The psychology and politics of identity
We need to discover and articulate the benefits of “Britishness”, writes GERRY KEEGAN
“Scots and people from the rest of the UK share the purpose – that Britain has something to say to the rest of the world about the values of freedom, democracy and the dignity of the people that you stand up for. So at a time when people can talk about football and devolution and money, it is important that we also remember the values that we share in common”.
I’m not sure many will remember these words from Gordon Brown when he spoke at the Veteran’s Day ceremony on 27 June 2006.
But both he and Scottish Labour were not to know then just how important they would become five years later as we find ourselves in a Scotland soon to be presented with a referendum on independence.
His words formed the narrative to Labour’s one nation social policy called “Britishness”. Our SNP rival’s prefer to use the term “Unionist”. They are much the same thing.
Britishness is the term used to refer to the common culture and national identity of the British people. It is associated with what it means to be British, as opposed to being French, German, or even Scottish!
Britishness has political undertones in that Gordon hoped it would become associated with patriotism, “one-nation” nationalism and British unionism.
However, what attributes, attitudes and values go to make up this common culture and national identity we call Britishness are difficult to identify. This is because of such things as devolution with the establishment of separate national parliaments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the diverse multi-culturalism found within the United Kingdom.
These we must discover and laud in a Scottish context.
Another problem for Britishness is that a person’s social identity is established from the bottom up, not the top down.
This author sees himself first as a Glaswegian. Glasgow is part of Scotland, which is part of the United Kingdom. He is also a particular type of Glaswegian, who has developed attributes, attitudes and values on the basis of his upbringing and the subcultures to which he belonged and belongs. Identity has spatio-temporal significance.
But it is to this Britishness that we are now forced to turn. We must drill down into it to discover its strengths. We must discover what it gives to us, and what we give to it identity-wise. We must discover what we would lose from it if independence were to become a reality.
We must talk up the validity of getting the best of all worlds. We can be both Scottish and British simultaneously, as we have been for hundreds of years. The whole is indeed greater than the sum of its parts.
We can’t all be Glaswegians though!
Gerry Keegan is a psychologist, author and researcher. He is a member of Rutherglen & Hamilton West CLP, and a founder member of the ‘Scottish Labour for Scotland’ Facebook group.