness (“great historic cultural achievements…pride in our victories in the wars we fought together”), but then spoils it by labelling this “the social union” which, of course, is a relatively recent Nationalist construct. “Our gripe”, explains Wishart, is with the “current political arrangements within the United Kingdom”. Doesn’t it occur to him that those “political arrangements” were central to the cultural achievements and wars he rightly lauds?"
But these are simply immutable facts of the history that has shaped us as Scots. They don't tell us anything about the suitability of those political arrangements for the present or the future. For good or ill, the modern face of India has been partly shaped by the British colonial legacy, but that doesn't mean independence isn't right for India now, or for that matter that it wouldn't have been right for India long before it actually happened. Indeed, one of the aspects of Britishness that Wishart identifies - and Torrance ignores - is our collective shame over the crimes of slavery and colonialism. And as for wars, Torrance might want to reflect on the fact that many independent Commonwealth countries found no difficulty in fighting alongside Britain in the Second World War - something that is conveniently edited out of the British national myth when we talk of a "small island nation standing alone in 1940".
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A few hours ago, Allan of Dispatches from Paisley left a comment here suggesting that an independent Scotland in "the EU/Euro" would look like "lunacy" in present circumstances. Well, the euro is one thing, but the EU? Looking at my trusty map of western Europe, it appears there are very, very few "non-lunatic" countries left these days - and the UK isn't one of them.