WHEN a Labour leader feels the need to reach for patriotism it’s a clear sign that, having scraped the bottom of the barrel, they are now reduced to licking its sides. When they proclaim this barren concept it’s about as convincing as a dad doing hip-hop at his daughter’s wedding – and just as unedifying.

Tories are much more comfortable when they put out more flags and roar their Rule Britannias. Patriotism has been kind to them throughout the centuries and they have become artful in its use. Among the first lessons in doctrine that Tory hopefuls learn on their first day at Millbank is how to brandish patriotism, and when. Identifying opportunities to engender patriotic fervour in the country can be the difference between winning and losing elections.

Most of them are intelligent enough not to actually believe in it themselves, you understand. For how can you seriously believe in a concept that relies on the suspension of all critical faculties and a tendency to self-delusion? To be proud of one’s country is as bizarre a notion as being proud of a chest of drawers.

It travels on the belief that a geographical land mass, having emerged from the chaos of creation, has somehow consciously created for itself an ordered set of values and behaviours. And that those scraps of humanity who fetch up on its shores, driven there by the random circumstances of birth, war and basic human need, have assumed an identity beyond all of this. And furthermore, that this marks them out as unique from all those other peoples who find themselves by accident and casual consequence perched on another volcanic rock.

Those few who had gathered to themselves a disproportionate share of their country’s resources came to the early realisation that the key to protecting their treasures from the empty-handed multitudes lay in spinning fiction about the greatness of their country. “Look, you might not have food or a home and you will die early in disease-ridden agony but in your short stay on Earth you can be proud that you were British/Spanish/Italian/Chinese/Gibrovian (delete as appropriate). The patriotic delusion isn’t confined to British elites but (and you have to hand it to them here) they have become world leaders in its use.

It helps of course if you have an acquiescent royal family to reinforce the chimera, even if their pedigree is about as real as the plastic toys you used to find at the bottom of a packet of cornflakes. And if you set about waging war on unsuspecting and blameless nations beyond the setting sun you can advance the concoction even further by using this as proof of your natural right to rule. All that remains is to prosecute so many wars over such a prolonged period that the idiot punters don’t have enough time or energy to ask themselves what the Friar Tuck’s going on, let alone do something about it.

At some point, perhaps with the Great Reform Act of 1832 or following the utterly pointless carnage of the First World War, our ancestors might have expected that, given time, the patriotic nonsense would cease. Surely in the passing of the years and the triumph of the enlightenment jingoism would be consigned to the same place we banished slavery and witch-burning.

Yet here we are in the early decades of the 21st century, still venerating patriotism. It’s actually got worse. The future direction of Britain’s economic, social and cultural journey has been determined by the patriotic fantasy of Brexit. Centuries after Britain’s great patriotic wars were exposed as nothing more than piracy, the descendants of those who were locked out of the loot are still transfixed by it.

According to a YouGov poll earlier this year around half the Labour Party thought it was important for the new leader to be patriotic. A few months ago a survey by the same polling company revealed that 67% of UK voters were proud to be British. This, I suppose, is what tends to happen when the BBC

feeds you a constant diet of documentaries about the Saxe-Coburgs and celebrity propaganda films dressed up to look like authentic history programmes.

Yesterday, Keir Starmer effectively gave up the struggle to retain even the merest smidgeon of authentic Labour values in his speech to the party conference. Dutifully, he fell meekly into line and bent the knee to British patriotism. He can’t honestly believe it though, can he? For, even if there ever had been anything virtuous about patriotism this has been trampled under the jackboots of the far right who have weaponised it as a means of proclaiming the racial and ethnic superiority of white Britain. Even to suggest such a thing now is to risk being deemed anti-British even as its proponents cheerfully pocket vast sums of dodgy money from gangsters and gangster states.

Of course, I acknowledge that this terrain is also a bumpy one for those of us who yearn for an independent Scotland. Simply by supporting the idea of Scottish self-determination may leave you open to accusations of hypocrisy in this regard and I suppose it’s unavoidable and comes with the territory.

I’ve yet to encounter a Scottish nationalist, though, who expresses their passion for independence in claiming moral and historical hegemony over other countries. Nor is it fuelled by pride in enslaving other lands or a desire to glory in ancient conquests. Rather, the movement for Scottish

self-government at its most mature and reasonable recognises that we share common values with the rest of humanity. Independence isn’t an expression of superiority or even uniqueness but mere, unremarkable normality.

I’m happy to admit here that if I had my way in the best of all possible worlds there would be no geographical boundaries and no division of the peoples and we would be governed by the simple human values of universal socialism. Until that day though, I’m happy for Scotland to take its place equally with all the other nations; neither beholden nor masters.