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The Britishness of Scotland: A Speech by Alistair McConnachie




On Saturday 3 February 2024, Alistair McConnachie was invited to speak to a Christian group in Glasgow. His Speech was based on the following text.

 

Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for having me, and thank you to our host for inviting me to speak on the suggested topic of "The Britishness of Scotland".

 

I'd like to break the talk into several sections:

 

1. What is "Britishness"? That is, how I am defining the term.

2. How is "British" different from say "Scottish"?

3. Once we've got our definitions, I'd like to look at some;

- social and cultural examples;

- and then some examples from history;

- and then some examples of how we personally experience Britishness in Scotland. 

 

And let me firstly say that when I use the phrase "Britain" in this talk, I am referring to all of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. That's my definition of "Britain".

 

WHAT IS "BRITISHNESS" – OUR DEFINITION

How are we defining the word "Britishness"?

 

The suffix "-ness" means "state, condition or quality" and is used with an adjective to say something about the state, condition, or quality of being that adjective.

 

For example, redness means the state, condition or quality of "being red."

 

So when we ask "What is Britishness", we're asking, "What is the state, the condition, the quality of being British?"

 

So we have our definition: "Britishness is the State or Condition or Quality of Being British."

 

Therefore, the Britishness of Scotland is about Scotland's state, or condition or quality, or qualities, of being British.

 

Let's look at some obvious definitions of "Britishness".

 

Geographical Britishness

At its simplest, anything that exists or occurs, or is native to, or is made or grown within the British Isles, can have the adjective "British" attached to it.

 

For example, something can be British simply because it is within the United Kingdom.

 

Scotland is geographically British simply because it is part of Britain.

 

And you know, in that sense, the Scottish nationalists will say, "Oh, even if you got independence, you can still be 'British' because you'll still be living in geographical Britain."

 

OK, to an extent yes, but clearly, there's more to being "British" than simply just living here!

 

We're talking about more than just the geographic definition of being British.

 

It's also used to describe anything that is native to the British Isles. An animal that is native to Scotland, is Scottish and also British. Ayrshire cows for example!

 

A product made, or grown in Scotland is Scottish, but it's also clearly British because it is Made or Grown in Britain. Ayrshire potatoes for example!

 

And that's why it's perfectly proper to slap a Union Jack on a packet of them, regardless of how much some of the Scottish nationalists might moan.

 

So, when we talk about the Britishness of Scotland we can include these things, but we're clearly talking about more than a geographical description, or the things which are native to, or which are made or grown in, Scotland.

 

Legal Britishness

There is the legal fact of being British. People can become legal "British citizens". They have a right to call themselves British, legally, on paper.

 

Unfortunately, some legal British citizens don't have any attachment or loyalty to Britain, the Nation. And that's a pity.


After all, to "be British" you have to, at least, be loyal to Britain!

 

So when we're speaking about "Britishness", we're looking for more than just legal Britishness on paper.

 

We're seeking something beyond the geographical, the physical, and the legal facts.

 

[In our speech we didn't get into the matter of ethnic Britishness, although we would say that someone would have an ethnic Britishness, in whole or part, if they are descended from the white, European, historic population of the British Isles.]

 

So what are we Seeking to Describe?

I suggest that when we're seeking to describe the "Britishness of Scotland" we're seeking the social and cultural elements of Britishness, and the historic elements of Britishness in Scotland's past and present.

 

We're also seeking to describe the elements of personal experience – that is the experience of living a British existence in Scotland.

 

And before I give you some "for instances", I asked myself the second question.

 

"WHAT IS BRITISH"?

What is distinctly "British" as opposed to distinctly Scottish, or English, or Welsh, or Irish, or Northern Irish?

 

How does something move from "being Scottish" to attain the state, the condition, the quality of also "being British"? How does it become also a distinctly British social or cultural element, rather than remain Scottish only?

 

To be frank, I've never seen this question posed before, and so I'd like to give you my explanation:

 

We move beyond the geographical, or the strictly legal definitions of "being British" and "Britishness", and to the more substantial social and cultural definitions of being British and Britishness, when something expands from being applicable only to one part of the UK, and develops into something which is applicable in another part of the UK, or some parts of the UK, or all parts of the UK; and especially when that move results in it affecting, and being embraced in a positive way by another part, or some parts, or all parts. It is at that point that its innate quality changes and it becomes, for example, not just a Scottish thing but also a British thing. When that happens, it now starts to possess a British-ness.

 

So to further summarise our definition of Britishness in a workable way: Britishness is the result of the interaction of the people of these Islands upon each other in a useful and valuable way.

 

Britishness arises out of the fusion of positive interaction between all parts, and people, of these Islands.


As a result of positive interaction, Britishness is created.

 

In that sense, Britishness is something we create.

 

That means when something or someone moves from Scotland, into England, and is embraced by England, and/or has a positive impact on England then it becomes part of the Britishness of England.

 

That is true, vice versa, for all parts of the UK. When something or someone moves from England, into Scotland, and is embraced by Scotland, and has a positive impact on Scotland then that becomes part of the Britishness of Scotland.

 

I'll be giving examples of this shortly, which will help to clarify.

 

But the point here is that the more social and cultural interaction that we have among the people of these Islands then the more Britishness as a concept, and an identity, is going to be created, to grow, and to prosper.

 

For Instance, Burns Night

Let me give you a simple example.

 

We've just had Burns Day, 25th January. Here we have a Scotsman who has been embraced by all parts of the United Kingdom. He was a Scot, but it is quite correct to say he has been embraced by all parts of the United Kingdom.

 

It is quite correct to name Burns as part of the British poetry canon.

 

The traditional meal on Burns Night is haggis, a Scottish food, but which has been embraced by all of the United Kingdom. So haggis is a Scottish, and now a British food! It is also quite correct to say that Haggis is part of the British culinary tradition.

 

And that means it is quite correct to slap a Union Jack on the wrapping paper of a haggis if you're trying to sell it in another part of the UK.

 

The Bagpipes which are often played at a Burns Night, are Scottish, but they are definitely now a British musical instrument, and part of "being British".

 

And that brings me on to this important insight.

 

THE SCOTTISHNESS of BRITAIN

We are speaking about the "Britishness of Scotland" but when we see Britishness as the fusion of positive interaction among all parts and people of these Islands – then it means we can also speak in the same way about the Scottishness of Britain – Britain's state of being Scottish.

 

We can talk about how things originating in the rest of Britain have become British things in Scotland, and we can talk about how things originating in Scotland have become British things in the rest of Britain.

 

Let me give you more examples of the Scottishness of Britain, and the Britishness of Scotland.

 

Here's one dear to people's hearts in this room.

 

The Stone of Destiny

It is often put within its initial Biblical context. Then it became associated with the Irish, and then with the Scottish Kings. Edward I took it to England in 1296, upon which the English, and then the British Kings and Queens were crowned.

 

To this day, some people like to talk up its particular Scottishness – which of course, it undoubtedly possesses – and which is something of great value.

 

However, here's what gets missed!

 

The passage of time, and the effect of history upon it – since 1296 – have clearly invested the Stone with a much wider United Kingdom meaning. A much wider British meaning.

 

That is, the Stone's experience through time, has changed its essence!

 

The interaction of the various parts of our Islands upon it, have developed in the Stone an additional identity.

 

It now has a wider British identity and meaning, in addition to its specifically Scottish meaning.

 

It's not just Scottish now. It's Scottish and British!

 

Yet, this reality is excluded (often deliberately), and missed, by those who see the Stone only within a limited 13th century Scottish context.

 

We mentioned this in our magazine, "King and Country" which we published last year to celebrate the Coronation of King Charles. (It's a great Scottish and British education available here for only £4.50.)


The British Monarchy

Speaking of the Monarchy, it is definitely part of the Britishness of Scotland, and the Scottishness of Britain.

 

It was the Scottish King, James VI, who joined, in his person, the realms of Scotland and England at the Union of the Crowns in 1603.

 

Indeed, in our recent magazine "King and Country" we've got a fantastic poster in the centre pages which shows the Scottish Roots of the British Royal Family, going right back to Robert the Bruce!



Screenshot from our regular Wednesday programme "Good Evening Britain" on YouTube from 7-8pm.

 

SHARED EXPERIENCE is at the HEART OF BRITISHNESS

Let's look at some more examples of how Britishness is created – forged, we could say – as a result of shared experience.

 

This shared experience is at the heart of "Britishness".

 

This fusion, this amalgam of Britishness, this joining together, this weld of Britishness, comes from the heat – sometimes burning heat – of shared experience.

 

How does it work?


It works through people.

 

That is, somebody from Scotland goes to England and creates something of lasting value there, which becomes part of our British heritage. Someone comes to Scotland from England and creates something of lasting value in Scotland.

 

It was especially the Parliamentary Union of 1707 which would enable us, in time, not only to share in each other's culture throughout the British Isles, but to create each other's culture – from everything from architecture to modern pop music.

 

Some quick cultural examples: It was William Arroll from Dalmarnock in Glasgow, whose company built the Forth Rail Bridge. He also built Tower Bridge in London. Two British icons! Perhaps not surprisingly, he was also a Unionist MP.

 

Architecturally, it was a Scotsman from Paisley, William Young, who designed the War Office in Whitehall in London, as well as the beautiful Glasgow City Chambers.

 

It was an Englishman – Sir George Gilbert Scott – who designed Glasgow University (below, AFFG 2-2-24), and St Mary's Cathedrals in both Glasgow and Edinburgh; as well as the Albert Memorial and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in London.



It was the Englishman, Sir Harold Boulton, who wrote the quintessential "Scottish" song – "the Skye Boat Song" (1884).

 

Speed, bonnie boat, like a bird on the wing,

Onward! The sailors cry;

Carry the lad that's born to be King

Over the sea to Skye.

 

It was this song, in particular, which had a huge effect in communicating the story, and romanticising the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, to everyone in the UK – yet it was written by an Englishman.

 

It was an Englishman who wrote the number 1 "Scottish" song "Mull of Kintyre".

 

It was a Scotsman from the Gorbals – James Robb Scott – who designed the London icon, Waterloo Station, and its Victory Arch War Memorial entrance.

 

It was an Englishman, Charles d'Orville Pilkington Jackson, who designed one of Scotland's most famous landmarks – the statue of Robert the Bruce at Bannockburn! He created it in 1964 at the age of 76 – another example of British cultural inter-action throughout our Islands.

 

Every day, across A Force For Good's social media platforms, we highlight this Britishness of Scotland and Scottishness of Britain.

 

SCOTLAND MAKES BRITAIN…

Prior to the 2014 referendum, A Force For Good produced a series of "memes" which we fired out, around the theme of "Scotland makes Britain…"

 

…Imagine" – Think of the authors like Walter Scott, in the past, or the modern ones, who have had an effect on British-wide culture.

…Industrious" – The Industrial Revolution was driven by James Watt from Greenock, and his associate William Murdoch from Cumnock, and especially when they teamed up with Matthew Boulton from Birmingham, they created a genuinely British firm which changed the world.

…Explore" – Many adventurous Scots were crucial to the British Empire, include David Livingstone, Mungo Park, David Douglas, John McDouall Stuart.

…Knowledgeable" – The world-famous Encyclopaedia Britannica was the invention of a group called "The Society of Gentlemen in Scotland" in Edinburgh in 1768.

…Fashionable" – Talking about Pop Culture, the famous Carnaby Street was put on the map by Scottish fashion designer John Stephen from Glasgow.

…Sail" – Think of the ships which have been built in Scotland. The quintessential sailing ship, the Cutty Sark, which is preserved at Greenwich, was built on the Clyde in Dumbarton.

…Think" – Thinkers like Adam Smith, and David Hume, have had an impact Britain-wide and world-wide. This scene flourished after the 1707 Union.

 

And of course, importantly, it was a Scotsman who created the King James Bible, which changed the world!

 

When we think of things in this way, it encourages us to understand the value and importance of what Scotland has contributed in the past, what we continue to contribute today, and what we can contribute in the future, to the overall Big Picture of Britain.

 

The extent to which people from the rest of these Islands have influenced Scotland, and vice versa, is a demonstration of British social and cultural integration – an example of "Britishness".

 

It is this fusion of positive interaction which creates Scottish, or English, or Irish, or Northern Irish, or Welsh things into British things.

 

THE BRITISHNESS of SCOTLAND MADE MANIFEST in OUR HISTORY

The Magna Carta and the Declaration of Arbroath are often thought of as separate English and Scottish documents respectively, but they are also British Constitutional documents which have had an impact upon all of our Islands, and indeed the world.

 

The Magna Carta is considered the beginning of constitutional politics, not only in Britain but in the Western world. It was ratified on 15 June 1215.

 

The noblemen who came to approve the document and witness King John add his seal, arrived from Scotland, Ireland and Wales (and even France).

 

From Scotland came Alan of Galloway. He was the "constable of Scotland", which meant that in matters of the security of State he alone could act in Alexander II's absence – which he did when he went down to Runnymede. (We wrote an article on this on our Legacy Site here.)

 

This makes it a thoroughly British event and British constitutional document, and as much part of Scotland's heritage as it is part of England's.

 

Moving forward 100 years, to the period of Robert the Bruce, we have the Declaration of Arbroath on 6 April 1320. This was an appeal to Pope John 22nd, to recognise Scotland as a Kingdom in itself, and not just a feudal possession of Edward II of England.

 

While distinctly Scottish in its time, it has become very much part of the British constitutional tradition.

 

It was written at Arbroath Abbey, which was founded in 1178 by the Scottish King, William the Lion.

 

He consecrated it in 1197 with a dedication to Thomas A' Becket, the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom William had met at the English court, and who had been murdered in 1170 by followers of Henry II. Again, we see this Island-wide interaction creating a connection which we can describe as British today.

 

The Royal Family, Descendants of Bruce

The King, and Prince William, and his children, are all descendants of Robert the Bruce.

 

As such, they are a living example of how the British Royal Family is able to embody the history of all parts of our Islands, and thereby help reconcile conflict, in its person.

 

We show the Family Tree in our magazine "King and Country" available here.


Indeed, the Crown has always been part of Scotland's national identity: Mary Queen of Scots believed herself to be the rightful heir of the English Throne, and although she failed in that endeavour personally, it was her son, the Scotsman James VI who would, in the fullness of time, become the King of England and pronounce himself "King of Great Britain".



You can purchase a set of the above as Greeting Cards here.


After the regicide of Charles I (30 January 1649), it was the Scottish Parliament which immediately proclaimed his son, Charles II the King, not of Scotland only, but of "Great Britain".

 

As a result, the first-ever coronation for a British-wide King, was Charles II's coronation at Scone Palace on 1 January 1651, wherein his oath began "I Charles, King of Great Britain, France and Ireland, do assure and declare, by my solemn oath, in the presence of almighty God, the searcher of hearts…" Previous coronations had been for Scotland or England separately.


And later it would be the Jacobites who were seeking the British throne!

 

So, I've been talking about history. Let's look at things today.

 

HOW we EXPERIENCE BRITISHNESS in SCOTLAND TODAY

1. We Experience the Britishness of Scotland economically

Britishness is about sharing our economic resources. That's something to be proud of.

 

I'm proud that the taxes I pay in Glasgow go to help people throughout the UK. I want to know that if I move elsewhere in the UK, then my taxes will also go back to help people in Glasgow.

 

I'm proud that people in Aberdeen are helping people in Aberystwyth; that people in Belfast are helping people in Birmingham.

 

People who believe in Britain are proud of this sharing. It represents the Britishness of our economy.

 

It is interesting to note that those who do not support the Union, most certainly do not want to share Scotland's wealth and resources with the rest of the UK!

 

2. We Experience the Britishness of Scotland socially

We see it when we welcome people from the rest of the UK to Scotland, and enable them to understand that – as part of Britain – Scotland is their country too.

 

And we see it when we go to England, or Northern Ireland, or Wales, and know that these places are part of our country too. This sense of common ownership and identity helps to smooth social interactions.

 

And we can also see the Britishness of Scotland in action towards our fellow Scots.

 

For example, those of us who believe in the British Union – have plenty of room for the Scottish nationalists to be as "Scottish" as they want. That's fine.

 

But here's the thing. They have no room for those of us who also identify as British!

 

Our openness to them does not work the other way around.

 

We've seen that in the Island of Ireland. You can have a republican Irish identity in Northern Ireland if you want. But try talking up the British identity in the Republic and see how far it gets you.

 

Here in Scotland, we've seen the SNP's antipathy to Britishness. We've seen its dislike of "being British".

 

For example, witness its attempt to remove the British flag from buildings under its control. We don't mind the Saltire flying on them, but they hate to see the Union Jack!

 

Many of them won't even accept that the United Kingdom is a country. They won't even accept that there is such a thing as being British.

 

They won't even allow us to have our One Big Country – which is the name of our new book available from Amazon in paperback and eBook here.

 

They won't even allow us to have our own identity!

 

We have room for them but they have no room for us.

 

The Union has room for them, but they have no room for the Union.

 

3. We Experience the Britishness of Scotland in our personal Relations

When we are friendly to people from the rest of the UK who come to live in, or visit Scotland, then that is us "being British". That is us applying the identity in a friendly way.

 

That might seem an odd thing to say, but not when you realise that there are some people in Scotland who sadly do not behave that way, and are sometimes hostile to their fellow Brits!

 

Similarly, the Britishness of Scotland is also made manifest when people in Scotland care for the rest of the people of Britain, when we support them, when we celebrate with them, when we grieve with them.

 

Last Saturday, after being invited to speak with you, a colleague of mine sent me this Bible verse a couple of hours later. He didn't even know that I was going to be speaking, but it sums up the point I'm trying to make.

 

It's from Paul's epistle to the Christian church in Corinth

 

That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.

And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

I Corinthians 12:25-26.

 

For example, this shared grief was shown when Queen Elizabeth passed away on 8 September 2022.

 

4. We Experience the Britishness of Scotland in our Positive Attitude to the Rest of the UK

People who are opposed to the United Kingdom will petulantly demand to know, "What is the rest of Britain doing for Scotland?"

 

They will talk about Britain not delivering for Scotland. They frame it as if it is a one-way relationship where Scotland has no responsibility to contribute.

 

However, we understand that – like all good relationships – we get out of it what we put into it.

 

Therefore, we ask, "What is Scotland doing, and what can we do in the future for the greater good of Britain?"

 

How can we use Scotland to make things better for everyone in Britain?

 

Essentially, the separatist frame is "What is the rest of Britain doing for Scotland?" Our Frame is, "What is Scotland doing for all of Britain?"

 

That is the way of looking at things which made Britain Great. That's how we can look upon it again.

 

We talk up Scotland in Britain!

 

We encourage people in Scotland to use our vast ability and talent to contribute to the greater good of all the United Kingdom.

 

This positive attitude is an example of "Britishness in Scotland". This is the British attitude in Scotland in effect!

 

In this regard, the Britishness of Scotland is also shown when we attempt to hold ourselves to high standards.

 

"British" as Moral Quality

What do I mean by this?

 

I mean that the term "British" can be used to imply a moral quality.

 

For example, we can say, "That's a very British thing to do."

 

When we say that, there is the implication that it relates to concepts of "fair play" and "decency" or a certain patriotic attitude.

 

We can even say, "That's not British!" – meaning that's not right, that's not fair play, that's not what we're accustomed to do.

 

This is using the state of being British as a moral quality in itself.

 

It is using the state of being British as an aspiration to live up to!

 

I don't know if other countries do that? I don't know if other countries use their national identity in that moral way, or if that is a uniquely British thing.

 

Indeed, when I called our organisation "A Force For Good", I had that idea in mind. When I set up AFFG in 2012, I wanted to tie the battle to keep the UK together with the idea that it was a good and moral thing to do in itself.

 

So the words "British" and "Britishness" have also come to have an in-built moral quality.

 

Folks, I'm coming to the end.

 

You know, the first example I gave in this talk was Robert Burns and Burns Night.

 

To conclude, I can think of no finer fitting words than these from his 1795 poem, "The Dumfries Volunteers", wherein he offers us all some good advice…

 

Be Briton Still to Britain True, Among Ourselves United.

For Never but by British Hands, Shall British Wrongs be Righted.

 

Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you!

 

A MESSAGE TO READERS – WE TELL THE BRITISH STORY

A Force For Good aims to tell the British Story, and in so doing, to educate, to inspire, and to encourage people to see the value of the United Kingdom, the value of being British, and the value of Scotland as part of the United Kingdom.

 

We recall to memory our national story, and we do it at a time when others seek not only to forget our past, but to actively destroy it.

 

It is important that we do this because if we don't have a British Story then we don't have a British Nation. 


If we don't have a story to tell about ourselves then how can we even exist as a nation?

 

So we aim to weave together the connections of us all throughout our Islands in order to tell a fuller and richer story about our land.


Telling this British Story is a specific and on-going Project of A Force For Good.

 

We spend time and money specifically on this Story every day.

 

Our daily posts on History are intended to help provide context to our political view of the Union – to provide the information which helps to paint the wider picture of who we are and what we believe.

 

It helps us to know where we have been, so we know where we are, so we know where we should be going!

 

We are creating Intellectual Protection for the British identity in Scotland – through producing educational materials – on history, on politics, on identity – and publishing them daily via social media, and regularly via our website and printed literature, including our magazine Union Heart.

 

If you approve of our Mission, please consider supporting us with a modest monthly donation, from 69p a week (£3 a month) at this link (and please check out the rewards available too). Thank you for any help you can provide to our on-going effort.

 



 

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