Scotland is a unique nation. It’s one of the many reasons I adore it. It has its own humor; its own dress; its own culture; an array of languages and dialects; its own energy. Even its exports are unique and individual to it. People know something is Scottish because of Scotland’s unique identity.
But Scotland is still part of the United Kingdom. Some people may not realize this. In fact, during the Independence Referendum, when Scotland was deciding if it wanted to remain part of the United Kingdom, several people expressed to me that they didn’t realize that Scotland was part of the union.
I think people outside the UK can forget this because we see Scotland as having a separate identity. There is a reason for this: for years, “British” has not included English, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish identities. British describes only one of those. And this presents conflicts between British and Scottish (and Welsh/Irish) identities and even their exports.
This can be a heated topic in the United Kingdom, but hear me out. I’m going to try and explain this perspective as neutrally as possible. I want people to understand why there is often an issue with the overarching label of “British” now. But before I do that, I need to explain the word “British” and how it is perceived.
What is British?
British is a word that’s meant to encompass four separate nations: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. These separate countries make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
But for years the entire British identity has focused around England, primarily London. Thus, British identity is very much tied to what is English.
For example, British-themed merchandise usually features only London or England. I once bought a British desktop day-planner, but there was no presence of Scottish, Welsh, or Irish identity. There was a Union Jack post-it note stack; the outline of the London skyline; a profile of a man wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella; a black cab; and a red bus with “London” splayed across it.
All of those images scream England, but the label read “British”. Technically, British should encompass English, Scottish, Welsh, and Northern Irish identities.
This is likely a reason why people forget that Scotland is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. It may even contribute to why Brits forget that Scotland is its own nation, not an English territory. If English identity is tied to British identity, and if Scotland is still part of Britain, then many will believe that Scotland is a part of England.
Which I stress: Scotland is not part of England. It is a separate country with its own unique identity. That identity is recognized worldwide. It needs to be seen and acknowledged as its own.
For example: Scottish whisky vs British whisky.
- Which do you know?
- Which sounds right?
- Which would you buy?
- Which is more famous?
We know the answer. You’d choose Scottish whisky every time.
And yet there are more instances of Scottish exports, such as whisky, being re-written and overtaken, now being called British whisky instead.
Is this wrong?
Technically, not—because, technically, Scotland is still a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, so it is technically British.
However, this re-writing strips away Scottish individuality. It’s this identity that is important to both a) Scotland’s pride and sense of self, and b) the vitality of their exports and even their own culture.
Why This is An Issue
Essentially, the issue is about removing Scotland’s hard-earned identity. There are dozens of pieces that make up this identity. It includes anything one thinks of as Scottish: kilts, tartan, bagpipes, Highland culture, Gaelic, Scots, etc. But it also includes its exports, such as whisky and meat and seafood, which are high-quality products. Scotland has built up this reputation and takes great pride in each of these things.
If Scotland chooses to remain within the United Kingdom, then it should be able to claim this pride and individuality, not have it lumped in with what has been historically built up as British.
Not because Scotland isn’t a part of Britain, but because in shoving it all together, you erase individual achievement, especially since “British” has been built up as “English”.
In constantly re-writing Scottish-themed things as British, it is perceived that Scottish accomplishment is being overtaken and re-written as English—and that has a lot of historical context for being incredibility offensive and insulting.
You cannot enforce that British is English, attempting to distance anything Scottish from the British name and brand for centuries; and then—when it’s more convenient for branding and the political environment—try to bring Scottish to the British brand without causing more rifts and conflicts. This diminishes all accomplishment and achievement, appearing as though the British brand is claiming credit when it has historically been unkind to Scottish culture. It does not come across as unification; it comes across as erasure.
Room for Conversation?
Obviously, I’m passionate about this. I know others will have different opinions; some might even massively disagree. Either way, I wanted to open this up to dialogue. In reading comments on social media, many don’t understand why there is offense or issue taken from the Scottish brand being overtaken.
So I welcome other opinions and people discussing this matter more, as long as we are doing so in a productive, constructive, and open way. I’ve tried to keep this entry as respectful as possible, while talking about a sensitive issue that does find itself at the center of a lot of arguments regarding Scotland, England, and even the independence referendum.
And while this piece is focused on Scotland specifically—as is the intention of this website—I include Wales and Northern Ireland in this belief, too. Their own individual identities are also lost in the British identity. I’d like to see individual achievement and uniqueness present in the United Kingdom, given that it is three separate countries united. Not territories, not states; countries. And their value, interest, and identity should not be erased.
These are great points you raise about preserving the cultural identity of those nations within the union and the ambiguity of the “British” descriptor. On a less important note, I’ve always been confused about this issue when it comes to international sporting events. In international football and rugby, UK teams compete representing their nations – Wales, Scotland, England (not sure whether N. Ireland competes as its own nation). But in the Olympics, these same nations compete under the Great Britain name, but not the UK name – very strange.
I don’t really understand it myself either. Pretty sure one year Team GB was simply “England + Ryan Giggs”
I agree with you. I think of British as English, which is not really true but influences my thinking when I see something labeled as British. I think is Scotland separately as if it is not British. Ditto for Northern Ireland and Wales. None of them volunteered to be British.