Second Generation Identities: The Scottish Diaspora in England

by Murray Stewart Leith and Duncan Sim
University of the West of Scotland

Sociological Research Online, 17 (3) 11

Received: 23 Jun 2011     Accepted: 5 Mar 2012    Published: 31 Aug 2012


Scotland has often had an almost absent relationship with its diaspora, with expatriate Scots often viewed from the 'homeland' as being 'more Scottish than the Scots'. Expatriate Scottish identities are not only strong, but may be rooted in an overly romantic view of Scotland. Most research into the Scottish diaspora, however, has focused on North America and Australasia, although a diaspora exists much nearer home, elsewhere in the UK. Limited previous work suggests that the Scottish diaspora in England does not adopt the overly romantic view of Scotland characteristic of North American Scots and indeed, there is evidence that feelings of Scottish identity begin to fade within a generation of emigration to England. There is also evidence that Scottish organisations within England are declining. This paper therefore explores the continuing sense of a Scottish identity within the Scottish diaspora in England, through a series of interviews exploring the identities of second-generation 'Scots' - the offspring of Scottish migrants. The findings suggest that Scottish identity does indeed appear to weaken quite quickly in contrast to the overseas experience, perhaps because proximity to Scotland means that the preservation of an expatriate identity is considered to be relatively unimportant.

Keywords: Scottish, Diaspora, National Identity, England, Symbolic Ethnicity


1.1 In recent years, there has been an increasing interest in individuals’ sense of national identity and, within the context of the UK, in expressions of ‘Scottishness’, ‘Englishness’ and ‘Britishness’ (Gamble and Wright 2009). Research by Moreno and others, for example (Moreno 2006, Bechhofer and McCrone 2009), have helped to demonstrate that, within Scotland, individuals feel increasingly Scottish at the expense of their British identity. Indeed, some individuals reject a British identity altogether.

1.2 The implications of such shifts in identity are much debated. Some researchers have speculated on whether these changes, possibly exacerbated by political devolution (Leith and Soule 2011), will bring about the disintegration of the UK, as predicted by Nairn over a quarter of a century ago (1977). Others have suggested that, while the UK may ultimately disappear as a political entity, social relationships within the islands of Britain will remain in much the same way as within the Scandinavian countries (Paterson 2002), while others have questioned such political outcomes, arguing that the UK and Britishness are much more durable entities (Aughey 2010).

1.3 One particular aspect of the identity debate concerns national diasporas. It is not perhaps necessary to repeat the considerable academic research on the nature of diasporas (for example Safran 1991, Butler 2001) but there is broad agreement that they often retain a strong sense of identity, with a rather uncritical and nostalgic gaze upon their homelands (Radhakrishnan 2003). The Scottish diaspora, for example, has sometimes been described as being ‘more Scottish than the Scots’ (MacGregor 1980, Roberts 1999) and there is no doubting the strength of Scottish identity displayed through diasporic organisations (Ray 2001, Sullivan 2009).

1.4 Perhaps because of the strong links which some diasporas cultivate with their homelands, governments increasingly view them as a potential resource, for example as heritage tourists, and the Scottish Government is no different in this respect. It has developed a diaspora strategy (Rutherford 2009) and launched events such as the 2009 Year of Homecoming aimed essentially at the worldwide Scottish diaspora, with the objective of bringing them to Scotland as income generating visitors. That said, however, the connection between the Scottish diaspora and its homeland is a personal rather than an economic one and, in contrast to some diasporas for example, Scots tend not to work abroad solely to remit money home to their families.

1.5 Thus diasporas vary significantly across the globe. Publicity material for the Year of Homecoming appeared to be targeted at the overseas diaspora, primarily in North America and Australasia. But there are, of course, Scottish diasporas much closer to home, primarily located in England and other parts of the UK, but also in some European countries (Hesse 2011). The 2001 Census indicates a total of almost 800,000 Scottish-born people living in England (1.6 per cent of the population) and during the last century, the average proportion of Scots-born living within England had generally been between 1.0 and 1.5 per cent. Thus, if those with Scottish ancestry were to be included – a crucial part of the diaspora – the number would be significant and certainly well over a million people.

1.6 Research on the Scottish diaspora in England is not, however, well developed. There have been some historical studies of particular locations (such as Munro and Sim 2001, Sim 2011) and some studies of individual Scottish expatriate societies (Burnett 2007, McCarthy 2007). Dyer (2002) has explored dialect and identity in Corby, Northamptonshire – a town with a large Scottish expatriate population – and Stenhouse (2004) has described the impact which Scots have had on London and some of its institutions. But there is a limited body of research compared with that which exists on the Scottish diaspora in North America, for example, or even on the Irish diaspora within the UK (Walter et al 2002, Belchem 2007). It is not clear therefore if the Scottish diaspora in England shares the same sense of sentimental attachment to Scotland as, apparently, do Scottish-Americans – or the strong attachment felt by Irish-Americans for Ireland (Dezell 2001).

1.7 This paper describes a contemporary study which explores one particular aspect of the Scottish diaspora in England: namely the transmission of identity to the second generation, with a view to establishing if the Anglo-Scottish diaspora behaves like other Scottish diasporas. Focusing on long-term Scots resident in England, and asking them about their children and grandchildren, who generally have been born and brought up in England, we ask several questions: do these second generation individuals still have a sense of Scottish identity, or are they unashamedly now English? Does a sense of Britishness still play a part in their identity? And to what extent has their identity been influenced by their parents and families, from one generation to the next?

1.8 In addition to the rather limited research on Scots in England, within the UK there has been relatively little research on second generation migrants and little work on how children construct their identities (Phinney 1990, Barrett 2000). As well as focusing on Scottishness and the transference of identity to the next generation, this paper seeks to contribute to this additional area.

A sense of belonging

2.1 For individuals born and bred in a particular country or region, there is often a clear sense of belonging. We tend to view our national identities not as something artificially constructed but as a clear, objective and necessary way of describing who we are. Thus national identities can be extraordinarily potent and pervasive (Barrett 2000). Billig (1995) uses the term ‘banal nationalism’ to describe the situation where, for many of us, our national identity is something unconscious and which is accepted, unchallenged and constantly reinforced by the things around us. It is perhaps something about which we do not have to think too hard and it appears to cut across class, race and gender.

2.2 But for those who migrate to other countries and communities, the position is less clear cut. Within the UK, for example, many new immigrants face barriers of language, religion and culture and may find it difficult to develop a sense of belonging to their new country (Modood 1997) and ‘one might enjoy all the rights of citizenship … and yet feel an outsider who does not belong’ (Parekh 2000: 237). Similarly, within the United States, new migrants were encouraged to integrate, particularly by learning English; the education system became a prime vehicle for ‘Americanisation’ (Carlson 1987). Such policies bred tension and Stratton and Ang (1998) suggest that migrant groups have sought to embrace different sets of identities, one culturally particular, the other presumed to be ideologically universal.

2.3 If questions of identity and belonging are difficult for new migrants, how then might this manifest itself within the second generation? This group comprises individuals born and / or brought up in a ‘new’ country but with a strong awareness of their parents’ origins and heritage and it is unclear how they might view their national identity. Some researchers have suggested that the children of migrants have experienced difficulties in integrating where there are clear cultural or linguistic differences between the country of origin and the country of settlement. Alba (2005) refers to the early work of Irvin Child during the 1940s regarding Italian Americans who found themselves in a psychological ‘double-bind’. They risked being rebuffed if they attempted to integrate being, at the same time, accused of disloyalty to their origins; if they remained true to their Italian origins, they failed to improve on their marginal economic and social situations.

2.4 Despite the ongoing process of integration, national identification has continued to be an important aspect of American society. Such an awareness might be expected where black and minority ethnic people are concerned, not least because of their long experience of being excluded from many areas of society. Ethnicity is therefore a significant factor in national identification. In countries like America, however, this also raises issues about the ethnicity of the white majority, some of whom may well feel equally marginalised (Maalouf 2000:124). Indeed, Hollinger (2000) suggests that we should adopt the term ‘Euro-American’ rather than simply ‘white’. Certainly for many white people (or Euro-Americans), national identification is increasingly important and there has been an upsurge in interest in heritage and ‘roots’ among various white communities.

2.5 Nagel (1994) has argued that, as desegregation and affirmative action programmes got under way in the 1960s and 1970s specifically to counteract historical disadvantage amongst black people, it led to a complementary awareness raising of a sense of national and ethnic identity within white communities. The publication of Alex Haley's book Roots in 1976 and the success of the subsequent television adaptation gave black people a heightened awareness of their heritage and many began searching for information on their ancestral past. But the book’s publication coincided with the US bicentennial and a nationwide interest in the country’s history and origins. Thus Roots also had an impact on the white communities who began similar searches for their heritage.

2.6 There has therefore been a significantly increased desire by white communities to explore their heritage and to re-connect with their ancestral past. This ‘symbolic ethnicity’ in Gans’s (1979) phrase is characterised by a nostalgic allegiance to the culture of the immigrant generation or that of the old country, a love and pride in a tradition that can be felt, without having to be incorporated into everyday behaviour. People may even desire to return to some kind of imagined and rather sanitised past, conveniently cleansed of the complexities that accompanied them in the real past. This symbolic ethnicity is new in that the social life associated with it takes place without ethnic clustering. Individuals are not therefore interested in re-creating an ethnic neighbourhood but with finding ways of maintaining and expressing an identity. Within the United States, symbolic ethnicity fulfils the ‘particular American need to be “from somewhere”’ (Waters 1990: 150). It is something which is inherited through ancestry but is also a personal choice. It allows people to express their individuality without making them stand out as being exceptionally different from many other people. In other words, it is a solution ‘to a dilemma that has deep roots in American culture’.

2.7 Within the UK too, there is evidence of the growing strength of symbolic ethnicity. Research into second generation Irish people in England by Hickman et al (2005), for example, suggests that they have frequently been viewed as being caught ‘between two cultures’; many individuals constructively engage in securing their own distinctive identities which may in fact be an amalgam of both their own and their parents’ cultures. Knowledge of a different (or at least non-English) past on at least one parent’s side has contributed to strong feelings of an identity which, if not completely Irish, is at least hybrid or ‘hyphenated’ (Walter et al 2002, Ullah 1990). Second generation Irish people have been shown to engage with Irish music and dance as expressions of their cultural heritage (Leonard 2005), while writing is also a way in which second generation Irish people can express their identities (Arrowsmith 2000).

2.8 Within Scotland, there is research involving English-born people, which illustrates the uncertainties which migrants experience in allocating identities to their (Scottish-born) children. Kiely et al (2005) suggest that most English migrants accepted that their children would grow up Scots, not least by virtue of their birthplace and their accents, but some felt that it was important for their children to acknowledge their English origins and one of their interviewees claimed that her children were simply ‘English in a Scottish environment’. Thus ‘symbolic ethnicity’ within the second generation is a way in which individuals somehow juggle their identities, in a way which acknowledges not only their birthplace and upbringing but also their heritage – both their own and that of their parents’ and previous generations. Watson (2003) refers explicitly to the behavioural strategies adopted by some individuals which help them ‘fit in’.

Second Generation Scots

3.1 The position of second generation Scots in relation to symbolic ethnicity is a variable one. On the one hand, in America and countries of the ‘white Commonwealth’, to which Scottish families have emigrated over many generations, there appears to be a strong sense of Scottish expatriate identity. Not only are there long-established Scottish organisations but there actually appears to be a growth in the numbers of such organisations and in Scottish heritage events. For example, Hague (2001), using information from Donaldson (1986), identified 75 Highland Games taking place across the United States in the mid-1980s, but by 2000, the number had grown to 205. Hague suggests that, as well as the increasing interest in genealogy and heritage which occurred throughout the country during this period, the release of the film Braveheart also acted as an important spur to the growth of Scottish heritage organisations in particular. The film was, of course, hugely popular in Scotland itself (Edensor 1997) and has had significant resonance from that time onwards, being regularly used for such varied purposes as tourist marketing and political objectives.

3.2 Also within the United States, the establishment of National Tartan Day celebrations since 1997 is another example of the growing strength of expatriate Scottish identity, although homeland Scots may deplore the imagery involved, the historical inaccuracies and the commercialism (Cowan 2008). But America has embraced the symbolism of Tartan Day because, for Scottish-Americans, tartan is a badge of membership within the Scottish community and of clan affiliation. It is therefore part of the celebration of national identity (Ray 2001).

3.3 On the other side of the world, Prentis (2008) has identified a growth in the numbers of Scottish organisations in Australia, along with the development of a ‘Scottish Week’ similar to Tartan Day. Many of these organisations attract not only members of the Scottish diaspora but also others who are simply interested in Scottish music or dancing (Sullivan 2009). Indeed, Sullivan notes that romanticised notions of Scotland are common amongst both those born in Scotland and those born in Australia, so perhaps distance from Scotland lends it a degree of enchantment.

3.4 In contrast, the Scottish diaspora within England appears not to behave in quite the same way. Although there are numerous Scottish organisations within England, they appear to be in quite severe decline and many Scottish events such as local Highland Games have actually been abandoned. Both Burnett’s (2007) study of Scottish societies in the north-east of England, and McCarthy’s (2007) study of the Scots’ Society of St Andrew in Hull refer to their declining and ageing membership, with some societies folding. The Hull society’s membership had actually reached a peak of 463 in 1954 but thereafter it declined steadily to 62 in 2001 and it is reasonable to suppose that it has declined still further, since then. Sim (2011) has referred to a similar decline in Scottish organisations on Merseyside, where some associations were barely surviving, with remarkably small memberships, and where the local Highland Games had been abandoned in favour of a ‘family fun day’.

3.5 The differing behaviours of the Scottish diasporas in England and America raise questions as to why this should be so. Why does there appear to be such a declining interest in Scottishness within the diaspora in England and no obvious construction of a symbolic ethnicity? In the first instance, could this reflect a tendency for Scots in England to use ‘Britishness’ as a convenient ‘catch-all’ identity? This might be a logical – and tactful – position to adopt, if England is the country in which they have been born and brought up, and in which they live. Alternatively, do such individuals feel less need to emphasise their Scottishness within England, because although strictly a diaspora population, they nevertheless still live within the UK state? Might they therefore choose to highlight their Britishness? We know from various research studies, summarised in Stone and Muir (2007), that a sense of Britishness is much stronger in England than in Scotland but it is not clear what the position is in relation to diaspora populations

3.6 Secondly, does the behaviour of Scots in England reflect a growth in English national identity? McCrone and Bechhofer (2010) suggest that a stronger sense of Englishness has led to a heightened tendency to reject claims from others thought not to be ‘one of us’. So someone born in Scotland and now living in England, or someone born in England of Scottish parentage, might feel a difficulty in expressing their Scottishness in the face of a strengthened English national identity, as many English have long felt in Scotland, given the strength of Scottish national identity (Hussain and Miller 2006). Members of the Scottish diaspora in England may therefore decide, consciously or subconsciously, that their Scottish identity is not sufficiently important to argue for, and they end up taking the easier option of adopting an English identity instead.


4.1 In exploring the identities of second generation Scots living in England, we have made use of material collected from semi-structured interviews conducted in two different locations. The first of these was Merseyside; although the proportion of Scots-born individuals in Liverpool in 2001 was only 3,376, representing 0.8% of the population, the area has had a long tradition of Scottish settlement and in the mid- nineteenth century, 4.1% of the city’s population was born in Scotland. The presence of significant numbers of those born in Scotland or with Scottish ancestry is reflected in the existence (until relatively recently) of some 17 Scottish organisations within the Merseyside area (Munro and Sim 2001). It should, of course, also be noted that Liverpool is home to other large ‘immigrant’ groups, including Irish, Welsh and many black and minority ethnic groups.

4.2 The second area chosen for study was Shropshire. We sought an area which contrasted with Merseyside in having a much smaller Scottish population and a limited range of Scottish organisations. This would enable us to explore differences in the persistence of Scottish identity between two contrasting locations. Shropshire’s Scots-born population in 2001 was 3,852 – slightly higher than that for Liverpool and representing 1.4% of the county’s population. But the numbers of Scots-born have remained fairly constant and there is no significant tradition of Scottish migration to the area. There are only two or three Scottish societies in Shropshire.

4.3 Contact was made with members and office bearers of some of these organisations in late 2009 and early 2010 to identify potential interviewees and samples ‘snowballed’ involving other society members or friends. A total of 13 people were interviewed in Merseyside, and 9 in Shropshire. Our sample was evenly split by gender, with 11 males and 11 females and the average age was 61, perhaps reflecting the rather older age profile of many participants in Scottish organisations. In all, 16 interviewees had been born and brought up in Scotland, while the other six had been born in England of Scottish parentage. It could be argued that these six did themselves comprise a ‘second generation’ of migrants but they had a strong sense of a Scottish identity, reflected in their membership of Scottish organisations and reinforced in the interviews.

4.4 Each interview lasted between 40 and 55 minutes and was recorded and later transcribed. Interviewees were asked about a range of issues, including personal histories, involvement with Scottish organisations and questions of identity. In relation to identity, we were seeking in particular to explore how individuals maintained their own (Scottish) identity, how (in some cases) it had been inherited from their parents, and how – or if – they had succeeded in passing it on to their children.

4.5 We were conscious in undertaking these interviews that we were relying completely on the views of those whom we interviewed. Thus in asking about the transmission of a Scottish identity to subsequent generations, we were not able to ask the question of members of that generation. Rather we were exploring the interviewees’ perceptions of their children’s sense of identity and the extent to which it coincided with their own. We should also record that, in interrogating our data, we did not consider or explore the gendered dimensions of national identity.

4.6 In reporting on our findings below, we use a number of quotations from our interviews to illustrate our argument.

Interview results

5.1 Of the 16 interviewees born in Scotland, four had moved to England with their families as children and had been – at least partly – educated in England, while the other 12 had moved as adults, usually for employment reasons. A total of 17 interviewees had children, but in only four cases, had the children been born in Scotland. In most cases, therefore, they acknowledged that their children probably felt English, but would be aware of their parental or family background in Scotland. Interviewees were able to reflect on the nature of their children’s sense of identity and, in most cases, it became clear that their children (who might otherwise be regarded as ‘second generation Scots emigrants’) did not see themselves in that way. While being aware of their Scottish parental background, they were essentially English. Indeed, their adoption of an English rather than simply a British identity reflects a growing sense of ‘Englishness’ across the country as a whole (Kumar 2003, Skey 2012).
My children are English although, having said that, both of them absolutely love Scotland (Female, Merseyside, 60).

My daughter’s always regarded herself as half Scottish and half English. She doesn’t regard herself just as Scottish but she’s definitely got more Scottish blood in her than my son does. He’s definitely English and that’s it (Female, Merseyside, 58).

My nephews live in Yorkshire – they would feel English, although they’re aware of their Scottish descent (Female, Merseyside, 69).

My daughter’s English because she was born in Liverpool. But she could join a Scottish society because she’s a member of a Scottish family …. The blood gets weaker and weaker (Female, Merseyside, 90).

Oh, my daughter is English through and through in accent and tastes and ... I think she voted Tory last time as well. She is proud of her Scottish heritage, and she might want to trace family, but her mother’s side are into that and I think she does a lot of that with them. She calls herself British though, as she has Scottish parents, born in England and lives with an Ulsterman (Male, Shropshire, 57).

5.2 Sometimes, children had actually been born in Scotland but the fact that they had lived almost all their lives in England meant that they were thought to have little understanding of Scotland or Scottish identity:

They declare themselves as Scottish but have little understanding of the same matters that formed the identity of their parents. They really do not think about it that much, it seems to me, and having grown up outside of Scotland, they do not really think of the differences between here and there that much (Male, Shropshire, 62).

Each of my three sons has a sense of being Scottish – although one of my grandchildren was surprised to discover that his father was Scottish! So he obviously hasn’t talked about his roots too much! Having said that, the three of them have lived all or almost all of their lives in England. But they have a love of Scotland and would like to visit there more often (Male, Shropshire, 70).

5.3 More significantly perhaps, by virtue of being born in England, the children spoke with an English accent and would have been unlikely to have had their ‘Englishness’ challenged in any way. Charlesworth (2000) has shown how speech and dialect embed individuals into particular social worlds, so to speak with an English accent or dialect would have the effect of removing any potential barriers which the children might have faced in relation to being accepted or to belonging to a particular locality.

5.4 Another area where barriers to belonging might exist is sport and in particular, football. The existence of separate international English and Scottish football teams means that expatriates have to choose which to support (Perryman 2002). Understandably perhaps, this was an issue raised in several interviews.

A: [My sons] are definitely English but one of them’s a redhead and I tell him that’s his Scottish blood coming out. But they would support England at football. England against Scotland, they’re very definitely England. Scotland are second best at everything.
Q: Even though they would qualify to play for Scotland?
A: I don’t think it would ever enter their heads to think of themselves as Scottish. That’s mother’s area. And even if England weren’t playing in something, then they would go for the other team most likely to win, rather than Scotland. They really don’t have a strong sense of Scottish identity, although – and they wouldn’t thank me for saying this – they do look very like their Scottish cousins (Female, Merseyside, 50).

Q: So would your son regard himself as English and support England in the World Cup, even though he could play for Scotland, because you’re Scottish?
A: Matthew’s an avid England supporter – which is OK because that’s where he was born and lived all his life. What I find more strange is a guy I work with, who’s spent all his life in England, but his father’s Scottish. So he supports Rangers and Scotland and hates the English – even though I think England’s his country (Male, Merseyside, 50).

5.5 One young interviewee actually reflected on the likely identity of any children which she and a future partner might have:

Well I don’t have children at the moment, but in the future I would think that as I am only half-Scottish and I presume, given that I live in England, that my partner will be English, they would probably consider themselves as primarily English (Female, Shropshire, 20).

5.6 What was interesting about the responses was the fact that interviewees were very relaxed about their children’s identity, realising that as they had all grown up in England, they might see themselves as predominantly English. There did not appear to be any attempt to seek to influence their children’s identity in any serious way, although many interviewees expressed a hope that their children would continue to be aware of and appreciate the Scottish connection. Nevertheless we did seek to explore if parental identity might, in some subconscious way, influence the identity of their children.

The role of parents and peers

6.1 Families, particularly parents, play perhaps the most crucial role in making children aware of their heritage and there is a sizeable literature on familial influences on identity development (for example Song 2003, Torres 2004). We found parental influence had been of some significance in influencing how the second generation saw themselves, both now and while they were growing up, although the impact had sometimes been subconscious.

6.2 One obvious area of influence is that of family holidays, whereby children were taken to Scotland to visit family members and friends, often making them more aware of the Scottish ‘connection’. For example, one interviewee did have a strong sense of Scottish identity, even though he had been born and brought up on Merseyside.

We went every holiday to East Lothian, where the family lived. I loved the freedom of being on the farm ... We just absolutely loved the place, the excitement of going to Scotland, the freedom we had to go and play anywhere we liked. My dad used to take me down the harbour and I used to love watching the fishing boats, at Dunbar or Eyemouth or St Abbs. So it’s just grown in me, this connection to Scotland. I feel personally that I’m a Scotsman born abroad ... To me [Scotland] feels like where my heart is. I’ve lived round here and was born down here but I always feel my home is Scotland. I always feel more relaxed when I go back up to Scotland. It just feels like that’s where I belong and since I was a child, it’s always been where I need to head for (Male, Merseyside, 48).

6.3 Other interviewees spoke of the various activities undertaken on family holidays:

We’re mainly based in Carnoustie, where my mother and brothers live. I play a lot of golf with my brothers. … but we tour all over the place. I climbed Ben Nevis with my daughter last year. My daughter and I just love Scotland (Female, Shropshire, 68).

6.4 A second area in which families often exerted an influence on children was that of family events such as weddings. Obviously in most cases these involved weddings of family members living back in Scotland but occasionally a second generation ‘Scot’ had decided to have a Scottish wedding of their own. Thus:

Mandy was always on holiday in Scotland with her family – they always camped up on the west coast. So she always had a connection to Scotland anyway, albeit no family connection, but she always loved Scotland. And I always had that as well. We met down here but we’d always holidayed up in Scotland and when we decided we were getting married, we had a look at places to get married. And we looked at castles and we came across Eilean Donan Castle which is a beautiful castle on the west coast. I just made an inquiry if we could get married there and they said yes. The reception was in the Plockton Hotel, about 20 minutes away (Male, Merseyside, 48).

6.5 The individual concerned had worn full Highland dress for the occasion, although he admitted that his approach had been unusual and that his brothers, nieces and nephews did not share his own sense of Scottishness. He believed that they would all probably feel English.

6.6 A third area related to the Scottish organisations of which interviewees were often members. Many of them had tried to persuade their children to join but often with limited success and this appeared to be having a significant impact on the health of these organisations.

We joined the RSCDS[1] because my daughter, when she was seven, got into the children’s class. But then she was eligible to join the Brownies and they were on the same night. Unfortunately she favoured the Brownies so stopped going (Female, Merseyside, 58)

The West Derby society, who for almost as long as I’ve been dancing in this area, had a youngsters’ dance class – which they no longer have … I think the problem is that young people don’t see it as ‘cool’ to do Scottish country dancing (Male, Merseyside, 62).

The lack of young people joining was having a serious impact on the societies, some of which appeared to be struggling (Sim 2011).

6.7 Fourthly, as noted earlier, some interviewees expressed some regret that their children had resisted their attempts to support Scotland in sporting events, but they had usually been forced to accept the position:

My nephew wears an England shirt and would be embarrassed to wear a Scotland one I think, so we never push it (Female, Shropshire, 71).

6.8 Other parents had simply tried to foster an awareness of family background, while recognising that this would not necessarily make their children ‘Scottish’:

I have tried to always keep the Scottish element in their lives but I think they are essentially English (Female, Shropshire, 58).

I have always encouraged my daughter to acknowledge and be proud of her Scottish blood – she was born in England with an English father – which she does wherever possible. However, on official documents, such as passports etc, she is forced to declare herself as being English / British as England was her official place of birth (Female, Shropshire, 46).

6.9 Thus, the parental influence was often important in making children aware of their family background, although how much of this transferred directly onto the child in question and their individual sense of identity remains unclear. Our interviews suggest that most of the children themselves usually identified more with England than with Scotland, a position accepted by their parents.


7.1 Writing about Scottish migrant identity, McCarthy (2011) has referred to the centrality of Scottish societies, the Church, sport and music in its formation and she emphasises that such identity formation affects not just emigrant Scots but also their descendants. McCarthy’s focus, however, is essentially on Scots migrants across the Empire. We would suggest that, in fact, there are significant variations in Scottish migrant identities linked (in part) to geographical distance from the home country.

7.2 Our findings appear to show that the second generation within the Scottish diaspora in England does not generally retain a strong sense of Scottish identity. They therefore appear to be significantly different to Scottish diasporas in other countries such as North America and Australasia where continuing distance from the homeland lends a strong sense of enchantment to it (Sullivan 2009). At a time when celebrations such as National Tartan Day/Week have been established and numbers of Highland Games in the USA are expanding (Hague 2001, 2002), Scottish organisations in England appear to be in decline, and the second generation of the Scottish diaspora is being absorbed into the wider ‘English’ population.

7.3 Why should this be so? We can suggest three possible reasons. One is the ease and convenience of modern travel, which has allowed members of the Scottish diaspora – whether in England or elsewhere in the world – to travel ‘home’ relatively quickly and inexpensively. This is, of course, particularly relevant in the case of England, as the country sharing a land border with Scotland. The development of motorways and mass ownership of cars has enabled expatriate Scots to travel ‘home’ in a way which was simply not available to members of the Scottish diaspora in England as little as 50 years ago. One Merseyside interviewee reflected on this proximity as being the reason why the diasporas in England and America behaved differently:

I wonder if that is because Scotland and America have this big pond in between. In England, Scotland is just ‘up there’, three hours drive away. Is it that Scotland is now too close? In other words, if you want to see a Highland Games, you can go and see them in Scotland. Motorways make it really simple. Also, most society members are second generation Scots and maybe less jingoistic than thirty, forty, fifty years ago (Male, Merseyside, 68).

7.4 A second reason may be related to the ongoing debate about ‘Scottishness’ and ‘Britishness’ (Gamble and Wright 2009). Thus, although Scottish families are living outside Scotland, they are nevertheless still living within the UK state and can therefore call on an all-embracing British identity for themselves. So they may shift the emphasis in their identity towards one of Britishness. Research would suggest that this may, to an extent, be the case. For example, in their work on Scots in the north-east of England, Burnett and MacRaild (2007: 189) claim that Scots there ‘were comfortable with a dual sense of national identity; they were very proud of where they lived’. Similarly, McCarthy (2005: 172) states that:

Scottish migrants in England were less associated with issues such as crime and politics which have attracted the interests of historians of other migrant groups. Additionally, unlike the Irish and several other ethnicities entering England, the Scots were predominantly Protestant and not viewed as ‘alien’. Their dual Scottish and British identities meant too that they were rarely conceived of as an exotic ‘other’.

7.5 Such comments indicate the ease, in comparison to other incoming groups, with which Scots were able to make homes, and to adjust their national identity, when moving to England. Being British has allowed such easy movement of Scots to and from England (and in reverse for the English) since the Union of 1707. This reflects the consistent 1%-1.5% of Scots-born individuals present in England over the last hundred years, and the fact that in 2001, 8% of the population within Scotland was English born.

7.6 Even in the recent post-devolution era, when the idea of a unified Britain has come under pressure due to legislative devolution, Scottish (and English) politicians working at Westminster have also been keen to embrace a British identity, in order to emphasise the continued importance (in their eyes) of the Union. The former Prime Minister Gordon Brown is an obvious example; making significant use of the terms British and Britishness in a variety of speeches[2]. He, as a Scotsman in charge of the whole United Kingdom, would be expected to emphasise the overarching identity of Britishness, thereby legitimising his position.

7.7 Nonetheless, he was joined by David Cameron – himself a second generation ‘Scot’ – the Conservative leader and current Prime Minister. When in Scotland in 2007, Cameron asserted his Britishness and trumpeted the Union as more than just a collection of institutions and values (Porter 2007). Yet it may well be that Britishness, or the focus on it, remains an elite, political project. Indeed, Crick has dismissed this fascination among the political parties with Britishness as unwise, declaring it to be a ‘protean concept’ (2009) that requires no exact definition, and attempts to do so are ‘folly’ of the worst kind. In his eyes, and those of others such as Aughey, there is an assumed fragility of British identity and Britishness that is misleading as it retains a ‘continued robustness’ (Aughey 2010). Britishness may not be widely defined but it is, among the UK population, widely accepted.

7.8 This widespread acceptance may mean that it is difficult – and certainly unusual – for members of the Scottish diaspora in England to adopt a hyphenated identity, as Scottish-English, whereas elsewhere in the world, it is commonplace to speak of Irish-Americans or French-Canadians, for example. If identities are contested, might this encourage Scots in England simply to adopt an overarching British identity as a sign of ‘integration’, rather than emphasising difference? Might the second generation consciously choose not to emphasise their Scottishness, at a time when Scots are sometimes viewed negatively within England in the post-devolution era (Curtice and Heath 2009)?

7.9 It is certainly the case that several of our interviewees referred to ‘Britain’ or, in some cases, the ‘British Isles’ but in each of these instances it was in the context of discussing the future constitutional framework of the UK. In terms of identity, Scots-born interviewees always bracketed being British with being Scottish. Hence:

Being Scottish gives me a sense of national pride and distinguishes me from just being British (Male, Shropshire, 49).

I am Scottish first and foremost. I accept that, as Scotland is part of Britain, I am also classed as British. However, I do not want to be bracketed together with other British factions – Northern Irish, Welsh and English (Female, Shropshire, 46).

7.10 No single interviewee specifically imputed a British identity to their children. Therefore, the arguments of Crick and Aughey about the underlying, primordial strengths of Britishness may have validity in the fact that the Scottish diaspora in England is continually strengthened by new numbers, but Britishness is clearly a secondary identity in this regard. Our conclusions must therefore be that the second generation Scottish diaspora are neither Scottish nor British but emphatically English. Unlike the second generation Irish referred to earlier (Walter et al 2002), the second generation Scots appear not to be ‘hyphenated’.

7.11 A third reason why second generation Scottish identity in England appears to be weakening may relate to the differing roles of families and peers. We have already referred to the important role played by families, particularly parents, in making children aware of their heritage. Abell et al (2002), in researching Scots in England, suggest that parents were very keen that their children grow up knowing about their heritage. Some had made a deliberate attempt to interest them in Scottish folk music and history, while holidays in Scotland, a regular occurrence among the majority of families they interviewed, had helped to reinforce a sense of a Scottish family background. Interestingly, some respondents reported that, as their children became older, their interest in Scotland had grown, with some returning to Scotland to attend university and others taking an interest in Scottish cultural signifiers – such as contemplating wearing a kilt to get married. This reflects the situation in regard to other diasporas, where those most involved in diaspora organisations, in genealogical research, and in heritage tourism tend to be older (Ray 2001). Thus interest in one’s heritage may be quite closely linked to the life course and an individual’s sense of identity may shift over time.

7.12 The role of family holidays, for example, is highlighted by Walter et al (2002) in their study of Irish families in England. Most second generation children augmented their (sometimes fragmentary) knowledge of their background when they met Irish relatives during family holidays in Ireland. These proved to be important occasions for families to reintegrate. Similarly, Kibria (2002) discusses the importance of visits ‘home’ as these could combine meetings with family members as well as visits to sites of ancestral origin. Indeed, we have already noted the significant development in ‘heritage tourism’ – often targeted at the Scottish diaspora in North America – as individuals organise holidays in their ‘homelands’ specifically to discover (sometimes long lost) relatives. Basu (2004) provides an interesting example of this in the Orkney Homecoming event, in which 150 Canadians of Orcadian descent participated.

7.13 Within some families, parents simply made clear to their children that they wished them to remember their family background. Some of the English families living in Scotland in Kiely et al’s (2005) study suggested that their Scottish-born children were to an extent half-English, because of their parental origins. These migrants to Scotland may have valued the idea of a hybrid English-Scottish identity as being somehow more ‘cosmopolitan’ for their children.

7.14 Certainly (and as described above), our own interviewees demonstrated clearly that they involved their children in holidays in Scotland and other Scottish family occasions, while simultaneously trying to encourage them to become involved in Scottish societies. But interestingly, their efforts appeared to be frustrated by the influences of their children’s peers.

7.15 The literature shows that peers too may be influential in formulating identity. Thus, in their study of second generation Irish people, Hickman et al (2005) quote several individuals who had experienced pressures, particularly among work colleagues, to ‘be English’. Individuals who articulate an Irish identification often meet resistance, sometimes to the point of argument and estrangement, and so some simply adopted a low profile and stopped discussing it. Younger children are less likely to find themselves in such situations of contested identities and may simply conform to the identifications of their peers. Abell et al (2002), for example, refer to football support and the extent to which second generation Scots in England might support Scotland or England. One interviewee pointed out that it was probably only natural for her son to support England as all of his school friends did.

7.16 Our interviews suggest that the influence of peers is particularly important. Hence many second generation ‘Scots’ appeared to see Scottish dancing as not ‘cool’ while Scottish societies were not as attractive as other forms of activity, with several interviewees referring to the Brownies, and other young people’s organisations. The fact that almost all the young people in our interviewees’ families supported England at football may also represent a desire to ‘fit in’ with their peers.

7.17 Supporting our view is the work of Dyer (2002) in Corby. Her research was focused primarily on linguistics with second and third generation Scots, but she found that by the third generation, the men she interviewed:

did not identify themselves as Scottish in any way. This is manifest both anecdotally in their support for the English (rather than Scottish) team in the Football World Cup (1998), and in their own self-identifications (Dyer 2002: 110).


8.1 In conclusion, It is clear that, for the first generation (Scots-born migrants), a Scottish identity remained important, as a reminder of where they had come from. For the second generation, mostly born in England and all brought up there, an English identity appeared to be almost universal. While many individuals may also have adopted a British identity in a ‘banal’ and unchallenged way (cf. Billig 1995), it was rarely referred to specifically. This could be due to a number of factors and we would make three key points relating to our empirical data and also to the wider body of literature regarding national identities and the diaspora.

8.2 Firstly, it is clear that, while there has been a continual stream of Scottish migrants into England, which reached a peak in the 1960s and 1970s, when 1.6% of the population was Scots-born (McCarthy 2005), there has been no entrenchment of Scottish identity in England, with the diaspora seeming to ‘disappear’ into the wider English population within two generations.

8.3 Secondly, among the key points we identified from our interviews is that there were no serious, overt attempts to enforce any feelings of national identity on the second generation by the first. A desire for the clear recognition of the Scottish cultural character of the diasporas’ background was nonetheless accompanied by a general acceptance of the self-chosen identity of the second generation itself. This second generation identity was English, not Scottish (with some few, limited exceptions); nor was it stated as British, although this may have been assumed. The respondent cultural and social allegiances, such as sport, were obvious.

8.4 Thirdly, it is possible that a Scottish identity in England may be the subject of some hostility. In our research, we never identified ‘Scotophobia’ at an individual level but at a national level, there has been considerable political debate about long-term relations between Scotland and England. There are a number of politicians who have regularly referred to the Scots as ‘subsidy junkies’ supported by English taxes (Young 2007), while London-based journalists like Kelvin MacKenzie appear to take a delight in pursuing an anti-Scottish agenda (Milmo 2006). Recent research (Skey 2012) has suggested that many young people are increasingly adopting a strongly English identity as a reaction to strong declarations of identity within Scotland (and Wales). Such developments may lead those of Scottish ancestry in England to suppress their Scottish identity.

8.5 It therefore seems clear that the Scottish diaspora in England, for so long an invisible minority within academic studies, operates differently when compared to the overseas diasporas of Australasia or North America. The far diasporas of such areas develop a strong symbolic ethnicity and emotional attachment to the Scottish homeland, but the near diasporas, located within the same state and the sister nations of the UK, apparently do not.


1The Royal Scottish Country Dance Society. The Liverpool branch, like other branches, holds regular classes and dances.

2For example, in the annual British Council lecture, 7 July 2004 or his address to the Labour Party in 2007, when he used such terms about 80 times.


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