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1In contrast to the medieval Church’s universalism, and the Enlightenment’s emphasis on rationality and cosmopolitanism, the late 18th and early 19th centuries saw a resurgence of interest in historical and cultural particularity. At this time, however, Scotland’s contribution to nation-making consisted of becoming ‘North Britain’ to England’s ‘South Britain’. While Scotland could not express its distinctive identity through statehood, in the same way as new national polities such as the USA, France, Germany and Italy, it could do so through cultural expression. Remarkably, the emergence of a self-consciously Scottish cultural identity took place just as Britain’s industrial success and expanding overseas Empire were providing the foundation for an ever more confident and cohesive British identity.. Only in the later 20th century did that sense of cultural distinctiveness begin to contribute to the broad-based and increasingly forceful quest for political independence that led to the independence referendum in 2014.

2Our aim in this volume is to explore how a deeper understanding of the cultural dimension of national identity can enrich wider scholarly debates about the contemporary resurgence of Scottish political nationalism, precisely at the point in which Brexit has reopened questions about the future of the UK. In particular, we wish to go beyond simplistic analyses of the forces driving political fragmentation and assertion of identity. The Britain which voted for Brexit, for example, is far more complex in its composition and concerns than the one-dimensional picture of nationalistic and isolationist self-assertion. Some of the feeling in favour of Brexit was indeed quite insular but in other cases it could be quite outward-looking, an attitude encapsulated in Boris Johnson’s promise in his 2016 Chatham House speech that Brexit Britain would be a ‘Global Britain’.1 The identities which drove the UK’s departure from the EU are complex and the motives mixed and often based on the self-interest of quite specific socio-economic groups who, together, formed a varied coalition rather than a homogeneous group. Among the ‘white working class’, there seems to be a feeling that their traditional vocations have been taken away by immigrant labour from Central and Eastern Europe. Many share a sense that the USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the wider Commonwealth, are culturally and historically closer to the UK than continental Europe, not just in language, but political organisation.2 For some, such as the late Roger Scruton, a leading conservative philosopher and thinker, the Common Law tradition remained a crucial factor. And there can be little doubt that supporters like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Peter Hargreaves represented financial interests in search of greater investment opportunities in—and from—India, China, and other emerging markets.3 Within this domestic and global context, Scotland’s position is in some respects similar, but in others very obviously different to England’s. With less population pressure on housing, greater popular support for immigration as a driver for economic growth, and a strong attachment to progressive values, its affinities with continental Europe are greater even though its historical links through immigration to the wider English-speaking world are even deeper due to the large number of Scots who emigrated to the dominions and the USA over the course of the 19th and 20th centuries.

  • 4 ‘Poll shows Labour narrow gap to SNP as Sir John Curtice says result “makes every seat in Scotland (...)

3After the last Scottish Parliament elections took place on 6 May 2021 and, with a majority for the pro-independence parties, the Scottish National Party (SNP) and the Greens, the Scottish government declared that there was a mandate for a second referendum on independence. But the political context has now changed yet again after the greatest crisis in the SNP’s recent history, opening with the surprise resignation of charismatic Nicola Sturgeon in February 2023, then the divisive election campaign for her successor, and the subsequent police investigation into the party’s finances. Scotland’s First Minister, Humza Yousaf, moreover, is set to lead the party and his country into the next UK general election—it has to be held no later than 28 January 2025—at a critical moment when the Conservative Party (continuously in power since 2010) seems likely to lose to Labour, and with previously safe SNP seats expected to swing to Labour in Scotland.4 As the future of Scotland unfolds in this shifting and contested post-Pandemic context, looking at how the nation articulates its identity, and its economic and political priorities, is a fascinating topic for discussion.

4We propose to explore, in this issue of LISA-E-Journal, how cultural identity and political nationalism have related to each other over the course of Scotland’s history through individual exemplifications. We examine the roots of political and cultural nationalism, and how their expressions have changed over time. By viewing these phenomena over a long period, from the Middle Ages to the present, we challenge interpretations of nationalism that see the political and cultural realms as straightforwardly equivalent and mutually supportive. In doing so, we hope to contribute to a more nuanced approach to both historical and contemporary nationalisms, with their complex and ever-evolving interrelations of social, cultural, political and economic factors.

5The first part deals with some military and architectural aspects of nationalism and identity in Scotland at various stages in Scottish history. Clément Guézais provides a new perspective on the ways that antagonism with England provided opportunities to define Scottish identity and reinforce its conspicuousness on the European stage, while also exploring the negative perceptions held by Continental authors. This article is based on the remark attributed by chronicler Walter Bower to Pope Martin (“Truly, the Scots are an antidote to the English”) to underline the Scots’ success at the Battle of Baugé in 1421. During the Wars of Independence, opposition to England had become a central component in the development of the Scottish national imagination. This process was reinforced during the Hundred Years’ War, when the international context favoured an alliance with France and the direct intervention of the Scots on the continent. The proverbial hostility to the English neighbour was an element of distinction which had undeniable advantages on an ideological level, but which also carried risks. The presence of Scots in France was justified as they provided the French with military support. While Scots offered help, their intrusive presence generated suspicion, hence the prevailing perception of being both ‘poison’ and ‘antidote’.

6Aonghus MacKechnie explores Scotland’s architecture by relating its replicas with religious and political history, thus positing that national identity is tied to architectural history. Conventional narratives have presented and discussed styles, fashions, trends, and the impacts both at home and externally of the country’s participation within the “Western” cultural community. All This aligns with the established orthodoxies of identifying a national architectural culture. Within Scotland, Scotland-specific topics were encompassed within the norms of the wider paradigms, of course, but moulded to suit the particular Scottish requirements of a particular moment. The result was a selective appropriation of “native” or “national” models considered sufficiently valuable to merit presentation, re-emphasis, and provision of a new life in a new age. One course chosen was a revival in modified form of traditional aesthetic forms, as with the symbolically martial Baronial castles with their dummy gunloops; while differing interpretations of “national” allowed for flexibility in the search for suitable sources of inspiration for the revival styles. The first part deals with the Gaelic kingdom of Dalriada as a major international Christian centre in the 6th century and its revival under the Lordship of the Isles using decorative stone sculpture and wheeled crosses. The second part is about the Scottish national revival, with Romanesque revival as far as architecture was concerned. Then the author shows the influence on churches of religious reforms, ie the Reformation and then Episcopalianism after the Union of Crowns. MacKechnie contends that not one but as many as four versions of a national(ist) politics are seen through Scottish architectural choices—formulae signalling Gaeldom, Scotland, Britain, and distinct from each of these, an Anglo-Britain.

7Pierre-Louis Coudray’s article evokes the presence of Scottish soldiers in various wars and battles both before and after the 1707 Union. Their scarlet uniforms and highland dress came to be associated with Britain’s imperial history, in spite of their initial 18th-century Jacobite and rebellious affiliations. The author focuses on the parliamentary debates concerning Scottish regiments initiated by individual MPs or peers who intended to defend Scotland’s and Britain’s cultural and political identities, as well as protect local jobs. Scottish regiments had a martial reputation underlined by politicians. However, in the second half of the 20th century and the first two decades of the 21st century, the British army has been streamlined as a result of Britain’s loss of global power. Politicians have been concerned with the future of Scottish regiments increasingly shaped by constitutional issues in Scotland in the context of devolution and, thereafter, of a pro-independence agenda set by the SNP, the party of Government.

8The second part deals with the economics and the politics of nationalism and identity, as well as their territorial dimension in contemporary Scotland. Edwige Camp-Pietrain analyses the economics of Scottish nationalism. Indeed, the SNP’s nationalism is explicitly articulated in economic terms through the speeches of leaders who contend that Scotland should become independent to be the primary beneficiary of its own natural resources. The discovery of oil, they argue, should support their country’s independence. While this pledge remained essential in the campaign leading to the 2014 referendum on independence, it was regarded as a threat by the British Government and generated demands in the Northern Isles to protect their interests. Yet in 2023, SNP leaders are having to adapt their discourse to substantial changes—not least the decline in available oil reserves in the North Sea and the political agreement with the Greens who are committed to getting rid of fossil fuels—as well as soaring public deficits resulting from Brexit and the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet the surge in oil and gas prices due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine made it more difficult for them to endorse pledges to ban new licences—even during the COP-26 conference held in Glasgow, when they promoted a green national identity. In the context of environmental crises demanding the country to meet its carbon emission targets and the rise of renewable energies, the SNP can hardly conceive a credible economic blueprint to be used to justify a second independence referendum. This chapter builds on SNP sources as well as parliamentary debates held in the British and Scottish Parliaments, and publications from the British and Scottish Governments. It provides a new perspective on an old SNP slogan (“It’s Scotland’s Oil”) as the author examines the new dilemmas faced by the SNP, including its commitment to an inclusive political nationalism and its willingness to be a good global player.

9Nathalie Duclos investigates the nature of what is called in every-day language the Scottish “independence movement”. While the SNP has attracted scholarly attention, especially since the onset of devolution, this article examines the wider independence movement—ie parties such as the Greens, the SSP, non-party organisations and individuals—which has developed significantly since the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and breaks new ground by interrogating its nationalist underpinning. In one sense, all Scottish pro-independence organisations may be regarded as nationalist since they all share a common aim of independent statehood for the Scottish nation. However, the independence movement includes many organisations and individuals who reject the “nationalist” label. Nationalist movements have been defined as movements whose “central goal” is the pursuit, through constitutional reforms or otherwise, of degrees of political self-determination. This definition raises the question of whether independence can be described as the “central goal” of all the major organisations which make up the Scottish independence movement. In the first part of her study Duclos analyses how these organisations and their main actors tackle the subject of independence, revealing an internal tension between those prioritising independence over other issues, and those pursuing independence to achieve another, more central goal (eg, socialism, etc). She then examines how the different actors in the Scottish independence movement manipulate “nationalist” rhetoric and themes.

10Lastly, Mathew Nicolson focuses on the Northern archipelagos of Orkney and Shetland which, between 1966 and 1990, experienced multiple debates about institutional reform, while the discovery of North Sea oil transformed the social and economic fabric of the islands. Even though resistance to change was often put down to local identities based on strong Norse connections at the expense of Scottish identity, the author argues that they result from a sense of vulnerability and perceived external threats. Nicolson discusses three specific examples. First, the reform of local governance and government, as the British government offered integration into wider structures of mainland Scotland for police forces, water boards, and local authorities. Second, devolution plans in the 1970s that aimed at setting up an assembly in Edinburgh dealing with domestic matters. Third, the Orkney and Shetland movements that demanded more autonomy for the islands in order to defend local interests such as fisheries against EEC regulations. The author offers a nuanced stance by taking into account Orkney and Shetland’s multi-layered national and political identities, and fears for the future sustainability of the islands’ societies in a period of rapid economic, social and political change.

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1 Boris Johnson, ‘Beyond Brexit : A Global Britain’,, speech at Chatham House, 2 December 2016.

2 James McBride, ‘The Commonwealth of Nations: Brexit and the Future of “Global Britain”’, Council on Foreign Relations,

3 Paul Simpson, ‘How the City Gave Birth to Brexit’,

4 ‘Poll shows Labour narrow gap to SNP as Sir John Curtice says result “makes every seat in Scotland a marginal at the next general election”’, The Scotsman, 23 August 2023

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Clarisse Godard Desmarest et Edwige Camp-Pietrain, « Introduction »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol 21. n°56 | 2023, mis en ligne le 18 octobre 2023, consulté le 29 novembre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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Clarisse Godard Desmarest

Clarisse Godard Desmarest is a senior lecturer in British Studies at the University of Picardie Jules Verne (Amiens, France) and an emeritus fellow of the Institut Universitaire de France. She is the author of numerous publications on the history of Scottish architecture and culture, and editor of The New Town of Edinburgh: An Architectural Celebration (2019). Her work has embraced a diversity of topics including the role of women in architecture, the history of the tenement in Scotland and France, the Baronial in 19th-century Edinburgh, and other aspects of early modern and modern Scotland. Her monograph on The Building of the Royal High School, Edinburgh: History, Heritage and Education in Scotland (18th-21st centuries) is forthcoming. Her current research focuses on William Burn (1789-1870), the prolific and neglected Scottish architect. This study, supported by an EU Marie Curie Fellowship at the University of Edinburgh (2021-2023), articulates debates over style and national identity in Britain and beyond.

Edwige Camp-Pietrain

Edwige Camp-Pietrain is a Professor of British history and politics at the Université Polytechnique Hauts-de-France (Valenciennes). She is a member of the research centre LaRSH/ CRISS. Her research focuses on politics, institutions and public policies in contemporary Scotland. She has published extensively on these topics, books such as L’impossible indépendance écossaise? (Neuilly: Atlande, 2014) and articles including “The SNP, a party of government for the 21st century” (LISA, vol. XII, n°8, 2014).

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