Fraser Nelson

Scottish or British? The identity debate the SNP does not want to have

Scottish or British? The identity debate the SNP does not want to have
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Earlier on today, I was asked by Angus MacNeil, a Scottish National Party MP if I would choose a Scottish or a British passport should they win the referendum. As he knows, the choice is anathema to those of us who are proud to be both Scottish and British and don’t see any antagonism that needs to be resolved by separation.

SNP politicians, in my experience, are some of the nicest people in politics on either side of the border. Moderate, friendly, intelligent, open-minded, gentle: such decent types that you can end up being blinded to their agenda. Which is to destroy Britain, to force people to choose between being Scottish or British, to advocate a narrow-minded nationalism that involves putting up borders when the rest of Europe has been taking them down.

The SNP want to make out that they’d give a passport to pretty much anyone who’d passed through Scotland, even those (like me) under suspicion of conservatism. So why can't such people vote? The current test - residency only - works in the SNP’s favour as it disenfranchises the 850,000-odd Scots who live and work in another part of the family of the United Kingdom. They tend to be in favour of the union, and value the opportunities it affords. (Scotland has an unusually large diaspora: 20pc all people born in Scotland live outside its borders.)

David Cameron ought to have forced this question earlier. He could have asked Salmond to draw up conditions for citizenship, and then ensured these were also the conditions for voting in the referendum. It'd be a faff, but we're talking about the survival of Britain. It’s an example of one of the many questions that Cameron's government had not really thought through, which has put the SNP at an advantage.

I’ve noticed that the SNP loathes talking Screen Shot 2013-12-23 at 18.07.08about borders, and about who'd be a foreigner – they suggest anyone who raises the subject is somehow scaremongering.Even if this is precisely what's at stake. This shows how worried they are about the referendum being turned into a question of identity.

The SNP, I suspect, love the idea of their Scottish opponents (like myself) having to apply to Salmond's authorities for a passport of an independent Scotland, or sticking to a passport of a no-longer-united kingdom. But in public, they want to present this as a technocratic point: nothing to do with being British, they say. British is a geographical expression - we'll always be British, subjects of the Queen. Passports are a tiny bit of paper you wave at a clerk, they say, it's not a statement of identity. This referendum isn't about identity, oh no, not is it about "separation" - nothing like that. It's a  technocratic point: would it be better to have government in Edinburgh or wicked London?

The SNP don't like the nationality issue because they know they'd lose this argument. As Salmond learned during the Olympics, millions of Scots are rather proud to be British and cheer Jessica Ennis as one of their own. His pathetic notion of "Scolympians" was a humiliating failure, ignored by Scots and held up to ridicule by Olympic champions like the Manchester-trained Chris Hoy.

The SNP does not like to remind voters that they are the ones seeking to erect a border (around a country that would not be an EU member, as the Spanish recently reminded us). It is their idea to divide the people of Britain between passport-wielding Scottish nationals and the rest of us. They want to sunder what ties us together, like the Armed Forces.

And for what? Even now, the SNP struggle to name any major Scottish problems that independence would solve. It’s ugly,petty, pointless and it's small-minded – and, I like to think, will be rejected as such by a warm-hearted and open-minded Scotland whose horizons have always been global.

PS: An earlier version of this was too hard on the SNP, suggesting it had not laid out the details of its passport criteria. After years of prevaricating, it did - last month, in p272 of its White Paper  (pdf). Although, reading it, I'm still not sure if I'd qualify.

* Thanks to Jo Shaw for pointing out her paper on Scottish nationality - well worth a read. It's here (pdf).