Coalition for Racial Equality & Rights


Scottish Identity and Black and Minority Ethnic Communities in Scotland:

An introductory review of literature

(Download pdf: 605KB)

This paper reviews a selection of literature on identity, with a particular focus on Scottish national identity and what this means to the Black and minority ethnic (BME) communities living in Scotland.  It includes discussion on some of the key themes in this area in relation to the Scottish Government’s agenda on national identity. 

The Scottish Government has made a commitment to achieving a strong, fair and inclusive national identity within its national outcomes (National Outcome 13):

“Scotland's national and cultural identity is defined by our sense of place, our sense of history and our sense of self. It is defined by what it means to be Scottish and to live in a modern Scotland in a modern world. It is the tie that binds people together.

A good quality of life and a strong, fair and inclusive national identity are important if Scotland is to prosper and if we are to achieve our goal of sustainable economic growth.

A flourishing economy and a flourishing society depend on ambition and self-confidence here in Scotland and on Scotland's effective integration into the European and global economy. And our reputation internationally will influence the extent to which people see Scotland as a great place in which to live, learn, visit, work, do business and invest.

(Scottish Government website – National Outcome 13 

Outcome 13 highlights the need for inclusivity in national identity. However, achievement of this is contingent on many factors out with the Scottish Government’s control - how people living in Scotland actually identify themselves and others, what they think Scottish national identity means and the extent to which that meaning resonates with them. This paper therefore aims to explore the implications of a ‘strong, fair and inclusive national identity’ for Scotland’s diverse minority ethnic communities. 

Key topics for consideration include: 

  • Basic concepts of identity – social, personal, cultural and national
  • The relationships between ‘Scottish’ identity, a sense of belonging in local community / civic society and the desire to participate in Scottish society
  • How BME communities and individuals regard their own national identities
  • How the white Scottish majority population regard the national identity of those with minority ethnic heritage
  • The identity markers people use to assess ‘Scottishness’
  • The factors which encourage and discourage feelings of belonging in Scotland 

The paper discusses what an inclusive Scottish identity might look like, barriers to achieving this and suggestions for the way forward. 

Although this exploration of national identity is inclusive of all ethnic minority communities, recent literature has a significant emphasis on studies within the Muslim community, and this is reflected to a degree in the paper. 

The historical context of Scottish national identity 

The history of a nation is of some importance to the formation of national identity. As this paper explores identity from the perspective of those from minority ethnic groups within Scotland, this should include a basic understanding of the recent history of immigration to Scotland and social reactions to it. Issues of relevance (with example references) include: 

  • British imperialism, colonial history and a sense of ‘Western’ superiority over other nations (McNeil 2007)
  • The historically troubled relationship between Scotland and England, and related Scottish perceptions of the English as oppressors (Paul 2009)
  • Scotland’s links to the slave trade and the abolition movement (Mullen 2009)
  • Early waves of immigration from a range of nations and the reactions from the existing Scottish population (Panayi 1994)
  • Sectarianism and its links to immigration from Ireland (Bruce et al. 2004)
  • The Trades Union movement in Scotland and how it reacted to Scotland’s increasing diversity, first with hostility but later supporting the rights of immigrant workers (Virdee 2000) 

This represents a brief overview only; the historical factors and debates around them are many and too complex to cover in detail here. National identity is not purely rooted in the past, as the evidence presented here will show. 

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