Edinburgh Book Festival: Frank Bechhofer and David McCrone: What is the Nation State Anyway?

Rating (out of 5)
Show info
Edinburgh International Book Festival
Frank Bechofer, David McCrone, Brian Taylor (chair)
Running time

‘What ish my nation?’ is Captain Fluellen’s rhetorical demand in Shakespeare’s ‘Henry V’, his response being a catalogue of inadequacies equal to that of Renton in Irvine Welsh’s ‘Trainspotting’ when asked whether Renton feels proud to be Scottish.

Ambivalence and self-loathing may or may not be peculiarly Celtic responses when it comes to defining ourselves in terms of our nationality, but many Scots seem to recognise these as particularly Scottish.

The degrees of difference between the two nations and its impact on how people perceive themselves has been the source of fascinated study by Regius Professors David McCrone and Frank Bechhofer for nearly a quarter of a century, and their findings are presented in their monograph -‘Understanding National Identity’.

Bechhofer and McCrone were careful to state that their enquiries were confined to national identities alone rather than in any way extrapolating their findings into the area of political identities, although these identities could overlap, particularly in relation to the recent referendum.

While a clear majority of English respondents to McCrone and Bechhofer’s surveys identified themselves as British before English, more Scots identified themselves as Scottish before British. Gaels, however, tended to identify themselves as Gaels rather than as Scots.

There also appeared to be a tendency to identify as ‘Scots Asians’ or Asian Scots’ among the Pakistani community, the single largest identifiable ethnic minority community McCrone and Bechhofer were able to study.

Evidence from other ethnic groups, particularly those of Spanish or Polish heritage, these being the two largest European communities in Scotland, appeared to be lacking, a pity given the size of their presence.

Such cavils aside, McCrone and Bechhofer have clearly achieved much, and their own highly entertaining presences contributed greatly to this event, demonstrating how fortunate their students must have been in learning from such shrewdly witty yet rigourous investigators.

Understanding National Identity, David McCrone and Frank Bechhofer, Cambridge University Press, £18.99 ISBN 9781107496194