My late paternal grandmother (1884-1984) always described herself, very earnestly, as a Unionist. As a youngster, I treated this with disdainful amusement, unaware that, for much of her adult life, Conservatives in Scotland had been known as Unionists.
To add to the confusion, at local level Granny belonged to the West Edinburgh Progressives, and was even on their committee, proudly attending meetings at the home of a prominent Edinburgh builder.
It was logical – Progressives were the local version of the Conservative and Unionist Party, as it became in 1965. Granny was a working-class Tory and a conviction Unionist.
I find now that I share the strength of her conviction, but in a different cause. I am Scottish, British and European, and proud of these multiple identities. I support Scotland at rugby, England at cricket and Europe in the Ryder Cup.
The Union brings many benefits that nationalists either dismiss or simply cannot see. Chief among these is that nationalists are able to hurl as much abuse as they like at the Union, London, Westminster, England, the ‘Tories’, the Queen…. Nationalists seem unaware that it is the very freedoms afforded us in the UK that enable them to shout and throw accusations at the institutions of UK government without any fear of a knock on their door from the forces of law and order.
They seem unaware that in many countries their exercise of freedom of speech and association would not be tolerated. They seem unaware of the irony of their quoting approvingly the Russian state-owned television station Russia Today on the subject of the ills of the UK.
It is an utter disgrace that SNP MPs, such as Alex Salmond, Paul Monaghan and Philippa Whitford, have appeared on Russia Today in order to disparage the UK. Countries with fewer freedoms than the UK would treat this as an offence. In Britain, we dismiss them as ‘useful idiots’.
Scotland is a deeply – and bitterly – divided country where the now dominant political party, the SNP, offers a fantasy future and has embedded its vision in the minds of many – certainly a third of the population and perhaps anything up to half of it – as something little short of divine revelation.
It is not those of us who feel British who peddle illusions and place faith (and it really is faith) in a future where ‘hope’ and ‘aspiration’ will, by magic, achieve concrete aims.
We British leave pie-in-the-sky dreaming to nationalists whose underestimation of the benefits of Britain has generated disfiguring hatred.
I’m not sure how many nationalists stop to ask why so many people from other countries are desperate to come to Britain, to live and prosper. Perhaps because it’s the worst place in the world to settle – apart from all the others? We should celebrate, rather than denigrate, the advantages and benefits of being British.
Jill Stephenson is Professor Emeritus of History and Honorary Professorial Fellow in the School of History, Classics and Archaeology, University of Edinburgh.