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Is Scottish really as inclusive an identity as the Scottish Government presents it to be?
The Scottish National Party (SNP) have long-claimed that Scotland is “open, welcoming and outward looking” (SNP 2019). However, evidence from the AMIF-funded research project ‘VOLPOWER: Volunteer and Empower: Enhancing Community Building and Social Integration through Dialogue and Collaboration amongst Young Europeans and Third Country Nationals’, and my own PhD investigation, suggests that ethnic minority individuals face many barriers to claiming a Scottish identity.
McCrone and Bechhofer (2010) have drawn attention to the divergence between elite attitudes towards the inclusivity of a Scottish identity and the views of the majority population, who are not always as accepting of immigrant groups. Most Scottish people define Scottish citizenship based on birthplace and ancestry. The everyday coping mechanisms of migrants in Scotland have also included nationalist voting behaviours as a manner of expressing allegiance to the nation state (Hopkins 2014; Botterill et al. 2016). Our research investigates views on Scottish inclusivity shared by young adults of a migrant background. The participants’ experiences reveal a great deal about the self-securitising measures and identity negotiation processes young people of a migrant background navigate in Scottish daily life.
The Welcoming Narrative Helps
Our research has identified a perception that the welcoming narrative adopted by the Scottish Government can make life easier for newcomer groups, as one young person said, …when you come to Scotland and you hear that it’s a welcoming place it kind of puts your mind at ease. It’s much easier than going in to London or some places down south and going in to all the stories around knife crime and hate crime and stuff like that… This observation emphasises the importance of public narratives and presents the general perception of London as a more hostile environment than Scotland. It is not an accident that this young person mentions England, as comparison with ‘the Auld Enemy’ is a long-established characteristic of Scottish identity constructions (McCrone 2017).
However, we also found evidence to suggest that majority (White) group acceptance of ethnic minorities in Scotland is conditional on the behaviour of the individual. One research participant outlined the process of inclusion when she said …as long as they realise that you're no harm, you're not threatening them or take anything from them, they're one hundred percent open… This view is supported by the research of Harris and Karimshah (2019), emphasising the pressure migrant groups face to perform qualities of ‘normalness’ in public spaces. One participant spoke about her experience of being the only person of colour in her college course and detailed how she attempted to overcome the exclusion she felt …I had to use my phone in the class, so I could show them I am just the same as you.
Scottish Identity Ascriptions
The participants in my project discussed the dilemma surrounding the validity of their Scottish identity claims without meeting the essentialist criteria traditionally associated with ‘Scottishness’. One participant, for example, said …I feel if I tell people I was Scottish… that's me embarrassing myself because I do not look Scottish or appear Scottish, I cannot claim to be Scottish… Another participant highlighted the importance of accent …Yeah, like I don't have a Glasgow accent, so I think people think I'm a bit weird as well, they ask me where I'm from.
These examples of micro-aggressions, and the barriers to claiming a Scottish identity highlight the everyday sense of exclusion which migrant groups in Scotland face. Being able to identify as Scottish is not as straight-forward as the SNP make claim. Rather, a number of ethnocentric criteria have to be met before one can claim to be Scottish.
The Scottish Government’s ‘inclusive Scotland’ narrative has initially helped some migrants to feel more at ease in the country. However, this narrative overlooks the complexities faced by ethnic minority groups, who are often pressured into adapting their behaviour in a non-threatening manner to be accepted by their peers. Interviews have revealed that young people, in particular, are more likely to adapt their behaviours to ‘fit-in’ with classmates and avoid being perceived as different. Factors, including accent and appearance, continue to have a significant influence on Scottish identity claims. The SNP’s rhetoric that Scotland is open and inclusive is therefore more hopeful than accurate, based on the individual experiences recounted.
Marcus Nicolson is a PhD candidate at Glasgow Caledonian University. He works as Project Manager for the AMIF-funded VOLPOWER project, investigating the impact of volunteering on young adults across Europe. Marcus has research interests in identity studies, narrative enquiry, nationalism and ontological security theory. He tweets at @NicolsonMarcus. Image credit: CC by Number 10/Flickr.