The more life in Scotland feels like life in England, the stronger the desire to assert a distinct identity.
In part, the disengagement of Scotland from the UK reflects the inexorable consequence of the establishment of the Scottish Parliament in 1999. It is in the nature of institutions and their members to seek to extend their powers. We see this in Brussels and we see it in Edinburgh. It may still be unlikely that a referendum in Scotland would produce a majority for outright independence, but there will probably be a majority for giving much greater powers to the Scottish Parliament – what is commonly called devo-max. The Union is being sliced up salami-style until the final step to independence is small.
The rise of Scottish nationalism puzzles many in England, especially those who believe that Scotland is subsidised by England (an arguable proposition) and also those millions south of the border who claim Scottish ancestry, often proudly. In truth, it puzzles some of us in Scotland, too, for many are still happy with a dual Scottish-British identity.
Undeniably, however, the sense of Britishness has weakened over the past half-century. There are some conventional, explanations: the distance from the Second World War, when Britain resisted Nazi Germany; the end of the British Empire, in which Scots had played a disproportionate role; and, perhaps, membership of the European Union. Certainly, the SNP fastened on this as a defence against the charge that independence would leave Scotland isolated.
With this weakening of a British identity goes a resurgent Scottishness. Take the kilt, for example. When I was young, it was worn by soldiers, stage comics and singers of Scots songs, public schoolboys on Sundays, and, somewhat unconvincingly, members of the Royal family and lairds attending the Braemar Gathering and other Highland games. It was also favoured by a few cultural nationalists like Compton Mackenzie and Hugh MacDiarmid. Now it is far more popular than it used to be: standard wear for weddings and dances, and international football and rugby matches. It has become an expression of difference, of our distinct identity. (Read more)