Scotland's Queen, the Nutty Boys and Simon Schama's Dancing Shoes
Cowley, Jason, New Statesman (1996)
Has Scotland disappointed the Queen? That question was posed by the Today programme on the morning after the bank holiday jubilee concert at Buckingham Palace, to which I had the good fortune to receive an invitation. There had been fewer street parties in Scotland and fewer public displays of ostentatious monarchism. In reply, Tom Devine, the SNP's favourite historian, spoke of how the Scots were less demonstrative than the English and of how the younger members of the royal family seemed more "anglicised" than their parents and grandparents, less romantically attached to the Highlands and Islands. William is a graduate of St Andrews--it was where he met Kate Middleton, who would become his wife, after all--but that university was long ago colonised by the English landed and trust-fund classes, and their very presence in such large numbers amid the cloisters of that ancient institution continues to antagonise Scots as it would have done the young Alex Salmond when he was an undergraduate there.
Part of the Union
The SNP leader is wise to have delayed his referendum on independence. If it were held in this year of the Diamond Jubilee, he would lose, and he knows it. As a gradualist, he understands that while a majority of Scots would welcome more devolution, and even full fiscal autonomy as Catalonia has been agitating for within Spain, independence is considered a leap too far. With a population of five million, with oil and gas reserves and a GDP per capita that is only slightly below the UK average, Scotland is a viable independent nation. But why wilfully break up Britain, which is one of the most successful multinational states in history and encourages a form of benign nationalism?
Salmond keeps on shifting position: from wanting to join the eurozone, he now says that he would want an independent Scotland to remain part of what he calls the "sterling zone". He would retain the Queen as head of state, and he might soon renounce the SNP's historic commitment to unilateralism and the removal of Trident from Scottish waters, as well as seek to join Nato. The Queen, the pound, the BBC, the National Health Service, even nuclear weapons--what kind of independence is this that the SNP leader seeks and could it not be achieved just as fully within a reconfigured British state, without the trauma of separation and the hostilities it would provoke?
Pale as the thistle
What I like about Britishness is that it offers an umbrella under which we can shelter if we wish in all our diversity and difference. Today, when capital and people are so mobile and we are used to sharing sovereignties in supranational institutions such as the European Union, we have become much more comfortable with miscegenation and with compound or hyphenated identities: black British, Asian British, Welsh, British and European, and so on. Scottishness is also a civic identity rather than a blood-and-soil nationalism of the Braveheart (or Balkan) variety as some would caricature it. But Scotland has not experienced anything like the level of immigration that transformed the ethnic demographics of England. …