We recently published our research about a potential rise of anti-Scottishness in England, post-Brexit, in Identities. This wasn’t originally the article we intended to write. We actually started off by exploring Scotland’s population challenges – a negative rate of natural change, an ageing population and population growth reliant on inward migration – issues which other Western countries are wrestling with. For Scotland, there is the added complication that the country has no control over migration as this is reserved to Westminster, and the present Conservative government is, in any case, committed to reducing the numbers coming to the UK.
So how did we come to write ‘Indifference or hostility? Anti-Scottishness in a post-Brexit England’? In the best academic traditions, we had begun by undertaking research with returning members of the Scottish diaspora – individuals who may have been born and educated in Scotland but who had been living and working elsewhere. Some had begun to move back to Scotland, suggesting that, for these individuals and families at any rate, their economic or personal circumstances were encouraging a homeward move.
What surprised us, however, was the number of returners from England who cited a growing antipathy there towards anyone who wasn’t actually English – a trend they believed had become more common since the Brexit referendum. There have, of course, always been some tensions between the nations that make up the British Isles, ranging from anti-Irish ‘jokes’ to those Scots who happily support any team which is playing against England. But it seemed that something had changed and a number of our interviewees felt that where there had previously been banter, it had more recently spilled over into hostility. There had been clear statements that they should simply get back to Scotland where they belonged. Many such Scots recognised that immigration had been a significant issue in the Brexit campaign and they too were being seen as ‘undesirable’ migrants in England.
We decided to follow up our research findings, therefore, with a second piece of work, comprising an additional online study targeted at Scots currently living in England to ask them about their current experiences. Given the difficulties of conducting research during the Covid pandemic, we had to make use of social media and Scottish organisations in England to advertise our study, but we are satisfied that our results raise issues of concern, and which we would argue are deserving of further study.
It certainly seems to be the case that there is a changed political atmosphere in England – a kind of growing English nationalism which has been noted by others – which is anti-immigrant, and which has led to some Scots deciding to move back to Scotland. Partly this may be due to anti-immigrant attitudes and partly to a sense of irritation in England, caused by continued calls from the Scottish Government for a second independence referendum. It may also be that problems with the Northern Ireland protocol, may be seen by people in England as a kind of ‘Celtic nuisance’.
Of course, we wouldn’t want to exaggerate our findings, and we do believe that further research is needed. Interestingly, we wrote an article for a Scottish Sunday newspaper in 2021 in which we highlighted our preliminary findings. Our research was immediately attacked by a senior politician in the Scottish Parliament as ‘dangerous Trumpian hogwash’. He is, of course, entitled to his view but his kneejerk reaction illustrates perhaps the difficulties of having a serious discussion about these issues and what a touchy subject this is. Perhaps it illustrates how any discussion regarding national identities, Brexit, migration and such always end up being seen through the prism of the wider constitutional debate.
We simply hope that, after reading our article, individuals will feel that this is an issue worth pursuing. We did.
Image credit: Taras Young. British Railways sign at the Anglo-Scottish Border at Marshall Meadows Bay. Wikimedia. (CC BY-SA 4.0)
Blog post by Murray Stewart Leith and Duncan Sim, University of the West of Scotland, UK
Read the Identities article:
Leith, Murray Stewart & Sim, Duncan. Indifference or hostility? Anti-Scottishness in a post-Brexit England. Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power. DOI: 10.1080/1070289X.2022.2064082 OPEN ACCESS
Explore other relevant Identities articles:
Nationalism after Brexit: reflections on culture, ideology and provincial space
Whiteness, populism and the racialisation of the working class in the United Kingdom and the United States
Constructions of Europe in the run-up to the EU referendum in the UK