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2. Living together in a Union of four nations

Young Scottish National Party Members’ Perceptions of Scotland and the United Kingdom

Claire Breniaux
p. 127-148

Résumé

This paper explores young Scottish National Party (SNP) members’ views of Scotland and the United Kingdom. It is based on the analysis of the results of an online survey and interviews with young SNP members about their political engagement and their understanding of national identity, which we carried out from 2018 to 2020. Our study focuses especially on how the members of Young Scots for Independence (YSI) and SNP Students, the youth and student wings of the SNP, perceive the Scottish nation and the UK. This paper reflects upon the way these young people define Scottishness and Scottish society. It also discusses the role of national identity in their campaign for independence.
Do they want Scotland to leave the Union because they see themselves, and Scottish people as a whole, as different from other British people? Do they consider their relationship with people in the rest of the United Kingdom as a kind of ‘Us vs. Them’ dichotomy? What does living together mean for them? The present paper shows that most of the members of the SNP youth and student wings do not feel British. A huge majority of them see the UK as a union of ‘un-equals’, which is exclusive, not progressive, and where Scotland’s voice is not heard enough. Besides self-determination, it is in the name of social democratic values that they campaign for Scottish independence. Significantly, social democracy is at the heart of their definition of the Scottish nation.

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Introduction

  • 1 The result for the whole UK was 51,9 per cent of the vote to leave the EU. As for England, 53,1 per (...)
  • 2 The Electoral Commission, op.cit. A map showing the overall result on the BBC website is quite sign (...)
  • 3 Scottish people had to vote Yes or No to answer the following question: should Scotland be an indep (...)
  • 4 See a publication by the Scottish government on December 19th, 2019. See notably the introduction w (...)
  • 5 The Conservatives got 31 MSPs, Labour got 24, Scottish Greens 6 and Liberal Democrats 5. See SPICe (...)
  • 6 See House of Commons Library., ‘General Election 2017: full results and analysis’, https://commonsl (...)
  • 7 See House of Commons Library., ‘General Election 2019: full results and analysis Research Briefing’ (...)
  • 8 The SNP were followed by the Brexit Party with 14,8 per cent of the vote. Next were the Liberal Dem (...)

1The results of the EU referendum that was held on June 24th, 2016 highlighted the complex cohabitation of two political entities: Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole. While the majority of the UK – England especially – voted to leave the European Union1, 62 per cent of the Scottish people who went to the polls voted to remain2. This political dichotomy is denounced by the Scottish National Party (SNP) as a democratic deficit. For them, Scotland’s voice is not heard or not heard enough when it comes to making political decisions in the UK. They denounce the overwhelming importance of England in the decision-making process that takes place in the British parliament at Westminster. Brexit is a prime example of this. As a consequence, in the face of what they see as Anglocentrism, the SNP push for Scottish independence from the UK – hence the Scottish independence referendum that was held on September 18th, 2014. A majority of Scottish people voted to remain in the UK3; yet, a lost battle did not mean that the war was over for the SNP. In some way, the results of the EU referendum in 2016 legitimised the party’s claims for independence. In 2019, Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and SNP leader, thus declared that she planned to set up a new referendum campaign and an independence vote by the end of 20204. Brexit was not the only political event that pushed Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP to plan a new vote on Scottish independence. In May 2016, the Scottish Parliament election confirmed the influence of the SNP in the Scottish political arena: they were the largest party with 63 seats5. In June 2017, the British General Election saw the SNP lose 21 seats compared with 2015, but they remained the third largest political party in the UK6. This was confirmed by the 2019 General Election, when the SNP even won 13 seats more than in 20177. Most significantly, they won 80 per cent of Scotland’s seats at Westminster. In the EU elections of May 2019, the SNP came first in Scotland with 37.7 per cent of the vote8. Such a victory clearly correlates with the EU referendum result in Scotland: as a majority of Scottish people voted to remain in the EU, it seems logical that support for a pro-European party like the SNP was important. Finally, the British government’s management of the difficult Brexit negotiations with Brussels since 2019 has strengthened the party’s arguments in favour of Scottish independence: the foreseen impact of Brexit on the British society and economy reinforces the SNP’s claim for independence from the UK in order to preserve Scotland.

2In this regard, the party insists on the need to get ‘Scotland’s future [back] in Scotland’s hands’9. When it comes to the future, it is necessary to scrutinize what the next generation of Scotland thinks. Indeed, young people today are concerned by their country’s future as they are the Scottish citizens of tomorrow. Depending on the result of a new referendum, it is this future generation that would live either in Scotland as still a part of the UK or in Scotland as an independent nation. Therefore, this paper reflects upon young SNP members’ understanding of both Scotland and the UK, and Scotland in the UK. How do they define Scotland and Scottishness, on the one hand, and the UK and Britishness, on the other? Answers to this central research question will be supplemented by answers to various sub-questions. How do they perceive the Scottish nation, the Union, and living together with the rest of that union? Do they want Scotland to leave the UK because they see themselves, and Scottish people as a whole, as different from other British people? Do they consider their relationship with people in the rest of the United Kingdom as a kind of ‘Us vs. Them’ dichotomy? Is there a consensus amongst them as regards the definition of Scottishness and Britishness, and does national identity play a role in their demands for independence? So as to answer these questions, the present paper focuses first on the SNP’s goal: Scottish independence. It emphasises the party’s civic nationalism by showing that they push for independence for socio-economic reasons and that they support the idea of Scotland as an open and multicultural nation. Then, it analyses young SNP members’ perceptions of Scotland on the one hand, the UK on the other hand, and Scotland’s place in that union of four nations. Finally, it highlights a relationship between their wish for Scotland to become an independent nation and their national identity.

Living Together in an Independent Nation-State : the Scottish National Party’s Aim

  • 10 In 1934, the SNP was born of a merger between the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party
  • 11 Duclos, N., ‘Le nationalisme écossais et l’identité politique du Scottish National Party’, in A. Pa (...)
  • 12 Leith, M.S., ‘Scottish National Party Representations of Scottishness and Scotland’, Politics, 2008 (...)

3Since its foundation in 193410, the Scottish National Party has been fighting for Scottish independence from the United Kingdom. Even if they have always insisted on the need for Scotland to leave the Union and become a nation on its own again, it is worth noting that their arguments have evolved over time. As Nathalie Duclos notes, from 1934 to the 1970s, the SNP claimed to be a ‘national’11 party without being either left or right-wing. In the 1970s, they started becoming a strong political force in Scotland and the UK. Their electoral victories during that decade made them develop their political ideology, social democracy, and paved the way for their move to left-wing politics. Then, despite their main goal remaining Scottish independence, their rhetoric has evolved over time. Murray Stewart Leith’s analysis of SNP manifestoes focusing on the period running from the 1970s to 201012 shows that the way the SNP perceived the UK evolved during that period. Leith points out that in the 1970s the SNP was a rather anti-English party. He shows that they fought for the survival of Scottish culture in the face of what they saw as the anglicisation of Scottish society. Leith says that the 1974 manifesto :

  • 13 Leith, M.S., op. cit., 2008, p. 86.

condemned the ‘anglicisation’ that was taking place in education and argued that ‘Scots children’ must engage with ‘their own traditions and [with] the wider heritage they share’ (SNP, 1974a, p. 28)6. Such [an example] painted the English as the other, in historical and cultural terms. Whatever Scottishness included, it did not, at this point in time, include the English.13

  • 14 Here Scottishness should be understood as national identity in an ethno-cultural sense: namely, an (...)
  • 15 For further analysis of the SNP’s socio-political and economic arguments in favour of Scottish inde (...)

4This quotation suggests that for the SNP, living together in the UK in 1974 meant cohabiting with three neighbours amongst which one, England, threatened Scottishness and Scottish culture. Then, as Murray Stewart Leith notes, in the 1980s the SNP’s discourse about the UK and England started to change. Scottishness14 and Scottish culture disappeared from the party’s manifestoes. England and the UK as a whole were now viewed from an exclusively political perspective. Since the 1980s, the SNP’s arguments in favour of Scottish independence have been socio-economic and socio-political. In their eyes, Scotland should leave the Union to put an end to what they consider to be a democratic deficit. Today, the SNP more than ever insist on the political differences between Scotland and the UK and denounce the insufficient amount of money allocated to Scotland by the British Conservative government at Westminster. In other words, for the SNP, Scotland should be an independent nation-state making its own decisions regarding society and the economy15.

  • 16 Sturgeon, N., Speech to Scottish National Party conference, Aberdeen, June 9th, 2018.
  • 17 Irish Independent, ‘Nicola Sturgeon: Immigration has made Scotland stronger’, 2016, https://www.ind (...)
  • 18 Ibid. Our emphasis.
  • 19 Civic nationalism is based on citizenship and territorial arguments rather than ethnic and cultural (...)

5Also, the SNP highlight the need to recognise Scotland as a nation in territorial terms. Regardless of their birthplace and origins, the people who live in Scotland are Scottish people. As Nicola Sturgeon said at the SNP conference in Aberdeen in June 2018: ‘The “we” is everyone who chooses to live here’16. In this regard, the party clearly encourages immigration. The idea of community is one of the main forces that drive the SNP today. Nicola Sturgeon and other leaders of the party promote Scotland as an inclusive society benefitting from diversity. In 2016, in her speech at the opening of the fifth session of the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister of Scotland praised immigration17. She referred to Scotland as ‘an open and inclusive nation’ that ‘celebrate[s] (…) differences’, and praised immigrant people that work or study in Scotland as people contributing to the building of a strong Scottish nation. Most significantly, she declared: ‘We are one Scotland’18. Hence the idea that for the SNP, Scottish people live together as a united community. These types of arguments make the SNP a clearly civic-oriented nationalist party19.

6Thus, in 2020, for the SNP, living together in the UK means being forced to cohabite with three other nations in a union that does not leave enough room for Scotland when it comes to political decision-making. As a consequence, in 2020, when thinking of the SNP and their political platform, the idea that comes to mind is one of living together out of the UK, in an independent Scottish nation-state, instead of living together in the UK.

  • 20 75 per cent of young Scots aged 16 and 17 declared that they had voted. The Electoral Commission, ‘ (...)
  • 21 See for instance Mitchell, J., Bennie, L., Johns, R., ‘Referendum as platform: the SNP and Scottish (...)
  • 22 In Aberdeen on June 8th and 9th, 2018, in Glasgow from October 7th to 9th, 2018, and in Edinburgh o (...)
  • 23 Such proportions do not result from any methodological strategies: when carrying out our study, 8 g (...)
  • 24 Our study targets 18- to 35-year-olds. This aims at including young Members of Parliament or Scotti (...)
  • 25 When writing this paper, the online survey was still open. So far, 29 young SNP members had submitt (...)
  • 26 Broadening the scope of our analysis enabled us to do a comparative study. Thanks to complementary (...)

7In order to understand more precisely what is at stake in this debate about Scottish independence, we wished to grasp SNP members’ perceptions of Scotland, the UK, and Scotland’s place in that union. As the campaign for the independence referendum led a significant number of young people to polling stations20 and sometimes to party membership21, as a new referendum could be held in the future and as young people are the next Scottish generation, we chose to focus upon young SNP members. We carried out 25 semi-guided interviews at the 2018 and 2019 annual SNP conferences22 as well as in March 2020. We interviewed 8 girls and 17 boys23, aged between 18 and 32 years old24. The interviewees were either party members without any responsibilities, members with specific positions in the youth and student wings of the party, or SNP Members of Parliament. Besides these interviews, we started carrying out an online survey25. We sent the link to the survey to the youth and student wings of Scottish political parties by email and via social media26.

  • 27 Mitchell, J., Bennie, L., Johns, R., op. cit., 2012. Their study was carried out in a political con (...)
  • 28 Leith, M.S., op. cit., 2008, 2012.
  • 29 A socio-political vision of national identity is based on one’s social values and political beliefs (...)
  • 30 YSI is the SNP’s official youth wing. It was first formed as the Young Scottish Nationalists (YSN) (...)

8So far and as far as we know, only one study of SNP members had been conducted before ours. This study by James Mitchell, Lynn Bennie and Rob Johns was published in 201227. Despite including members of all ages in their study, the three scholars did not focus particularly upon the young ones. By focusing on the youth and student wings of the party, our research thus sheds new light on SNP members. Most importantly, thanks to our interviews combined with the online survey, we were able to concentrate on the young members’ views of the Scottish nation, the UK, and the relationship between them. We could notably grasp their sense of national identity and their understanding of it. In this regard, our study supplements that of Murray Stewart Leith of the SNP’s discourse about national identity28. Leith concluded that the SNP promote a socio-political vision of Scottishness and Britishness29 by concentrating on the party’s manifestoes between 1970 and 2010, as was said earlier. Through our study, we wanted to know more about what the members of the party think personally. Our research thus adds to the existing literature and knowledge about SNP members by focusing on the members of the youth and student wings of the party to analyse their views of Scotland and the UK30.

Young SNP Members’ Understandings of the UK and the Relationship between Scotland and the Union

  • 31 Interviewees’ names were changed.
  • 32 The Moreno question refers to Luis Moreno’s work about national identity. In his PhD thesis complet (...)

9‘I don’t feel British at all’. As Harry’s31 answer shows, the major finding of our study with regard to the United Kingdom is that a huge majority of the young SNP members that we interviewed do not feel British. Like James Mitchell, Lynn Bennie and Rob Johns, we included the Moreno question32 in our interviews and online questionnaire. 80 per cent of the young members we interviewed do not feel British. Similarly, 96 per cent of the survey respondents declared that they felt Scottish not British. Even more significantly, 100 per cent of them said that British identity was not important to them. Interestingly, some young Scottish nationalists said that they were British only on their passports, thus making the distinction between being British and feeling British.

Josh : I’m British on my passport.
Alasdair: I never really associated myself with big emblems of Britishness like the monarchy or the Union Jack, but I do have a UK passport and driving licence.
Sean : I’m still a British citizen, by law.

10They see themselves as British as a matter of fact. Their down-to-earth ideas enhance the absence of any emotional attachment to British identity. As some of them specified, they were born in the UK and have a British passport, merely providing them with the British nationality. Therefore, objectively they are British, but subjectively they do not feel part of the UK and do not have any sense of British identity. Some young interviewees even distanced themselves from Britishness:

Amy : I detach myself from that.
Robert : I do not identify with it at all… it’s an alien concept to me.

11The second example illustrates the extent to which some of these young SNP members do not feel British. By saying that he felt ‘alien’ to Britishness, Robert used a strong and striking image. It highlights a clear-cut distinction between Scotland and the UK in his opinion, thus making his campaign for Scottish independence relevant.

12Some young SNP members went further and specified why they did not feel British. As an example, Grace said: ‘I don’t feel British, I don’t feel recognised by Britain’. She made a link between the fact that she does not feel British and what the SNP denounce as the democratic deficit impacting Scotland. Later in the interview, Grace explained that for her the Union is ‘unbalanced, unequal’, saying that Scotland’s voice is not heard at Westminster. In that sense, she declared that the Union is ‘not a partnership’. In Magnus’ words, ‘[i]t’s something of a three-hundred-year-old arranged marriage.’ In the same way, Josh pointed out: ‘[We are] a family of nations, but not really… [The UK is a] political union that does not work’. Similarly, the United Kingdom is ‘not a union anymore’ according to Sean. This idea of the UK as an obsolete, outdated union was shared by Michelle who declared: ‘[It’s] not like a union today.’ Interestingly, she added: ‘The English are in control of every issue.’ This echoes the idea of Anglocentrism mentioned in the introduction of this paper. The idea of imbalance between the four nations which compose the UK was also relevantly exposed by Lewis when he referred to the UK as ‘a union of un-equals’. This feeling was shared by most of the interviewees, which does not seem surprising as it corresponds to the SNP’s campaign to leave – and live together out of – the UK.

13Many survey respondents tackled the democratic deficit and divisions in the Union, as the following examples show: ‘[The UK] is a divided, unequal, undemocratic monarchy’, ‘a divided and failing union of four [nations] with rapidly diverging futures’, ‘a political union that is split, that is hugely unequal, with most of the wealth concentrated in the south-east of England. The voices of 3 of the 4 nations in the UK don’t make much a difference.’ The last quotation echoes the idea of Anglocentrism again.

  • 33 9 out of 25 young SNP members.

14‘[It’s] something ageing, lost and negative’. Amongst the interviewees, this sense of obsolescence of the UK as a partnership between nations was often accompanied by negative and quite critical views. It was often described as a union anchored in the past more than in the future. It was portrayed as a state that is not progressive, notably when it comes to social justice and equality. What is more, about a third33 of the young SNP members that we interviewed associated the UK with the British Empire and colonisation. This is also the case of the survey respondents, as the following examples illustrate: the UK is symbolised by ‘imperialism and the British Empire’, ‘colonialism, Empire’, and ‘cannot relinquish its colonial past or accept that it does not command the same respect in the world as it once did’. For an interviewee, Laura, Britishness is related to ‘oppression’ and a ‘bad History’ that ‘damaged’. The interviewees perceived the UK as a union that ‘damaged’ both locally and globally. On the one hand, some young nationalists referred to the 18th century and the Jacobite rebellion. Sean mentioned ‘Highland clearances, national memory, folk memory’ as well as the battle of Culloden and the 1746 Act of Proscription banning the wearing of tartan and Highland traditional clothes. On the other hand, some YSI and SNP Students members denounced colonisation and the ‘terrible things in History’ and ‘horrible atrocities’ committed by the British Empire. For Magnus, the spread of the Empire and what colonisation implied can even be considered ‘crimes against society’. Interestingly, Magnus added that today ‘the Britishness of Unionism focuses on the British Empire as opposed to the actual social justice and well-being of [the] people and community, of society’. His words suggest that, as was said earlier, the UK looks backwards instead of looking forwards and making society progress in terms of justice, equality and ‘well-being’.

  • 34 See footnote 20.
  • 35 In this sense, it has to be noted that none of the young SNP members we interviewed showed any sign (...)
  • 36 As Grace, like most of the other interviewees, does not feel British, here the phrase ‘British peop (...)

15The ideas of imperialism and colonialism led several interviewees to declare that they were ashamed of what the British Empire had done. In this regard, Magnus even said that he was ‘ashamed of [his] Britishness’. Striking words like these were used only by some interviewees. Yet, bearing in mind that young SNP members are civic nationalists34, it is nonetheless worth noticing a certain hostility and sometimes more or less violent arguments as regards the UK amongst them. Again, this is a bit paradoxical when one knows that the SNP advocate civic nationalism. However, for Grace, ‘there’s an issue when people think [the SNP] hate the British’35. She pointed out that people should distinguish between the UK and Westminster: the former is the country inhabited by British people, while the latter stands for the British government. In this sense, she added that she was opposed to the Conservative government at Westminster, not to British people36. Here, the idea of the non-exclusive, civic nationalism of the SNP makes sense.

  • 37 James also associated British society with homophobia.

16For young Scottish nationalists, the UK has to be seen as an exclusive nation-state. Some YSI and SNP Students members like James denounced British isolationism. They specified their thoughts by referring to Brexit and the idea that, as an island, the UK has always seen itself apart and distinctive from the rest of the world. In Mary’s opinion, this ‘insular view’ can be summarised as follows: ‘British people with British people’. Besides, young Scottish nationalists highlighted the divisiveness of British society. They insisted that the Union, governed by the Conservative and Unionist Party at Westminster, does not promote cultural diversity. On the contrary, they pointed out the British government’s exclusive, anti-immigration policy. James even denounced ‘xenophobia’ in the UK37. Similarly, a respondent considered it was ‘a small minded, xenophobic country’.

  • 38 Lucy’s words can nonetheless be qualified by Matt’s: ‘Scotland is an inclusive kind of community… [ (...)

17When it comes to living together and the idea of community, these young people declared that Scotland and the rest of the UK were, again, quite different. A majority of the interviewees said that ‘Scottish people are welcoming’ and ‘Scotland is a lot more open’ than the UK. In this regard, Adam pointed out that the Union could be considered a ‘more hostile environment’. As for Robert: ‘British culture is not as multicultural and inclusive as Scottish culture’. It should be noted that several young SNP members focused more particularly on the differences between Scotland and England. Andrew said: ‘contrary to England, [Scotland is a] very diverse, tolerant country’. Lucy declared: ‘[Scotland is] less racist38 than England… more welcoming’. These opinions suggest an ‘Us vs. Them’ dichotomy between Scotland and England. In this sense, at the time of the 2018 FIFA World Cup, during an informal conversation, four YSI and SNP Students told us that they would be pleased if the winner were not the English. Some young SNP members also displayed the national flags of England’s adversaries in their Facebook profile pictures when England played games. Supporting England’s adversaries was a clear opposition to that nation, going again in the sense of a dichotomy like ‘Us vs. Them’. This argument should nonetheless be qualified, bearing in mind that this vision was seemingly shared by just a few young SNP members.

18All these negative views of the United Kingdom were all the more significant as they contrasted with young SNP members’ perceptions of Scotland. Mary said that ‘Scotland is part of Britain but different when it comes to politics’. While Scotland has been led by the SNP, a centre-left political party, since 2007, and has traditionally been identified as a left-wing nation, the UK is currently led by a right-wing government. Also, as was mentioned earlier, the young interviewees insisted on the idea that contrary to Scotland, the UK is not progressive. Adam illustrated his thoughts with the examples of LGBT rights and climate change, saying that the SNP government was much more dedicated to these issues than the British government was.

19As was expected, in young Scottish nationalists’ opinions, there is a clear contrast between Scotland and the UK, especially in terms of politics and the idea of living together. All this was summarised by Chloe who said that Scotland is ‘distinct from the rest of the UK, both culturally and politically’. It is necessary to further analyse what Chloe meant, by focusing now on Young Scots for Independence and SNP Students members’ understandings of Scotland and Scottish society.

Living Together in Scotland : Young SNP Members’ Version of the Scottish Nation

20What does Scotland symbolise in these young people’s eyes? How do they define the Scottish nation? According to them, what are the characteristics of Scottish society? These are some of the main questions that our study aimed at answering. As the SNP promote a social democratic, independent Scotland, we hypothesised that young SNP members would define the Scottish nation from that perspective. The interviews and the results of our survey met our hypothesis.

21In order to find out how YSI and SNP Students members understand Scotland, and how they define their nation, we asked interviewees what the characteristics of Scottish society were for them. Some of them mentioned cultural characteristics:

Sean : Poetry, Burns, McDiarmid…
Robert : Fantastic heritage, poetry, music, culture… industry… the Church.
Rob : Scottish songs like Flower of Scotland… Highland games, bagpipes, tartan, kilts, the countryside, the Loch Ness monster, Scottish icons…
Eleanor : Ceilidhs at Christmas, Burns’ supper, bagpipes, embracing traditions, Scottish dialect.

22It is worth noting that only 10 out of the 25 young SNP members we interviewed referred to these cultural aspects of the Scottish nation. Instead of insisting on these shared cultural aspects, the majority of YSI and SNP Students members focused on social democracy as a defining character of Scotland:

Josh : We are a social democratic country.
Jonathan: [Scottish society is characterised by] traditional values of socialism, progress, equality, respect, social security system.
Lewis : Social justice… A space where everyone can flourish.
Mark : Fairness, openness, being honest.
Alex : A strong welfare state, the NHS… Individual freedom…

  • 39 This equation is further analysed in the last part of this paper.

23These answers correspond with the political colour and ideology of the SNP. Social democracy is a keystone of the centre-left political party’s platform39.

24Together with social-democracy, progressivism is at the heart of their political agenda. To say the least, the word ‘progress’ is often used by the party, be it on its website, leaflets, or in speeches. Most of the interviewees mentioned progressivism as a major characteristic of the Scottish nation:

Tim : [Scottish society is characterised by] values of progressivism.
Eleanor : Politically, [Scotland is] a nation for equality and progress, future…
Grace : [Scotland] is moving forward… not caught up in History.

  • 40 16- and 17-year-old Scots can vote for Scottish Parliament and local elections, but not for British (...)

25These answers clearly contrast with what young SNP members said about the United Kingdom. While the Union is seen as something ‘archaic’, belonging to the past, here Scotland is depicted as a nation that looks and moves forwards. In young SNP members’ opinion, this includes progress in terms of individual freedom and rights. Some of them enhanced various achievements of the Scottish – SNP-led – government like same sex marriage, LGBT rights and the extension of the franchise to 16- and 17-year-old Scots40. As a characteristic of the Scottish nation, a progressive policy was also supported by 76 per cent of the survey respondents.

26Together with social democracy, social justice, equality and progressivism, another characteristic that YSI and SNP Students members mentioned most of the time is the idea of community. Significantly, 24 out of 25 interviewees painted the portrait of Scotland as an open and welcoming nation.

Lewis : We’re a welcoming country.
Liam : [Scottish society is] quite friendly, welcoming.
Mary : We’re open.
Magnus: [Scotland is characterised by a] friendly atmosphere… our commitment to democracy… our commitment to communities, making sure that everyone is heard…
Harry : [A] sense of community, Scottish spirit of fairness and community.
James: A sense of comfort and familiarity… a feeling of comfort and connection.
Rob : [Scotland is characterised by its] solidarity.
Grace : [Scotland is] inclusive, welcoming, friendly…

  • 41 Interestingly, ‘As One’ is the slogan of a Scottish rugby campaign launched on September 22nd, 2014 (...)
  • 42 This echoes sociologist David McCrone’s arguments as regards civic, territorial nationalism. See Mc (...)
  • 43 Mitchell, J., Bennie, L., Johns, R., op. cit., 2012, p. 115.

27These answers show the importance of living together in young SNP members’ eyes. As is shown by the quotations, our young interviewees, as civic nationalists, emphasised that Scotland is an inclusive nation and they promoted that inclusiveness. They insisted on the idea of living together as one people, one nation41, regardless of people’s birth and origins. For them, as long as you live in Scotland, you are Scottish42. This correlates with the findings of James Mitchell, Lynn Bennie and Rob Johns in 2008. They noted that young SNP members tended to base their definition of Scottish identity on civic arguments while older members tended to base it on civic and ethnic aspects. 62 per cent of SNP members aged between 18 and 34 years old based their definition on civic characteristics exclusively. This figure falls to 45 per cent amongst members aged from 65 to 74 years old and to 36 per cent of the members above 75 years old.43

28Besides, 62 per cent of the survey respondents think that Scotland is characterised by cultural diversity. Even more significantly, all the interviewees agreed with the idea that Scotland is a multicultural nation. For Matthew, ‘Scottish identity is a melting pot’. People from various different cultural backgrounds thus live together in Scotland. Alexander even said that cultural diversity is ‘the essence of what Scottish society is’. This echoes Richard’s words: ‘[multiculturalism is] part of what we are as a country. Diversity shapes our identity, what the country is.’ Living together in a culturally diverse society is thus at the heart of the definition of the Scottish nation in these two young SNP members’ opinions. Like SNP leaders, YSI and SNP Students members see immigration as something positive which benefits Scotland. James declared that ‘immigration boosts the economy’. In the same way, for Peter, multiculturalism is ‘very healthy for society’. Lewis even declared: ‘we’re a nation of immigrants’. All this clearly echoes SNP leaders’ description of Scotland as an open and welcoming nation that benefits from cultural diversity, notably Nicola Sturgeon’s speech in 2016 on which we focused in the first part of this paper. Young Scottish nationalists’ version of Scotland is one of a nation where people live together as one people.

  • 44 Duclos, N., op. cit., 2014, 2020.
  • 45 Leith, M.S., op. cit., 2008, 2012.

29Without any surprise, young SNP members see Scotland from a socio-political point of view, as a progressive nation based on social democracy, social fairness and equality, which also correlates with Nathalie Duclos’s analysis of the political ideology of the SNP44 as well as with Murray Stewart Leith’s findings thanks to his study of the party’s discourse about national identity45.
YSI and SNP Students members’ socio-political version of Scotland and their fight for Scottish independence raise the question of a link between their national identity and their demands for independence.

National Identity and Young SNP Members’ Campaign for Independence

30When we asked young SNP members why they campaigned for Scottish independence, they answered that they wanted to end the democratic deficit impacting Scotland and thus free their country from what they considered the yoke of Westminster. They said they wanted a social democratic, independent nation. Our interviews show that these young people fight for independence mainly in the name of the values in which they believe: social justice, fairness, equality, progress. As we showed above, when asked to define the Scottish nation and Scottishness, they talked about the same values. 90 per cent of the survey respondents think that what represents Scotland best is social equality, fairness, social justice and for 79 per cent of them, it is social democracy. Therefore, we conclude that national identity plays a part in young SNP members’ campaign for independence. They fight for it in the name of what they see as the characteristics of Scottish society. In other words, their socio-political version of Scottish identity plays a role in their wish to see Scotland leave the UK.

  • 46 See Ailsa Henderson and Nicola McEwen’s work that demonstrates that national identity is related wi (...)

31We insist that it is their socio-political vision of Scottishness that is related to their demands for independence. It is not Scottishness in the sense of an ethno-cultural identity. Such a view of national identity would be based on common blood ties, ancestry, and culture. Both the civic kind of nationalism promoted by the SNP and the results of our interviews and online survey show that this is not how young SNP members perceive their national identity. Again, they see Scottishness from a socio-political perspective based on their beliefs in social democratic values46.

  • 47 Expanding on this conclusion is not our point here. While writing this paper, we were still explori (...)

32Identifying a link between the socio-political version of their national identity and their arguments in favour of independence enabled us to draw conclusions with regard to the relationship between young SNP members’ political beliefs and their sense of national identity. Bearing in mind the values YSI and SNP Students members defend and the idea that they associate Scottish identity with these values, it appears that their political ideology is related to their definition of Scottishness. As the values with which they define Scottish identity correspond to the centre-left, social democratic platform of the SNP, we suggest here a relationship between political colour and national identity: the way party members see their national identity seems to depend on their party family and their political beliefs more generally47.

Conclusion

33This analysis allows for an understanding of how young SNP members define the Scottish nation and Scottishness, the United Kingdom and Britishness, and the way they think of Scotland in that union. It shows that the members of the youth and student wings of the party see the UK as a union of ‘un-equals’ where Scotland’s voice is not heard enough. This is a reason why most of them do not feel British. What is more, they point out that British society is divided, exclusive and not progressive. Therefore, it is not surprising that these young people push for Scottish independence, especially as such views sharply contrast with the way in which they define the Scottish nation. A huge majority of the YSI and SNP Students members that we interviewed and who responded to our online survey described Scotland as an inclusive, open and welcoming nation driven by social justice, equality and progress. Social democracy is at the heart of their definition of Scotland.

34Thus, young SNP members want Scotland to become independent because their political agenda for Scotland contrasts sharply with that of the British Conservative government. They do not base the dichotomy between Scotland and the UK on ethno-cultural arguments, but on socio-political values and beliefs.

35The equation between their socio-political vision of Scotland and Scottishness and their arguments in favour of independence shows that their national identity plays a role in their campaign for independence: they push for Scottish independence in the name of the values on which their definition of Scottishness is based. This suggests a relationship between national identity and political colour and ideology. The next step in our study will be to explore this link by comparing young SNP members’ understanding of Scottishness and Britishness with that of the members of other Scottish political parties’ youth and student wings like the Scottish Young Conservatives and Scottish Young Labour.

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Bibliographie

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Annexe

Interview Questions48:

As an SNP member, what ideas and beliefs do you fight for?

Are you in favour of Scottish independence?

For what reason(s)?

Have you campaigned for the independence referendum in 2014? If so, what did you do?

What about today? Are you (still) involved in the independence debate? If so, what do you do?

Is Scottish independence a reason why you got engaged in politics?

How would you define Scottishness, Scottish identity?

What are the characteristics of Scottish society?

Is Scotland a multicultural society? If so, what is your opinion about this?

Do you think Scottish identity is linked with Scottish institutions?

When you travel abroad, what do you respond when someone asks you from where you come?

Do you feel :

Scottish only

more Scottish than British

equally Scottish and British

more British than Scottish

British only?

Other?

Why?

Are you proud to be Scottish? If so, what makes you proud of it?

How would you define Britishness?

What are the characteristics of British society?

Are you proud to be British? If so, what makes you proud of it?

Do Scottishness and Britishness go hand in hand?

Do Britishness and Englishness go hand in hand?

Do you post things about Scottishness on social media?

In case of independence, what identity would you like Scotland to have as a nation? In case the Union survives, what identity would you like the UK to have as a nation-state? What about Scotland as part of the UK?

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Notes

1 The result for the whole UK was 51,9 per cent of the vote to leave the EU. As for England, 53,1 per cent of people voted for Leave. See The Electoral Commission, ‘Results and turnout at the EU referendum’, https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/elections-and-referendums/past-elections-and-referendums/eu-referendum/results-and-turnout-eu-referendum/ ; accessed April 24th, 2020.

2 The Electoral Commission, op.cit. A map showing the overall result on the BBC website is quite significant and highlights the clear-cut difference between Scotland and England especially. BBC., ‘EU referendum: The result in maps and charts’, June 24th, 2016, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-36616028/ ; accessed April 24th, 2020.

3 Scottish people had to vote Yes or No to answer the following question: should Scotland be an independent country? Noes won the referendum with 55,25 per cent of the vote. See The Electoral Commission, ‘Scottish Independence Referendum, Report on the referendum held on 18 September 2014’, https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/sites/default/files/pdf_file/Scottish-independence-referendum-report.pdf, accessed April 24th, 2020.

4 See a publication by the Scottish government on December 19th, 2019. See notably the introduction written by Nicola Sturgeon, https://www.gov.scot/publications/scotlands-right-choose-putting-scotlands-future-scotlands-hands/ ; accessed April 24th, 2020.

5 The Conservatives got 31 MSPs, Labour got 24, Scottish Greens 6 and Liberal Democrats 5. See SPICe The Information Centre., ‘SPICe Briefing Election 2016’, http://www.parliament.scot/ResearchBriefingsAndFactsheets/S5/SB_16-34_Election_2016.pdf ; accessed October 4th, 2020.

6 See House of Commons Library., ‘General Election 2017: full results and analysis’, https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-7979/ ; accessed October 4th, 2020.

7 See House of Commons Library., ‘General Election 2019: full results and analysis Research Briefing’, https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8749/ ; accessed October 4th, 2020.

8 The SNP were followed by the Brexit Party with 14,8 per cent of the vote. Next were the Liberal Democrats with 13.8 per cent, the Conservatives with 11.6 per cent, Labour with 9.3 per cent, and the Scottish Greens with 8 per cent of the vote. See BBC., ‘EU Elections 2019: SNP secures three seats as Labour vote collapses’, May 27th, 2019, https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-politics-48424055/ ; accessed October 4th, 2020.

9 See the SNP’s website : https://www.snp.org

10 In 1934, the SNP was born of a merger between the National Party of Scotland and the Scottish Party.

11 Duclos, N., ‘Le nationalisme écossais et l’identité politique du Scottish National Party’, in A. Palau and M. Smith (eds.), Processus de transformation et consolidation identitaires dans les sociétés européennes et américaines aux XXe-XXIe siècles, Louvain-La-Neuve : Academia – L’Harmattan, 2020, p. 85.

12 Leith, M.S., ‘Scottish National Party Representations of Scottishness and Scotland’, Politics, 2008, vol. 28, no.2, pp. 83-92. Leith, M.S., Soule, D.P.J., Political Discourse and National Identity in Scotland, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2012.

13 Leith, M.S., op. cit., 2008, p. 86.

14 Here Scottishness should be understood as national identity in an ethno-cultural sense: namely, an identity which is based on common blood ties, ancestry, culture and traditions.

15 For further analysis of the SNP’s socio-political and economic arguments in favour of Scottish independence, see Nathalie Duclos’s work. See notably Duclos, N., L’Écosse en quête d’indépendance ? Le référendum de 2014, Paris: Presses de l’Université Paris-Sorbonne, 2014, and Duclos, N., op.cit., 2020.

16 Sturgeon, N., Speech to Scottish National Party conference, Aberdeen, June 9th, 2018.

17 Irish Independent, ‘Nicola Sturgeon: Immigration has made Scotland stronger’, 2016, https://www.independent.ie/videos/article34851731.ece/ ; accessed April 24th, 2020. Nicola Sturgeon’s speech was delivered just a few days after the EU referendum.

18 Ibid. Our emphasis.

19 Civic nationalism is based on citizenship and territorial arguments rather than ethnic and cultural arguments. As was said, in the case of the SNP, civic nationalism is based essentially on socio-economic arguments – the SNP fight for a socially and economically fairer Scotland as opposed to the UK and the British government led by the Conservatives – as well as emphasis on a nation open to whoever wants to live there.

20 75 per cent of young Scots aged 16 and 17 declared that they had voted. The Electoral Commission, ‘Scottish Independence Referendum, Report on the referendum held on 18 September 2014’, op. cit, 2014.

21 See for instance Mitchell, J., Bennie, L., Johns, R., ‘Referendum as platform: the SNP and Scottish Green membership surge’, Political Insight, vol.8, no.3, pp. 16–19, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1177/2041905817744629/ ; accessed April 11th, 2020. A majority of our young interviewees said that they joined the SNP during the referendum campaign or right after the referendum.

22 In Aberdeen on June 8th and 9th, 2018, in Glasgow from October 7th to 9th, 2018, and in Edinburgh on April 27th and 28th, 2019.

23 Such proportions do not result from any methodological strategies: when carrying out our study, 8 girls and 17 boys were willing to be interviewed.

24 Our study targets 18- to 35-year-olds. This aims at including young Members of Parliament or Scottish Members of Parliament. Indeed, a part of our analysis – not studied by this paper – concentrates on the relationship between the extent of young party members’ political engagement and their perceptions of their national identity, considering that young MPs’ or MSPs’ level of engagement is the highest as they work for the party. It should be noted that the age range of the category of young people analysed by James Mitchell, Lynn Bennie and Rob Johns in their study in 2008 was 18- to 34-year-olds. See Mitchell, J., Bennie, L., Johns, R., The Scottish National Party: Transition to Power, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012, and Mitchell, J., Bennie, L., Johns, R., ‘Who are the SNP members’, in G. Hassan (ed.), The Modern SNP: From Protest to Power, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009.

25 When writing this paper, the online survey was still open. So far, 29 young SNP members had submitted it. The survey was also forwarded to young people involved with other Scottish political parties. In total, 43 surveys had been submitted when we wrote this article. Overall, the questions were similar to those we asked during interviews. Nonetheless, as they were in-depth, semi-guided interviews, the latter made it possible for interviewees to expand on their answers.

26 Broadening the scope of our analysis enabled us to do a comparative study. Thanks to complementary data and responses from young members of other Scottish parties, we could draw more relevant conclusions as regards young party membership and national identity.

27 Mitchell, J., Bennie, L., Johns, R., op. cit., 2012. Their study was carried out in a political context which was different from today, namely right after the SNP’s victory at the 2007 Scottish Parliament election. Above all, at the time, the Scottish independence referendum was not on the horizon yet, and Brexit even less so. In this regard, our study aims at updating theirs.

28 Leith, M.S., op. cit., 2008, 2012.

29 A socio-political vision of national identity is based on one’s social values and political beliefs, while an ethno-cultural vision of national identity is based on common blood ties, ancestry, and culture.

30 YSI is the SNP’s official youth wing. It was first formed as the Young Scottish Nationalists (YSN) in the 1970s. SNP Students – also known as the Federation of Student Nationalists and founded in 1961 – works with the SNP but is independent from the party. Our analysis includes answers and responses from both YSI and SNP Students members. There is no distinction between them when it comes to their perceptions of national identity. Besides, very frequently they are members of both organisations.

31 Interviewees’ names were changed.

32 The Moreno question refers to Luis Moreno’s work about national identity. In his PhD thesis completed at the University of Edinburgh in 1986, this social policy and political scientist suggested a new way of measuring national identity. He concluded that Scottish people feel either: only Scottish, not British; more Scottish than British; equally Scottish as British; more British than Scottish; or only British, not Scottish. His theory is now widely used in studies about Scottish and British identities.

33 9 out of 25 young SNP members.

34 See footnote 20.

35 In this sense, it has to be noted that none of the young SNP members we interviewed showed any signs of hatred towards the UK and the British people living in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

36 As Grace, like most of the other interviewees, does not feel British, here the phrase ‘British people’ has to be understood as the people from Northern Ireland, Wales and England.

37 James also associated British society with homophobia.

38 Lucy’s words can nonetheless be qualified by Matt’s: ‘Scotland is an inclusive kind of community… [but] we’re not perfect, we still have issues [like] racism.’

39 This equation is further analysed in the last part of this paper.

40 16- and 17-year-old Scots can vote for Scottish Parliament and local elections, but not for British general elections. They could not vote for the EU referendum in June 2016 either.

41 Interestingly, ‘As One’ is the slogan of a Scottish rugby campaign launched on September 22nd, 2014.

42 This echoes sociologist David McCrone’s arguments as regards civic, territorial nationalism. See McCrone, D., The Sociology of Nationalism: Tomorrow’s Ancestors, London & New York: Routledge, 2000; McCrone, D., Bechhofer, F., Understanding National Identity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015; McCrone, D., The New Sociology of Scotland, London: Sage, 2017. It also corresponds with Nicola Sturgeon’s words we quoted in the first part of this paper: ‘The “we” is everyone who chooses to live here’. Sturgeon, N., Speech to Scottish National Party conference, Aberdeen, June 9th, 2018.

43 Mitchell, J., Bennie, L., Johns, R., op. cit., 2012, p. 115.

44 Duclos, N., op. cit., 2014, 2020.

45 Leith, M.S., op. cit., 2008, 2012.

46 See Ailsa Henderson and Nicola McEwen’s work that demonstrates that national identity is related with national values. They notably show that the SNP use them in their claim for independence. See Henderson, A., ‘Political Constructions of National Identity in Scotland and Quebec’, Scottish Affairs, 1999, vol. 29, no. 1, pp. 121-138, and Henderson, A., McEwen, N., ‘Do Shared Values Underpin National Identity? Examining the Role of Values in National Identity in Canada and the United Kingdom’, National Identities, 2005, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 173-191.

47 Expanding on this conclusion is not our point here. While writing this paper, we were still exploring the link between political colour and national identity.

48 We focus here on the questions dealing with national identity, Scottish independence, and the way young SNP members see the Scottish nation, which are of interest with regard to the present paper. Interviewees were also asked questions about their party membership.

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Pour citer cet article

Référence papier

Claire Breniaux, « Young Scottish National Party Members’ Perceptions of Scotland and the United Kingdom  », Observatoire de la société britannique, 26 | 2021, 127-148.

Référence électronique

Claire Breniaux, « Young Scottish National Party Members’ Perceptions of Scotland and the United Kingdom  », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 26 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2022, consulté le 17 janvier 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/osb/5090 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/osb.5090

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Auteur

Claire Breniaux

Doctorante en civilisation britannique et ATER à l'Université de Bourgogne

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Observatoire de la société britannique

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