Faith, education, linguistics and diverging paths (40 reasons to support Scottish independence: 22 & 23)

There are historic and cultural reasons for differences in attitudes in Scotland and England. As English politics rushes off after UKIP, why would Scotland want to stay in a union with them?

Adam Ramsay
Adam Ramsay
29 May 2014


22) Our political paths are diverging

As UKIP scraped an MEP in Scotland, many from the no campaign crowed. One prominent Labour MP was even spotted at the count celebrating. Here! Final evidence that Scotland is just as right wing as the rest of the UK!

Reality tells a different story. Here are the UKIP European vote shares by country:

England: 29%

Wales: 27.5%

Scotland: 10.5%

(Northern Ireland is a different question all together).

In London, UKIP's worst English region by some way, they got 18%. Around half of English voters backed a right wing party (UKIP or the Tories). Around a quarter of Scots did. Likewise, further right parties together got more than twice as many votes in England as they got in Scotland.

This only reflects again what every election for a generation has told us - England gives many more votes to right wingers than Scotland. It also tells us something else interesting. This is about more than the toxic Tory brand.

The difference in votes is, to an extent at least, reflected in a difference in attitudes. On immigration, opinions certainly diverge. Similarly, Scots seem to be more supportive of a woman's right to choose to have an abortion than the UK population as a whole, the most supportive of same sex marriage of any part of Britain, and more in favour of EU membership than our neighbours, for example.

On economic questions, the majority of people in all of the parts of the UK have in common that we tend to be to the left of the Labour party, but Scots are consistently more likely to oppose austerity and more likely to support nationalisation than people from any other area of Britain. It's true that these differences aren't always vast, but they do seem to exist.

The no campaign can't have it both ways. They often say that any claim that Scotland is more left leaning than England is offensive ethno-nationalism. They also often say that Scotland ought not to leave the union because a yes vote would make right wing governments more likely in rUK – presumably because Scotland is more left wing after all*.

This divergence of attitude seems to have accelerated since Thatcher broke up the post war consensus, and seems likely to grow wider still as UKIP do a victory lap in England. The UK is a political union. Why stay in it if our politics are diverging?

*As it happens, there have only been 24 months ever in which England had a Labour Prime Minister and would probably have had a Tory were it not for Scotland. Scots do tend to vote left, but there aren't enough of us to often make a difference.

23) Theology, linguistics, pedagogy and the law

It is a self evident truth that different countries have different political cultures, even though it is equally obvious that people everywhere start as the same sets of blank canvasses. Do Better Together really believe that attitudes in Amsterdam and Atlanta are identical?

Opinions in a country are a product of various historic, cultural, social and economic factors. You'd expect differences between our economies, for example, to lead to a difference in attitudes on both sides of the Tweed. Let me give four other examples of things about Scotland likely to have shaped the politics of those who live there differently from those who live in England: religion, linguistics, pedagogy and the law.

Scotland doesn't have a state religion. In 1638, we went to war with our rulers to make sure of that. The Church of Scotland may be the national church, but unlike the Church of England, it's separate from the government. That's not the only difference. The Kirk (as it's known) is relatively democratic in culture, with no Bishops telling people what to believe.

It's because of its historic insistence that people are taught to be literate so they could read the bible for themselves (rather than accepting their faith from a leader) that Scotland had the first public education system in the Western world, with a school in every parish and, from the Middle Ages to the 19th Century, five universities to England's two. It seems likely that the difference between a relatively democratic church and a strongly doctrinal one would lead to differences in attitude, surely?

Likewise (and this point is stolen from my brother, Gilbert) Scots linguistic history is very different to that of England. From its foundation, England has by definition been the land in which the people who speak English live – the Angles. From the end of the Roman era, Scotland has been multilingual and multicultural, speaking Scots, Gaelic and (possibly) Pictish. When Scots fought for independence, they were fighting alongside people who spoke different languages from them and who had different ethnic backgrounds. The Scotland they were fighting for was defined by its civic institutions and its geography, not as a people or a race. To this day, there are three official native languages (English, Scots, Gaelic).

When thinking about attitudes to multi-lingualism and multi-culturalism, it's no wonder that the English – who for more than 1000 years have lived with ethnic nationalism, struggle to understand this Scottish civic nationalism. None of this is to say that Scotland is immune from racism – it certainly isn't - nor that there aren't problems with Scottish nationalism. There are. But the fact that, from its foundation to today, Scotland has been a multi-lingual country, defined by civic institutions rather than ethnic identity, is surely likely to have some influence on our understandings of ourselves? 

Or what about how Scotland has also always had a different education system? Schools and universities, for example, encourage students to learn more subjects, rather than specialising earlier. Is a whole different pedagogy likely to shape people differently?

Likewise, there's a different legal system and different laws. Famously, there's no law of trespass in Scotland – I've often wondered, when visiting the English countryside, what are the psychosocial impacts of feeling so hemmed in? Is it any wonder that rural Scotland tends to vote left/liberal, while rural England tends to vote right/conservative?

My point is this: like all nations, Scotland developed in its own way. Each of the above aspects of our distinct history (and many more) must have somehow influenced our national politics, sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. As England veers to the right, it seems reasonable to ask if we want to follow.

OurKingdom needs to raise £5,698 to continue running our Scottish debate series until the referendum in September. Please contribute here.

Who is bankrolling Britain's democracy? Which groups shape the stories we see in the press; which voices are silenced, and why? Sign up here to find out.

Related articles


We encourage anyone to comment, please consult the oD commenting guidelines if you have any questions.
Audio available Bookmark Check Language Close Comments Download Facebook Link Email Newsletter Newsletter Play Print Share Twitter Youtube Search Instagram WhatsApp yourData