HAVING accidentally ended up in Luxembourg for the holidays, I decided to go for a walk in the woods. One of life’s simple joys, in these grey, swollen, timeless days between Christmas and New Year, is to go “Squelch Bogging”: don suitable outdoor clothing and a pair of stout walking boots, and go trudging through sodden mulch and scrambling over tree stumps.

I started along well-maintained main path (things generally are well-maintained in ­glorious Luxembourg; there is not a pot-hole to be found in the whole country). I pushed on, along a ­narrower track wending deeper into the woods. The damp, chilly mist gave a gothic charm to the dappled woodland shades: bright moss green, ruddy brown and mushroom grey.

Eventually I noticed a thinning of the trees and a clearing opening up into what looked like a walled garden. But what strange plants grew there: not blooms of life, but cold dead stones.

I had stumbled across a German war ­cemetery. I have visited many Commonwealth war graves but had never been in a German ­cemetery before. It took a while for my feelings to adjust. These were the “baddies”. Growing up in the 1980s, I remember meeting many people of the older ­generation who could never forgive the ­Germans for what they had done and would never hear a good word spoken about them.

These German soldiers, whose bodies lay in the cemetery where I now stood, did not die for freedom, for democracy, or for any noble ­motive. They fought and died for one of the most evil, hideous, despicable and destructive regimes ­human wickedness had yet constructed.

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The Second World War was not ­morally ­ambiguous (except perhaps on the ­Eastern Front, where two monstrous tyrannies ­collided). The Nazi rule meant pogroms, jackbooted thugs, execution squads, concentration camps, gas chambers and hellish incinerators. To defeat it was a struggle of good and evil.

Yet, it was a little more complicated than that. These German ­soldiers, whose bodies lay beneath my feet, were not only the perpetrators of horror, but also its ­victims. Most had been born in the 1920s. They were too young to have voted for Hitler. They knew nothing else. Their right of personal moral judgement had been stripped from them by the system into which they had been conscripted. “Only obeying orders” is not an excuse for what Eichmann did, but for these soldiers, what other choice was there?

If ever a nation had to repent, Germany did – and repent it has. One must admire the way the Germans have dealt with their past, not just by acts of apology, but by a refounding of the state at a constitutional level. The post-war ­Constitution of the Federal Republic, which places human dignity at its core and protects basic human rights “for eternity” is a testament to the Germany’s commitment to “nie wieder” – never again.

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The Second World War was a re-founding ­moment in Britain, too. It briefly transformed a multi-national, global-imperial state into a ­united, insular nation-state. But there was no apparent need for a constitutional overhaul. Labour’s post-war reconstruction touched all aspects of social and economic life, but left the constitutional framework untouched.

Some people take, tragically, the wrong ­lesson from all this. They think that Britain is great, the Germans are evil, the French not to be trusted, and Europe as a whole to be viewed with ­suspicion. They take Churchill’s words, “If necessary, alone”, and build upon them a political identity, renouncing Europe and all its works.

That retreat from Europe does not ­honour the dead on either side. Walking through the ­German cemetery in Luxembourg, I was able to see the Second World War as an ideological ­European civil war: of fascism, ­authoritarianism and ­genocide, ranged against freedom, ­democracy and basic human decency.

The correct response to these dead bodies is not Brexit, it is the European Convention on ­Human Rights. It is not hostility, but

co­-operation. Not the nursing of old grievances – sore though they may be – but the forging of strong, genuine bonds of European friendship.

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The 2016 referendum revealed that most of England has not yet reached that point. If it is to move beyond its nostalgic fantasy of “Spitfires over white cliffs”, it has a lot of soul-searching and growing up still to do.

Perhaps England never “got” Europe. Even Remainers did not fully embrace the European ideal; they accepted a aingle market on pragmatic, economic grounds, but were not moved by the noble vision of perpetual peace through an integrated transnational community.

An independent Scotland can be different: not just close to Europe, put part of Europe. ­Europe is not “them”, it is “us”.

In 2022, let us be sure of this: Scotland is a European nation.

Philippa Whitford MP is our next guest on the TNT show. Join us at 7pm on Wednesday