A sense of Scottish identity does not require independence

There are many reasons why people support Scottish independence. Some think that it would be economically advantageous, others think it would be politically advantageous and would make the sort of society they long for more likely to occur. But I get the impression that most nationalists see all these things as fringe benefits, even as ways and means to try to persuade other Scots to vote for independence. If I could convince a nationalist that Scotland would be just about the same economically as an independent state as it is now, or if I could show that politically things would be much the same, would I thereby convince him that he should vote against independence? I doubt it.  A nationalist sees independence as a good in itself. Why is this? The answer, I think, lies in how such a person sees himself. Most typically Scottish nationalists, define themselves as exclusively Scottish. This sense of Scottishness, which they feel, they consider to be constrained by Scotland not being an independent state. Nationalists tend to see Scottish patriotism and Scottish nationalism as one and the same thing. Thus, at times they might even resort to questioning the patriotism of those who oppose independence. They might even consider that such opponents are betraying Scotland, that they are somehow traitors.
 
Some time ago I had an interesting experience while on holiday, which gave me a new insight into identity and issues of nationalism and made me compare and contrast my experience here with my experience there. I spent two weeks in the Bavarian Alps in a small town called Berchtesgaden. It’s a wonderful spot, perhaps known chiefly for the fact that it was the site of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest and thus a monument to the darkest side of nationalism. But perhaps because of this historical situation, it was possible here to see people expressing their identity in a way that I found quite touching.

One day I came across a village celebrating its anniversary. Four or five hundred years ago, that village been founded. Nearly every man was dressed in traditional Bavarian lederhosen. Each had a hat with a feather. Nearly every woman wore a dirndl, the traditional dress for that region. These people were clearly comfortable with their Bavarian identity. They spoke the Bavarian dialect, indeed even I learned a few Bavarian phrases. Were these people patriots? Were they nationalists? There were Bavarian flags everywhere, blue and white. But there were lots of German flags, too. No one had a problem speaking High German rather than dialect, no one had a problem with the idea that being a Bavarian meant that they could also be a German. The lesson about nationalism had been learned and perhaps less than one percent of these Bavarians wanted independence from Germany.

What I learned on my trip also was that nationalism did not have much point in this region. The nearest major city was Salzburg in Austria, but on the short trip there, it was scarcely possible even to notice a border. I didn’t even see a sign. The whole trip from Germany to Austria was as near to being a trip within one country as makes no difference. Everything was completely integrated. The same money, the same tickets, the same everything. Only an accident of history meant that Bavaria and Austria were separate countries, but it didn’t seem to bother anyone living there. They scarcely seemed to notice. Really, by all normal standards they might as well have been in the same country. They have no reason to unite, because they are already united. But by the same token Bavaria has no reason to divide itself from the rest of Germany. These people seem to have moved on from these questions. I imagine they would find our debate in Scotland all rather baffling. Bavarians can express their separate identity, without denying that they are a part of whole. They fought a war with the most of the rest of Germany as recently as 1866, yet no one goes on about sending the Germans homeward to think again.

In Britain we have just the same experience as I found travelling between Germany and Austria, a land without borders. The Germans have learned their lesson about nationalism and they want nothing to do with borders. When countries are as integrated as Germany and Austria, questions about unification or separation become meaningless. This is the direction which Europe is moving towards. At times it must be said that the journey Europe is making is a struggle.  National difference and especially the lack of a common language is hindering them on the path to European integration. But it’s possible to admire the attempt, even while retaining concerns about the fundamental nature of the European Union. The goal of creating a free, democratic Europe without nationalism, may turn out to be impossible, but it is a fine ideal nonetheless.

We in the UK already have what Europe so desperately wants. We have unity, we can travel from one part of the UK to another and barely notice the difference. We can work and live where we please and only an accent distinguishes those who live here. But we have not yet learned that we can express our identity without demanding separation. We have not yet learned the lesson about nationalism, that was given to the Germans and the Austrians. For this reason we squabble over matters of no consequence, ungrateful, willing perhaps to squander the unity of centuries for a mess of nationalism.

Flag-pins-germany-bavaria

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