Rise Of Scottsih Nationalism In The Last

Thirty Years Essay, Research Paper

How would you account for the rise of nationalism in Scotland in the last thirty years?

Political parties and the media increasingly invoke nationalism as a vehicle to increase support or deter voters from the attraction of another party, policy or culture. Since the 1950’s Scotland has diverged from England in its patterns of political behaviour and new nationalism has developed; replacing the old romantic nationalism. What initially began as a defensive reaction to constitutional arrangements within the Union contributed positively to the renegotiating of Scotland’s rights. This assertion of autonomy in Scotland was not necessarily due to a rise in fundamental nationalism; rather the rise of modern nationalism in a form of autonomism reflected dissatisfaction with the Union. The Scottish people’s preference for a welfare state was a key factor in the voting behaviour of the Scottish electorate, yet dismissed by the Thatcher regime. A convergence of left of centre political currents in Scotland preceded the 1997 referendum. Furthermore, the strengthening of national identity through political discourse and the media encouraged nationalist sentiment. Whilst internally local government identified with the campaign for a Scottish parliament, external factors such as the emergence of the European Union and the process of globalisation influenced the course of change and perceptions of a possible independent Scotland in Europe. The last thirty years witnessed a large synthesis of reactionary forces from political and civil society, combined with the positive belief that a Scottish Parliament would be more accountable and effective, more responsive to women, serving as a model for democracy.

The very idea of a rise of nationalism in Scotland assumes a common understanding of the concept of nationalism. However, differences can be made between the emotional romantic nationalist tradition whose origins trace back to the nineteenth century and a modern conception based on the notion of contractual rights sought by advocates of home rule. This modern nationalism is not necessarily in favour of full independence for Scotland but aspires to negotiate autonomy for Scotland with Westminster. Simply to state there is a rise in Scottish nationalism neglects the coexistence of dual and multiple identities that prevail in Scotland. Gellner contends that nationalism can also be seen as primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and national unit should be congruent. He argues that behind a national movement is a national sentiment aroused by a feeling of anger from a violation of this principle. (Gellner, 1983, p.1) In their analysis of nationalism and constitutional questions, Kellas and Heath (1998) conclude that Scotland has a distinctively higher proportion of people with exclusive identities, compared with England and Wales and Ireland . These exclusive national identities are associated with subordinate positions in the social structure and with somewhat greater alienation from the workings of British democracy. Experiences in Catalonia suggest that the devolution of 1979 was successful in maintaining dual Spanish/Catalonian identities, modern nationalism is not necessarily a threatening force in Scotland but more of a reaction to the violation of principles of enduring importance to the Scottish people. Therefore, in the context of this essay, nationalism in Scotland is understood as the increasing assertion of Scotland’s rights within the Union together with the increasing support for Home Rule or independence witnessed in the last thirty years. To account for the rise of this, this essay will consider what brought the people in Scotland to demand a parliament with tax raising powers.

Dissatisfaction within the Union was certainly a catalyst for change. There are three key areas of discontent that inspired a rise in nationalist sentiment, expressed in the popular support for Home Rule. Firstly, Scotland’s constitutional position in the Union changed. Powers were becoming increasingly centralised in Westminster and threatening the contract between Scotland and England. A rise in nationalist sentiment can be partly explained by the ‘confusion of Scotland’s metaphorical social contract’ within the historical context of the Union. (Hearn 1998) The absence of an explicit social contract does not alter the fact that political action frequently proceeds as though an implicit trust has been broken. Such violation of the metaphorical social contract in Scotland is expressed in terms of autonomist politics.

Secondly, Scottish people were discontent with the gradual decline of the welfare state. The credibility of the British State started to decay in the 1960’s, as it became less able to deliver material welfare and it was then that support for a Scottish Parliament began to rise. (Brown et al, 1998) In the late 80’s Thatcher reforms moved from the economy to social policy, extending to those areas of policy that traditionally the Scottish Office administered, especially health and education. When the very existence of the welfare state was questioned under Thatcher, it inspired a strong Scottish reaction that can be interpreted as a component of this new nationalism. Preference for a welfare state was a key factor in the voting behaviour of the Scottish electorate. In a study conducted on the data from the 1997 Scottish Election Study, Surridge et al confirm that Scottish People did not vote for a Parliament with tax raising powers because of economic rationality or national identity, but rather because of welfare rationality. A majority of those surveyed were aware of the likelihood of an increase in taxation; the famous ‘tartan tax’ did not inhibit voters. The analysis of data on national identity was the most revealing as it was considered unimportant in explaining the vote for the referendum. (Surridge et al, page 50, 1998) Social location was also analysed and despite differences in sex, age, religion and social class, the largest proportion of each group voted in favour of a Scottish Parliament. These results confirm that nationalism in the form of national identity was not the force behind support for a Scottish Parliament, it was a preference for autonomism as social welfare needs were not addressed by the UK government and the Scottish electorate had little power to change the worsening situation.

That the government was not popularly elected in Scotland leads to the third point. The democratic deficit meant that not a single candidate representing the unreformed Union was returned for a Scottish Constituency in the 1997 General election. Reflections have been made in that the actual powers of the assembly began to matter less than that it should be popularly elected. (Smith 1981). In the 1980’s there was great frustration with the Thatcher government leading McCrone to ask if she was ‘the midwife of Home Rule’ . The rolling back of the state destroyed the former management of the national economy in the post war years. Scottish voters resented the attack on state institutions, nationalised industries, education, local government and the public sector and this was perceived as ‘an attack on Scotland itself’. (McCrone, 1989) In social policy the government was never able to command a majority of support in Scotland. This division over social policy along national lines propelled Scottish opinion towards interpreting the problem in constitutional terms even though the underlying causes had to do with social welfare rather than national identity as such. Brown et al (1998) argues that the rise and then weakening of the SNP can be interpreted as the same phenomenon as the steady decline of the Scottish Conservatives. It shows the Scottish electorate expressing a ‘continuing preference for a welfare state, delivered through distinctive welfare agencies’. Modern nationalism rose because the trust between capital and labour, the welfare state and its citizens, was broken and this was experienced and articulated as a breakdown in the contract between Scotland and England.

This suggests that a more modern nationalism is found in a form of claiming of rights for Scotland. More responsive to women and therefore more democratic and effective A broad and widespread campaign, involving the traditional pillars of civil society, vigils. etc

Scottish Civil Society reacted against its compromised position with the British State. The reaction to the status quo fostered a positive belief in a more accountable, representative and fair governing system. Nairn (1997) reflects the profound change that took place in Scottish Civil Society, as it became the ‘expression of popular sovereignty and a bulwark against the encroachments of an unpopular Conservative government. ‘

The 1980’s marked a convergence of all left of centre political currents behind Scottish home rule. The extent of dissatisfaction with the government under Thatcher preceded a new consensus amongst groups that led to the Campaign for the Scottish Assembly proposing the Scottish Constitutional Convention. The convention had a broad membership of MP’s, Councillors, delegates of churches, STUC and (though boycotted by SNP and Conservative). The Convention changed the nature of the devolution proposals and ‘heightened its priority in the Opposition parties programme.’ (Kellas, 1992) There was a strong push for proportional representation and the input from the women’s movement and the greens gave rise to new considerations in the propositions of a modern day Scottish Parliament. Indeed, womens’ representation became intrinsically linked with wider campaigns for devolution and improved democratic participation. The Thatcher era observed restrictions on local government’s autonomy and budgets, preventing opposition parties from counteracting changes. Local government also began to identify with the campaign for a Scottish parliament. A positive belief in a more accountable, responsive representative and fair governing system evolved. Surridge et al 1998 concludes that ‘ A belief that the parliament would improve social policy and make the government more effective and responsive was the main explanation of why the result of the referendum in September 1997 was emphatically in favour of home rule. ‘ Modern nationalism in the form of claiming of rights for Scotland was carried forward by the widespread, cross party campaign and the groups and organisations it attracted.

External pressures in the late twentieth century include the weakening of the industrial capital in relation to the growing importance of finance capital and the changing position of the modern state in an increasingly global economy. Changes in technology and capital mobility has weakened the bargaining power of organised labour since the 1960’s. This breakdown of the contract between capital and labour, state and citizen was further complicated by the fact Scotland was in contracted unity with England in the United Kingdom. Complex problem lies in the fact that the opposition between capital and labour, between citizens and the state got ‘metaphorically mapped onto the opposition between Scotland and England’. Modern nationalism rose as a reactionary sentiment expressing Scotland’s struggle to assert its autonomy in both the Union and the modern world under the perceived violation of broken social contracts and covenants that took place in a historical tradition of political conflict.


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