A referendum with a national identity crisis

5th Sep, 2014

From the outset I should make clear that I am English. So I approach this post concerning the Scottish independence referendum with some trepidation. Like many in England, I suspect, I am torn between feeling that, on the one hand, the referendum is none of my business and, on the other, it is totally my business. Here goes.

Something has struck me as odd about the referendum campaign from the very beginning. It is the total absence of any discussion about the desirability (or otherwise) of Scottish independence just for the sake of it; simply because the people of Scotland want to be independent from the rest of the UK.

Rather the debate has focussed on the desirability of the consequences of independence: whether Scotland would be more affluent as an independent nation, whether it would be a fairer society, more or less secure and so on. No one on either side of the debate has tackled the key issue of principle involved – namely Scotland’s ‘right to self-determination’. To be independent simply because it wants to be.

The truth is that neither side really know if an independent Scotland will be richer, fairer or safer. But Alex Salmond dare not come out and say “I’ve no idea how it will work out, but we just want to make our own decision. Thanks”. But I suspect that is what he really thinks. Equally, Better Together cannot say, “The deal we made with England in 1707 was probably for the best, let’s leave it at that”. As a result, the key principle that should be at the heart of the campaign goes undebated.

I suspect this is something to do with the complex role that national identity and nationalism play in modern societies. It’s a thin line between patriotism and bigotry and the fear of stepping over the line makes it a taboo subject – even in an independence referendum.

At Trajectory we do not like taboos. So we have made identity and nationalism the subject of our next trends breakfast. It will take place on 25th September – one week after the referendum.