Reflections on Scottish National Identity and the Independence Referendum

National identity is always in flux, evolving according to external and internal stimulus, and each individuals’ conception of what it means to be ‘Scottish’ (or ‘British’ or even ‘European’) is unique. When the Wallace Monument was built in the 19th century, it was a symbol of entrenched Victorian Unionism. Wallace was celebrated as the man who ‘freed’ Scotland, allowing her to (ostensibly) enter into a Union with England as an equal, not a thrall. In modern times, that message may still be imparted for some, but by and large it has been eclipsed by a more overt expression of Scottish national pride and independence, often in opposition to the antagonistic English (unfortunately). Of course, this was prompted or encouraged by 1995’s Braveheart, yet the famous defacement and subsequent ‘caging’ of a Mel Gibson effigy outside the Monument shows the nuance of ‘authentic’ Scottish identity, which, for the vandals at least, eschews Hollywood. And we can’t escape the irony that the Victorian conception of Wallace–itself a contemporary construct–is somehow more authentic than Gibson’s.

The Wallace Monument and Tom Church's 'Freedom' statue.

The Wallace Monument and Tom Church’s ‘Freedom’ statue.

Since the beginning of the Yes campaign in earnest, the SNP–often misidentified as the sole proponents of independence–have scrupulously avoided ‘Braveheartisms’, and even the buzzword: ‘freedom’. Any references to Gibson’s opus emanate from the Unionist camp, in an underhand attempt at presenting the Yes campaign as insular Anglophobes. Few of Salmond’s speeches invoke any sense of direct lineage from Wallace or Bruce to the present day, and they shouldn’t, as the notion of medieval freedom is far from synonymous with our modern conception of the word. However, the Yes campaign was sly in their choice of date, with the auspicious and none-too-subtle coincident of Bannockburn not lost on anyone.

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