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Ruth Davidson's patriotism shows how nationalist Scotland and England have become

The Scottish Conservative and Unionist leader was warning against Orwellian nationalism. 

"In Scotland, political nationalism has introduced the idea that only one side of the constitutional divide can be the authentic voice of 'the people of Scotland'," Ruth Davidson said at the Orwell Foundation in London. "That only it has the right to be heard."

A moment later, a man in the audience sitting at the back of the hushed lecture theatre began to shout. Davidson, a former army reservist, carried on. The implication, she said, was that "those who are not orthodox" are "are alien, we are other". And then, veering off the pre-written speech, she added: "We deserve to be shouted down."

The heckler didn't get it. But we did. Davidson may have come to prominence for her imaginative photo ops, but she is one of the Tories' most reflective thinkers. It is her understanding of Scottish unionism that has propelled her to centre stage, and puts her party - officially the Conservative and Unionist party - in sight of a dozen seats in the general election 2017. 

In a tribute to George Orwell, Davidson borrowed his distinction between patriotism and nationalism to dissect the current state of Scotland. Patriotism, in her eyes, is an attachment to a place that simultaneously acknowledges you could be born anywhere else: "Patriotism simply says: Here’s great. Come on in, the water’s lovely."

Nationalism, on the other hand, is "a state of mind where one ideology, one myth, must take precedence over all else and which demands people support one camp or another". It is "the dichotomisation of a population into the authentic and the inauthentic".

In Scotland, she contends, "nationalism runs deep", and is "a part of the Scottish psyche". Even paid-up Unionist politicians like the early 20th century novelist John Buchan declared: “Every Scotsman should be a Scottish nationalist.”

Davidson believes this kind of nationalism is out of control, and she has plenty of evidence to back it up (the heckler was Exhibit A). In her speech, she quoted the former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who declared that “no self-respecting Scot” would accept a “Westminster Prime Minister…undermining Scottish nationhood”. His successor as First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, responded to the Tory gains in the local elections at the expense of Labour by declaring "Labour let Scotland down."

What makes the half a million who voted Tory so unScottish, Davidson wanted to know. She was born in Scotland and spent her entire career there but "apparently, I have to choose between being Scottish or Conservative."

Davidson knows how to skewer nationalism. Her definition of patriotism matters to pro-union Scots who believe the saltire has been politicised and their identity hijacked. She cares so much about the question that she travelled down to London in the middle of an election campaign to speak to an audience of London academics. When I asked her if there wasn't any political benefit to her position, if she wasn't in fact the perfect enemy for the SNP (another Orwellian trope), she said:

"Genuinely, if it came to a choice between the country or the party, for me, it's the country every day of the week and twice on a Sunday. If we sort this, and the Tory party goes downhill, obviously I'll be sad about that, but I'll still be proud about the part we played in standing up for our place in the UK."

But her analysis could easily apply to English nationalism post-Brexit as well. Davidson shied away from parallels between Scotland, and England. She argued that Theresa May's "strong and stable" campaign message was a world away from "Make America great again" or Marine Le Pen's "In the name of the people". 

Yet Davidson's moderation throws the current nationalist mood into sharp relief. Challenged by a former refugee on the xenophobia she now witnessed, Davidson responded: "If public figures don't speak up and this is allowed to go unchecked, it will get worse. And public figures do need to step up, and I agree with you, and I take responsibility for that."

Which public figures she did not say. But it is surely something the woman inspiring "Crush the Saboteurs" headlines might wish to ponder.


Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines. 

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"We repealed, then forgot": the long shadow of Section 28 homophobia

Why are deeply conservative views about the "promotion" of homosexuality still being reiterated to Scottish school pupils? 

Grim stories of LGBTI children being bullied in school are all too common. But one which emerged over the weekend garnered particular attention - because of the echoes of the infamous Section 28, nearly two decades after it was scrapped.

A 16-year-old pupil of a West Lothian school, who does not wish to be named, told Pink News that staff asked him to remove his small rainbow pride badge because, though they had "no problem" with his sexuality, it was not appropriate to "promote it" in school. It's a blast from the past - the rules against "promoting" homosexuality were repealed in 2000 in Scotland, but the long legacy of Section 28 seems hard to shake off. 

The local authority responsible said in a statement that non-school related badges are not permitted on uniforms, and says it is "committed to equal rights for LGBT people". 

The small badge depicted a rainbow-striped heart, which the pupil said he had brought back from the Edinburgh Pride march the previous weekend. He reportedly "no longer feels comfortable going to school", and said homophobia from staff members felt "much more scar[y] than when I encountered the same from other pupils". 

At a time when four Scottish party leaders are gay, and the new Westminster parliament included a record number of LGBTQ MPs, the political world is making progress in promoting equality. But education, it seems, has not kept up. According to research from LGBT rights campaigners Stonewall, 40 per cent of LGBT pupils across the UK reported being taught nothing about LGBT issues at school. Among trans students, 44 per cent said school staff didn’t know what "trans" even means.

The need for teacher training and curriculum reform is at the top of campaigners' agendas. "We're disappointed but not surprised by this example," says Jordan Daly, the co-founder of Time for Inclusive Education [TIE]. His grassroots campaign focuses on making politicians and wider society aware of the reality LGBTI school students in Scotland face. "We're in schools on a monthly basis, so we know this is by no means an isolated incident." 

Studies have repeatedly shown a startling level of self-harm and mental illness reported by LGBTI school students. Trans students are particularly at risk. In 2015, Daly and colleagues began a tour of schools. Shocking stories included one in which a teacher singled out a trans pupils for ridicule in front of the class. More commonly, though, staff told them the same story: we just don't know what we're allowed to say about gay relationships. 

This is the point, according to Daly - retraining, or rather the lack of it. For some of those teachers trained during the 1980s and 1990s, when Section 28 prevented local authorities from "promoting homosexuality", confusion still reigns about what they can and cannot teach - or even mention in front of their pupils. 

The infamous clause was specific in its homophobia: the "acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" could not be mentioned in schools. But it's been 17 years since the clause was repealed in Scotland - indeed, it was one of the very first acts of the new Scottish Parliament (the rest of the UK followed suit three years later). Why are we still hearing this archaic language? 

"We repealed, we clapped and cheered, and then we just forgot," Daly says. After the bitter campaign in Scotland, in which an alliance of churches led by millionaire businessman Brian Souter poured money into "Keeping the Clause", the government was pleased with its victory, which seemed to establish Holyrood as a progressive political space early on in the life of the parliament. But without updating the curriculum or retraining teaching staff, Daly argues, it left a "massive vacuum" of uncertainty. 

The Stonewall research suggests a similar confusion is likely across the UK. Daly doesn't believe the situation in Scotland is notably worse than in England, and disputes the oft-cited allegation that the issue is somehow worse in Scotland's denominational schools. Homophobia may be "wrapped up in the language of religious belief" in certain schools, he says, but it's "just as much of a problem elsewhere. The TIE campaign doesn't have different strategies for different schools." 

After initial disappointments - their thousands-strong petition to change the curriculum was thrown out by parliament in 2016 - the campaign has won the support of leaders such as Nicola Sturgeon and Kezia Dugdale, and recently, the backing of a majority of MSPs. The Scottish government has set up a working group, and promised a national strategy. 

But for Daly, who himself struggled at a young age with his sexuality and society's failure to accept it, the matter remains an urgent one.  At just 21, he can reel off countless painful stories of young LGBTI students - some of which end in tragedy. One of the saddest elements of the story from St Kentigern's is that the pupil claimed his school was the safest place he had to express his identity, because he was not out at home. Perhaps for a gay pupil in ten years time, that will be a guarantee. 

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