The formula for Scottishness

Glen Coe; a book by robert burns; tartan socks; Scottish landscape

There are five million people in Scotland. Those of voting age can have their say in the independence referendum. The 800,000 Scots in the rest of the UK cannot vote in it. But what is the essence of being Scottish?

It's not about being able to tolerate the sound of bagpipes, or preferring Irn Bru to Coca-Cola, or saying "How no?" instead of "Why not?".

Instead, it all comes down to where you bide - that is, live.

When the referendum on Scottish independence is held in the autumn of 2014, only residents of Scotland will be eligible to vote.

As a result, almost 400,000 people living north of the border but born in other parts of the UK will get to take part, while 800,000 Scots living in England, Northern Ireland and Wales will not.

"Given that Scotland has a population of just five million, 800,000 is a huge number," says David McCrone, professor of sociology at the University of Edinburgh.

"And that makes the emigres a very interesting kind of person."

The independence referendum

Alex Salmond
  • Expected to take place autumn 2014
  • Campaign for Scottish home rule began in 1707
  • Nearly 800,000 Scots who live in other parts of the UK will not receive a vote
  • About 400,000 from elsewhere in UK but living in Scotland can vote

I'm one of them. I spent the first 22 years of my life in Scotland before heading to London for work and, without ever really intending to do so, settling.

By any measure, my accent, vocabulary and appetite for cholesterol-rich foodstuffs still mark me out as a Scot.

I think "glaikit" is a superior term to "stupid", "messages" preferable to "groceries" and "shoogly" more mellifluous than "unstable". The miserable fortunes of the Scottish international football team depress me no less than if I were following from my hometown of Dumfries.

And in the event of independence, my Scottishness would gain legal expression. Under proposals by the Scottish National Party (SNP) government, the fact I was born in Edinburgh would entitle me to citizenship of a sovereign Scotland, even if I continued to remain in exile.

Living abroad has not stopped one of the world's most celebrated Scots, Sir Sean Connery, from steadfastly backing the nationalist cause in his homeland.

In protest at being disenfranchised, James Wallace, a 23-year-old fellow Dumfries native turned London resident, has launched a petition demanding that expat Scots in other parts of the UK be allowed to participate in the referendum.

Scottish population map

Scots ministers say this simply would not be practical.

And, indeed, it's difficult to imagine how an electoral register of everyone who considered themselves a Scot might be drawn up.

Who, after all, is Scottish? Those born in Scotland? People with Scottish ancestry? Anyone who is partial to Tunnock's teacakes and the music of Jimmy Shand?

For James Mitchell, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, residency is the only logical definition of Scottishness in terms of political representation. If I want a say over Scotland's constitutional status, he believes, I should move back there.

"It would be absurd to allow anyone who claimed to be Scottish a vote," Mitchell says.

What are the current voting rules?

Scottish Parliament

The franchise in the Scottish independence referendum will be the same as that for the Scottish Parliament. The Scotland Act says that someone wanting to vote in a Holyrood election must be:

  • Entitled to vote as electors at a local government election
  • And is registered on the register of local government electors.

For Scots living abroad, the rules state:

  • If you had been registered to vote in the UK in the previous 15 years you can remain on the election register
  • That allows you to vote in UK parliamentary or European parliament election
  • But it does not give you the right to vote in local elections or in elections to the devolved administrations of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland

"By extension, it would be wrong - and perhaps more worryingly wrong - to exclude those who do not feel Scottish a vote if they lived in Scotland."

Of course, being Scottish is not, for most, about taking part in elections.

For some it is about family heritage. Witness the likes of Rod Stewart and Alastair Campbell - born in England, blessed with distinctly non-Caledonian accents, but, by dint of their parentage, regular tartan-wearers and staunch supporters of the Scottish football team (Campbell even plays the bagpipes).

Or there is the concentration of Scottish migrant steelworkers' descendants in the town of Corby, Northamptonshire. Many speak with a Glaswegian-esque brogue, stage an annual Highland Gathering and, according to former MP Louise Mensch, buy 17 times more Irn Bru from their local branch of Asda than anywhere else in England.

For this reason, Dr David Hume, a senior member of the Orange Order, said people in Northern Ireland with "Ulster Scots" backgrounds were "stakeholders" who should be given a vote in the referendum.

However, on this genealogical basis, I - like many other native-born Scots - would not actually be considered all that Scottish. Of my four grandparents, two were Irish and one was the son of an Englishman.

Scotland has, after all, witnessed successive waves of migration from Scandinavian countries to the north (Orkney and Shetland were earldoms under Norway until 1468), Ireland to the west and England to the south. More recent population shifts have seen the eastern European community expand, while there are now an estimated 90,000 Asian Scots.

As a result, mainstream Scottish nationalism has tended to shy away from defining Scottishness in ethnic terms, says McCrone. In this respect it differs from a country like Germany, whose citizenship laws are based on the principles of jus sanguinis (right of blood).

Instead, scholars trying to understand the Scots identity have focused on its symbolism.

Forthcoming research co-authored by McCrone saw 1,248 Scots asked to pick two items from a list which they felt were most important to Scottish culture. Some 47% chose the landscape, 39% music and the arts and 38% the Scottish "sense of equality".

Shop called 'I love Scotland'

The first choice might not be surprising, but is intriguing given that 75% of Scottish residents are concentrated in the largely urban central belt.

I grew up in a town deep in the Lowlands. But like a plurality of my countryfolk, I'll admit to a lurch of sentimentality when footage of Glencoe or the Cuillins flashes up on, say, Countryfile.

And in my cups I can be relied to bang on jingoistically about Scotland's contribution to the arts - the literature of Robert Burns, Muriel Spark and James Kelman; the music of the Jesus and Mary Chain, Belle and Sebastian and Teenage Fanclub; Scots-set films like Whisky Galore, Gregory's Girl and Trainspotting.

Start Quote

Janey Godley

The scenery, Billy Connolly, haggis... everyone recognises it straight away”

End Quote Janey Godley Writer and comedian

But Scotland's iconography is composed of negative stereotypes, too - heavy drinking, violence, deprivation and heart disease, all rooted in social problems no Scot would pretend didn't exist, despite our self-image as more egalitarian than our southern neighbours.

And another danger of defining Scottishness in a series of national symbols - kilts, the thistle, the Loch Ness monster and so on - is that it reduces the nation's identity to the kind of tourist kitsch sold along Edinburgh's Royal Mile.

But for Glasgow writer and comedian Janey Godley, it's a point of pride that Scotland can be so easily packaged.

"The main thing I love about Scottish identity is that it travels," she says. "It's not hard to figure out. The scenery, Billy Connolly, haggis... everyone recognises it straight away."

Perhaps she's right that a progressive, outward-looking nation should take pride in being so easily understood by outsiders.

In self-imposed exile I'll continue to identify with a land of dourness, drizzle, malt whisky and midges.

But as for choosing between independence or the union, that's a decision for those I left behind. Wha's like us?

Below is a selection of your comments.

This is an intriguing question, and one I've struggled to answer most of my life. Born in Africa to a Scottish father and a Norwegian mother (who was born in Scotland during WWII), raised mostly in the Scottish Lowlands, not far from Jon Kelly, but having lived more than half of my life in England, what nationality am I? Talk to me and I'm undeniably Scottish. Ask me to fill in documentation and I'm stubbornly Scottish. But am I entitled to claim that nationality?

Steve, Bicester, England

I would argue that the referendum is about who governs Scotland: Westminster or Holyrood. It would therefore be folly to allow Scots down south to vote to decide who runs another region. This is not about nationalism, it's about better structures of governance for Scotland. It's not saying we're better just that our circumstances are different from our southern neighbours.

Euan Stewart, Glasgow

American expats are getting a postal vote in the upcoming presidential election but I'm not getting a vote in the referendum because I live in Englandshire. Is this a matter of logistics (that there are proportionately few American expats)? Or is it that Alec Salmond thinks expats are less likely to vote SNP and the civil servants didn't care enough or weren't smart enough to block this point when negotiating the referendum? I want my vote. And it should be based on being born there, not any of the other sentimental trollery the reporter suggests.

Nicola Rankin, London, UK

I am English and have lived in Scotland for 16 years. I will not be voting on the question of independence for Scotland, because I feel, being English it is not my place to decide for the Scottish people if they want independence or not.

Richard B, Roslin, Midlothian

This is a vote on the make up of the UK, therefore the simple answer is to make it a vote open to anyone in the UK.

Al, Windsor

Surely the vote is about those who actually live in Scotland as it will affect their daily lives? Those who were born Scottish but live elsewhere will not be affected in that way, so why should they be able to vote? I would not expect to to vote in any other election in a place that I no longer lived in, so why any difference here?

Stu, England

I'm English, but have lived and worked in Scotland for 14 years, and intend to stay, whatever the referendum outcome (I'm undecided which way to vote). Of course residence is the right criterion - it is those living in Scotland who will be affected, far more than anyone else. On the symbols of Scottishness, what about the Scottish Enlightenment - David Hume, Adam Smith, James Hutton etc, and later Scottish scientists and engineers such as James Clerk Maxwell, James Watt, Thomas Telford and William Thomson (Lord Kelvin)? How many countries of Scotland's size have such a roster of intellectual excellence? It's sad that the most commonly recognised symbol of Scotland, even by Scots, is a man in a pleated skirt apparently torturing an octopus!

Nick Gotts, Aberdeen, Scotland

Scots have had a very positive influence on the world in terms of their rich magnificent culture and tecnological inventions. They are well capable of ruling themselves, and should aspire to do so.

Pat Fitz Gerald, Limerick, Ireland

Coming from an Italian-Scot, for me being Scottish is not about your background or ethnic make-up. It is simply about identifying and feeling Scottish. There is nothing more to it than that.

Luigi Pedreschi , Edinburgh, Midlothian

I consider myself to be completely Scottish, although i have never lived in Scotland. My parents are both born and raised in Scotland, as were their parents and their parents and their parents and so on. My father was in the Navy and was drafted down to Portsmouth where my brother and I were born. Does this make me English? I dont think so. If I had been born in a stable it wouldnt make me a horse. I am fiercely proud of my scottish heritage of Clan MacLeod and Clan Campbell mix. If my location makes me ineligible to vote then so be it, but i do hope that those elligible to vote will use their vote wisely.

Mairi MacLeod, Cramlington, Northumberland

I am intensely proud of my Scottish heritage. However, I have been very happy living in England for 50 years, having arrived at the age of twenty. If I ever had to make a choice of my nationality, I would opt to be English, out of gratitude and my sense of civic responsibility to England. I still have my west of Scotland accent.

Graham Ward, Leicester, Leicestershire

Interesting how the writer, Billy Connolly and Sean Connery all have Irish heritage - just shows that identity is such a fluid concept. I'm Irish with a Scottish grandmother, and I've always felt a bit Scottish... so good luck Scotland, whether you vote yes or no.

Robert Myles, Dublin, Ireland

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