One of the wonderful things about Britain is its diversity. Not only can you travel less than 100 miles and get a different accent, scenery, culture, architecture, etc but there have been waves of immigrants who have all spiced up what would otherwise be a rather bland white-bread mix.
Scotland has been a part of this, whether from Vikings in the Dark Ages, Flemish weavers in the Middle Ages, Italians a century ago, Poles in WW2 or Asians since then. Edinburgh University is a cultural goulash of students and the city itself gets more foreign visitors than anywhere else in the UK outside London. But where it differs from England is that its nationalists aren’t standard-issue xenophobes; the SNP is international, multicultural and has no time for tirades against either immigrants or foreigners.
This attitude is born of the Scots’ own attitudes, which stems from a genuine curiosity about strangers and a natural reaction to treat them like the regular folk they are. This is complemented by our immigrants generally getting involved in our local culture so much so that curry now jostles with haggis to be the national dish.
In this, we Scots seem very different from our English cousins. Such is the degree of immigration there into an already crowded country that social fragmentation is rife across former industrial cities and political movements based on xenophobia are a real force in the land. From the relatively mild UKIP, through the BNP and into the unsavoury reaches of the right wing, various movements vie to be the spokespeople for those who resent sharing their country with (and I use the word advisedly) ‘foreigners’.
In some ways, this diversity of opinion is to be welcomed; it is classically British to be polite, swallow any discomfort and rub along as best you can. Britain carries a proud tradition of asylum for those persecuted elsewhere and, since the religious wars of 300 years ago, avoiding systemic persecution of any subset of its citizens (although the greedy-landlord-motivated post-1745 Clearances can be argued an exception).
So, that UKIP/BNP exist on the same ballot paper as the SSP is to be welcomed as a broad-minded country enough at peace with itself to tolerate extremes. But here’s where the unity of ‘British’ culture is now breaking down. The more BNP win council seats in Bradford or that UKIP gain MEPs and overtake the Lib-Dems in English polling, the more they are seen to be English—their ‘British’ titles and pretensions notwithstanding.
Because Scotland has no truck with them. While various groups froth at the mouth about Abu Qatada and his activities, in Scotland it is non-news. While Theresa May bangs on about taking sovereignty back from Europe by rejecting a slew of EU legislation, Scotland would argue to accept it. Few in Scotland think that its varied, if small, groups of immigrants have brought anything more than assets to the country. Repatriateing all those of Italian heritage would be a disaster: we’d lose most of our chip shops and ice cream parlours. In Scotland, UKIP/BNP/et al are nowhere.
Which is why, when I come across Facebook pages such as Infidels of Britain, I don’t quite know what to make of it. On the one hand, it is ‘patriotic’, supporting cultural icons that we Scots share—British Army, Royal Marines, Winston Churchill and the like. But then it drifts into Enoch Powell—not quite the demon some make him out to be but definitely suspect on multiracial credentials—and blames migrants for poverty, NHS collapse, green belt invasion and pretty much all evils.
Now, none of us are so naive that we think there are no right wing racists in Scotland. But the tone of such pages is distinctly English—even though they use the term ‘British’ to de facto include the Scots. And that is the point at which I get mad. If the English wish to have a lively, if not eyeball-to-eyeball, discussion about their relations with resident immigrants or our Continental cousins, they are most surely entitled to do so.
But I believe I speak for many Scots when I say that we’re fed up with them including us. Because people who belong to such causes appear to be xenophobic about almost everyone except their ‘friends’ like us—about whom they are pig ignorant. I have yet to meet a UKIP supporter capable of distinguishing ‘Britain’ from ‘England’. To this pile of ‘patriots’—as with Winston Churchill—there is no distinction.
Back in Victorian times when Britannia ruled the waves because it had more money and a bigger stick than anyone else, the glories of being British were palmed off as the ultimate aspiration of any civilised person. The Scots were supine enough to be called the ‘North British’, adopting many English mannerisms like afternoon tea, sang froid and private schools. But that was not reciprocated: England was never ‘South Britain’; Scots in London were chided on their barbaric origins, no matter Voltaire’s “We look to Scotland for our idea of civilisation“.
This fracture in the Union was always there; it was only because Scots tholed being treated as a branch office that it was not so glaring. But, now that England is falling on harder and harder times, now that much sense of identity vanished with the empire, now that large amounts of immigrants have made them question the clarity of their own culture, its reassertion is becoming ever more inward-looking and right-wing. It’s not just UKIP/BNP/et al—just listen to Tories talking about Europe.
It is time we Scots asserted our right not to be included and implicated in any such ‘British’ nonsense. If they wish to strike these attitudes, they’re free to—but, until any significant number of Scots sign up to them, only as the ENP or EIP. We Scots like our immigrants, whether Patel or Patschky : they are our friends, our neighbours; they have enriched our lives; they have brought a culture of hard work and family that reminded us of our own values.
And, until we change our collective mind on this or we have our own country back so that they are compelled to change to ENP, etc. and we can embrace them as our new ‘foreign’ neighbours (blessings be upon them), they can just bog off.