Scotland's Epic Vote Separation from the United Kingdom Goes beyond Economics

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), September 15, 2014 | Go to article overview

Scotland's Epic Vote Separation from the United Kingdom Goes beyond Economics


WASHINGTON

Tucking into a dish of Scottish haggis is not a task for the fainthearted. There are various haggis recipes, but basically it is sheep's pluck - the heart, lungs and liver - cooked together, then mixed with suet and oatmeal and boiled in a sheep's stomach, then served, sometimes drenched with Scotch. People who pour whisky on oatmeal are not shrinking violets. Remember this on Thursday when Scotland votes on independence from the United Kingdom.

There are economic reasons for and (mostly) against Scotland disassociating from the queen's realm. This issue, however, touches chords of memory more interesting than money.

In "The Long Shadow: The Legacies of the Great War in the Twentieth Century," Cambridge University historian David Reynolds notes that World War I, a breaker of empires and maker of nations, quickened interest in nationalism and the nature of nationhood, especially the distinction between a civic nation and an ethnic nation: The former is "a community of laws, institutions and citizenship," whereas an ethnic nation is "a community of shared descent, rooted in language, ethnicity and culture." France embodied civic nationalism, forged by its revolution; Germany, "steeped in Romantic conceptions of the Volk," exemplified ethnic nationalism.

The United States is a civic nation because it is a creedal nation - founded, as Jefferson said, on "truths" deemed "self- evident," and dedicated, as Lincoln said, to a "proposition" (that all are created equal). Scotland is largely an ethnic nation, and whether Scots opt for or against independence, the continued vitality of their national sentiments testifies to the ability of differences to resist homogenization by the commercial and cultural forces of modernity.

Even after its parliament was dissolved in 1707, Mr. Reynolds writes, Scotland retained its separate educational and legal systems and an established Presbyterian church. Mr. Reynolds says that "to subsume conflicting ethnicities" and foster national unity among Britain's components - the English (three-quarters of the U.K.'s 1910 population), Welsh, Irish and Scots - an ideology of "Britishness" was cultivated by means such as the cult of Lord Nelson, and adoption of "God Save the King" as the national anthem.

But by the end of the 19th century, Mr. Reynolds says, there was a "backlash against Britishness." In Scotland, the poet Robert Burns and the medieval warrior William Wallace became cult figures, and in May 1913 a Scottish home rule bill was introduced in the House of Commons. …

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