Posted on December 2nd, 2016
by Rab Bruce’s Spider
Ruth Davidson has inadvertently assisted a St Andrew’s Day fundraiser set up by the SNP by Tweeting her disdain for what she terms their appropriation of a Patron Saint to help a handout for a partisan cause. She asserted that the SNP is not Scotland, which is perfectly true, but her comments only added to the publicity the fundraiser received, so her jibe has rather backfired.
However, there is another aspect of this which I feel is worth mentioning. Now, it is perfectly true that appropriating any national symbol such as a Patron Saint or, say, a flag, can be viewed by some members of society as being inappropriate and perhaps even offensive. But it is worth considering that the SNP have used these national symbols because they were largely ignored by Unionists until relatively recently because they represent Scotland, and that nation’s culture was merely tolerated by the UK Establishment.
I’m not a great one for promoting flag-waving,
jingoistic nationalism, because I think our nation deserves better than that, but I recognise that symbols have a powerful emotive hold on a great many people, and this is what makes the use of national symbols such a big deal. Every nation on earth has a national flag as a symbol of identity and most nominally Christian countries, as far as I know, have a Patron Saint. This is because, human nature being what it is, people identify with symbols.
But have the SNP really appropriated Scotland’s flag and Patron Saint, and, if so, why is it such an issue?
Looking back even thirty years ago, how often did you see or hear people mention St Andrews’ Day? It was an event more notable for being largely ignored than for being celebrated. Unlike St Patrick’s Day in Ireland, St Andrew’s Day still remains something of a non-event but it is, at least, mentioned more often these days. As for the Saltire being a political symbol, that’s true enough, but only because it has been treated as little more than a regional symbol by the UK for the past three centuries. It was waved at football matches and flown alongside the Union flag on civic buildings in Scotland, but it was rarely regarded as a symbol of national unity. For that reason, the UK Establishment did not fear its use.
Hang on, you may be saying to yourself. It’s only a flag. Why should anyone fear it? But flags are amongst the most potent of symbols, as is amply demonstrated by the Union Flag which is forever being displayed on our TV screens, as well as now appearing on such diverse things as Driving Licences and bridges. it is a political tool, designed to reinforce national identity, and anything which challenges it will inevitably be attacked by British Nationalists.
So it is understandable that Tories like Ruth Davidson will be upset at what they see as the appropriation of Scottish national symbols. That’s because they have long denied that Scotland is a proper nation. As more and more people come to realise this, such national symbols will become more and more politicised. The problem for British Nationalists is that these symbols were never taken very seriously except in a “Proud Scot but" sort of way. Having been left to gather dust, it is no wonder that the SNP, a Party who proclaim themselves as quintessentially Scottish, should promote their usage. It is, however, the people of Scotland who have appropriated them in order to express their growing sense of national identity which had, for many, been subsumed beneath their British identity.
It is important for any State that its citizens identify with that State. That is why the UK has always sought to diminish any expression of identity which differs from British Nationalism. In the past, this has usually been done in a subtle way, acknowledging differences so long as they remained within a narrow band of acceptability and did not threaten the State because British identity was an overarching cultural glue which bound most UK citizens together.
Scots may have always acknowledged their separate identity but the only aspects of Scottish culture which have generally been tolerated are those which play up to the British view of quaint regional customs, such as kilts, haggis and bagpipes which are good for tourism but don’t result in large swathes of the population forming up behind them as symbols of national identity.
Even events such as Burns Suppers cannot be described as having broad social appeal within Scotland. Families might mark Burns Night by eating haggis, but most formal Burns Suppers are attended by the well off socialites and business men and women who were likely to have voted No in the IndieRef. They are socialising, networking events to entertain clients with a bit of quaint and archaic custom, but they hardly represent a national pastime. The Bard has probably been spinning in his grave for decades over this, although recent political events in Scotland may well see a shift in how Burns Suppers are perceived. Maybe the people will appropriate them as well.
Of course, all of this coils down to the Cringe. We aren’t supposed to celebrate our national identity except in small ways which are acceptable to the UK State because they are harmless. As soon as they are used for political purposes which threaten the State, the UK turns nasty. If you are in any doubt about this, consider the reaction in the House of Commons on Wednesday when Angus Robertson, the SNP’s Deputy Leader, wished everyone a Happy St Andrew’s Day. His remark was jeered and booed by the Tories in the House. That is what asserting a separate, non-British identity does.
But it is too late now for the genie to be put back in the bottle. The point is that, as soon as people began to realise that Scotland really is a very distinct nation, they wanted a way to express that through symbolism. The symbols were there, dusty and largely unused, or treated like trophies which are displayed as prizes of war. Is it any wonder we appropriated them?