I LOVE civic nationalism, but never could call myself a nationalist.

Last week, I was drawn to a thought-provoking show at the Edinburgh Fringe called Help! I Think I’m A Nationalist. The performer, Seamas Carey, born and bred in Cornwall, embarks on a profound journey, delving into the intricate layers that nationalism and identity hold.

As the curtains lifted on this immersive theatrical experience, Carey engaged the audience with a simple yet profound question: What springs to mind when you hear the word “nationalism”? The responses echoed a diverse range of thoughts, touching on concepts like borders, hope, fear, and pride.

Yet, as I pondered these different perspectives, all I could think about was this: I am not sure, it depends. The lens through which we view nationalism is intrinsically shaped by the environment around us. Our understanding of nationalism is as diverse as the world we inhabit.

The National: French President Francois Mitterrand

Later, I reflected on the resounding words, “Le nationalisme, c’est la guerre” (“Nationalism is war”), famously spoken in 1995 by former French president François Mitterrand (above) before the European Parliament. These words have been a constant presence in my life – nationalism could only mean division, pointing fingers, nastiness, even death. To me, it brings to mind echoes of racial slurs on the school playground and the venomous rumours that once circulated about the supposed scent of my home.

Such stories were fuelled by a deeply ingrained stereotype – a racially charged trope that was sadly not isolated. Another instance of this rhetoric emerged in the early 1990s through the words of Jacques Chirac, a politician who would later become president. He attributed increasing hostility towards immigrants to “the noise and the smell” of Black and Muslim individuals. These times witnessed the surging influence of the far-right Front National, with elements of the political right adopting comparable language of hatred.

Efforts have earnestly been channelled into the renovation of nationalism’s tarnished image. The calculated manoeuvres of Marine Le Pen (below) seemingly birthed a more digestible rendition of nationalism, propelling her significantly into the second round of the last couple of presidential elections.

The National: Far-right leader Marine Le Pen arrives to speak after the early result projections of the French presidential election runoff were announced in Paris, Sunday, April 24, 2022. French polling agencies are projecting that centrist incumbent Emmanuel Macron

However, it is vital to guard against the allure of this surface-level transformation. Within the French context, the roots of nationalism remain firmly interwoven with exclusion, preconceived biases, and a deep-seated animosity grounded in factors like skin colour, origin, and religious faith. The very essence of nationalism there is inextricably linked to a history of violence and discrimination. A mere shift in rhetoric does not translate into a genuine transformation of the underlying foundation.

However, I am acutely aware that nationalism isn’t a singular entity; it takes on diverse forms and shades across varying regions. My experiences in Scotland exposed me to the concept of civic nationalism. In stark contrast to the exclusivity often associated with traditional nationalism, civic nationalism casts its arms wide open to encompass all residents. It effortlessly transcends the inclination to narrow identity to a uniform subgroup.

At its heart, civic nationalism fundamentally redefines the notion of national belonging. It pivots on the belief that a shared sense of purpose, rather than one’s ethnocultural or religious affiliations, serves as the adhesive bonding a society together.

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In this vision, each individual becomes a vital contributor, irrespective of their beliefs, language or ancestry. The crux lies in a collective aspiration to collaboratively carve a trajectory toward a shared future, steering the ship of the nation as a united, yet plural entity.

This perspective really struck a chord with me. It echoed the values I have always held dear. I have always craved for a sense of belonging that goes beyond just where you’re from or your culture. This different kind of nationalism in Scotland fulfilled that longing for me.

I am truly grateful to have come across this unique form of nationalism in Scotland. It enriched my view on a topic that is often debated. It made me reconsider the potential of a certain kind of nationalism to bring people together instead of causing division.

It is important to remember that people’s experiences in Scotland vary widely. Celebrating civic nationalism shouldn’t be synonymous with ignoring and denying the systemic nature of discriminations that exist in Scotland. What really strikes me is the conversation that has been happening in Scotland over the past few years, that supports the values of civic nationalism. This dialogue is a strong tool in the fight against racism and prejudice.

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By emphasising inclusivity and shared goals, it creates a solid foundation for identifying and challenging discrimination. People are encouraged, even compelled, to speak out against those who promote hatred. This collective stance against such ideas sends a clear message: bigotry has no place in Scotland’s shared vision.

The positivity of this kind of nationalism resonates deeply with me. The essence of civic nationalism, with its focus on unity and respect for diversity, is truly inspiring. It paints a picture of a society where everyone, no matter their background, lives together harmoniously. They are driven by a common desire for progress and togetherness. This approach is a lesson that many other countries could learn from Scotland.

Scotland should take pride in embracing these values. Personally, this aspect of Scotland is what I love most about this vibrant country. It’s a driving force behind my choice to stay, despite the challenges I have discussed before.

Knowing that these values continue to thrive and shape the nation is a big reason why I am committed to this land.

Despite the undeniable allure of Scottish civic nationalism, I find myself grappling with a persistent internal conflict. While I am profoundly drawn to its principles, a perplexing hurdle looms before me – I struggle to reconcile my political identity with the term “nationalist". The weight of negativity that has woven itself around this label, especially considering my French heritage, appears insurmountable.

But when you delve into the annals of political history, you can see that it wasn’t always so horrible. A notable advocate of civic nationalism, Ernest Renan, a native of Brittany, showed another way.

The National: French far-left candidate for the upcoming presidential election Jean-Luc Melenchon delivers a speech after a march in Paris, Sunday, March 20, 2022. Jean-Luc Melenchon is rising in the polls ahead of April 10th and 24th election. (AP Photo/Thomas

Renan defied prevalent notions that a nation’s identity is exclusively forged by lineage, geography, or language. His assertion that a nation is a “daily plebiscite,” a manifestation of the collective desire to coexist, introduces a perspective that starkly diverges from conventional definitions.

In the past decades, France has seen politicians who really support this way of thinking, especially those leaning toward the left side of the political spectrum. Jean-Luc Mélenchon (above), for instance, spoke strongly about this during the 2017 presidential campaign.

He said: “We are not a nation based on ethnicity, race or religion, but on a political pact that we can share with the whole Earth.”

Yet, those who really like this open-minded idea tend to avoid the term “nationalism”. The word is stuck with a bad reputation that just won’t go away.

Honestly, I’m not the only one who doesn’t feel comfortable with the label “nationalist”. People who want Scotland to be independent feel the same way. Instead of seeing themselves as “nationalists,” they think of themselves as regular people who want a fairer society.

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They have this strong belief in a different future, one where everyone is treated fairly and with respect, no matter who they are. Their push for independence comes from these ideas rather than just wanting to be called nationalists. It’s like they’re aiming for something bigger and better than that narrow label.

To be fair, my hesitation to embrace the “nationalist” label isn’t an isolated sentiment. This sentiment resonates among many people who want Scotland to be independent. Rather than readily adopting the title, these individuals perceive themselves as citizens standing up for the cause of a more just society.

Their motivation springs from a profound belief in an alternative future – one that places equality, dignity, and respect for all at its core. This is what independence needs to be about: otherwise it will just be for the minority of people who call themselves nationalists.