IF you want a fresh look at what it means to be Scottish, you could do worse than ask a Cornishwoman. More particularly, the 22-year-old writer Jessie Macfarlane Parker, whose pamphlet Blood and Water delves into what it means to feel rooted to two places at once. The unusualness of this essayist-memoir adds to its intrigue. Here we have a Cornish writer dissecting multi-faceted Scottish identity through the prism of personal experience. Via a Cornish publisher – Scryfa – too.

Macfarlane Parker is up front about it: “No doubt about it, I’m Cornish (with a good helping of Scottish). I’ve lived my entire life on Bodmin Moor, understand the most impenetrable of accents, and have genuine pasty withdrawals. Scotland, its people, landscape, traditions, literature, music and food, have always been a part of my life and will never cease to be. Yet my time spent up north is always as a tourist, never a local.”

So, what qualifies her to throw insights or perspectives in our direction?

One response may be that every nation is and always has been more complex in its make-up than it often admits. But more than that, Macfarlane Parker comes at her subject with the benefit of being simultaneously an outsider and insider.

Daughter of a Cornish father, and a Scottish mother who traces her ancestry to the same plot of Scottish turf over centuries, she says: “Most of us have a rough idea of where our great-grandparents came from, or even our great-great-grandparents, though few can easily say that they know further than that. But I can. I am able to locate my family to a small island, Inchcailloch, on Loch Lomond.”

Her writing is never less than poetic, with water serving as the metaphor. Cornwall may be synonymous with the sea, seafaring, fishing and a people almost mythically attached to the water, but Macfarlane Parker attributes as much of her love affair with water to time spent swimming and floating on Loch Lomond. And it runs deep, as her mother tells her: “Our identity is like a body of water. We have all these streams that feed into it, and the further back you go in your ancestry, the smaller they get, becoming just trickles, but they all meet to create you, the loch.”

This could easily be the point at which a critical memoir retreats into indulgent family story. But the writer is quick to locate her observations in a world in which migration, for whatever reason – love, curiosity, family, the need for work or for refuge – transcends so many borders. In a Scotland that seeks to secure a reputation as outward-looking and inclusive, the diaspora is the mainstream.

She is alert as well to the paradoxes of birthright and nationality, noting that if the outcome of the 2014 independence referendum had been different . . . “Whilst it would have been easy for me to become a Scottish citizen, achieving a similar status might have proved a challenge for someone who had lived there for a long time, but originated from overseas. It still troubles me how this can the case; our claims to place are so varied and unequal.”

That imperative to test out claims to place and nationality permeates the pamphlet, and it attests to its clarity that she distils so much into 54 pages. There’s no drift towards sentimentality either as she confronts the prospect of interrogating your own past: “No-one wants to find out there are described from a slave-owner, nor do they want the pain of knowing an ancestor was gassed in a Nazi death camp. Digging around in documents and DNA can uncover all sorts of shame, sadness or shock. That said, it’s a necessary step.”

In the process, Macarlane Parker unpicks the legacy of attitudes to race, Gypsies, Romanies and ethnicity that are rarely far from the surface of political debate or general society. In times when populist leaders are polarising and re-segregating societies from Europe to the US – while hauling up their national drawbridges – her voice is a timely reminder of their antidote. She observes: “It occurs to me that it also has the power to separate us; it can allow us to argue that someone from across a natural or man-made border is somehow ‘other’.”

The emphasis here is how we can overcome that. As she is keen to note, water may be a great divider but it is also the source of renewal, movement and wonder.

Blood and Water is available for £5 from Scryfa (www.scryfa.com)