National Habitus and the State Formation Process in Scotland

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 21 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Alex LAW, Abertay University, United Kingdom
In 2014 a referendum was held in Scotland that placed the United Kingdom state in grave peril. Yet neither political nationalism in Scotland nor the managers of the UK state found it necessary to mobilise the means of physical violence to break or secure the unity of the UK state as a survival unit, although the removal of Britain’s nuclear weapon system from the territorial waters of Scotland formed a central political issue during the referendum. Unlike Ireland, the fragmentation of the UK state in Scotland has thus far taken, and will almost certainly continue to take, a constitutional parliamentary form. Notwithstanding alarmist media reports and political PR, the heightened intensity of public debate and dialogue across wide swathes of Scottish society resulted in very few violent confrontations, although a single, and limited, loyalist confrontation with independence activists in the aftermath of the vote was widely reported. Despite the loss of the independence vote by 55:45%, political nationalism in Scotland, remarkably, increased its popular support. Scottish National Party membership grew from 9,500 in 2003, 25,000 in 2014 to 112,000 by 2015 (around 1 in 30 of the total electorate in Scotland), winning all but 3 seats in the UK General Election in May 2015, while the Labour Party won only a single seat compared to 41 in 2010, a catastrophic decline from its once seemingly impregnable hegemonic position throughout urban Scotland. These seismic political events occurred in a relatively short timescale and with an almost complete absence of political violence. This paper argues that the current trajectory of political nationalism in Scotland needs to be placed within the much longer historical time-scale of the British state formation process as a ‘survival unit’ (Elias 2012; Kaspersen and Gabriel, 2008) and the emergence of a distinctively Scottish national habitus (Elias, 2013).