Looking out: Scottish distinction

I spent the past weekend in Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland, on a Tufts-organized trip. After a month in England, I felt a marked difference in Scotland. It felt more European, though it is farther from the continent than England. Scotland has its own language, Scottish Gaelic, though only a small minority speak it. Yet on the bus from the airport to the city I chatted with an old couple who spoke Gaelic to each other. Though they have been part of the United Kingdom for over 200 years, Scottish people seemed distinct, not linguistically, but definitely culturally. As we visited the National Museum of Scotland and the Scottish National Gallery, it was clear that Scottish history was not lumped in with British history. The Art Gallery distinguished between English and Scottish artists on wall cards, while museums elsewhere say British. At Edinburgh Castle, the history of Scotland is told every day as a country of its own, with its own kings and queens, crown jewels and even war memorials to Scots who fought in the World Wars under the United Kingdom banner.

The clearest display I witnessed was by Arthur’s Seat, a volcanic stump overlooking Edinburgh and the highest point in the city. As I was hiking down from it, I saw a group of cars pull up. These were heavily decorated with Scottish paraphernalia including Scottish flags, which are a constant presence around the city, the Scottish royal standard, flags with “Yes” imprinted across to show support for the independence referendum and many Catalan flags, showing solidarity with other independence seekers of Europe.

However, the one that drew my attention most was a Scottish flag, diagonal white cross on light blue background, augmented with the circle of stars from the flag of the European Union (EU).

The independence supporters climbed the hill and planted their flags across the street from the Scottish Parliament, which is the youngest parliament in the world, and Holyrood Palace, the royal residence in Scotland.

Scottish nationalism is interesting because, relative to most other nationalist movements, it does not have a strong exclusivist bent. Scottish nationalists, and the Scottish National Party, are very strongly pro-Europe. Besides the political reality that an independent Scotland would hugely benefit from being in the EU, Scottish people are more pro-EU than the average UK citizen, enough so that a majority of Scotland voted to remain in the EU in the Brexit referendum and Scottish leaders are still strongly opposed to Brexit today.

Although the independence referendum in 2014 failed 55–45, with a majority voting to stay in the UK, it is palpable that Scotland still has a strong national character and, if anything, it has strengthened over time. It has an active nationalist movement, where people have rallies many weekends to support independence. With the Brexit mess underway, I would bet that a second referendum for independence, for a Scotland out of the UK and in the EU, widely termed as IndyRef2, is in the cards for Scotland’s near future.