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Archive for the tag “UK”

Independent Scotland: rhetoric and reality

The news and social media have recently been full of this week’s referendum on whether Scotland should be independent.

ScotFlagOne of the things that has struck me about it is the dire predictions of disaster for an independent Scotland from those opposed to independence, yet most of them are not on record as having opposed the independence of several other recently independent countries on similar grounds. Why are they opposed to independence for Scotland, yet not to independence for some of the following countries?

Country Area Population

30,265 sq miles

5.295 million

Czech Republic

30,450 sq miles

10.52 million


24,938 sq miles

2.013 million


18,933 sq miles

5.414 million


19,767 sq miles

3.829 million


21,851 sq miles

4.253 million


11,720 sq miles

2.074 million


7,827 sq miles

2.06 million

I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another on whether Scotland should be independent or not. I’m not voting and I don’t live there. But I am struck by the spuriousness of some of the arguments for a “No” vote, and the predictions of disaster. Have such disasters struck the other states on the list above?

I can see some good arguments for a “No” vote: the main one is that Scottish independence would be bad for the rest of the UK, because it would condemn the rest of the UK to having a Tory government in perpetuity. Perhaps the answer to that would be to have independence for Wales for a start, and perhaps Cornwall, Mercia, Wessex, Bernicia, Deira, etc, and and leave London and the “home” counties to do their merry little Tory thing.

Another utterly spurious argument was that the Royal Bank of Scotland would move its head office to London. If it did such a thing, I hope that it would change its name. And if I were a Scot, and had an account with it, I would certainly take my custom elsewhere.

I wonder where Slovenians do their banking?


There’s an interesting discussion going on over at the alt.usage.english newsgroup.

Don Phillipson, of Carlsbad Springs, Ottawa, Canada, asks:

Citations are requested for the first uses of “multiculturalism” by governmental officials or politicians in Europe (inc. Britain) and the USA, preferably with enough context to indicate the meaning of the noun (or adj. multicultural.)

My tentative thesis is that this word entered contemporary politics in Canada (Multiculturalism Act 1971) and was then taken up in Europe (by Britain and by other countries that operate in French, German, Dutch, etc.) where its meanings were different: and ultimately in the USA where meanings were different again, whence it returned to Canada to function in ways unforeseen in 1971.

Most obviously, as legislated in Canada in 1971, “multiculturalism” had nothing to do with race (skin colour) or with immigrants. (It was a strictly local response to Canadians of “other ethnic groups” who told the Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism that, because their ancestry was non-French and non-British and they did not see themselves as either “English Canadians” or “French Canadians,” they were apprehensive that public anxiety about B&B topics should not mean they were “second-class citizens. The largest language groups voicing this concern were German, Polish and Ukrainian: i.e. the people were all “white” and mostly Canadian-born.)

In Europe e.g. Britain, “multiculturalism” was associated less with long-recognized white “races” (e.g. Scotch, Welsh, Irish) but with first-generation immigrants from Asia and Africa i.e. “visible minorities.” In the USA “multiculturalism” was subtly different again, because there were new “visible minority” communities (e.g. from Korea and SE Asia) but also long-settled Hispanic and black communities. Most obviously, the largest visible minority in the USA was black Americans who had been settled in America for 200+ years and who had recently been engaged in the
Civil Rights movement, a significant social revolution.

Thus the “multiculturalism” associated nowadays with all-black US TV situation comedies is substantially different from that of (say) Turkish or South American
communities in Europe: and wholly different again from the concerns in 1971 of Canadians of Greek or Portuguese or Lebanese ancestry: and the word today in Canada is powerfully guided by American ideas based in demographic features that do not occur in Canada (i.e. the concept has completed a circle, during which its
meaning has changed.)

In order to test this thesis, it would be useful to have citations of the first official uses of the word “multicultural” in various places, e.g. Britain, Denmark, the USA, as well as current meanings.

My response:

I’m unable to give any “official” citations, though I’ll note any if I find them and report them.

A purely impressionistic observation (from reading newsgroups and other electronic forums) is that in South Africa it tends to be primarily descriptive (South Africa is a multicultural country) and multiculturalism is the state of being multicultural, whereas in the USA and UK it seems to be regarded as prescriptive, since many people seem to object to multiculturalism.

To this South African, at least, objections to multiculturalism sound racist, and a demand for a return to apartheid thinking, which was the idea that a multicultural society was highly undesirable, and that therefore different ethnic/cultural groups MUST be separated, and could not possibly live together, be educated together, or marry each other.

Does anyone else have any thoughts on the matter? What do “multicultural” and “multiculturalism” mean to you?

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