Some people say that they are offended when they are told that because they support the union they are not being quite Scottish. They complain that of course they love their country and stress that this is perfectly compatible with wishing to remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. How dare these nationalists and other campaigners for Scottish independence doubt their patriotism, or suggest that they are somehow any less Scottish or that they do not really love their country.

Being offended and taking umbrage at the way others characterise your opinions is very easy. It is much less easy to think about why your opinions are characterised as they are.

Believing that because you have an opinion, you have a right to express it and can therefore expect others to respect it is not much of a defense if that opinion is incoherent, based on false assumptions, blind prejudice or unresolved personal issues, or just plain stupid.

The laziness of liberal democracy is to allow everybody the right to hold opinions no matter how badly thought through. Its decadence is to object to any kind of criticism of anything on the basis that this is an affront to basic rights of expression. The point of debate is to be able to discus stuff according to shared criteria of reason. If there are no shared criteria of reason, debate is not possible. If every opinion is sacrosanct because it is the expression of a basic right, then not only is there something the matter with what is called “right” but no opinion can ever be connected with any other. Opinions become as insular as the individuals who hold and express them. Society does not exist. People become bland, cynical consumers. Opinions become like commodities or entertainment.

It is incumbent on those who say that they love their country and who also wish to remain part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to describe what precisely their country is and to explain the feeling of love they have for it. For it is not obvious to those of us who believe that Scotland would be better off independent of Westminster what such a love looks like, nor what is the object of affection. We do not see how Scotland can be considered as a country at all under the present arrangement, and we do not understand that being happy with the status quo could be seen as anything but a kind of self depreciation, a kind of deference to powers that have always worked to ensure that Scotland is not a country at all.

The idea that Scotland is part of a family of nations remains an expression of a moral aspiration, an element of the ideological superstructure of the British state. Those who believe such ideological nonsense have been somehow kept at a distance from the historical facts. No matter how loudly it is claimed that the cultural differences between the peoples of these islands are adequately allowed to flourish within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, it remains true that political powers have systematically undervalued some cultures and emphasised others. If this is a family, it is seriously dysfunctional. To be proud of being a member of this family comes dangerously close to being proud of being abused, to be wallowing in denial or just plain deluded.

Of course, if being Scottish amounts to no more than supporting national sports teams, then there is no problem. Being Scottish is about donning a kilt from time to time, getting ratarsed and watching television. In which case there is not even any point in attempting to enter into discussion about opinions about being proud of or loving Scotland or Scottishness, for these are not in fact opinions but just so many knee jerk reactions, the expression of consumptive states of being. No thought has been involved at all, so no thought should be wasted in dealing with them.

Author: Duncan Spence

Mountaineer, retired bicycle messenger, philosopher, wordsmith, Dutch translator.

One thought on “Patriotism”

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