The Scottish National Party Is Espousing A Multicultural Brand Of Nationalism

Jan 14, 2020
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Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson has rejected the Scottish government's request for another referendum on independence. Scottish nationalists had wanted this vote because the U.K. is leaving the European Union at the end of the month against the wishes of many Scots. They say Scottish nationalism reflects an international and inclusive culture. NPR's Joanna Kakissis reports.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: When supporters of the Scottish National Party march for Scottish independence, they dress in tartan kilts and play bagpipes. Teresa Dufficy of the pro-independence group Aye Aberdeen says Scots are very serious about being Scottish.

TERESA DUFFICY: There's all the tartan, the bagpipes, the this, the that, the accents, whatever, the history. And that is so true. But there's a phrase in Scotland, we're all Jock Tamson's Bairns, which means it doesn't matter where you're from. We're all part of humanity.

KAKISSIS: She says Scotland cannot truly live by these words unless it breaks away from the U.K.

DUFFICY: It's not just independence for the sake of it. If the U.K. was a fair, democratic place which was more welcoming, I wouldn't be so bothered.

KAKISSIS: Scots voted against independence in a 2014 referendum, but another Aye Aberdeen member, Leo Marwick, says that's because many voters believed that the U.K. would remain in the EU and not turn against migrants.

LEO MARWICK: I want people to feel welcome from every corner of the world. I want people to feel like this is just as much their home as it is my home.

KAKISSIS: Unless they're English, jokes Ben Jackson of Oxford University. He's writing a book about Scottish nationalists.

BEN JACKSON: They are trying to define themselves against England rather than against Europe, whereas English nationalism is defined against Europe. So in some ways, Europe is used almost instrumentally by Scottish nationalists to provide an alternative framework in which Scotland could succeed in the world as an independent nation.

KAKISSIS: But that word - nationalism - does carry some ugly connotations.

NASIM MEER: Nasty, racially exclusive, blood and soil political rhetoric.

KAKISSIS: Nasim Meer studies nationalism at the University of Edinburgh. He points to governments in Hungary or India as using nationalism to marginalize ethnic or religious minorities.

MEER: You find in Scotland that ethnic minorities claim a sense of ownership over Scottish national identity. The Scottish National Party sees Scotland as being kind of a rainbow nation, a mosaic, whatever you want to characterize it.

KAKISSIS: Language is one reason. All Scots speak English, whereas other separatist nations like Catalonia hang on to their own language.

MEER: Language often underpins a claim to nationhood, especially in the context where there's declining numbers of speakers. That's not remotely a challenge in Scotland.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GAOL ISE GAOL I")

KATHLEEN MCINNES: (Singing in Scottish Gaelic).

KAKISSIS: Fewer than 60,000 Scots speak or sing Scottish Gaelic - so few, in fact, that Meer says more Scots actually speak Punjabi and Urdu...

MUHANNAD SUBTAIN MUGHAL: (Speaking in non-English language).

KAKISSIS: ...Like Muhannad Subtain Mughal, who calls himself Scottish-Pakistani, as he cooks curries at his restaurant in Edinburgh.

MUGHAL: Nineteen years I have lived in the Scotland. I am a hundred percent with Scotland.

KAKISSIS: He moved here from the north of England, where he says he never did feel English.

(SOUNDBITE OF HAIR CLIPPERS BUZZING)

KAKISSIS: At a nearby barbershop, civil engineer Archie Emmanuel says Scotland feels just as comfortable as his native Ghana.

ARCHIE EMMANUEL: I call myself Afro-Scot.

KAKISSIS: Afro-Scot?

EMMANUEL: (Laughter).

KAKISSIS: An independent Scotland may not exist anytime soon, he says, but being Scottish is here to stay. Joanna Kakissis, NPR News, Aberdeen, Scotland.

(SOUNDBITE OF FRANZ FERDINAND SONG, "40 FT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.