Like many Scots, each week I make the journey between Glasgow and London, and when I step off the train at Euston, I don’t feel like I’m in a foreign country.
Yes – home is a long way away, but there’s a reason we call these four countries the Home Nations. From chats about last night’s telly to the books we take on holiday, the Scots and English will always find more they have in common than divides them – more to make them feel at home with one another than with anybody else.
Together, we can share in the pride of our history and delight in the differences which make us greater than the sum of our parts.
This is what Ed was reflecting on in his speech today when he spoke about those things that bring us together as a family of nations. The way we can feel pride and patriotism for our Scottish identity, without having to disown our shared British identity; or the way we can take heart from the fact that Labour’s first MP was a Scot representing a Welsh constituency in a Parliament in London.
Alex Salmond claims to know the mind of Scotland – and yet this easy multi-layered identity which comes so naturally to us is totally lost on the First Minister. Scots are a sophisticated and canny bunch and we are more than capable of being fiercely proud and patriotic when it comes to Scotland, while also feeling that Britishness plays a part in who we are. A recent survey conducted for British Future bore this out, with less than a third of people in Scotland ruling out ‘British’ as part of their identity, while 66% of people thought it played some part. When it comes to our national symbols, we can also hold our multiple identities together, with a majority of Scots saying that they associate both the Union Jack and the Saltire with “pride and patriotism”.
For most Scots, none of this will come as much of a surprise. Most of us are used to the idea of being Scottish and British, of being able to take pride in our achievements together and apart. So, in August and September, we will cheer on Team GB at the Olympics and Paralympics, while in Glasgow in 2014, we will support Team Scotland at the Commonwealth Games. Yes, we may feel some extra closeness to our Scottish compatriots, but we won’t feel any less patriotic if Sir Chris Hoy and Andy Murray win this Summer and wrap themselves in the Union flag.
And as a mother of two sons – one who lives in Scotland, and one who until recently lived in London – I don’t think that they should be forced to choose where their allegiances lie or be excluded from our shared Scottish nationality and identity.
So, while the SNP would try to divide us over our identity, we know that this is not a problem of patriotism; it’s a problem of politics. We know that the struggles that bind us together across the UK, in the face of a Tory Government at home and a raging economic storm around the world are not solved by division. What we hold to be true in the Labour Party is that we can achieve more together than we can alone, and nationalism by its very definition is simply too narrow to contain the needs of now.
Margaret Curran is the Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland