At my nephew Adam’s wedding last week his new father-in-law made a well-received speech which included a line that would have caused heart attacks on a grand scale had it been relayed to the journalists and commentators who are so upset at only 15 per cent of Scots saying they’re proud to be British.
If that upsets your average thinking Englishman, what would he have thought of the welcome extended to Adam’s school friends from Yorkshire who were described as coming from “the soon to be independent state of England”?
The wedding was taking place just as some astonishing facts were being extrapolated from a quite respectable survey of public opinion on what constitutes a person’s feeling of national identity. I can’t help feeling the authors of the survey would have obtained a clearer picture if they had mingled with the guests at what was a typical, modern Scottish occasion. “Identity” was neither studied nor referred to, but the Scottishness was there for everyone to see, from the kilts and pipes to the predominant accents and the food that was “Cosmopolitan Scottish”.
The survey that has sent the chattering class’ steamie into overdrive reported more Scots as thinking that Billy Connolly is more representative of Scottish society than is our own dear Queen.
Well, he is. But that’s not the same thing as saying that Scots put his value as a human being or as a gifted entertainer above their estimation of the Queen’s worth as a human being. Her output cannot be compared with anybody else’s, and so is assessed as the impression left by her infrequent and heavily guarded visits to the sort of shops you and I patronise, or taking afternoon tea with the first couple to buy their council house, or for simply being around for 60 years. Sure, she’s very English without a trace of the common citizenship shared by the wedding guests, including those from Yorkshire. But she doesn’t have to be one of us to be Queen. And here’s one old republican who’s been musing over the irony of the benefit of having a woman of rightish instincts who, after Churchill had left Downing Street for good, treated all her prime ministers with even handedness. Thus, establishing a republic became less of a priority for Labour. Also, it appeared an out-of-date irrelevancy to young voters. They think the Queen is cool but not central to their lives.
So why are English commentators so het up that only 50 per cent of English people are “very proud” of the Queen? When the “fairly proud” numbers are added, the annual number of English subjects proud to be so stands at 80 per cent. Well, it’s not the 20 per cent less than loyal subjects south of the Border that worries them. They’re scandalised and concerned by the paltry 15 per cent “very proud” and the unimpressive 26 per cent “fairly proud” of Her Majesty living north of Gretna in Connolly Country. In our part of the UK, the “not very proud” and the “not at all proud” outnumber the Queen’s admirers by 14 per cent.
The outraged old British bulldogs should accept defeat gracefully. Scotland is lost to the sort of Britishness that used to hold sway. Our identity has always been more complex than little Englanders who equated being English with being British. Even Enoch Powell MP, a classical scholar and pedant of the most distinguished quality wrote that when he spoke of England he was including small appendages such as Scotland in his description. So there should be no surprise that Scotland’s sense of its different identity should manifest itself in this way.
We now have a national forum to which we elect people from our society to govern, improve and enrich our community culturally and financially. In any democratic society, that is going to win hands down as regards the prestige and empathy felt for it by the citizens it governs, compared with the lack of importance of the monarchy in their daily lives.
Also, there is no great tension at the heart of our society in Scotland. For all the parliament’s well-meaning silliness in passing the Anti-sectarianism Act, the division between Billy and Dan is a thing of the past and the division between black and white is and always has been on the margins of a society that to some degree models itself on the humanitarian and socially just credo of Robert Burns. How can it be right to discriminate against a person because of their skin colour, whilst having been taught from childhood that “a man’s a man for a’ that”?
In Scotland, we are taught that no person is above the other. England is still struggling to incorporate that in its changed identity.