Binita Mehta, 22, is a graduate from Warwick University, Chair of Hertfordshire Conservative Future and an active campaigner in Watford, working at think tank British Future. She tweets at @BinitaMehta90
On this, Burns Night 2013, the last before referendum year, let us reflect that an independent Scotland would not only affect Scots, but also those around Britain with Scottish heritage.
Robert Burns Day, or indeed any day celebrating Scottish history, is important to me given my own Scottish family history. My dad and his side of the family are from Glasgow, where he was brought up and attended university; therefore being part Scottish informs my strong British identity.
From a young age, my dad supporting Rangers, teaching me the meaning of Auld Lang Syne, speaking fondly of his upbringing on Great Western Road and calling his friends Jimmy, showed me that my feeling of Britishness had a rich base, and wasn’t just a mistaken use of the term English.
Because of this, I feel that it would definitely affect me if Scotland became independent, as the city where my father grew up and was educated would become part of a separate, different country. Of course, if the Scots do vote in support of an independent Scotland in 2014, I totally respect that it is their decision to make, but I would be regretful of that choice.
I spoke to some friends who, like me, live in England but have Scottish background and heritage, asking them how they feel about Anglo-Scottish identity and whether a dis-United Britain would affect them.
Stuart Shevlin, 19, who is currently studying in North Carolina, shares my views.
“I was born in Scotland, in Aberdeen, and moved to Stonehaven as a kid. My Mum and my brother are also Scottish, as are two of my grandparents. I usually identify myself as Scottish, I’m definitely proud to be from there! I’m pretty sceptical about independence and from a sentimental point of view; the breakup of the union of the United Kingdom is a prospect that fills me with concern. I realise though, that the sentiment of many Scottish people is the exact opposite. What worries me the most is that the Scottish independence campaign seems purely based on these patriotic feelings.”
Charlie Douglas, 24 from Sutton Coldfield, said:
“I’ve lived all my life in England, born to a Welsh father and an English mother. However, despite this, I’ve always considered myself more Scottish than Welsh. Part of this, I think, is the fact that my father’s father was Jamaican, and his mother was some sort of welsh born, Irish/Ghanaian/St. Lucian hybrid. So, there isn’t a huge amount of history in the country. On my mother’s side, however, there’s English and Scottish, both pretty pure. All my extended family come from the Scottish side of this, and for the most part are originally based in a small town called Tain, about an hour north of Inverness so I’ve seen a lot of the Scottish culture that way, building my affinity towards it.
“I think it would be a shame for Scotland to leave the UK, not just because of all the political and economic implications that would come about from ‘founding’ a new country, but also because I feel our history is so intertwined, and the current set up of four ‘united’ countries allows everyone to express their own cultural identities whilst remaining politically and economically united.”
Sinead Mead, 22 from Watford, who has studied at Aberdeen and Southampton universities, said that studying in Scotland added to her connection with her Scottish heritage.
“My mother and her side of the family are all originally from Coatbridge, and my mum is fiercely protective of her Scottish heritage and point blank refused to lose her accent, despite more than 30 years spent in Watford since moved down in the 70s as a newly qualified nurse to pursue a work opportunity. I think she always considered Scotland to be her home and so moved back up to just over 3 years ago.”
“From what I’ve found, the Scots, much like the Welsh and Irish identify themselves mainly as not English. I think if Scotland were to go independent, they certainly wouldn’t be giving us neighbourly votes in the Eurovision song contest. I think in most cases the anti-English stance that many Scottish people adopt is more of a friendly rivalry than a genuine dislike, but not always. For example, cheering when England is kicked out of the World cup is little more than a bit petulant, but when you’re frequently asked “you know the problem with you English…?”, the resentment towards our country can be felt quite strongly.
“In terms of Scottish independence, I wouldn’t like Scotland to be independent. Although it would have no direct impact on me, I do have a many fond memories of Scotland having spent many school holidays in Coatbridge, and so for Scotland to ask for a divorce, would sting a little.”
Charis Tyndall, 22, was born in Edinburgh and moved to Dunbar when she was 4. She now studies at the University of Warwick.
“I still live in Dunbar now and hadn’t spent any real time in England until my gap year. I think Scottish independence would be a terrible thing, although more autonomy and freedom to create more of our own legislation wouldn’t go amiss.
“My parents voted SNP in the last election, but they don’t agree with the policies on independence either.”
Mark Orton, 21 and also from Watford, also has a Scottish mother.
“My mum was born in Paisley, her father being a native Scot and her mum from Donegal in Ireland, but moved to Scotland when she was in her late teens, like much of the Irish community in Scotland, to find work. Most of my mother’s side of the family lives in Scotland now, so my Scottish heritage is hugely important to me just because it’s been a big part of my life. Ever since I was young I’ve travelled up to Scotland at least annually and memories of Scotland form a large part of my childhood recollections, like staying in Paisley over Christmas and staying with one of my uncles at his house on the southern shore of Loch Lomond and walking around the countryside there. Certainly my family ties to Scotland mean that although I identify primarily as English (and British), I would always say that I am ‘part Scottish’ as it were.
“I think for my Mum, Scottish heritage is even more important to her now that she lives in Watford. The physical distance means that she holds onto her heritage with a bit more force (this is probably manifest mainly in the way that she maintains an interest in Scottish news and political affairs a bit more strongly than she would if she didn’t live there). Having said that, I think that being married to a ‘non-Scot’ and having two non-Scottish children means she is more inclined to regard herself as a Brit. I think living in that kind of space where she has family ties in different locations gives her more of a synoptic perspective.
“For my Scottish family, having familial ties all over the UK probably precludes their taking the independent stance. It would seem slightly acerbic on their part to push for independence, which would render them citizens of a nation completely apart from their relatives, with whom they’ve shared status as UK citizens for so long.
“For my part I’m staunchly anti-independence. I feel that if Scotland were to become independent I’d feel a bit strange really, like the physical distance between me and my relatives had become a bit more pronounced somehow.”
Cameron Wauchope, 22 from Essex, is Scottish on ‘both sides’:
“My dad is from Paisley and my mum was raised in various places including Edinburgh and Larg. I normally visit Scotland three times a year and my whole family are Scots. I don’t think of myself as English, despite living here all my life, but British. I always have. I am proud of being British and have a great respect for all countries of our great isles.
“It makes me very sad to think that my country may be tearing itself apart. I like Britain, and hope it is still here in its current state for years to come.”
Virahn Walia, 33 from London, said:
“My mother was raised in Scotland with her 2 brothers, brought over by my grandparents from India when they were very young. They strongly see themselves as scots and we regularly visited Scotland. My grandfather was a strong supporter of embracing the country and the Scottish culture as well as ensuring the Asian culture thrived alongside. I think it would be a shame to lose Scotland; Scotland is a big part of what makes Britain great it will be a huge loss to Britain if it parted, but having said that, I do support their right to let them have their own say.”
A long-time family friend from Glasgow, Spencer Hagard, 70, now living in Cambridge, feels that having studied at university in Scotland and living there for 16 years from 1961 to 1977 with a year in London and a couple of years in Uganda, means being Scottish is certainly a part of his identity.
“I went to school in England, but was educated in Scotland” he is proud to state, and on independence believes “ultimately that people must make their own choices. When the Scots come to a conclusion, it must be an informed choice. We have to trust electorates to make the choice they consider best.”
Quite, but I do hope that at the end of next year, I am able to retain my sense of Britishness and maintain the ability to celebrate my Scottish and English roots within that.
Happy Burns Day everyone!
Fair fa’ your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o’ the puddin-race!