KEN HOUSTON on NATIONAL PRIDE WITHOUT INTERNATIONAL VISION

Alex Salmond turned Scotland into a focus of world attention. So why does his party look upon negating the effects of the bedroom tax as a greater achievement, asks KEN HOUSTON.

Sons and Daughters of Great Britain, is a new sociological tome about the culture and habits and people of our island, written from the perspective of a European, in this case a Spaniard.

Had the book been published 25, or even 15, years ago, the title would probably have been Sons and Daughters of England since back then most foreigners (with the exception of those in the ‘old’ Commonwealth countries) considered Great Britain and England to be synonymous.

I personally remember the embarrassment felt during early visits to the Continent when it came as something of a shock to discover that ‘Britain’ might have been a planet on outer space, so rarely was the name ever referred to. Any attempt to educate our friends across the Channel about England, Wales and Scotland being together but different, came to nought.

A typical conversation would go something like this:

Johnny Foreigner: “You are from England, yes?”

Me: “No, I’m from Scotland.”

Johnny Foreigner: “Yes…..Scotland. That is in England, right?”

Me: “No, Scotland is not in England, it is in Great Britain.”

Johnny Foreigner: “Great Britain? I dunno what you mean. What is Great Britain?”

After a few experiences like this I simply gave up and from then on would ask for an English newspaper, an English breakfast or a packet of English cigarettes.

But that, as stated earlier, was 25 or 15 years ago. Most Continentals now have no difficulty in distinguishing the difference between England and Scotland and that Great Britain is not just England but a family of three nations – or four nations in the case of the ‘United Kingdom’ (which brings in the Ulstermen).

On television and radio it is now rare for a foreign politician, businessman, academic or even entertainer to use ‘England’ as a synonym for Great Britain. Indeed Americans seem to be the only exception to the rule…..but then that’s the Yanks for you.

There is no doubt to whom most of the credit must go for this amazing turnaround and that is the Scottish National Party in general and Alex Salmond in particular.

This foreign recognition of Scotland as a nation (if not a nation-state) has been growing since the formation of the Scottish Parliament but has accelerated since the SNP became the governing party and, especially, during the lead up to the referendum.

Pro-Union taxpayers may have bristled at the sight of Mr Salmond strutting the world stage like a peacock when he headed a devolved government without responsibility for defence or foreign affairs but they surely have to concede that it in doing so our former First Minister brought to Scotland a measure of international recognition not seen since 1707.

Following her shock by-election victory at Hamilton in 1967, Winnie Ewing famously said: “Stop the world, Scotland wants to get on”. To a certain extent this has already been achieved – in fact, some might see it as, short of independence, the greatest achievement of the SNP so far.

Yet while politicians are usually never slow to bask in the glory of recognition of a job well done, this all seems to have bypassed the SNP hierarchy. During the referendum campaign they became transfixed on social issues and more or less ignored their key role in raising Scotland’s standing in the world, preferring to boast about protecting voters from ‘Tory cuts’ (such as negating the effects of the bedroom tax) and promoting ‘social justice’.

This is the paradox of the contemporary SNP: the closer it gets to its ultimate goal the more it seems to have lost its way on the route mapped out by the founding fathers.

Twitter: @PropPRMan

 

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