Spare us the cliches about ‘scottish values’ and meaningless patriotism kevin mckenna opinion the guardian

A segment of the BBC’s Commonwealth Games update on Friday induced a twinkle of pride and mirth. There was Tom Daley, after a gold medal dive, looking sleek and sculpted and speaking about discrimination against LGBT people in other Commonwealth nations. In his moment of triumph, he didn’t espouse patriotic pride but highlighted the repression suffered by people in other lands. And there too was the Welsh rhythmic gymnast Laura Halford winning silver.

In between these two examples of vibrant youth and physical perfection, four middle-aged Scottish men with Jocky Wilson physiques were dancing and hugging each other in the way that Scottish people do at the end of a wedding when they put on Runrig’s version of The Bonnie Banks O’ Loch Lomond.

It was Alex Marshall and his team winning yet another gold medal in the lawn bowls men’s fours. Something about these four men claiming gold seemed human and ordinary and attainable (though there is nothing ordinary about Marshall’s sporting genius). It made me proud and I can’t even begin to explain why.

Billy Connolly was criticised this week for describing himself as “the least patriotic Scot in the world”. His observation came in an interview with the Radio Times where he talked about a programme he has made about the work of the great modern English painter Stanley Spencer. Somewhat predictably, the interviewer raised an eyebrow at the concept of a Scot championing a quintessentially English artist. Sir Billy warmed to his theme. “I do love Scotland but if the love for your country is all you have, you’re in a desperate state.”

If Connolly is the world’s least patriotic Scot then I must be in the running for second least patriotic. When someone reaches for the word “patriotism” then you know that all other attempts at reasonable discourse have been exhausted. The phrases “patriotic Scot” and “Scottish values” are meaningless and empty. The practice of claiming some noble human attributes as especially Scottish is narcissistic. It’s been said that “straight-talking” and “honesty” and “being good with money” and “hard-working” are hallmarks of Scottish people stretching back to the dawn of time.

We Scots are the first to get chippy when we are depicted as overly fond of a drink or prone to keeping our hands in our pockets where money is concerned, or liable to be first into a physical fight. We feel that these descriptions disparage us and that they may even border on racism. So why then do we claim national ownership of human qualities found in similar measures all over the known world?

National governments love the concept of patriotism. The United States has elevated it to the highest of all human virtues. The task of attracting volunteers among working-class youth to fight in economic wars overseas is much easier when it’s been drip-fed into their brains that this is their “patriotic duty”.

Successive UK governments have remorselessly used the idea of military might and the fecundity of the royal family to advance a shallow concept of “Britishness” and that we’re all in this together. The notion of “British values” has been twisted and deployed by the far right and their allies in the Conservative party to sow suspicion and loathing of immigrants.

In the EU referendum, they were used to convey the message that Johnny Foreigner had been bleeding the country dry and trampling all over our sense of “Britishness”. Yet it wasn’t the EU that shut down British heavy industry and then abandoned the communities that it sustained.

It was claimed by some Scottish nationalists that the results of the same referendum in this country showed we were much more Europe-facing and a much more open and welcoming country. The Scottish government joyously participates in an annual Tartan Day parade in New York to mark the contribution of Scots throughout US history. Yet it becomes panic-stricken about the prospect of a St Patrick’s Day parade anywhere in Scotland or a memorial to the victims of the Irish famine to mark the significant contribution of Irish immigrants to our culture and economy.

The concept of love for one’s country troubles me too. How can you love something that doesn’t love you in return and for a set of values which are upheld in most other countries in the world? Certainly, I experience pride when people who live in my country achieve success in the world. It’s why I’ll always admire and cherish Billy Connolly. I never got the impression that Connolly ever spoke for Scotland but he gave a voice to multitudes of people in this country whose voices had previously been maligned and patronised.

I want Scotland to become an independent nation but not because I think we are much different to England or the rest of the UK or that we hold to a higher set of values. I simply want my people to be given back their voice and their ability to plot their own future, not in opposition to other peoples but in harmony with them. You don’t need to be patriotic to desire that.