Codes of Cultural Belonging: Racialised National Identities in a Multi-Ethnic Scottish Neighbourhood

by Satnam Virdee, Christopher Kyriakides and Tariq Modood
University of Glasgow, Cyprus College, University of Bristol

Sociological Research Online, Volume 11, Issue 4,

Received: 26 Apr 2006     Accepted: 12 Oct 2006    Published: 31 Dec 2006


This qualitative study investigates the relationship between race and nation in an ethnically mixed neighbourhood in Glasgow, Scotland. It finds that Scottishness has a historically founded racialised referent at the level of the neighbourhood but that this referent is undermined in everyday life by syncretic codes of cultural belonging represented by signifiers such as accent, dress and mannerisms. However, these cultural signifiers that contest the racialised referent are, on occasions, themselves challenged by negative ascriptions such as terrorist and extremist which reinforce, though never completely, the original racialised referent of Scottishness as whiteness. We conclude that whiteness is an unstable identifier of Scottishness, and Scottishness is an unstable identifier of whiteness, such that a negative view of Islam as antithetical to imagined conceptions of Scottishness, cannot easily be sustained in areas of relatively high racialised minority settlement.

Keywords: Race, Racism, Nation, Scotland, Identity Formation


1.1 This paper seeks to investigate the relationship between racism and nationalism in a multi-ethnic Scottish neighbourhood, with a specific focus on the nationalist construction, reception and negotiation of Asian Muslim identities. We examine the construction of racialised role signs (Banton 1997), and how imagined conceptions of nationhood (Anderson 1983) incorporate self and other identity formations through negative significations of ‘the Muslim’. Drawing on interviews with 52 white and Asian Muslim residents of Glasgow’s Southside neighbourhood, this study finds that imagined conceptions of Scottishness that draw on a historically founded racialised national boundary are significantly challenged at the neighbourhood level. Consequently, whiteness is partially destabilised as a demarcation of Scottishness.

1.2 Whilst the dominant understanding of racism and nationalism suggests that Britishness and blackness have been historically constructed as mutually exclusive categories (Gilroy 1987: 55-56), an important weakness of this work is its failure to distinguish and map the linkages between race and nation in the nations that make up the United Kingdom. In effect, Gilroy formulates a theory of racism and nationalism where England neatly substitutes for Britain and where the `national stories' of Scotland and Wales are subsumed within this English/British identification. Additionally, important studies have been undertaken which seek to understand conceptions of Scottishness; however, they do not make explicit the possible relationship between racism and nationalism in Scotland, only that Scottishness has seemed less ethnically bound than Englishness (McCrone 2001). Where discourses which capture a move beyond an ethnic-civic identification have been examined (e.g. Kiely et al 2005), this has been pursued in relation to Scottishness and Englishness, but not in relation to racialised non-whites. Moreover, these studies of Scottish nationalism have not addressed the important analytic insight that local populations do not uncritically absorb discourses of racism and nation (Back 1993). In addressing these points this study therefore seeks to develop an explicit understanding of the relationship between ideas of race and nation in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood in Scotland.

The Research

2.1 A key aspect of this research is whether and how aspects of racialisation are related to a perceived assertion on the part of a social group like Muslims. The interest is not just in the character of racialisation, but also on the negotiation of identities as a defensive strategy against a perceived sense of exclusion. Hence, we also explore the suggestion that racialised groups are not simply defining themselves in opposition to national identities but in ways which make a claim to be distinctive members of an internally differentiated nationality (Hall 1998; CMEB 2000; Modood 2001).

2.2 Hence, we are investigating the presence or absence of a

…combination of practices, discourses and representations in a network of affective stereotypes which enables us to give an account of the formation of a racist community… and also of the way in which, as a mirror image, individuals and collectivities that are prey to racism (its “objects”) find themselves constrained to see themselves as a community (Balibar 1991: 18).

2.3 However, we do not begin from the assumption that nationalism is always and everywhere underpinned by racism; to do so would be to undermine those elements of the modernist project which can destabilise the belief that race is a fixed determinant of social being (Malik 1996). This would also negate Back’s (1993) important ethnographic neighbourhood analysis of social change. If an individual is deemed to have the capacity to embrace and induce identity change, then the racialised characteristics of national belonging, and hence the constituents of national identity in the multi-ethnic neighbourhood are open to human contestation – the antithesis of racialised nationality as we have defined it. We therefore include within this study, an investigation of national codes of cultural belonging in a specific historical context and elaborate the particular constituents of the national self as imagined in the multi-ethnic neighbourhood.

2.4 In this paper we proceed on the understanding that if popular consciousness adapts to circumstances (Banton 1997: 8), then circumstances are subjectively interpreted and meaning assigned through that interpretation. Interpretation and meaning are therefore contextually bound. We are interested in the positing of national group identity; that is, role signs created by the self at the neighbourhood level (Banton 1997: 13). A role sign produces inferences and an expectation about behaviour that is relationally formed (1997: 15). We could infer for example that because someone wears a turban, that he is a Sikh. This might produce an ascription of expected behaviours, either negative or positive (e.g. `a good man of high religious principle' or `a terrorist'). By comparison the role sign Englishman may be created in opposition to a Sikh, if the Englishman is imagined as a white, non-turban wearer who is not prone to either religious or terrorist behaviours. We set out therefore to explore three key analytical questions:

  1. What phenomenological criteria (if any) are ascribed significance in the imaginative creation of signs, in particular of Scottishness and Islam?
  2. What evaluative expectations (if any) are being derived from the sign Muslim?
  3. To what extent do the imagined signs Muslim and Scottish contradict each other?

2.5 Our analysis begins from the assumption that if the nation is an imagined community then it is from within the imagination itself that racialised constructs of neighbourhood nationalism (Back 1993) are to be found. Employing a topic guide, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were undertaken in a neighbourhood known locally as the Southside in Glasgow. This was the ideal location because Glasgow has the highest concentration of racialised minorities and, in particular, Asian Muslims in Scotland. The Southside of Glasgow is where the majority of these Asian Muslims live, the largest population being descendants of migrants from Pakistan (Netto et al 2001). We aimed to sample from those residents whose national origin was Pakistani. In doing so the possibility of interviewing residents who have been both racialised as non-white and who are also Muslim in faith was maximised.

2.6 With no adequate database of Asian Muslim individuals from which to select our respondents, a snowballing technique was adopted for the purposes of soliciting non-white respondents (Lee 1999; Bryman 2004). Two gatekeepers acted as the catalyst for this snowballing approach; a journalist on a local community newspaper and an individual working for the West of Scotland Racial Equality Council. The solicitation of whites was undertaken more randomly in the Southside, including an impromptu approach made to a white taxi driver which generated further respondents. In total, this purposive sampling approach generated 52 interviews comprising 27 whites and 25 non-whites. A gender balance was also achieved with 15 of the 27 whites and 13 of the 25 Asian Muslims being women.

2.7 To minimise the danger of the research structuring responses along racialised lines, only the two gatekeepers were made aware of the aims of the study. Interviewees were informed that the study was about identity and the neighbourhood and therefore we avoided the danger of pre-empting answers by identifying the focus of the study as being the relationship between race and nation. In accordance with the British Sociological Association's (BSA) Code of Practice, anonymity was guaranteed and the informed consent of respondents was obtained. Respondents were also informed in advance that they did not have to answer any question which made them feel uncomfortable. All interviews were conducted between February and April 2005, were recorded digitally, transcribed, and analysed with the aid of the NVIVO computer assisted qualitative programme (Richards 2005).

2.8 The semi-structured interviews were carried out using a topic guide; specifically it explored the broad themes of neighbourhood interaction and discourses of race and nation. Questions took the form of a series of thought experiments where respondents were asked to imagine themselves in a number of interactive scenarios (Modood et al 1997) with people residing in their immediate locale. The aim was to ascertain how residents draw meaning from and interpret their experiences of self-other interaction in the multi-ethnic neighbourhood; to draw out the links between that knowledge and how national belonging is signified in the imagination, and, to assess the degree to which these experiences, meanings and interpretations are informed by a racialised nationalism.

Constructing and Negotiating Neighbourhood Racialisation

Asian Muslims in the Southside

3.1 Respondents were initially asked a series of questions concerning their neighbours, in particular, what characteristics they would list as important in choosing a new neighbour. The overwhelming majority of whites and Asian Muslims failed to identify race as a key factor in their decision-making with detailed responses focusing on behavioural qualities such as noise levels, mutual respect, and a polite manner. However, when probed further to imagine a scenario where they received telephone enquiries from prospective neighbours whose names signified different ethnicities, neighbour selection did begin to take on a more racialised form. Specifically, when respondents were asked to imagine two people interested in buying the house next door – one called John Smith and the other Faisal Mohammed – an Asian muslim female illustrated how a negative role sign perceived to be associated with Asians would make her defensive, and hence, more reluctant to have Faisel as her new neighbour:
…if it was just him and his wife with kids, fair enough. But if it was him, his wife and kids, the mother-in-law and the father-in-law and the aunts and uncles and that … I think I would definitely have to say no…because it's just too many and I think that's the kind of thing that's starting to cause trouble.

3.2 The ‘trouble’ referred to was the impact of stereotypical cultural norms associated with being Asian on her white neighbours which it was perceived would have a detrimental impact both on the new neighbour and on the Asian Muslim woman’s family. That is, there is a clear expression of concern underpinned by an understanding of skin-colour and cultural practices being extended from the assumed initial carrier to other assumed carriers such that the racialised referent is assumed to cause a negative affect on the respondent's racialised group as a whole.

3.3 Yet, at the same time when probed further about this racialisation process, the respondent did go onto differentiate herself from Faisel through her knowledge of accepted Scottish cultural codes of belonging which enabled her to negotiate and thereby blunt the power of any racism directed at her by white neighbours. Specifically, command of the English language – a key code of Scottishness – signified an understanding which comes from the experience of being a racialised minority who has been brought up in Scotland, and has thus adopted, or understands the neighbourhood codes associated with a syncretic identity. In the absence of a syncretic code, Faisel, even if Muslim, is excluded. Cultural syncretism, therefore, becomes an important means of breaking the racialised connection between Scottish and non-Scottish Asian Muslim.

3.4 This was further reinforced by information gathered from other racialised minority respondents. Specifically, whilst the majority of them expressed initial preferences for Faisel as a neighbour on the basis of a shared ethnicity, such a preference quickly dissipated in favour of ‘Faisel with a Scottish accent’ or ‘John Smith with a Scottish accent’ as opposed to ‘Faisel with a Pakistani accent’. Hence, for one muslim male respondent if Faisel had what he termed ‘a broad Pakistani accent’:

I would maybe think that he's a little bit backward…the way my mum's or my parent's generation were…some of their views aren't similar to mine and therefore it might be difficult to grasp that and build a relationship.

3.5 Accent - as a key code of Scottishness - signifies an attributed code of understanding to Faisel, which comes from the experience of being a racialised minority who has been brought up in Scotland, and has thus adopted, or understands the neighbourhood codes associated with a syncretised identity. In the absence of a syncretised code, as denoted by accent and Islamic significations, Faisel declines in popularity compared with John Smith. This indicates that there is an imagined distance placed between Scottish and non-Scottish Muslims on the part of Scottish Muslims. National cultural norms, if hybridised, disrupt the signification of 'non-pure' underpinning the racialised link between the descendents of New Commonwealth migrants, and new migrants, even if both are Muslim. We can see therefore that ‘national purity’ becomes hybridised and not race-bound as Balibar (1991) would contend. The racialised referent of Scottishness as whiteness is thus broken, such that culture cannot act unproblematically as a homologue of race.

White Southsiders

3.6 White ‘Southsiders’ initially expressed a preference for other whites as neighbours informed by the perception of negatively ascribed racialised role signs for Asians. Hence, one white man contended that:

I suppose subconsciously I would be thinking Faisal Mohammed…he’s a different race to me…so I'd be wary or uncomfortable…maybe not as willing to accept him than somebody called John Smith, who's just the same race as me.

3.7 Here, the signifier `Faisel Mohammed' is paired with race such that the Islamic identifier becomes a sign of racialised difference to the respondent such that culture acts as a homologue of race (Malik 1996) to create a racialised role sign (Banton 1997). There is an inference of group identity from a non-phenotypical attribute, which is then categorised through race such that a Muslim name becomes a racialised code of cultural belonging which affects this respondent's neighbour selection.

3.8 Yet, as with Asian Muslim Southsiders, such an exclusionary racialised referent and paired cultural identifier are quickly broken down by significations of Scottishness. Hence, when the respondent was asked about his preferred neighbour if both Faisel Mohammed and John Smith had Scottish accents, he replied that this would make a ‘difference…I think it would balance it out if they had a particular accent, same as me or whatever’. Accent, as a Scottish national identifier becomes an indicator that the racialised referent may have less salience in the determination of Faisel's behaviour. Accent is a hybridised code of cultural belonging which reverses the negative evaluation of phenotypically categorised non-whites. Accent comes to signify closer proximity to accepted neighbourhood codes of cultural belonging – and these codes are hybridised.

3.9 Another white man informed us that Faisel and John would give him different concerns which revolve around the idea of `extremist’: ‘John Smith makes me think English and white, Faisal Mohammed makes me think Muslim and not white…dark skinned’. He continues that:

John Smith might make me think bulldog, right-wing fascist. Faisal Mohammed might make me think…Muslim terrorist. Now let me instantly make another comment about that. I like to think I have a very humanist outlook on life, I like to judge people as I see them. But September 11th and the press are fighting continually to change my view and I feel as though they are winning a wee bit. It's not for the want of me trying not to fight against that but I feel as though the terrorists involved in September 11th…the whole point of their idea was to crystallise world opinion and to a certain extent I think it worked.

3.10 The respondent here is clearly highlighting the importance of world events in shaping his choice of neighbour such that a Muslim name comes to be paired with terrorism. Muslims are placed in the undesirable category of extremists as fascists and thereby wholly unsuitable as neighbours. Yet, the respondent shows a degree of reflexivity in that he qualifies such an interpretation by adding that:

I know it's a wrong opinion to stereotype and judge people based on a guy's name. I mean he could be my twin brother that's changed his name by deed poll. I think I just feel as though I'm finding it harder and harder to sympathise with people who are stereotyped as a result of the Muslim religion.

3.11 The respondent is aware that a 'name' cannot logically give any indication of Faisel's suitability as a neighbour. Moreover, 'names' can be codes of hybridity – a person can have a Muslim name and also be a ‘blood-relation’ to someone who is white. Additionally, Muslims are recognised as an oppressed social group who suffer from stereotyping. The signification of oppression therefore distances Islam from the previous association with fascism.

3.12 Yet, at the same time, the role sign associated with Muslim as `extremist' is further complicated by the respondent's impression that certain strands of nationalism are problematic. The idea of `exclusive nationalism' enters as a role sign of `extremism' such that his prospective neighbour's accent signifies unacceptable forms of national identity and therefore his preferred choice of neighbour. Hence, when asked to identify his preferred neighbour from a person called Stewart McKenzie and another called Faisel Mohammed – both of whom had Scottish accents - the respondent contended that he would ‘warm to Faisel…I like the whole idea of Scottishness not being that your name's Jock McTavish. I like the idea of a modern country with inclusive ideas’. Yet, if Faisel had a Pakistani accent, this same respondent replied ‘that would mean that I didn't warm to him as much’.

3.13 Hence, for this respondent, Scottish Muslim and non-Scottish Muslim are differentiated. The more integrated former is clearly the more acceptable neighbour. But integration does not require assimilation to ‘white norms’. A racialised conception of Scottishness is broken but partially re-instated by the contemporary negative attribution associated with `a Muslim' as `terrorist'. However, the ascriptions are not set in stone, the respondent is cognisant of thinking `erroneously' such that the racialised referent is de-stabilised in the neighbourhood, at least at the level of neighbour selection. Race as phenotype, and national culture as a homologue of race fail to purify the neighbourhood as racially exclusive because the hybridised code of cultural belonging disturbs the racialised referent of Scottishness.

3.14 We can conclude from this discussion that two discourses of nation operate simultaneously in the neighbourhood. First, a racialised code of cultural belonging that draws on historical constructions of Scottishness as white. And a second code that destabilises this understanding by positing an alternative hybridised code of cultural belonging in the multi-ethnic neighbourhood that challenges historically-grounded forms of racialisation. However, at the same time it must be recognised that the signification of Muslim as ‘terrorist' does reconfigure exclusion such that neighbourhood codes of Scottishness syncretise in opposition to the 'unhybridised Muslim'. The latter potentially lends itself to the closing of neighbourhood boundaries around a hybridised space.

Contesting racialised neighbourhood nationalism

Asian Muslims contesting racialised national identities

4.1 If race is not as significant in the identification of Scottishness in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood as it once was, then it can also be hypothesised that skin colour is unlikely to inform an understanding of ‘who is Scottish’ today. To explore this claim, we asked respondents to imagine themselves standing in a room with twenty local people they didn’t know and to identify those they considered to be Scottish. Initial responses amongst Asian Muslims revealed a clear association of Scottishness with whiteness. Yet, after some probing, it was clear that this historically potent association of race with nation broke down in their imagination. Hence, an Asian Muslim taxi driver whilst clearly declaring that he wouldn’t be picked as Scottish because of his brown skin colour conceded that his Scottish accent immediately counteracted such an interpretation as daily interactions with his customers testified:
It happens all the time when people come into my taxi. When they come into the taxi it's like they think I’m not Scottish. But as soon as I say “alright, mate”, that's when they kind of sit back and think it’s ok…Otherwise they see me as a “typical Pakistani”, “he doesn't know where he's going” you know the sort of thing.

4.2 In this example, accent becomes a mechanism for undermining the racialisation process and securing inclusion within Scottishness, that is, it provides the Asian taxi driver with the authority to speak and command an inclusive validity that differentiates the racialised respondent from the `typical Pakistani' – the 'foreign Muslim'. A Scottish accent disrupts the suggested relationship between skin colour and behaviour. Cultural codes of belonging identified through accent provide an authority such that the subject legitimises himself with reference to this hybridised cultural code of Scottishness. In the process of such social interaction, Scottishness comes to be deracialised and the causal relationship between skin colour and behaviour is thoroughly disrupted.

4.3 A more complex picture emerges for Asian women which incorporates age and gender dimensions. For example, one Asian Muslim woman reported she would be identified as Scottish without having to speak because:

There are certain attitudes and dress codes that an Asian person, born and brought up in Britain has that a person not born and brought up here doesn’t. I would look a man straight in the eye, whereas Asian women born abroad would not.

4.4 Self-identification is precipitated at the phenomenological level through the expression of hybridity codes: dress and behavioural characteristics which fall within the boundaries of Scottishness. A differentiation is made between herself and Asians born abroad which strengthens her belief that she would be chosen as Scottish whereas those not born here would not. It’s clear that hybridity codes are gendered, and that this woman’s gender has a national component which overrides phenotypical ascription such that culture cannot act as a homologue of race.

4.5 It should be emphasised that we did also find evidence which challenged this type of interpretation, especially when we interviewed a Hijab-wearing Muslim woman. She tended to invoke both a historical and a contemporary memory of exclusionary discourses of Scottishness in order to explain her feelings of exclusion and why she would not be picked as Scottish:

…if I don’t speak then they're not going to know. They're just going to look at me. It doesn't matter what I've got on. I wear jeans all the time, but the first thing there going to look at is the scarf, and the second thing, is that they're going to look at my colour…”she's not Scottish”.

4.6 Speech is considered to be a significant identifier of Scottishness which may affect a change in the exclusive power of phenotype, but other cultural codes of belonging such as the `scarf' place her outside a Scottish identity even when such codes are hybridised with those of the West like jeans. She continues that:

I'm from Scotland because I was born and brought up in Scotland, but people tend to go for your roots, your heritage, what your origins are… I could be a white, English person standing here and they'll say “she's more Scottish than I am”.

4.7 Hence, for this respondent Scottishness has a clear racialised referent which places national belonging outwith one’s individual choice. What is interesting however, is that even this particular individual, who emphasised heavily the exclusionary nature of Scottishness, acknowledged such exclusion was contextual. That is, it was only when particular cultural codes of belonging such as accent and phenotype merged that she felt herself excluded from Scottishness whereas if she was on the telephone to an individual she conceded ‘they'll think I'm Scottish because of my accent, because they can't see me’. She continued that ‘I think they’d be a bit confused at first and then think “yeah she’s from Scotland”. They’ll have deaf ears until they actually realise that my accent is Scottish. It takes people a while.’

4.8 Whilst it is clear that Asian Muslim women respondents experience phenotype as an exclusionary signifier, there are hybridity codes of cultural belonging which destabilise the phenotypical signification of Asian and of Muslim as attributions of non-nationals. The historical memory of racialised signification is paired with dress-code such that taken together they operate to precipitate feelings of mis-identification. However, a Scottish accent and other perceived mannerisms can destabilise the exclusion, even of non-white women identified as Muslim.

Whites contesting racialised national identities

4.9 The responses of white women tended to problematise phenotype as a national marker, reinforcing the perception that cultural codes of belonging complicated the identification of Scottishness in the neighbourhood:

…if I think of a Scottish person, they are white, but if you ask me based on a room filled with people from this area, I would think about what the individual looked like and probably, most of the Asian women around here have a particular look and a way of dressing, which perhaps if somebody comes straight from Pakistan would not have…they would be dressed slightly differently.

4.10 The respondent validates the perception held by many Asian Muslim women respondents that it is possible to differentiate between people who share phenotype but a different nationality. The differentiation is facilitated by hybridised cultural codes which are exemplified by types of dress. For this respondent, phenotype is broken as a demarcation of Scottishness. Another white woman also indicated how the demographic make-up of the Southside of Glasgow breaks down the racialised referent of whiteness as Scottishness:

…this area has a mix of Asians and Whites. Without speaking to them…I'd never be able to define them because I don’t think being Scottish is an obvious thing. Also, what I think of as being Scottish, they may well not consider to be Scottish, that's the other thing…

4.11 Interestingly, this respondent introduces the idea of choice such that Scottishness can be chosen and attributions of Scottishness can also be legitimately contested. In this example, race does not fix the individual beyond the will to choose and race most certainly does not determine who is part of the nation. According to Greenfeld (1995), choice is an important indication that a nationality is not ‘ethno-genetically’ grounded. It can be inferred therefore that Scottish culture does not stand in as a homologue of race.

4.12 However, a more contested picture emerges when issues of gender and Islamic dress codes are introduced. In particular, the significations of `terrorist' and `fundamentalist' as `extremist' do exert a more prominent force on national identification when respondents were asked to comment on the national identity of a Hijab wearing woman. Significantly, whilst white respondents did not object to the practice of Islam, or even to Islam being compatible with Scottish national identity, they did object to the enforcement of beliefs, which the burqa and the hijab are deemed to represent. It was contended that values associated with fundamentalism such as the wearing of the burqa in particular, were incompatible with Scottishness whilst simultaneously emphasising that national identity should be hybridised. Hence, the signification does not operate across phenotype but the cultural signifier of 'fundamentalism' codifies a section of the phenotypically signified as oppressive/oppressed. The racialised referent is broken, but still retains its exclusionary potential. The instability of the racialised referent of Scottishness as white can be evidenced by this account provided by a white man:

I love Indian shopkeepers with their big turbans because they have held on to their turban…that's their belief and quite right for them too. But they’ve also got a Scottish accent, they work hard and they provide a service to the local community. There was a great example of a couple of guys I read about recently in the Southside Extra concerning two Indian shopkeepers, Indian rather than Pakistani or Muslim which showed a smashing example of two guys that had integrated into the community. They were running some charity and ‘Mrs. McTavish’ came in with her shopping bag and was giving them a fiver and saying it’s great. This wee ‘Mrs. McTavish’ might hate the woman with the Burqa but these two guys were seen as okay.

4.13 The respondent cites a media representation which seems to validate his view of a differential signification between Turban and Burqa. This does not place Pakistanis as opposed to Sikhs outwith the boundaries of Scottishness, but it does place the `fundamentalist' outside those boundaries. What this suggests is that white respondents do believe Sikhs and Pakistanis, and hence Asians can be Scottish, but fundamentalism cannot.


5.1 Writing in the 1990s, Back (1993; 1996) found that the association of Britishness with whiteness was increasingly being challenged in the English inner city - both in theory and in practice. A new other was being targeted - `the Asian'. This finding challenged the perception that black and the Union Jack were antithetical constructs (Gilroy 1987). Our research – the first of its kind in Scotland – finds resonance of this dynamic in the Scottish neighbourhood such that the notion of `beyond volition' which places national belonging beyond the grasp of certain racialised groups is dispelled in the everyday interaction of residents living in a multi-ethnic neighbourhood.

5.2 Nevertheless, a note of caution needs to be added in that the idiom of threat remains important in disrupting such syncretic codes of cultural belonging. This exclusionary sentiment is not directed against Asians or even Muslims per se but against those who hold fundamentalist values – values that are deemed to be incompatible with Scotland’s liberal, civic nationalism (McCrone 2001). There remains therefore an exclusionary element in the imagination of respondents but as long as this exclusion operates along the ‘extremist’ signification, it is not enough to preclude Islamic membership of the Scottish nation. Religious beliefs are not deemed problematic; however, values are. The religious beliefs of Muslims do not place them beyond the limits of the national imagination; significations of fundamentalism do.

5.3 It cannot be argued therefore as Balibar (1991) does that race purifies ideas of nationhood. Indeed, our research demonstrates that the very idea of Scottishness is being re-configured in terms of values which are opposed to extremism. Whilst this label is ascribed to Muslim identities on one level, on another, it moves beyond Islam such that a monolithic view of the latter is disrupted at the level of the imagined national community. Whiteness is an unstable identifier of purity, and non-whiteness cannot simply be cast in the role of purity's other. The idea of extremist conjures a `new enemy', who poses a threat - the `foreign Muslim'. The `foreign Muslim', as extremist, finds his/her corollary, mirror image of the extremist, regardless of colour. Anti-extremism can be targeted also at far right British nationalism. The idiom of threat is tied to behaviours which can have a phenotypical referent. But phenotype is an uneasy demarcation of group identity vis-à-vis `the Scottish nation'. In short, the Scottish nation cannot easily be imagined as white in ethnically-mixed neighbourhoods.

5.4 Our research demonstrates that whilst there is one aspect of consciousness which is mediated by an understanding of racialised nationalism the resonance of this discourse is blunted by another type of consciousness that develops through everyday interaction in ethnically-mixed neighbourhoods. Hence, residents come to a more nuanced understanding of the racialised other such that racialised nationalism no longer has the purchase to cohere communities in the way it did in the past. Hence, what we are left with is racialised nationalism declining as an ideological force in residential areas signified as ethnically mixed, at least, that racism directed against the descendants of those who migrated in the 1950s and 1960s. A question is still raised over who we are? We are no longer ‘racially homogenous’ but we are still threatened. A question over whether that threat can be ‘successfully’ mobilised by racialised ideas of Scottish nationhood, needs to be asked, but can only be answered by the future.


This paper arises from a larger study funded by the ESRC (Award No. RES-000-23-0556) focusing on racism and nationalism in Scotland and England. We would like to thank the ESRC for their generous support.


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