I’D ALWAYS urge caution when it comes to discussions about those “values” or “characteristics” we imagine to be recognisably Scottish. If you’re not careful you can find yourself marooned on shifting sands with the tide rushing in. What had begun innocently with expressions of national pride can turn into something a little more flighty and braying. Very quickly you can find treacherous words like race and ethnicity rushing up to meet you, wrapped in concepts like national superiority and it can be a long way back to solid ground.

What makes me queasy when we talk about “Scottish” values is the not-so-subtle inference that these are nascent characteristics stitched into our national DNA. I imagine many of us would list attributes such as industriousness, directness of speech, prudence and perhaps the fond pretence that we don’t easily suffer foolishness or bend the knee to ornamental authority (we’ll draw a veil over that embarrassing procession of toy soldiers last Saturday to mark the 20th anniversary of the Scottish Parliament).

The main problem I have with claiming some virtues as exceptionally Scottish is that I imagine many other nations can rightfully lay claim to these too. The Russians and the Germans would certainly have a shout at them. And while I possess only sketchy knowledge of Latin America I’d imagine that the political and climactic challenges these countries have encountered over centuries have probably forged some of those qualities we imagine attach to us. As a keen Anglophile and frequent visitor to our great neighbour south of the Border I feel as qualified as any to make some observations about its customs and practices. Somewhat controversially, I’d say that all of the attributes we claim to be essentially Scottish are possessed by the English too, although perhaps not necessarily in the same order, to paraphrase the great English philosopher J Eric Morecambe.

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Similarly, I’ve often found the concept of having a sense of national pride a little curious and problematic (and I’m as culpable in this as anyone else, by the way). Often this is expressed about our awe-inspiring wildernesses and the great bounty in natural resources we enjoy. Many other countries possess these too and they didn’t achieve them either, rather they were forged in the original act of creation: we are merely the custodians of them and only came to be here after the chaotic migration of hundreds of races across millennia.

Certainly, we can take pride in the achievements of men and women who were born here or who lived here. This is a small country and those of us who live here are never more than a few connections of family or friendship away from Andy Murray or Muriel Spark (pictured below).

It’s more virtuous, I think ,and less vainglorious to talk about Scottish attributes. These can include excelling at engineering, invention and exploration and did not happen by accident. Between the wars Scotland produced almost a quarter of the world’s tonnage in ships and the growth of the old heavy and creative industries saw Glasgow become the first city in Europe to see its population pass one million.

The National:

The city became an important global location for textiles and chemicals as well as ship-building. Again, being a small country and accustomed to economic and climactic hardship some of our people developed the skills and the motivation to travel and to embrace the risk of the unknown.

As such we learned to make the most of what nature had given us, but so did just about every other country. That many of these are less successful than Scotland or have a far lower quality of living very often had little to do with any inherent weakness and a lot to do with the greed and avarice of a few powerful men in bigger countries. We were happy to participate in this orgy of conquest and enslavement too.

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I suppose I’ve come to consider this again because we are nearing the time for a second referendum on independence. As such, the wider movement for independence will be subject to an onslaught of outright fiction, disinformation and propaganda that will make the run-up to 2014 seem like an election for the parish council. At the centre of this will be an insidious campaign to portray Scottish nationalism as divisive and sinister. It will be included in the unholy firmament of far-right nationalisms that currently disfigure much of central Europe.

And so, it can be helpful and therapeutic to remind yourself why you still yearn for Scotland to be independent. This is not based on any notion of national superiority or of having values not possessed by English people. Some of it is derived from a fear that the current Westminster Government, helped by a vast media operation and supported by a powerful marketing campaign (paid for by the riches of its donors) has turned shallowness and self-interest into something moral and upstanding. Brexit is the opportunity for which these connected groups have been waiting since the dawn of universal suffrage.

For, they see in this their best chance of reversing many of the reforms they were compelled reluctantly to grant in the war era. These were sullenly conceded amidst mass acknowledgement that the ultimate sacrifice of poor men and women should be rewarded by homes, jobs and a share in the profits of economic growth.

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The contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party and the office of prime minister has introduced the concept of something beyond hard Brexit. Thus we now have neo-Brexit with both Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt striving to out-do each other in levels of hard-right extremism. Each is dancing to the tune of a crazed constituency, driven demented by hostility bordering on hatred for the European Union. Merely to adopt a hard-Brexit position is now no longer sufficient to pacify the mob: it now must be more than that. And when they are granted their wish and the economic privations of this begin to bite, foreign nationals in some parts of the UK will encounter increased levels of hostility.

Scottish independence is now no longer about seeking the restoration of our natural state. It’s become a moral imperative of taking the opportunity (and it is only an opportunity) to create something better based not on Scottish values but on universal values cherished by people in many other countries.