The Church of Scottish Nationalism

My mother is American. My father is Scottish. I carry, from birth, both UK and US passports. I was born in London, and raised in the States from the age of five. In school I can remember longing to graduate so I could move back to the UK, and finally be somewhere I belonged. Most of my American peers had written me off as “foreign” from the age of seven. When I was thirteen they asked me to account for my country’s sins in Africa. “What was my excuse,” they asked, “for the evils of my country?”.

 Unfortunately, after having lived in Scotland for two years, I have come to recognise that my existence here will always be questioned. In “inclusive” Scotland I have repeatedly been told that I do not belong. One individual would break into an American accent whenever they were around me. Another told me they could not see anyone who “sounded like me” ever winning a seat in an election. One of my closest friends would tell me that I “wasn’t really British”. When I was considering running for West Scotland Regional Chair for the Scottish Young Conservatives (and living in a flat in Glasgow directly beneath the flat my great-grandmother lived in, where my father was babysat as a child), I was told by this same friend, that “it wasn’t a good look” because of my American side. If it’s bad for me with real and recent family links to the West of Scotland, it’s worse for the English people I have come to meet during my time here. Many of them have their own tales of Scottish intolerance. And, according to my Scottish grandparents, born in Glasgow to families who have lived for many generations in the West of Scotland, this sentiment is new. 

I believe that the roots of this un-Scottish bigotry can be found in the pervasive corrosive rhetoric of the SNP. Scottish motifs that only thirty years ago were owned by all Scots have been weaponized in the pursuit of an independent country. The kilt, for example, has now been reduced to little more than a political statement. Robert Burns’ poetry has been appropriated (and thereby undermined) by the SNP and its supporters: it’s reasonable to suggest that his natural national pride of being Scottish would exist if he were alive today, but suggesting that would transfer in today’s politics to a love for Nicola Sturgeon and her desire for an “independent Scotland'' subject to French and German control as part of the EU seems a good number of steps too far. Even the Saltire, Scotland’s own flag, has been corrupted by this narrow-minded tactic. Instead of being a unifying symbol, as our flag should be, it is too often used as a statement of belief and of othering, something which is used to create division more than anything else. By appropriating historically unifying symbols of Scottish culture the SNP are actively aiding in its destruction. Once you make something political you stop it being universal, but Scotland should be for all the Scots, not just the minority who believe that domination by the EU would be better than Union with the rest of the United Kingdom.

As a student of the Ancient World, you can easily see similarities to an obscure local cult when looking at the SNP today. You have a Saint-like figure who can do no wrong, you have a not entirely logical mythology based on the ideas espoused by the head of the church, and you have the worshippers who blindly pursue the goals set forth by their leader (whatever they are today). If it’s religion, not logic, it’s easy to forgive issues like the Glasgow Cab Crisis, or the Ferry Scandal - one way or another you can blame it on the Devil (the Tooriez), because there’s no possible way it could be the fault of those actually responsible. Anyone disagreeing with the faith is excommunicated, and excluded from the Scottish identity. So long as you support Independence there is a place in the utopian Scotland they wish to create. The moment you voice dissent, you lose your right to argue. 

I have close family that experienced a taste of this in the 2014 referendum. Before the pandemic, they split their time between England and Scotland, so they could spend time with family in each place. Despite being supporters of the SNP in their youth, they began to become disillusioned with the party’s relentless pursuit of independence, eventually leading to them leaving the party altogether. In 2014 they, along with most of the country, proudly voted to remain in the Union. These family members spend a significant portion of their time in Scotland. It is where they were raised and first started their family. But the SNP, in its single minded pursuit of its independence, now believe people like them didn't deserve a vote, as it was not their primary residence. No matter how Scottish you were, if you lived in multiple places you weren’t Scottish enough. Purity is all, and the impure must be cast out of the Scottish family..

This attitude shows up regularly. Many times, people of English descent who are pro-Union are told to go back where they came from, or that they have no right to have an opinion despite living in Scotland (so Scots that live elsewhere aren’t Scots, while the English who live here aren’t welcome either).  On top of that, any Scot who disagrees with them is immediately branded a traitor, and equally told to “get out” - so not even all the Scots that live here are welcome. Scotland in this way of thinking isn’t for all. It’s just for some, and only as long as they agree with the governing party. 

This is not progressive. This is not inclusive. This is bigotry, plain and simple. And this is not Scotland. The Scots (and yes, I’m Scottish, just like I’m also American, and I’m also British) are better than that. We don’t hate the outside world with a burning passion. We have been the creators of innovation, living in the birthplace of freedom and capitalism, that once boasted the most educated populace in the world. We must not allow the bigoted principles of this insular party to spread outside it and across the country, dividing us. We certainly shouldn’t let these ideas into the Conservative Party (and yes, all of the hateful things that I described being told at the start of this article were from fellow Conservatives - although I’ve had the same from across the spectrum and representatives of each major political party).

Instead, the role the Conservative Party plays in this is essential. We  judge individuals based on their character and merit, not where they’re from or who their parents were. Scotland can be better than the cramped, narrow, small-minded, parochial vision laid out by the SNP. Our flag is for all of us, our bagpipes are for all of us, our kilts are for all of us, our King is for all of us, and our future is better together. Not apart.

-Calista Toner

November 1st, 2022