Scottish Election 2021: Nicola Sturgeon’s foolish denial of UK's vaccine success reveals a deeper prejudice – Brian Wilson

Keith Brown, who remains SNP deputy leader although devoid of ministerial duties, is not a good advertisement for nationalism, as the BBC Question Time audience may have concluded.

He personifies the philistinism of the creed. Shout “Boris Johnson” and “nuclear weapons” often enough and the case for breaking up four centuries of shared history, economic integration and family ties is made, to his own satisfaction.

At the root of modern Scottish nationalism is a profound anti-Britishness. They just cannot bear to admit to any good of the state in which they live and Johnson is the current shorthand for that prejudice.

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For most of us, Britishness – like Scottishness and all our identities – is part of who we are. The twisting of every statistic and argument to make us feel resentful of it is sinister. The contempt for ties that bind working people and their struggles in every corner of our island is, from my political perspective, offensive.

Unlike most nationalisms, there is no real attempt at making a philosophical or cultural case for Scottish independence. It is all about taking away one of the identities which most of us have lived with quite happily, appreciating the benefits as well as bemoaning transient failings.

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The problem for Mr Brown and his like is that about half the people in Scotland do not want to be deprived of that part of their identity or the benefits it brings. They do not shout or wave flags but neither are they prepared to be browbeaten into submission.

Whatever the current pretence, this is not a condition dependent on Johnson in Downing Street. He is a bonus for them. No matter who is in charge, they are subject to the same contempt, regardless of ideology or achievements. If it is British, it must be bad.

Nicola Sturgeon seems incapable of recognising any benefits of being part of the UK, says Brian Wilson (Picture: Russell Cheyne- Pool/Getty Images)

Nicola Sturgeon provides a classic example of this mentality with her refusal to recognise that the UK, via its government, has done exceptionally well in securing vaccines to combat Covid. There was, she insisted, “absolutely no evidential base to say Scotland would not have vaccinated as many people”.

Actually, there is a very strong evidential base. The wider point is that Ms Sturgeon’s comments are so obviously foolish that they can only spring from a prejudice running so deep that it is incapable of adjustment to take account of evidence to the contrary. Again, if it is British, it must be bad.

I am opposed to Tories, Brexit and Johnson. This does not stop me recognising that, whether by luck or good judgment, we have been extremely well served by the decision not to participate in the EU vaccine programme but pursue a UK route. There, I’ve said it and it didn’t hurt a bit.

In recent times, the SNP has compensated for its “Britain is bad” core belief with an over-the-top mantra of “Europe is good”. Those with longer memories recall they used to be anti-Europe as well, when British governments were in favour. Around a third of their supporters voted for Brexit so nothing is as clear cut as they pretend.

On vaccines, the SNP told us it was “idiotic” not to join the EU programme and it would “cost lives”. If anyone had listened, we would be in the same boat as our neighbour, Ireland, which has vaccinated 24 per cent of its people as opposed to two-thirds in the UK. That is straightforward reality, like it or not.

I do not expect it to be a decisive argument one way or another about independence. It is simply a fact that cannot be wished away and costs nothing to recognise.

Ms Sturgeon’s attempt at denial reflects the fundamental distortion of debate in Scotland. Every inconvenient fact and achievement is reviled and denied if it clashes with the ideological need to present ourselves as victims and the British state as villain.

Until that mentality is challenged, our politics will drift into lazy acquiescence. The alternative case must be offered – that there is nothing progressive about dividing a small island and the people who share it.

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