Indeed, for most of our history we have been a successful nation whether in the UK or not. Recently we haven’t acted like one, but we now perhaps need to grow up and achieve that status once more.
There is a petulance about some of the attitudes of the Scottish government that is not the hallmark of a confident nation. Shades of the terrible twos, or teenage truculence, rather than adult leadership.
If Westminster comes up with an idea the Holyrood instinct is to immediately reject, even if it ends up having to come round to it because it makes sense.
So, when the UK Transport Secretary relaxes foreign travel rules, Holyrood rejects them. When Westminster recommends Freeports, Holyrood condemns the concept. Why even the idea of spending – every year – £1.1 billion more on our health service and social care is instinctively opposed because Boris Johnson came up with it. Whoever this benefits it is not Scots, or Scotland.
Continuing travel restrictions will stop people coming here – and bringing business and cash to Scotland. And it will put some Scots off holidaying abroad – but just some. Others will take the option of flying from places like Newcastle and Manchester to avoid the additional expense of PCR tests when travelling through a Scottish airport – meaning that English airports, and workers, will benefit at the expense of our own.
It is the same with Freeports. The Scottish government had little argument on principle but didn’t seem to like the concept’s place of origin.
So they came up with ‘Greenports’ just to be different, and then manufactured a row with Westminster and walked out of talks about how these vital projects might be delivered for the benefit of our economy – despite strong support from local communities and businesses.
The perversity of their tantrums seems insulated from any sense. When it initially appeared that more cash for the NHS in Scotland might be ring-fenced, there were objections that it undermined the devolution settlement (it turned out, subsequently, that these fears were groundless).
Imagine telling someone in desperate need of a hip replacement, or the patient of a sick child, or someone with signs of cancer, that they will have to stay waiting for their treatment because the ‘devolution settlement’ is in greater need of attention? Yet this kind of damaging, self-defeating childishness is to the Scottish government a sign of aspiring nationhood.
It is, at least, consistent with a Health Secretary who takes to social media to complain that people sniggered at him when he fell off his scooter because he was pushing it too fast for the cameras. “Bed, no supper, for all those at the back who tittered,” a government spokesman might as well have said.
Nations have the self-confidence to be open to new ideas wherever they come from, and are not frightened to pool sovereignty. Or to put it in the kind of language the Scottish government might – just might – understand, nations ‘learn to share’.
That is the idea behind the UK, the European Union, even the United States of America.
No one set of people in any of them get their own way entirely, but that is because they can compromise – maturely. To mutual benefit. No one in Brussels thinks a member state is stronger because it storms out of meetings of the EU. And even the proud smaller nations accept that larger more powerful countries like Germany and France will get their own way more than they do. But it doesn’t reduce their sense of nationhood.
Instead of contorting thought to come up with excuses to reject ideas from the rest of the UK designed to improve Scottish lives, why doesn’t the Scottish government try to come up with ideas to improve life in all parts of the UK? Why not try to shape thinking in the UK, rather than think of ways to reject ideas from the rest of the UK?
We saw the thinness of the Scottish government’s thinking when Covid was at its height. Whatever the UK government announced they rejected, and then usually adopted a few days later just a bit more so.
You could be forgiven for thinking the First Minister’s policy priority was her own PR, but whatever was the case, it led to her claiming in June of last year that she had almost “eliminated” Covid in contrast to England where no such claim was made.
Think about that for a second. A pandemic. A global phenomenon of a mutating virus. But Scotland’s leader claimed to have almost eliminated it because our government adopted different policies from England.
Real nationhood has a sense of itself, a self-confidence. Current Scottish nationalism needs Westminster to exist so that it can define itself against it. It may not know what it is for, but it knows what it is against – and that amounts not to principle but to whatever those people over there say, and whenever they say it. It is not Scotland the brave, but Scotland the hard done to.
I preferred life in Scotland when we thought bigger and we thought for ourselves. When Scots chose to define what we were ourselves, and didn’t need to look over our shoulders to decide what we weren’t.
Nationhood is about more than having a seat somewhere between Saudi Arabia and Senegal at the United Nations in New York. If we want to show we are a nation it starts with what we do here – and having a grown-up attitude to our neighbours much closer to home.
Murdo Fraser is a Scottish Conservative MSP for Mid-Scotland and Fife