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The Scottish Nation is generally acknowledged to have come together between the sixth and fourteenth centuries, absorbing several races in the process of creating what certain individuals like to think of as the pure Scot. In fact, there is no such being. The early Scots were a post-Roman Gaelic-speaking people who invaded and settled the west coast, known then as Dalriada, having travelled over the sea from Ireland, and before that, it is fancifully suggested, although not as yet proven, the Middle East. The original pre-Roman inhabitants were collectively known as Picts, because their language was pictorial and, through colonisation and marriage, and because they had no written language with which to record what was happening to them, they simply disappeared.
And while there are those who through class insecurity define nationality on the basis of somebody’s accent or the football team they support, the official line of the Scottish Nationalist Party, which has never held back from recruiting English members, is that a Scot is, simply enough, somebody who lives in Scotland. At least, that was the definition proffered by its former leader Alex Salmond. Now where does it leave native born Scots who live abroad? Or children born to Scots parents overseas? Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, for example, was born at St Paul’s Walden, in England, but has always insisted she was Scots. Do patrimony and matrimony count for nothing? What if you own land in Scotland, inherited or bought, and still keep homes in London and Provence? Does that also make you English and French? There are plenty of examples of wealthy individuals who maintain property in more than one country. Does that then give them multinational status? And if you serve, or have served, with a Scottish regiment, does that automatically make you a Scot? Or does it make you British? And there we have the crunch of it. Under the Act of Union you could be both. As the cracks appear in Britain’s fabric, nothing is nearly as certain as it was before. No wonder our politicians, who have brought this upon us, shy clear of the questions.
Meanwhile, Scandinavian Viking people invaded the far north, west coast and offshore islands and stayed on. In the south, Strathclyde Britons, a Welsh speaking people, and early Saxon settlers, put down encampments. With the first overseas trade initiatives appeared merchants, and following William the Conqueror’s invasion of England in 1066, Norman-born fortune hunters arrived in Scotland. You can recognise the physiognomy to this day in the jet black hair and blue eyes of the Gael; the long legs and red hair of the Viking; the misleading frailty of the Saxon; the Gothic features of the Norman, and the sturdy, stocky body of the Celt.
However, more importantly it should be asked why anyone would want to claim Scots nationality to begin with?
Fifteen hundred years of a romantic, turbulent history peopled by noble savages, adventurers and innovators crowned by a dazzling enlightenment, is a good enough reason.
But what exactly does it mean to be a Scot nowadays? Tartan Army football supporters at Hampden with Saltire "Braveheart" faces; red cheeked lassies howling Gaelic laments at the National Mod; Skye Bridge toll protestors in anoraks and baseball caps; weekend hikers asserting rights to roam with midge repellent; suited bankers, lawyers, accountants and secretaries downing Scotch on hi-tech bar stools; bucolic farmers girning over subsidies, and gallous besoms at a Glasgow disco. In a population of less than 5 million, the diversity, if nothing else, is noticeable.
Yet the clichés remain: the kilts, the shortbread tins, the golf clubs, grouse moors, ubiquitous haggis suppers, and overshadowing all, the deadening hand of Calvinism. The protestant work ethic is so deeply embedded in the Scottish psyche that it has rubbed off on Episcopalian, Catholic, and agnostic alike.