The “No to independence” campaign has now kicked-off. We have been waiting to hear the big argument against independence, the alternative positive and progressive vision for Scotland’s future. So what did we get? Britishness! The bad news is that if Scotland becomes independent then the people of Scotland will no longer be British. Unfortunately for the supporters of a Union, if the statistics are to be believed, the majority of Scots do not consider Britishness to be of particular importance!

As an opening argument in the independence debate this is a pretty feeble defence of the Union. Maybe the “No” campaigners are just stalling for time until they can pull some credible ideas together. Let’s hope so! If this is the best that they can do then all the Scots who are looking for significant improvement resulting from the independence debate are going to be mightily disappointed. Britishness will do nothing to provide jobs and improve the prosperity of Scots.

Let’s just consider what Britain and Britishness is really all about. The Acts of Union of 1707 created the United Kingdom of Great Britain. There was a desire by many people to see a new British identity emerge from this Union. Despite this desire, today many people appear to have very little belief in Britain and Britishness. In discussing the success of Britishness, Crick (2009) was of the opinion, “while it succeeded at the level of political institutions … at a popular level Britishness does not seem to have caught on”. Most commentators agree with this view to one degree or another and observe that, in the main, Scottish has always been the primary identifier for most Scots, and that this feeling of being Scottish has increased over time rather than diminished. This recognition of national identity has not only affected Scots. As Gamble and Wright (2009) commented “Many British people have become much more aware of their separate identity as Scottish, English, or Welsh, and for an increasing number of them this other national identity has come to be regarded as a primary identity, and the British identity only a secondary identity, or even an identity they no longer want”.

The statistics that have been produced over the last decade are also quite damning. These statistics appear to suggest that many people in the UK, and particularly Scotland, have little belief in Britain and Britishness. The 2005 British Social Attitudes Survey, published in 2007, identified that less than half the UK population, 44 per cent, considered that “British” was the best or only way of describing their national identity. This survey also identified that of those living in Scotland only 14 per cent described themselves as feeling in any way British (Bradley, 2008). The Scottish Social Attitudes survey of 2009 identified that 67 per cent of Scottish respondents consider themselves to be “only or mainly Scottish” and that a mere 4 per cent of Scots consider themselves to be “only or mainly British”. (Reicher et al, 2010). This survey also identified that being Scottish (42 per cent) matters more than social class (30 per cent), more than gender (28 per cent), and even more than being a wife/husband/partner (41 per cent) (Ibid., p.12).

In recent years there have been many forceful arguments that Britain and Britishness are no more than political illusions. “The British state and the British national identity was always a sham, a political creation which suited the interests of those groups in all nations which favoured the Union and wished to create a new supranational focus on loyalty and allegiance”, is a general view that was identified by Gamble and Wright, (2009). Among the most critical opinions is that of Gwynfor Evans, “What is Britishness? The first thing to realise is that it is another word for Englishness: it is a political word which arose from the existence of the British state and which extends Englishness over the lives of the Welsh, the Scots, and the Irish” (Bradley, 2008).

The counter argument to these claims has, most recently, been led by Gordon Brown who identified what he believed to be the main characteristics of Britishness. However, a number of observers have argued that some of the characteristics identified by Gordon Brown are historical and have little relevance today, and that most, if not all, of these characteristics could be claimed by many other nations; these characteristics do not identify something that can be claimed to be uniquely British, (Crick, 2009; Hazell, 2009; Jeffery, 2009). Other commentators have been even more scathing about the views on Britishness expressed by Gordon Brown. Hassan (2009) takes the view that “Brown’s promulgation of Britishness is about shoring up the discredited status quo and maintaining Westminster’s hold on power … it is an attempt to develop a counter-story to the calls for systematic reform, and prevent any serious redistribution of power in the UK political system”.

In attempting to characterise Britishness, Gordon Brown highlighted just how difficult it is to define what it actually is or how it can be identified. There appears to be much more substance to Scottishness, Welshness, and even Englishness. If the essence of Britishness is so difficult to define and to characterise after three hundred years of Union, it may suggest that Britishness, and a British identity, really just do not exist. What appears to emerge from the debate that has taken place is that there is no real substance or depth to Britain and Britishness. Britishness is no more than a thin political veneer that has been used to cover over the cracks that exist in a cobbled together union of disparate nations. In any future Union between England and Scotland the idea that a British identity, and Britishness, will be among the outcomes should be swept aside. Just as within the European Union the notion of a common European identity and Europeaness is, to most people, a ridiculous idea then the same conclusion should apply to Britain and Britishness. The Scots will always be Scots and the English, English. Just as Scotland can be considered to be a “stateless nation” (McCrone, 1992) then Britain should be considered to be no more than a “nationless state” (Davis, 1998).

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