The British Elections and National Identity
21 May, 2015
The Conservative or Tory party won the British elections. David Cameron has promised a referendum by 2017 on EU membership that will be difficult to get out of. But the UK is so completely within the EU, that they would lose a fortune if they were to leave it and are very unlikely to. There will be plenty of talk, and populists pushing to get out but the money will eventually win the conversation and the UK will stay in.

Scots are not English, but most are very comfortable being British, with the two amiably coexisting. Georgia doesn’t seem to have that. For some reason you are supposed to choose. You can’t be Armenian or Ossetian and also Georgian no matter how fluent your Georgian is.

The other most interesting part of the election is Scotland overwhelmingly electing members of parliament from the Scottish National Party or SNP. There are all sorts of conversations about
shared responsibility for spending, oil and gas revenues and so on, many of them practical and reasonable discussions. And there is also concern that almost all the Scottish MPs that will be sitting in the parliament in Westminster, London, are going to be voting on the laws of a country that they don’t want to be a part of. In general, Scotland is poorer than England and the Scots have never felt English, despite being part of Great Britain for a very long time. Scots are not English ,but most are very comfortable being British, with the two amiably coexisting. The same goes for many Sicilians who are comfortable with also being Italians. The whole concept of being Italian is much newer than the concept of being British, but it works. Georgia
doesn’t seem to have that. For some reason, you are supposed to choose. You can’t be Armenian or Ossetian and Georgian as well, no matter how fluent your Georgian is. I have always felt this was a very Soviet notion. The Soviets wanted to divide as much as possible, so that Sovietness would become the unifier, and for some reason this notion still stays in people’s heads. They said “you are whatever your father was”. But why not your language, or where you were raised, or where your passport is
from? Why this preoccupation with fathers? Many Azeri or Armenian speakers from Tbilisi speak several languages, and have told me they are Caucasian. But no Georgian has ever told me that. Why are Georgians so uncomfortable with having several identities when around
the world and Europe it is so common?
The contrast with the discussion in Scotland and places like Crimea and Abkhazia are striking. For decades the government of Great Britain has said that if Scotland wants to leave the union and those who want win a referendum, then it can. Because of that, many people, more than half when they had the referendum several months ago, chose to stay in the union. It is a conversation, a long one and one that smart people can disagree on. Quick independence doesn’t tend to work so well, particularly since it tends to be dominated by bigger neighbors. The politics of Abkhazia, which is in practice completely independent from Georgia, has been a long, sad and slow shuffle towards becoming a Russian colony, at least in part because almost no Georgian has ever said that under certain circumstances, parts of Georgia such as Abkhazia could become independent.
Many people in Georgia have a deep fear of separatism, at least in part because the Kremlin has so frequently used it as a weapon against the Georgian state. And not just Georgia, there are plenty of other cases, such as Transnistria and, most recently, Crimea. The Kremlin has moved fast, used violence and kept the conversation on twisting historical facts to support vague nationalistic ideas.
The amazing thing about the Scottish case is how rare that type of rhetoric has been. Those who try to twist history are immediately ridiculed, frequently by their own allies. The topics tends to be “what would this look like” or “what would it mean for people”, all very practical issues. And nobody is in a rush, even the SNP, they want to wait until they are sure they can win a referendum.