If you have had the good fortune to encounter one of the many exciting Nationalist marches Scotland has to offer, you might have noticed a subtle change in presentation.
Woad is still in. The ‘End London Rule’ banner is a bit crumpled but will do a few more rallies. The Royal Standard of Scotland is still brandished unironically by republican professors of the ‘sovereign will of the Scottish people’.
A new banner has come along and can be seen regularly at pro-independence festivities (which, because this is Scotland, are known as ‘Yestivities’). The cobalt and aureolin folds of the Stars of Unity, the official flag of the European Union, now flutter alongside the Lion Rampant and the Saltire as if they’re lifelong friends.
The embrace of the EU by a nationalist movement that abhors pushy diktats from central government may confuse outside observers, who increasingly regard the UK as one of those problem families who brawl in the street and are best denied eye contact. Needless to say — because, again, Scotland — the European emblem isn’t really about Europe, it’s about independence. Ever since June 24, 2016, when Nicola Sturgeon greeted bleary-eyed political correspondents to a Bute House press conference to give her response to the Leave vote, the direction of travel was obvious. The First Minister stood flanked by an EU flag and a Saltire, for she understands better than most the importance of optics or what we, as good Europeans, should really call mise en scène. Independence and Europe were the two pillars of Scotland’s future.
Since then, the project to Europeanise the nationalist cause has been at the forefront of the SNP’s campaign for a second referendum on independence. Hence, Nicola Sturgeon’s Ferrero Rocher offensive, flattering European governments into giving her ten minutes with low-level diplomats so she could press release on ‘talks on Scotland’s future in Europe’. Hence, her U-turn on the status of European nationals; where she questioned their right to remain in 2014, now she chides Theresa May for failing to guarantee their continued residency after Brexit.
Alex Salmond has even declared Scotland to be ‘a European nation for nigh-on 1,000 years’. The former First Minister is a walking ‘Wha’s Like Us’ tea towel, claiming Europe for Scotland three centuries before the advent of the Renaissance.
This is a political strategy aimed at presenting Scottish separation from the UK as less daunting to a sceptical population but there is something else at work. A tell, a tic, a glimpse into the mindset of the SNP. For Miss Sturgeon’s attempts to erect a hard border between Scottish and English attitudes to Brexit and immigration panders to an unpleasant aspect of our psyche. Scottish sanctimony is as old as the Union itself and it whispers in our collective ear that we are kinder, friendlier, more compassionate, more progressive than our neighbours. Our refugees are welcome, our culture multi, and our nationalism civic. England, on the other hand, is a hard-right dystopia of racism, intolerance and skinhead chauvinism.
Comrades on the pro-UK Left despair at self-styled progressives spurning solidarity with workers in Salford in favour of the bosses of Stagecoach. What they fail to appreciate is that, to a Scottish nationalist, no chasm between social classes can ever stretch to the gulf between Scottish and English culture. The giddy declarations of prosperity and equality that awaited us on the other side of the ballot box in 2014 have been replaced by dire warnings of what kind of country we would become if we don’t breakaway soon. Three years back the Yes Scotland campaign song was Big Country’s ‘One Great Thing’; now it’s The Animals’ ‘We Gotta Get Out of This Place’.
As is aye the case with the Scottish Nationalists, things were going well until facts had to come along and spoil it all. For data from the respected National Centre for Social Research indicates that Scotland’s attitudes to Brexit and Europe aren’t terribly different from those of folk down south. It finds that Scots are largely indistinguishable from Britons as a whole in their views on free trade and the treatment of EU immigrants. In Scotland itself, 53% of Remain voters want to end freedom of movement. Where there is any substantive difference is that Scots are slightly more willing to dilute immigration controls in exchange for free trade, but the divergence is one of a mere seven percentage points. More than six in ten Scots want the same trade and immigration deal from Brexit as the rest of the UK.
As the research author Professor John Curtice explains: ‘Much of the debate about Brexit in Scotland has assumed that voters north of the border want a much softer Brexit than do voters in the rest of the UK. Indeed, the Scottish Government’s demand for a second independence referendum rests on such an assumption.
‘However, this first systematic study of attitudes towards Brexit in Scotland shows that for the most part voters on both sides of the border want much the same outcome – free trade, immigration control and retention of much of the consumer and environmental regulation currently afforded by the EU.’
These facts are anathema to Nationalists. The GERS figures they can put down to a conspiracy. The oil price can be waved away amid cries of ‘just a bonus’. Alex Salmond can deny ever saying the 2014 referendum was a ‘once in a generation’ opportunity, even when presented with video evidence of him saying just that. Professor Curtice’s conclusions strike deeper and sharper at the heart of the SNP because they disprove the party’s base principle, the only thing it truly believes. When talk of democratic deficits and sovereign wills is stripped away, when the pretence of European cosmopolitanism is laughed off the stage, Scottish nationalism can be seen for what it is: A cult of moral superiority.
Now they must contend with the ultimate heresy: That Scottish exceptionalism, their much-denied yet undeniable article of faith, is a false doctrine.
Check out those Nationalist EU flags while you can. They probably won’t be around much longer.
Week one of our Brexit pre-negotiations has seen Theresa May threaten security cooperation with Europe and Spain question Britain’s sovereignty in Gibraltar.
Fear not for the government has matters in hand. Why else would they be rolling out proposals to ditch burgundy passports (which are, eeew, European) and bring back our good old navy travel documents?
Andrew Rosindell, the answer to the question ‘Is there a Tory MP more ludicrous than Philip Davies?’, is backing the change because: ‘It’s a matter of identity. Having the pink European passports has been a source of humiliation. It merged us into one European identity, which isn’t what we are.’
As if our continental chums survey the lagered lads in novelty Union Jack sunglasses belting out ‘Wonderwall’ in Alicante Airport and think, ‘The Finns are a bit rowdy today’.
The price tag for the colour swap? Half a billion quid. Not to worry, though. The first instalment of that £350million will be dropping in our bank account any day now.
If you want to understand Jeremy Corbyn’s enduring appeal to ancient lefties look no further than Arthur Scargill. The militant relic of the miners’ strike has popped up again to demand the reopening of coal mines after Brexit. It’s a curious socialism that wants to send workers back down pits but then Scargill, like Corbyn, is a romantic, not a revolutionary. Men such as these have done more harm to the Left than Mrs Thatcher ever did.
Originally published in the Scottish Daily Mail. Contact Stephen at firstname.lastname@example.org.