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Question for Scots to ask themselves; Opinion.

Byline: David Byrne

THE possible independence of Scotland has made me think about nationalism. This is not an abstract issue for me. Like many Tynesiders I am a mix of Irish, Welsh and English.

Scotland as a nation was founded by Irish Gaels, who established its southern boundary when they defeated the Northumbrians at Carham and took control of the Lothians and the Merse.

The 'Scots' tongue is nothing of the sort. The tongue of the Scots is Gaelic. 'Scots' is the northern dialect of Northumbrian Anglish, the source tongue of English. (By the way, will The Journal kindly stop referring to SAXON churches in its circulation area. They are Anglian.) Anyhow, Scotland was established as a distinctive state nearly a thousand years ago, making it one of the oldest states in the world. From then until the 17th Century, it was this claim to statehood which drove Scottish resistance to English rule.

What changed things was the very different character of the English and Scottish reformations.

In England this was wholly from above - as Brendan Behan put it, the foundation stones of Anglicanism were very personal possessions of Henry VIII. In Scotland there was a real Protestant reformation from below and it was a Calvinist reformation.

The history of political conflict in 17th and 18th Century Scotland is a history of covenanting rebellion against attempts by the Stuart kings to impose an Anglican-style episcopal system on the independent Scottish Church and of Scottish Protestant support of the Protestant Hanoverians against Catholic Stuart attempts to take back what was by then the Crown of Great Britain.

From the time of John Knox until recently, a key principle of Scottish identity was Protestantism.

When I say recent, I mean recent. In the 1930s it was the official policy of the Church of Scotland to have all persons of Irish Catholic origin deported from Scotland. The then tiny Scottish Nationalist Party was all for this. In the 1950s the Tories won working-class seats across Scotland on the Protestant Unionist ticket.

Religious sectarianism is not dead across Scotland, but it no longer seems to serve as a basis of Scottish nationalism. Instead that basis is civic - Scots is a term which now includes all human beings who live in Scotland.

The SNP is able to attract the votes of the 20% of Scots who are recent Irish in origin. So far, so good: that is progress. What has been lost? The SNP presents itself as a social democratic party. It has positioned itself to the left of New Labour and done well in consequence. However, what would it be in an independent Scotland? How would real conflicts of class and inequality be represented in political terms? Religious sectarianism and ethnicity are poisonous bases for politics.

The North East has always been singularly free of both. But the elimination of class from politics matters. Life expectancy in the poorest third of Scotland is lower than in the Gaza strip. It is good that everybody in Scotland is now counted as Scots but that does not mean an end to the importance of a politics of difference and, in particular, class politics.

The Scots have that one to work out and so do we.

David Byrne is professor of applied social sciences at Durham University
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Mar 21, 2012
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