The national identity of a nomad

When I was researching for my Declaration of Arbroath post my investigations highlighted how Scottish national identity is associated with this letter. That then led me to start thinking about my own identity. In this post I hope to resolve some questions I’ve never really been able to answer, including why despite feeling Scottish, am I unable to say where I come from.

I explore the range of factors that work together to create our identity on Wise & Shine, but in this post, I’m going to stay focused on the factors that can contribute to shape my sense of Scottishness.

If I were to ask you where you come from (your home town/town of birth) would you be able to answer? This is something I have always struggled to do and tend to consider myself as a Scottish nomad.

My identity

I am 100% sure that I identify as Scottish. That is an emotional reaction, although technically as I was born here, that counts too. However, with an English father and spending some of my childhood years in England, I could say I’m English too. I’ve never ever felt English though.

On paper, I’m British, but I’d never self-identify as British. Any time I’m asked for my nationality, I’m Scottish. As I said above, my dad was English, and my mum was Scottish (although technically half Northern Irish, half Scottish). My maternal grandmother was born in Ireland to Irish parents. Despite only technically being 1/4 Scottish – I’m still Scottish, no doubt in my mind. See what I mean about it being an emotional identification?

Where do I come from?

Normally when asked this question I don’t know what to say, or I just say I don’t really consider that I come from anywhere – or I just come from Scotland, but not anywhere in particular. As I reflect on this, I think there are 2 reasons for this:

No room at the hospital

Christmas 1964/New Year 1965 must have been a very special time for many people because come September 1965 and there were no available beds at the hospital in Glasgow when my mum went into labour. She wasn’t sent to another hospital/maternity unit in Glasgow but to a town along the Clyde some 12.6 miles away. Although I was born in Paisley, I’ve never lived in the town, so have no affinity with it. Its just a name on my Birth Certificate.

I wondered if this lack of identification is normal for people who would not be born in the town where they lived – perhaps a smaller town or village where pregnant women would go to the Maternity Hospital in a bigger town or city to give birth.

Although my first home was Glasgow (and its where I live now) I don’t actually feel I come from Glasgow either – my mum did, but not me. That, I think is because we moved from Glasgow to England when I was only about 2 months old, so I don’t remember that first home.

From the above, its clear that I don’t attach importance to either where I was born or my first home.

The Navy life

My dad was in the Royal Navy so we moved about a lot. In my 7 years of primary school I attended 5 different schools. My dad came out of the navy when I was about 10. During his navy career, we travelled within the UK extensively and from my calculations my dad seems to have had about 7 or 8 different postings. I suspect since we moved about so much, living in naval bases most of the time, I didn’t form connections to these Navy cities either. Talking with my mum years later, she admitted that once we settled into Irvine, after the navy, that she got itchy feet after a couple of years and was ready to move on. While I’ve been living in the same flat for over 30 years (all of my married life) I don’t feel the urge to move – its nice to have some established roots here, but at the same time, I can see why this nomadic existence has meant I don’t identify with anywhere. Plus at least 3 of those postings were in England and most of my childhood memories are from the final posting in Plymouth, but I wouldn’t say I’m from Plymouth nor that I’m English.

National identity is much more complicated than I would have expected, but it does show how much your experiences in life can impact on who we are and who we become.

Where does my Scottishness come from?

I’ve established that I’m a nomad with no sense of belonging – but despite that sounding like a bad thing, I don’t think it is. It allows me to adapt to change more easily. This also makes it clear that my place of birth doesn’t really connect with my Scottish nationality.

I think the biggest influence on this was my education in Scotland when I went to high school. We were taught Scottish history, about William Wallace and Robert the Bruce. We were also taken on a class trip to the land of Wallace and Bruce. I also went to school in Ayrshire, which is the birthplace of Robert Burns. The names of the places visited still stick with me, even today, so obviously my history lessons left a lasting impression.

Prior to going to University as a mature student, I completed an access course which also covered Scottish History looking at other important periods in Scottish history which have shaped who we are today, and helped form my own identity as a Scot.

Summing Up

Our identity is shaped by a range of different factors, both internal and external (and you can read more about this on my Wise & Shine post) but what I have realised is just how much these influences take place even without our realising it. For me, it has been a useful exercise to reflect on what has made me the proud Scot I am today – and where my love of history has come from.

This has been quite an interesting journey of discovery for me, answering some questions I’ve been asking for a long time. What about you? Do you have questions about your own identity?

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  1. On a smaller scale I identify as Glaswegian. My mother was Welsh and my father born and raised in Glasgow as were my brother and I. However a few years ago when I decided to look into my family tree I discovered I had no Glasgow blood. My mother’s father was born and raised in Glasgow and married a Welsh woman and settled there, but it turns out he had a Welsh father and an English mother. My father’s parents were from Fife and for various reasons settled in Glasgow. So I have to agree with Brenda that how you identify is as much about emotions as anything else. So I remain a proud Glaswegian Scott

    • Thanks Alison. It’s interesting to see what others think. I wonder if my little brother will comment, to see what he thinks. Its not something we’ve ever discussed. He was obviously so much younger when dad left the navy

  2. I’ve lived in several different places too, but not as many as you. Where one is from doesn’t particularly matter to me because I consider where I live is where I’m from. Home is where the heart is, they say. Interesting reflections and great post, Brenda!

      • 😁You may be right. I wasn’t born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could. Now, I’ve been here so long that I consider myself Texan through and through.

  3. Very interesting read Brenda. I can identify with the feeling of not belonging to one place because my father was in civil service and we’ve lived in many cities throughout my school years. My husband too belonged to civil service so we roamed around in many cities of Pakistan when my kids were young. It does make one more able to adjust to change. It’s wonderful that you’ve researched your Scottish heritage.

  4. I was born in Germany, but my family emigrated to the States when I was a kid. I identify as American because I am a naturalized citizens, but whenever I think of how messed up things are in the states, I draw parallels to Germany. Then I realize Germany is not perfect either.

    • Thanks Stefan. I think you’re right about every country having its flaws. I must admit I was taken by the idea that if Scotland had voted for Independence, I could go for dual nationality … but I think that was novelty more than anything

  5. Fascinating look Brenda at “what home really means.” I can relate to feeling a bit of a nomad, but then also having a strong affinity with where I grew up. I’m fascinated with how we view home-home. Does it come from where we grew up? Where we felt the most comfortable? You’ve definitely given me some things to think about . . . maybe write about in the future. Fascinating!

  6. I love that you use this phrase “emotional identification” as you think about your heritage and identity. I agree — it can be such a blurring of variables. I love knowing more about your deep Scottish roots — English, too – and it makes my mind wander. If my ancestors hadn’t decided to explore the land across the Atlantic, it’s possible you and I might’ve known each other in as two women who identify as “Scottish” (rather than just blogging buddies). One of these days…I need to dig into the immigrant stories in my family. In the meantime, I love learning about your roots, Brenda and all the delightful doses of history mixed in. xo and big smiles! 🥰

  7. I think identity comes from where we feel the most comfortable, where we seem to truly feel connected to and that sense comes from things like…the length of time in one place, the activities we associate with that place, how comfortable and connected and safe we have felt in that place, the memories we’ve made in that place, the people who are with us in that place. I would agree that simply looking at a birthplace has little to do with identity. The creation of a life and all that comes with that is what enables us to identify and belong and feel connected.

    • You’ve given me more to think about. Maybe the movement as a child means I can’t associate with a place or building etc – or I’ve just not found home yet. But you’re right, I think its more about people and my home is with my husband and the life we have together – not the bricks that make the flat.

  8. a thought provoking post for many, you wrote Brenda.
    I enjoyed reading your adventures of discovery. (I use adventure instead of journey because of your wonderful exploring nature)

    Thank you for sharing 🤍🤗

  9. I think many of us can identify with you Brenda. The one common thread in your lineage is the British influence. You’d be amazed if I shared mine. Some British in there too. Throw my husband’s heritage into the mix and I can say our kids are United Nations kids. 😆 And I’ve lived in other countries too. Though in Canada the longest and I am Canadian no doubt.
    The way I look at it, borders are man made, and I am of this planet. Though I understand the human need to identify with a particular culture or nationality. The problem or perhaps benefit is, I identify with many.
    Very interesting and thought provoking post Brenda. Thanks for sharing! 🌸

    • Thanks for your contribution Alegria. You’re right about borders being man-made and I agree, that can cause lots of tensions. There are so many wars in our global history that have been a result of disagreements over territory on the edges of these borders.

      I’m glad you enjoyed the post

  10. I say I’m Scottish from Glasgow, though I was brought up in NE England and didn’t move here till I was in my late 20s. I think at the point I had lived in Glasgow half my life I truly began to feel Scottish. The govt message that if you choose to live here you are Scottish wherever you started from helped too.

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