THE constitutional debate over the last decade has contributed to fewer people aligning their Scottish and British identities, experts have suggested.

The results of the census last week showed that out of the 5,436,600 people living in Scotland, 65.5% of them identify as Scottish only, not British – an increase of 3.1 points since 2011.

At the other end of the spectrum, there was a rise in the number of Scots identifying as British, with only 13.9% ticking this box.

Meanwhile, the percentage of people who identify as both Scottish and British has decreased by more than 10 points; from 18.3% in 2011 to just 8.2% in 2022.

Given the last census was taken before the SNP’s landslide victory in the Holyrood election of 2011, political experts have suggested the 2022 census shows the question of whether or not Scotland should be independent has to some degree come to shape people’s sense of national identity.

However, many have also expressed a word of caution over what story the data appears to tell, as the way in which identity questions are asked and presented often affects the way people answer.

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Professor Murray Leith, a politics expert at the University of the West of Scotland, said the fact more people were choosing a specific identity rather than conflating them showed signs of how Scots have become used to questions about who they are.

He told The National: “In 2014, we had a question and the question may have been ‘should Scotland be an independent country’, but the question people had to ask themselves was ‘do I feel British?’ and ‘do I feel British enough to want to stay?’.

“Historically, people have been quite comfortable saying ‘I’m Scottish but also British’, but that has shrunk.

“We’re seeing a squeezing of the middle where people don’t necessarily feel they’re being forced to choose but they’re more comfortable with choosing a specific identity.”

Leith said the fact symbols of Britishness have come to be closely associated with the Conservative government since the last census was taken may have also contributed to fewer Scots feeling comfortable with having Britain as part of their identity.

But at the same time, he believes that statistics may show that those who have felt their sense of Britishness has come under threat could be trying to make a statement through the identity question.

“The symbols of Scottishness are strong in this society, stronger than they have ever been, and the symbols of Britishness have taken a bit of a beating, partly because they’ve been associated with the Conservative Party for the past 14 years,” he said.

The National: Scottish Parliament

“So a lot of Scots might be thinking, ‘well, if that’s Britishness well then that’s not for me’.

“The reason you’ve got an increase in British identity is that I think some people have gone, ‘no, I am British and I feel strongly about it’. The Brexit referendum might also be making a difference.

“We are doing something a lot of other countries may not be every day – thinking about who we are and who we want to be should we get a decision again and I think some people feel [the Scottish and British identity] has not served them well in recent years.”

There is an ever-changing picture of identity as you look deeper into the census data across the country.

In Inverclyde for example, more than 76% of people identify as Scottish only, whereas this dips to just 48% in Edinburgh.

British identity also jumps about. In Argyll and Bute, almost 20% of people chose this singular national identity, while in Dundee – sometimes known as the Yes City given it opted for independence in 2014 – this dips to 9%.

However, when it comes to the combination of Scottish and British, the picture does not fluctuate nearly as much across the nation. The highest proportion of people who opted for this identity was in East Renfrewshire at 12.6% while in Shetland it dipped to 5.4% - a difference of only seven points.

Dr Coree Brown Swan, a politics lecturer at the University of Stirling, said it was clear constitutional dynamics are shaping people’s identity.

She said: “I think it’s a product of a prolonged constitutional debate.

The National: Yes supporters on September 14, 2014 in Glasgow, Scotland.

“The 2011 data was taken before the SNP’s victory in the 2011 election, before an independence referendum was on the table. I think you see a more divided Scottish electorate [now], or perhaps not divided, but you do see this articulation of identities that probably just wasn’t as commonplace or perceived as necessary in 2011.

“The British numbers are interesting. Is that a political statement? Is it people saying ‘I don’t want to subscribe to a Scottish identity because I’m a Unionist?’

“I think the constitutional dynamics are shaping identity, at least at the margins. There’s people who feel perhaps that they have both British and Scottish identity, and the independence referendum has placed that identity under threat in a way.

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“I do think we need to take it with a pinch of salt but I do think there’s something about political mobilisation of identities.”

That “pinch of salt” is something sociology lecturer and national identity expert Ross Bond does believe is important as he stressed the blunt way in which the identity question is posed in the census paints quite a different picture to other academic surveys on the subject.

Rather than always being presented with just the three options that were on the census, in other surveys, Scots are often asked to put their Scottish and British identities on a scale – for example, people may say they feel more Scottish than British or vice versa. The Scottish Social Attitudes Survey adopts this approach.

And so Bond, based at the University of Edinburgh, said it wouldn’t be accurate to suggest two-thirds of people in Scotland don’t feel British at all.

He said: “What we’ve found in this census and the last [one] both north and south of the Border is a large majority of people will only pick one identity.

“I suspect what has happened is that some of these people who have put Scottish only, if you drilled it down a bit more, they would probably say they feel British in some respects but mainly Scottish.

“I don’t personally believe that two-thirds of people in Scotland do not feel British in any way.”

However, Bond did say the 10% drop in those saying they identified as  both Scottish and British in the census does need to be analysed further.

“Some people might draw the conclusion that there is more polarisation of people’s identities related to the debate about independence. I don’t think there necessarily is a massive polarisation of people’s identities but that change  is to be explained,” he added.

“It is possible that it is explicable by the fact that a certain proportion of people are jumping one way or the other rather than saying they feel confident putting in both. But what I don’t think we’re getting here is evidence of a widespread dissociation of Scottish and British identities.”