“Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel”, famously wrote Dr Johnson, apparently in reference to what he regarded as the fake patriot card being played by the then Prime Minister. How things haven’t changed!
False patriotism, displayed by the current PM, his namesake, is back in fashion, as witness the cavalier manner in which he’s prepared to impoverish the entire UK in pursuit of a golden age which exists only in his fevered imaginings.
No better, in the end, than Folies de Farage, if he’ll pardon my French, obviously spoken only by duplicitous foreign types. Or the fake patriotism of a Trump’s USA, where the never uttered corollary of Make America Great Again is clearly “and hell mend everyone else.”
Here in Scotland we are watching a different phenomenon; what we might call reverse patriotism: the state of being ashamed of your homeland. The urge to disparage her successes and exaggerate her failures. The need to convince yourself and others that she is a nation of little consequence currently getting ideas above her lowly station.
The whole “too wee, too poor, too stupid” narrative is a product of this unlovely mindset. A narrative endlessly recycled by the kind of Scot – quite often no longer resident in Scotland – who seems to get off on denigrating their place of birth, disputing any fiscal arithmetic which doesn’t play into their pet prejudices, and loudly doubting that this ancient nation could ever morph into successful statehood.
A second facet of this tribe resides in the fourth estate where there seems an obsessional need to uncover almost anything which might lead to a negative headline. It is a strange and rather sad condition which prompts someone to take pleasure in what they deem to be their country’s – or more usually their government’s “failures”.
A recent, telling example of this was the closure, due to dangerous ice falling on cars, of the Queensferry Crossing. The reason it was possible to anticipate possible danger was the sophisticated sensors devised and retro fitted for this precise purpose. Not that you’d have known that from the screaming headlines.
Nor was there was any reference to this beautiful construction having been completed under budget with none of the eyewatering subsidies underpinning the still incomplete London Crossrail project, whose billions will only be dwarfed by those being thrown at HS2. Neither of these massive undertakings will benefit anyone north of the English midlands any time soon. Or at all.
The third element in the dispensing of anti Scottish sentiment is provided by many of its elected politicians. And here I’m not talking about opposition politicians doing what it says on the tin. Holding governments to account is what opposition parties are there for.
But what are we to make of the Scottish Tories who ply their trade at Westminster? Month after month they have meekly trooped through the Commons lobbies, casting votes which are specifically detrimental to their own constituents. Do they have a collective electoral death wish? Are they too feart to find a backbone?
Many of these MP’s represent rural constituencies, yet they failed to support an amendment to agricultural legislation framed to protect farmers from post Brexit damage. To ensure that any future trade deals wouldn’t undercut them, or destroy animal welfare and food standards.
Why would you deliberately refuse to protect your own folk? The ones who voted for you? Even the ones who didn’t, since you’re sent down there to have everyone’s back.
The most egregious example of this is the current Secretary of State “for” Scotland, who made his pile as a businessman, but has a 1200 acre farm in his south west Scotland constituency.
You might think, with a majority of just 1800 odd, he’d exercise a little more care. But then if, like the rest of Johnson’s cabinet, you are a multi millionaire, I suppose losing your seat is not the greatest of personal tragedies.
Not the least of the current political ironies is Jack’s boss being the self styled Minister for the Union, a position he finds it difficult to fulfil since a) he hardly dare show his face on this side of the border for fear of ridicule or worse b) he let the cat leap from the bag by his remarks about what a disaster devolution has been in Scotland and c) he’s actually the chap most likely to preside over the union’s demise.
I surmise that the very first “Minister for the Union” will have the dubious honour of being the very last one too.
There are bit players too in this rather pathetic, serial putting down of Scotland. I can’t get much worked up about the risible posturings of Neil Oliver, since a chap so clearly in love with himself won’t have the time or inclination to notice non worshippers.
There is the former Labour minister Brian Wilson whose column has been devoted these many years to the evils of nationalism. The sentences may arrive in different order, but the sentiment is unchanging. A few days ago, in his obit on the admirable Labour feminist Maria Fyfe, he contrived to insert two separate digs at the SNP. I think this is probably a disease. A new variant strain on paranoia perhaps.
Being a true patriot does not seem to me a matter for shame. And I well understand that there are many thousands of patriotic Scots who do not share my passion for an independent Scotland. They are no less Scottish for taking that view, though I hope, in time, they may come to see that Scotland has more to gain from a union with the EU than the current one with the UK.
Being a patriot does not make me blind to Scotland’s faults or her failures. It does make me inclined to celebrate her virtues, and believe in more equitable times. I don’t have a Saltire fluttering in my garden because I’m a woad wearing, backward looking woman, obsessed with her country’s history and battles. I AM obsessed with her future possibilities.
First published in The National 21.12.20