Why I’m not a Unionist

Having lived 18 of the last 21 years of my life in Scotland, I am most certainly Scottish. Having lived 3 years in England (and with plans to return shortly) and with a Welsh father who raised me on tales of Glyndŵr and Gelert, I am also definitely British. And, as a member of the Conservative and Unionist Party, I ought to be a committed Unionist, but I cannot say that to be the case. Before I continue, I will stress that, if a referendum on Scottish independence was held tomorrow, I would most definitely vote against it, however Unionism with a capital U is not a label I can attach to myself.

Having adhered to Scottish nationalism for many years of my life, my reluctance to describe myself as a Unionist may not come as a surprise. Instinctively, I do see myself as Scottish first and foremost as do the majority of Scots but I am also not averse to notions of the British identity; since living in England and as I grow older, my appreciation of and identification with Britain grows — her architecture, her landscape, her people, her food, her history, her culture overall — all feel increasingly like they are mine, in a similar vein to how I have always felt about the likes of Mary Queen of Scots, of Burns, of haggis, of the Highlands, of our Gaelic heritage. However, I can say with total certainty that I would not have developed this personal notion of Britishness had I not lived in England.

From my point of view, the strongest attachment to Britain in Scotland can be found in the wealthier areas of South Edinburgh, Aberdeen, and the Borders, and also in working-class Protestant areas of Greater Glasgow and the West. Most Scots, like myself and those around me in my working-class upbringing in South-West Edinburgh, fall into neither of those categories. Until I moved to England, my only real experience of England was bank holiday weekends in Blackpool. Naturally, every individual and family has different levels of connection to England, be those connections familial or business-related or otherwise, but in my opinion most Scots do and have always lived in a bubble that England — and the rest of the United Kingdom for that matter — does not particularly factor into. One may argue that Scots must feel attached to Britain if we opted 55–45% to remain a member of it, but I strongly believe that the reason that the No campaign won the referendum was on economic grounds. Indeed, I believe the strongest arguments against independence are the economic ones, but economic arguments cannot form the foundations of a national and cultural identity. Again, one could argue that regardless of national identity, economic arguments are a valid and suitable part of any ideology, ergo this is the point I wish to make — Unionism is more than just an ideology. To me, Unionism has connotations of an all-singing, all-dancing, unequivocal Britishness that puts that identity before all others, it is not simply the desire to have Scotland (or any other home nation) remain within the Union.

Ultimately, I am a realist about the Union. Of course I would rather Scotland stayed a part of it, for the sake of her economy, for the sake of convenience in my own life, and out of my relatively new-found Britishness. However, if Scotland was to opt to leave, I would not be heartbroken. I would not feel as if my country was being torn apart or that I would have an identity crisis. I would simply feel that one of the countries I identified with opted to leave the other I identified with. Now, I am aware that I may sound as if I have contradicted myself slightly, given that I have mentioned that I do identify with the British identity more nowadays and you may therefore wonder “why doesn’t he just call himself a Unionist then?”, and the point I wish to reiterate is this; my Britishness has been acquired. I have grown into it directly as a result of my living in England and the likelihood of my permanent living there. It is a result of living there, travelling between the great nations on a regular basis, of my conservative politics and worldview frankly not having much of a place in Scotland. Arguably, it may even be just an appreciation of and adoption of an English identity rather than a British one. Again, it is an increasingly important identity to me, yet it is not a visceral, instinctive identity in the way that my Scottish and Welsh identities are.

I plan to live a long and comfortable life in England as a British citizen, embracing all aspects of my nationality. Hypothetically, if I were to remain living in Scotland at the time of a future independence referendum, I would confidently vote against it, so if you want to call me a Unionist then I understand. Perhaps I’m a unionist of convenience or a unionist with a small u, but I do not think I will ever call myself a Unionist.

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