Why do nationalists delight in peering through the wrong end of the telescope?
THERE are some regrettable Scottish character traits which, if the national psyche were in therapy, our analyst would surely urge us to work on.
Try to lighten up a little, I hear the shrink coaxing. Take five minutes a day to stand in front of a mirror, arch an eyebrow and laugh at yourself. You’ll feel better. Selfdeprecation is good for personal growth and – here’s a tip – others find it charming.
Grow another layer of skin, Scotland. You’re too sensitive, too ready to erupt in indignation when no offence was intended. Sometimes – and try not to fly off the handle here, champ – all this aggression makes you rather hard work. Tedious, actually.
One last thing to consider. It’s the thin end of the telescope that we are supposed to look through, not the thick end. The world does not revolve around you or your politics or your flag or your parliament or your existential angst as a small country next to a large one. The world has bigger fish to fry.
I do not mean to suggest it is all bad news for the national psyche. We are honest and hard-working and lyrical and wistful and wise.
But why is it that, in determining its own character, the Scottish Government immerses itself so readily in so many of our less appealing traits? Why the apparent rush to bear out Englishman PG Wodehouse’s conclusion that a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine are rarely hard to tell apart?
The grievance tearing faces lately in our land’s Rural Economy and Connectivity department was products made in Scotland turning up on supermarket shelves with the wrong flag on them. They bore the Union Flag, which inflames some of our more sensitive and tedious compatriots, not the Saltire, which calms them down again.
Marks & Spencer was guilty of still more egregious horrors. Some English products on its website had labels stating their country of origin as ‘England’. But other Scottish products, including whisky and gin, were described as coming from ‘Great Britain’.
It was, if we engage for a moment those unappealing character traits we are supposed to be working on, a national scandal and an international one too and, in all likelihood, a conspiracy cooked up by the English to oppress us.
Indeed, there were those who contacted Nicola Sturgeon using words to this very effect. ‘England taking over our produce’ was the subject line of one email to the First Minister. ‘I hope that you will try to stop this travesty from continuing,’ it thundered.
Travesty? There is a national obesity crisis. Education is floundering. Scottish NHS waiting times are the worst on record. Our roads are like Swiss cheese. But this was the travesty which had Saltire wavers on Twitter in uproar – and soon had the Scottish Government leaping into action on their behalf.
One can just imagine the eyes rolling at M&S as senior management were informed that a simple labelling oversight had triggered an uprising among excitable up-northerners and now the Holyrood beast was coming to monster them.
‘Who is responsible?’ one can hear them demanding. ‘They’re Scots! We know what they’re like! They’re so uptight they make Yosemite Sam look like a Zen monk!’
Sensibly, M&S rectified the situation immediately, apologised on Twitter, sat down with Rural Economy Secretary Fergus Ewing, took their medicine from him and civil war was averted.
And, of course, it’s true that Scottish labelling on such products as Scotch whisky is desirable for anyone still in doubt about where it is made. But is government involvement in such piffle really required? Is this not why retailers have suggestion boxes and customer service desks and shoppers have freedom to choose where to buy their groceries?
It was not even so much a mistake on M&S’s part (whisky is indeed made in Great Britain) as an inconsistency. Must the Scottish Government rage on our behalf? It couldn’t do what our better selves would try to and laugh it off?
Of course not. Our governmental masters are as chippy as the most sorely in need of chippiness counselling in a land where adorning our shoulders thus is a national pastime. They were never going to let it go.
More cheeringly, they have received a forthright response from soft fruit growers in their own land who report that they are fine with Tesco’s decision to carry a Union Flag on all strawberry and raspberry packaging, wherever in the UK it happened to originate.
Looking through the thin end of the telescope, the growers in Angus, Perthshire, Aberdeenshire and Fife reckon that most British shoppers will have an inkling these places are in Scotland and that the British flag is a selling point for their product too.
Using the telescope in this way, they see that it isn’t all about Saltire-good/Union Flag-bad, that there are benefits in some markets to the classification of their products as British and that they should make the most of them.
From all this food packaging minutiae come important questions for the Scottish Government. In its craven grievance-mongering, can it still tell the difference between itself and an angry online activist?
Do its ballpoints write in green ink? Is its garden the kind of place where children would feel comfortable retrieving their football?
Think on that for next time.