Billy Connolly may be an odd sort of Scot for a Scottish nationalist to quote, given his infamous “little pretendy Parliament” remark of yore, but I admire the man as a comic genius, with an ability to elevate the commonplaces of a Scottish working class life into high art.
Here is my recollection of one of his joke routines about his time in the shipyards, when the foremen were required to wear hard hats with their names on them. One such personage caught Billy and his mate skiving, and they gave him some cheek when he challenged them. “Do you know who I am?” asked the foreman, puffed up with self-importance.
Connolly and friend looked at each other in mock incredulity. “Here’s a guy wi’ his name oan his hat and he disnae know who he is!”
Much press and media coverage has been devoted since the Scottish Parliamentary election earthquake to the Scottish Labour Party’s loss of identity and confusion about who they are, and what they might do about it. The Scottish LibDems and Tories are regarded as already dead by the media, their corpses are therefore treated with patronising respect, and nobody wastes much time on thoughts of how they might be brought to life again. All that is asked of them is that they don’t smell too badly before being consigned to the flames of history.
The other dominant strand that has emerged from the profound emotional shock to the unionist mindset of the SNP's decisive electoral victory is an increasingly desperate attempt to define Britishness in the context of Scottishness. Only ‘British’ Scots appear to have this identity crisis, which they now want to foist on the rest of us: the English always knew that Britain meant England, and Britishness meant Englishness. And the English are right in this, and right to feel this way. Only in comparatively recent times has England feared to speak its name. Anyone who reads anything published before the Second World War (and quite a lot since) will realise that England was the Empire and Englishness was the nationality that defined it.
The kind of case being put for this, and for ‘Britain’ (for Britain read British Empire) is buried in gross sentimentality, as the vapourings of Rory Stewart and Michael Portillo on this week’s Newsnight Special so nauseatingly revealed.
Of course, sentimentality was the keynote of Empire while it was engaged in its worst colonial excesses: sentimentality is the cloying sugar coating on the deadly pill of exploitation and brutality, as history shows.
Heinrich Heine has devastatingly explored the link between sentimentality and brutality, as have others.
“Sentimentality is the emotional promiscuity of those who have no sentiment.” Norman Mailer
"Think of the lamentable role of popular sentiment in wartime! Think of our so-called humanitarianism! The psychiatrist knows only too well how each of us becomes the helpless but not pitiable victim of his own sentiments. Sentimentality is the superstructure erected upon brutality…” Carl Jung
THE SCOTSMAN NEWSPAPER
The Scotsman should, in my view, change its title and its masthead to The Scotsman? or perhaps even to TheScotBrit, although that doesn’t really fit well with a quality newspaper, since the term Brit has come to be associated with the worst tabloid excesses, brutality, jingoism - and sentimentality.
The newspaper is all over the place politically these days, reflecting the same confusion of identity that has paralysed the Scottish Labour Party (insofar as such a thing exists) - and the Labour Party at Westminster, and it gives space regularly to commentators who exemplify this confusion - Allan Massie, Michael Kelly, John McTernan et al.
The first two on that list are featured today, and just in case the unionist message gets missed, we have an attack on the SNP by one Tom Miers, who is described as an independent public policy consultant, entitled ‘Fiddling while Scotland burns’, which in essence is the cry raised against the independence issue and the referendum before May 2011, that it was a deflection from managing the economy.
This of course rapidly changed to a demand that a referendum should be held immediately, after the unionists realised the scale of their defeat, while Alex Salmond calmly reiterated his manifesto commitment to a referendum mid-term so that he could concentrate on trying to limit the damage caused by the outgoing Labour Government and now being compounded by the shambolic ConLib Coalition.
To be fair, The Scotsman - or perhaps another title, The Occasional Scotsman but I’m also a Brit, does give regular space to Joan McAlpine, who is not at all confused about her identity and is an infinitely better journalist than any of the others, so there is some kind of balance, albeit a little lopsided.
Meanwhile, we must put up with articles such as Proud to Scottish … and English from John McTernan, former Labour Party adviser to Tony Blair, a Prime Minister easily moved to tears and deeply sentimental, one who launched an illegal and horrific war in Iraq, responsible for the violent death and mutilation of countless thousands of innocent men, women and children, and the involvement of the UK in the misconceived, decade-long and utterly pointless war in Afghanistan.
Or Allan Massie, with his article Labour must be bold and give Gray a second chance, with advice such as
“Instead Labour has to be true to itself, to assert that independence is unnecessary as well as undesirable, to say the Scottishness is compatible with Britishness, to insist that its values are shared by millions of people in other constituent parts of the United Kingdom. It should be unashamedly and indeed proudly Unionist, arguing that the continuation of the Union is in the best interests of the Scottish people, and defending the devolution arrangements as a settlement, not as a process of gradual disengagement.”
Wrong on every count, Allan Massie.
Independence is necessary, desirable and vital to Scotland.
There is no such things as ‘Britishness’, or ‘British values’ - they are false constructs designed to support an empire that has long since died.
The very reason that Labour is dying in Scotland is that it is “unashamedly and indeed proudly Unionist” and the Scottish electorate have recognised that at last, realised that it is incompatible with the interests of Scots, their ancient identity, their pride as a nation, and their common humanity.
That is why they rejected Labour and the other Unionist parties and embraced their ain folk on May 5th 2011.
No amount of jingoistic sentimentality, cloaking the essential amorality, corruption, brutality and incompetence of the UK Establishment and its successive puppet governments, currently on blatant display in the News of the World debacle, and the deeply questionable links, at the highest levels, of successive governments and the police to an unscrupulous and possibly criminal newspaper and media monolith, News International, can conceal that something is rotten in the state of the UK, and has been for a very, very long time.