Spot the Scotsman; If Scots Are an Ethnic Minority, Why Do We Come in All Shapes, Sizes Ancoloours and Follow Different Religions and Creed-Just like the Rest of Britain ?

Daily Mail (London), September 14, 1996 | Go to article overview

Spot the Scotsman; If Scots Are an Ethnic Minority, Why Do We Come in All Shapes, Sizes Ancoloours and Follow Different Religions and Creed-Just like the Rest of Britain ?


Byline: ALLAN MASSIE

ONE definition of the word `ethnic' given by Chambers Dictionary is `a member of a racial or cultural minority group'. It is only quite recently that the word has been used in this sense.

The Oxford English Dictionary records it first, in a U.S. publication, circa 1940. The first British use was in the mid Sixties, in a dictionary of social science.

The popularisation of the word came from America in the late Sixties and Seventies. Now of course it is common, as we all know, to talk about `ethnic cleansing' in Bosnia.

All the same, it comes as a surprise to find an industrial tribunal in England classing a Scot as a member of an ethnic group. It is not how we think of ourselves. But it seems to be how a police inspector with the British Transport Police sees his position.

Lanarkshire-born Tom Weir, now resident in Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, claimed that he was refused an interview for a chief inspector's post at a training college on grounds of his race.

A senior officer, he alleged, had also been guilty of `racial stereotyping' when he told him not to get drunk at lunchtime - everyone knows we Scots are boozers, you see. Then the same officer suggested the Scots should climb back over Hadrian's Wall. How sad.

Meanwhile, to show the boot can fit the other foot, we have Yorkshireman Graham Power, at present deputy chief constable of Lothian and Borders Police, claiming that he was refused the top job with the Northern Constabulary because he was English.

Does this mean that the English should be classified as an `ethnic group' in Scotland even though his Englishness doesn't seem to have prevented Mr Power from getting his present post.

It is all dismal nonsense, or a poor joke. The truth is that neither Scots nor English can be regarded as an ethnic group in the sense in which the term is commonly used. Neither can be considered an oppressed minority.

Even in the U.S., where the notion of ethnic minorities was first, and for very obvious reasons, bandied about, Scots have never been regarded in this way.

Although America abounds in Caledonian societies, which even promote their own Highland Games, especially in the Deep South, there has never been a Scottish political constituency in the U.S., as there has been a Jewish one, and an Irish one, an Italian, Hispanic or Black (now Afro-American) one.

Even those whom the Americans still sometimes refer to as the `Scotch-Irish' - the descendants of Ulster Protestants who have supplied the majority of Presidents claiming to be of Irish descent - have never been regarded as an ethnic group, with its own exclusive culture and distinct racial identity.

I

N THE century after the Treaty of Union, long before the word `ethnic' was used in this sense, it is quite true that there was a certain hostility to Scots in London.

But this was partly aimed at those suspected of Jacobitism and, partly, at the host of Scots who flocked south in search of positions at Court.

This hostility reached its height when George III made his Scotch favourite, Lord Bute, his Chief Minister. But it soon died away when Bute was driven from office.

Thereafter, though Scots continued to go south, and though many quickly became prominent in public life, on account of their ability, they were not regarded in England as being a minority group.

This was partly because they were mostly Protestants, like the English among whom they mixed, and partly because the idea of an inclusive British nation was being formed and gaining general acceptance.

So much was this the case, that a disproportionate number of people in positions of power and authority in 19th and 20th century Britain have been either Scots or of quite recent Scottish ancestry.

Among politicians one need only mention Gladstone, Lord Rosebery, Balfour, Macdonald, Macmillan and Douglas Home - all Prime Ministers. …

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Spot the Scotsman; If Scots Are an Ethnic Minority, Why Do We Come in All Shapes, Sizes Ancoloours and Follow Different Religions and Creed-Just like the Rest of Britain ?
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