I am happy to admit that I was part of the roar that went up when the final whistle blew at this year's Calcutta Cup as Scotland achieved their first win over England at Twickenham for 38 years. Having been brought up in Scotland but lived more than half my life in England I will generally support either team. But for the Calcutta Cup, old habits die hard. In this, I am like so many in the United Kingdom, proud to be Scottish (or English or Welsh or Northern Irish) while equally proud to be British. I have never once felt that one identity negates the other and I do not understand those who want to undermine our great cultural unity and historically fertile partnership.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown reminded us recently about the difference drawn between patriotism and nationalism by George Orwell, one of our greatest national authors. Nationalism was, he said, "the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests". By contrast he defined patriotism as "devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people".
It is not patriotism that threatens the United Kingdom. It is not Scottish identity or Scottish pride or Scottish cultural heritage. The threat does not come from Scottish patriots. It comes from Scottish nationalists. The basic elements of unpleasant, negative nationalism include the overblown sense of identity and self-worth described by Orwell. It is accompanied by the exaggeration of perceived slights and the identification of a suitable scapegoat and it is in play in many of its unpleasant disguises around the world today.
It may be played with varying degrees of sophistication or brutality or political skill, but it is essentially the same model. It is a great pity that so many proud and patriotic Scots have been ensnared in the nationalist trap with the lie that if you are "a proper Scot" you must support the SNP. There are few greater lies in politics.
The complete implosion of the Labour Party in Scotland post devolution, something completely unforeseen by its champions, created fertile territory for the SNP. Under the SNP the attainment gap between children from low-income families and the better off is as wide as it has ever been. A poor child in Scotland has less chance of going to university than a poor child in England. Add to this the record number of drug deaths among the young and it is easy to see the price the next generation of young Scots is paying for the SNP's one-party state.
Sadly, it is not surprising to hear the Scottish Nationalists talk about the need for a referendum right in the middle of a global pandemic. Their deputy leader even suggested that independence was necessary for a post-Covid recovery! Talking about "Indy-ref2" means not having to talk about how much worse it would have been if the people of Scotland had relied for their vaccines on the European Medicines Agency rather than the UK government, under the SNP policy of remaining in the EU. And, of course, it means not having to talk about the obscenely self-obsessed battle between Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon. A supine media and bureaucracy have also bolstered their power in recent years, despite a shamefully poor record in government.
I attended a large comprehensive school at a time when educational standards in Scotland were a source of pride. Not any more. Let's be straight about it, both of the SNP's first ministers can't be right in the internal warfare that is putting their own interests ahead of the people of Scotland. There are those who ask why the Scottish Nationalists, if they really want independence, would leave democratic government from Westminster for unaccountable government from Brussels? In the answer to that question lies the truth that few people want to admit but many suspect.
The current strain of Scottish nationalism is deeply anti-English. It is not the principle about being governed from elsewhere that matters to them, as long as the somewhere else is not England. There is still time to expose the Nationalists' crude political plan for what it is. Across the UK there are huge numbers of people who are proud to be both Scottish and British. In George Orwell's terms, it is time for the Patriots to call out the Nationalists.