Scotland’s government is hauling down the Union flag. Until now, Britain’s oddly modernist, crazy-paving national banner has flown on state buildings whenever there is a special occasion or anniversary — the Queen’s birthday, for example. Henceforth, it will fly only once a year, on Remembrance Sunday, our version of Veterans Day.
To put this in perspective, the rainbow flag will fly from Scottish state buildings four times as often: to mark gay pride marches in Glasgow and Edinburgh, as well as the start of LGBT History Month on Feb. 1, and the International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, and Transphobia on May 17.
I can’t help feeling that there is something disproportionate here. How do you suppose we’d be doing in our struggle “against homophobia, biphobia and transphobia” if it hadn’t been for the sacrifice of those we honor on Remembrance Sunday? I mean, arguments about non-gender-specific bathrooms are all well and good, but I can’t help feeling that they’re a little trivial when set against the Nazis’ record of arresting 100,000 gay men (being gay, even without engaging in homosexual acts, was an offense in the Third Reich) and murdering many of them in concentration camps.
Such is modern politics: self-absorbed, ahistorical, virtue-signaling, and utterly lacking in perspective. What is most striking here, though, is the small-mindedness of the decision.
Scots voted to remain British just over three years ago. That vote, all sides agreed in advance, would settle the issue for a generation. But when Britain voted to leave the European Union shortly afterwards, the leader of the Scottish government, Nicola Sturgeon, thought she saw an opportunity to reopen the issue, because Scotland, unlike England and Wales, had voted to stay in.
Independence, Sturgeon argued, was now the way to keep Scotland in the E.U. (She glossed over the fact that, during the independence referendum in 2014, she had effectively been arguing that Scotland should leave the E.U., since that would have been an immediate consequence of leaving the U.K.)
Unfortunately for her, Scottish voters disagreed. Far from becoming more separatist, they became more unionist. The latest opinion poll shows that 50 percent would vote to stay in the U.K., 37 percent to leave — a finding in line with most polls over the past year. Eventually, Sturgeon had to drop her plan for a second referendum. Removing the Union flag from government buildings is a final petty and petulant gesture of defeat.
The really fascinating thing here, though, is the way in which we glimpse a hierarchy of patriotisms. While not all Leftists back Scottish nationalism, almost all regard it as a legitimate cause. The same is not true of British nationalism, which is uniformly condemned by progressives.
You want Scotland to leave the U.K.? Radical! You want Catalonia to leave Spain? Cool! You want Kurdistan to leave Iraq? Right on!
You want Britain to leave the E.U.? Racist! Xenophobe! Bigot!
The same double-standard applies, even more lopsidedly, against the U.S. It’s fine to support Angolan nationalism or Venezuelan nationalism or Palestinian nationalism. But support American nationalism, and you’re either a blundering imperialist or a selfish isolationist (because, naturally, America is damned whatever it does).
I’ve often wondered why this asymmetry exists. After all, you’d think that Left-wingers would find much to celebrate in the Anglo-American tradition of liberty. English-speaking societies have traditionally been freer and more equal than rival civilizations. There have been few places on Earth where the individual is less subject to oppression, or likelier to enjoy protections such as habeas corpus and jury trials. And there have been hardly any places where living standards for the masses have been so high. At almost any point in its history, you’d rather have been poor in the U.S. than in Russia or China or Ethiopia or Brazil.
But, of course, if you insist on seeing the world as a pyramid of privilege, you will never sympathize with powerful countries. The same combination of law and liberty that made them free made them rich, and so, they lack the virtue of victimhood.
Scotland, on this reading, being smaller and poorer than England, must somehow be oppressed. Never mind that the original union was much closer to being a Scottish annexation of England rather than the other way around.
Never mind, either, that Scots are plainly comfortable with the arrangement, having just voted to maintain it. And never mind that messing about with flags would, in other contexts, be seen as narrow-minded nationalism. Victim status is all that counts. Once you claim it, you get a pass on almost everything else.
Daniel Hannan, a Washington Examiner columnist, is a British member of the European Parliament.