THERE are times when a person or group of people does such a good job of making their opponent’s argument for them that you have to wonder if it’s all a big joke – maybe a cameraman is going to pop out of the bushes at any minute and the relief will wash over you as it all suddenly makes sense.
This is how it feels watching some ardent Unionists from south of the Border trying to make their case for the future of the United Kingdom.
Today, Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine wrote that the real reason why Nicola Sturgeon had allegedly been “so grumpy” about Prince William and Kate Middleton’s visit to Scotland this week is because they provide “a reminder of all that is good about the British Crown and the Union”.
Just as support for independence was rising, Vine suggests this may well have been scuppered by “Wills and Kate’s” decision to demonstrate their “maturity and solid moral compass” by braving the discomfort of the private royal train to embark on a whistle-stop UK tour.
READ MORE: Sarah Vine claims royals’ trip has damaged Scottish independence hopes
Every word reads like a parody of what an out-of-touch London commentator might have to say about Scotland and what’s needed to lay its pesky constitutional debate to rest. But I guess stereotypes come from somewhere, and there really are people being paid to write about Scotland who haven’t the slightest appreciation of the political or cultural context they’re wading into.
Even more risible is the fact that there are those in the UK Government who not only think the same way, but who believe this approach is likely to be persuasive to the average Scottish voter.
Not two weeks ago it emerged that Downing Street’s “Union unit” – recently established to help reinforce support for the Union in the face of growing calls for Scottish independence – had proposed putting Union Jacks on the Covid vaccine.
The idea that anyone, at any point, thought this was not only a good plan, but one that would undermine the case for independence really brings into focus why pro-Union arguments are failing so spectacularly.
If sweeping Scottish people up in symbolic shows of unified, Great Britishness is the game, whether through the “morale-boosting qualities of royalty” (as Vine put it) or by emblazoning everything with red, white and blue, you’re bound to lose.
Not only does this fail to address any of the material, practical and ideological reasons why many people want to break away from the UK, it also plays directly into some of the most off-putting aspects of the Union for many Scots.
READ MORE: Ruth Wishart: Unionists fume as Nicola Sturgeon fails to curtsey deep enough
Those in favour of Scottish independence are typically described as “nationalists” and accused of an obsession with flags. Meanwhile, British patriotism is celebrated uncritically as if it were neutral and universal; the only acceptable form of national identity, despite all its negative connotations and murky history. This dynamic and the persistent tone deafness of the British establishment on all matters is Scottish is what leaves so many feeling utterly disaffected with the Union.
For most people who support independence, including the many who have changed their minds since the 2014 referendum, it has nothing to do with colours on a label or a desire for empty gestures from even emptier heads of state.
It has everything to do with living under the rule of unjust policies – from social security, to immigration, to employment and drug laws – all while voting against them. And seeing your country’s devolved and democratically elected parliament ignored and denigrated for political point-scoring certainly doesn’t help.
If the ability to wheel out a couple of aristocrats to wave at the commoners during a pandemic is truly “all that is good” about the Union, it’s in bigger trouble than I thought.