Roger Brydon says that, like many who support Scotland staying in the UK, he is a patriotic Scot proud of our achievements and status, and reticence among unionists to express such views is ceding political ground to nationalism.

This article was first published on Roger’s own blog.

Although I was born at the Elsie Inglis Maternity Hospital in Abbeyhill, Edinburgh, my parents and grandparents were all born in Galashiels, in the Scottish Borders. When I broke my leg in three places some ten years ago, and was laid up at home for an extended period, one of the things I did to occupy myself was to research my family tree, and I discovered that, despite a worrying lack of royalty or celebrity, my male line extended back as far as I could research, to the mid 1700s, in an unbroken line of Borders-born Brydons.

It should come as little surprise, therefore, that although I grew up in the west of Edinburgh in the 1980s, surrounded by football-mad contemporaries, the only ball game which was accorded any kind of importance in our household was rugby union. For those who aren’t aware, rugby union is afforded a near-mythical status in the Borders – the area is without a doubt the beating heart of the game in Scotland, producing a massively disproportionate share of international players over the years.

Although the perception of the game in the country as a whole might be tainted by a slightly class-ridden, public-school educated bias, in the Borders the game is at the sporting root of pretty much every community. Local rivalries, in their own little way as great as any Old Firm battle, provide endless opportunity for one-upmanship and hubris. Growing up, my granny lived just along the street from a garage where the Scotland inside-centre, Keith Robertson, worked, and it was just as normal as popping to the shops for a newspaper as it was to wander along and chat to him and get him to sign his autograph on a scrap of paper.

We lived and breathed every single moment when Scotland played international rugby; the Five Nations (as was) brought annual moments of tension and anguish, and occasional triumph. I will never forget watching on television the moment when David Sole led his team onto the pitch in the deciding game of the 1990 championship; the breath-taking entry of the team at a walking, almost funereal, pace in stark contrast to the waspish impatience of the rampant, strong favourites England. I could hardly breathe for 80 minutes of almost unbearable tension, before erupting in unbridled joy as we eventually ran out victors – the twin successes of beating our oldest opponents and securing an historic Grand Slam.

My credentials, therefore, as a full-throated, ardent, committed Scotland fan are therefore, I hope, well-founded. Although I’ve become somewhat more distant from the kind of impassioned, committed rugby fan I felt as a youngster, I still cheer to the rafters any kind of success arising from our country in sports, the arts, science and technology, or politics. I’m just as hugely proud of the various advances we’ve been able to offer the world in areas as varied as molecular genetics (Dolly the Sheep, at the University of Edinburgh) as I am of the success of the actor David Tennant, a graduate of the RSAMD (now the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland) in Glasgow. I am without a doubt, a proud, patriotic Scot.

Despite all this, I’m also an proponent of maintaining a close union between Scotland and the United Kingdom, and if this sounds contradictory it really shouldn’t. One of the most perplexing, startling transformations which has taken place in Scotland, probably dating from about the turn of the century on, has been the conflation of two very distinct ideas of patriotism and nationalism, to the extent that it now seems almost illogical to have a strong sense of national pride without this being inevitably linked to a desire for independence. If this has been a long-term goal of the SNP or the nationalist movement then fair play to them – they’ve certainly done a great job. The Panelbase poll on independence in last week’s Sunday Times Scotland (5/7/2020), suggesting 54% support for independence, is ample, contemporary evidence of this.

It feels difficult, rightly or wrongly, in the current climate, to express this belief in the virtues of Scotland as a strong, vital contributor to a healthy union of nations, without being made to feel unpatriotic. This reached a nadir last weekend with a tweet (since deleted and apologised for) from Devi Sridhar, professor of Public Health at the University of Edinburgh, and scientific advisor to the Scottish Government, which described unionists as “anti-Scottish.” Although her tweet was deleted relatively quickly and a follow-up apology issued, it was clear from some of the comments on her original tweet that her sentiments struck a chord with some, not least those who elected to station themselves on the border with England this same weekend, to intimidate those who had the temerity to want to visit Scotland for a holiday.

I’m not sure, though, at what point over the last twenty years or so this sense of patriotism became apparently inexorably wedded to nationalism, or indeed why this notion can’t be challenged. Perhaps part of the fault for this lies with those who support an ongoing union of nations – would it be dishonest to admit to a lingering awkwardness and reticence among unionists to saltire-waving, Flower Of Scotland-singing, full-throated celebration of Scottishness, for fear of coming across as nationalistic? If that’s the case then we are just as guilty of a misguided sense of conflating nationalism and patriotism as our independence-supporting fellow Scots. It risks an ongoing alienation of what might be a majority demographic of patriotic Scots, who don’t necessarily support independence but who feel drawn towards it out of a sense of a lack of patriotism from the unionist parties.

There is ample scope, I would submit, for a strong argument for a maintenance and evolution of the union of nations of the United Kingdom, rooted in a strong and robust sense of Scottish identity, but without the irreversible and detrimental impact of breaking the ties which have served us to our mutual benefit over the last three hundred years. I haven’t had time to conduct a comprehensive review, but a cursory look back over the Twitter output of Scottish Labour over the last few years demonstrates a startling lack of any kind of Scottish-themed imagery or rhetoric. The messages are notable only in their blandness and generic design, like the sort of thing a slick London-based advertising agency would produce. I used this simile with a degree of caution, but the truth is that no matter how uncomfortable this might make some of us feel, this kind of approach simply isn’t going to cut through with the majority of Scottish voters.

Patriotism isn’t nationalism. An ongoing inability to reconcile the former with an argument in favour of strengthening the union will only end badly, with the increasing urgency of potentially irreversible consequences following the Scottish Parliament elections next year. The sense of understandable pride in the successes of our small nation, whether in rugby or otherwise, has been ceded to nationalism for too long. It’s time to reclaim a sense of national pride, to unashamedly embrace and wave the Saltire as proud Scots, not just at Murrayfield but in every aspect of our messaging and policy development, and as successful contributors to a strong and enduring union.

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15 thoughts on “Grand slam or wooden spoon?

  1. An interesting article which appears to me to be based on the idea of the UK being the legitimate political entity and Scotland being a kind of emotional, romantic, former nation which is nicely subsumed in the ‘close union between Scotland and the United Kingdom’. Roger appears very content with this, presumably his nationalism is the British kind which makes it worthy stuff.
    I think the issue with this for the Labour party in Scotland is that a large proportion of our support have had enough of this slavish devotion to the British system which leaves us at the mercy of reactionary governments like the one we have at Westminster currently. Presumably Roger is unconcerned about this as that is simply the legitimate British democratic system at work.

    In short, I think Roger has a difficult sell on his hands if he is imploring Scottish Labour supporters to be emotional nationalists whilst ignoring the real issues deriving from the unbalanced union he so admires. I’m afraid a sizeable proportion of our Labour colleagues in Scotland have already left this quaint notion well behind.

    1. 80 minute patriots aren’t actually patriots. Roger’s overriding identity and loyalty is clear – and if that mean’s Scotland’s elected parliament depowered, and Tory brutality forced upon her people against their will, well, it doesn’t bother him so long as he can get a couple of decent tickets at Murrayfield.

      1. It would be helpful if Roger could explain his views on this a bit more, is the lack of concern in relation to societal outcomes on a Scotland level derived from a view that Scotland doesn’t really exist aside from the emotional patriotism aspect he describes? In other words that the integrity of the British state is what trumps everything? That’s how it comes across to me and I’m sure a large proportion of current and former Labour supporters in Scotland.
        This seems to be the kind of attitude espoused by the likes of Ian Murray, MP in particular although I am curious why is it that in the Scottish party hierarchy this kind of thinking predominates?
        How has this (let’s say staunch) segment of the Labour party in Scotland continued to dominate and set policy? Ian Murray must know his regular pro-union broadcasts must be alienating a lot of potential and actual Labour voters but yet if anything he becomes more and more vociferous. I don’t think this is helping us.
        Of course Ian is essentially defending a seat dependent on Conservative and Unionist (as well as LibDem) tactical voters to stay elected. So maybe that is the determining factor in his case, staying at Westminster.
        I’m not wishing to have a go at Roger and I think it’s good that he started to explain his views but I have to confess that I can only make sense of them if I admit to myself that a sizeable (probably) minority of Labour supporters in Scotland desire the preservation of the Union to be the No 1 policy objective. That being the case it would be good if Roger could just state that clearly.

        I also don’t understand how we can continue our line about the need to maintain the union to preserve socialist or at least left-leaning solidarity with the English working class. I feel great solidarity with the poor in the Philippines where I used to live but don’t feel the need to be in a political union with them. And solidarity with the left seems to have been the last thing on the minds of many of the northern English working class at the last election or the Brexit referendum. Don’t you think we need some new thinking on all of this?

  2. I do not doubt that Roger is proud to be Scottish, as am I. We also have in common that we are both nationalists – he a British nationalist who believes that the UK should be the sovereign state with Scotland as a non-sovereign part of the UK, and me a Scottish nationalist who believes that Scotland should be a sovereign state in its own right. I have no doubt that he genuinely believes that Scotland and its people will have a better future being government by the UK government whereas I believe that Scotland will have a better future when it has full powers to govern itself. Perhaps Roger does not mind Scotland continually getting Tory governments which we in Scotland continually reject. As a socialist and a democrat, I hate it.

    1. I would dearly love to know what motivates people like Roger into believing Scotland benefits from being subsumed by England I really would. There is no economic social general practical or emotional argument I can fathom that supports the idea at all which is why we get bombarded with made up statistics and stories of inadequacy instead of genuine reasoning and promotional positive views of Devolution in relativity to Independence. I bet Roger couldnt come up with a single advantage any level of Devolution would have over full Independence without looking ludicrous. Devolution by its very stature construct and idea is always less than full Independence in every measurement that could be made between the 2 states.
      Why do people like Roger believe less is more?

  3. Ahh, “I’m a proud Scot, but …..

    “Patriotism” requires “action” while “Nationalism” does not; it is an inherent belief. A “Patriot” needs an external threat or occupying force; a “Nationalist” does not so long as they feel their national identity is not under threat …. then they may become “Patriots” and take “action”. Without an external threat, “Patriotism” is effectively meaningless, even baffling. “Nationalism” only requires a belief your country exists and is the equal of others. It does not even require full independence, only acceptance. “Patriotism” is an extension of “Nationalism” not a separate ideology.

    Essentially, you cannot believe Scotland is an entity with its own identity and that you are thereby “Scottish” without being a “Nationalist”. It is amusing to realise that despite Unionists trying to appropriate the term for themselves, those who support taking “action” by campaigning for an independent Scotland are the real “Patriots” while the “Proud Scot buts ….” are actually, in my opinion, naïve “Nationalists” complicit in the gradual erosion of the identity they purport to be so proud of in a “boiling frog” kind of way.

    If we stay in the UK, no matter what crumbs the Westminster Govt throw our way, the Scottish national identity will wither as the Mercian, East Anglian and Northumbrian one has. It will be replaced by a “Greater English” identity which, for local consumption, “may” be referred to as “British”. But as far the rest of the World will be concerned (and not contradicted by the UK Govt) it will be “England”. This realisation helped drive my “Nationalism” to “Patriotism”. Anecdotally, some years ago I watched a foreign journalist interview an English lass on TV and when asked what part of England her parents lived in she answered “Dunblane”. If you’re happy with that future for Scotland then fine …. get in the pot with the rest of the frogs. I want to take “action”.

  4. MacGilleRuadh,
    You are right on the money. Roger Brydon is content in his unionism. Good on him.
    The problem Roger seems happy to ignore though, is that his constitutional position does not sit well with Scottish Labour’s historical support. Standing up for the union has cost Labour dearly. Labour has been squeezed from all sides. For one reason; its opposition to independence.
    Lets say roughly half of Scottish voters are unionists. The Tories have always been unequivocal in their support for the union (like Roger is). That is now paying dividends. Amongst Scottish unionism they are now seen as The Opposition to the SNP. Scottish Labour on the other hand are not all as enthusiastic as Roger is. 2014 was a sobering reminder of what can happen to a political party when it ignores the views of its core support. Labour’s on going equivocation compared to the Tories ‘certainty’ in The Union is, I think, going to further squeeze Labour’s slice of the 50%.
    There are other minor parties fighting for a slice of the 50%. We have the Libdems. And, there is soon to be a new player on the stage; UKIP is coming up the road. Proper unionists UKIP are. They want to dismantle devolution. They are making successful in roads in Wales and it will not be long before they will argue the point here. The point being; Holyrood is very expensive vanity project.
    So where will Labour in Scotland be then? The SNP on one side. The Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party on the other side. How much of the 50% is left for the minor parties to fight over?

    1. It says it all when the champions of the “Union” have a domestic agenda akin to the Hunger games. You’d think that “Unionists” in Scotland would question their loyalty to a “Union” that brings the Hunger games to Scotland on a regular basis as part and parcel of our very own “Union benefit” would you not?
      And spare me the But Independence will bring its own Hunger games when every other Country on the planet that has taken its leave from Westminster rule left the Hunger games behind them as a result. I dont recall Ireland having a potato famine outside of Westminster rule.

  5. Another “Proud Patriotic Scot” who believes the “Land of the Scots” belongs subsumed within a Soviet style “Union” run by posh self entitled self serving criminally corrupt foreigners from another Land with a historic track record second only to the Romans of pillaging everywhere they have ever set foot in and taken control of.
    I shudder to think what would bring him shame.
    Sitting in Westminster right now we have what can only be described as a disorganised crime syndicate posing as a Government having its strings pulled by its very own Rasputin. A Rasputin without any of the charm and charisma of the original, but lets not let that reality get in the way of yet another romanticised version of a Britannia born from the blinkered delusions you only get with the self denial of the 3 monkeys who refuse to see hear or speak of what lies in front of them.

  6. I served in the armed forces. I was not a British nationalist.
    I believe Scotland should be a self-governing country. I am not a Scottish nationalist.
    I have lived and worked in England. My daughter lives and works there now. My wife worked for years in France, and we visit that country every year. No country or people is inherently better than any other, and I object to being referred to as a “nationalist” because of wanting my country to be a normal part of the international family of nations.
    Roger refers to a “healthy Union of nations”. Where is it? How can Scotland “contribute” to it, when it is obvious the UK government has no interest.The Welsh FM complained recently Boris Johnson, the self proclaimed “Minister for the Union”, hasn’t spoken to any leader of the devolved nations since May. Perhaps a good thing given his decades of lies, fakery, racism and misogyny.
    It would appear that devolution is to go into reverse soon, with slippery Gove using Brexit to centralise power in London. How does Labour feel about that? Will Scotland be happy with a talking shop at Holyrood, or will it push the end of the Union even closer? Decades of polling suggest MORE powers for Holyrood are the Scottish preference. I find reading Scottish Labour’s attitude to Scotland very difficult to comprehend these days. I suspect Ian Murray will stand four square with the “Union Unit” alongside Gove and Alister Jack. Will Roger?

    1. Labours position is not hard to understand at all they are an English political party with members from Scotland working within it. That makes the party English centric and working for what they perceive to be in the best interests of England. Thats the case with the Tories and the Lib Dems as well. It really is that simple.

  7. I don’t get it, honest I just don’t ? why would anyone think having an another country control many of the systems and revenue streams of your own country is right.

    It not like its even near being a fair and equal division of power between the two country’s.

    So why !!! , what is it that makes some people in Scotland honestly think a Westminster 80% English controlled parliament is going to do better for Scotland than a Scottish parliament voted into power by the people of our own nation. Where Scotland would come first in all its decisions as required, just like England does under its majority of Westminster MP’s regardless of party.

    Why this lack of trust in your fellow Scots ???

    1. It’s a fundamental thing – it appears a sizable proportion of our labour supporting colleagues don’t consider Scotland a relevant politcal unit: what matters is the UK and if that entails far right government then so be it. To people like Roger (and the rest who control our party north of the border) it would appear logical not to worry about lack of Scottish representation: Scotland only really exists in an emotional and administrative sense: what matters is power at Westminster and the introduction of UK wide policies that will benefit the working class equally across the real nation of UK.
      At least that’s how it appears to me

  8. It seems that the usual suspects wilfully misconstrue every article on this website. The idea that we Scots are somehow dominated and oppressed by the English is ludicrous, but widely believed by the SNP and its supporters.

  9. I think the idea that Scottish Labour would be doing better if it had posted some more Saltires on Twitter is risible. It’s a problem of substance.

    Imagine if Keir Starmer announces that a future Labour government would take the UK into the Single Market in a similar way to Norway and introduce a federal system for the UK to ensure all nations are listened to with a fair voting system that doesn’t constantly give the Tories complete power on a minority of the vote.

    I probably would vote Labour if there was something like that on offer. But I know there won’t be. Flag-waving is not going to change my mind.

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