Alex Massie Alex Massie

Commemorating the First World War is not a festival of British Nationalism

You should never, these days, under-estimate peoples’ ability to be outraged – outraged, I tells you – by the most innocuous event. Never. There are, after all, a depressing number of chippy morons in this country.

Even so, I confess to being surprised by the hostility with which plans to commemorate the First World War have been met. At least in some quarters. I had thought, naively it is now clear, this commemoration would be uncontroversial, what with the First World War being, by any reckoning, an episode of some seriousness and consequence.

That’s hardly to say that the war’s arguments have been settled. Far from it. Interpreting or understanding the First World War remains a complicated, delicate, business. Accepting that it is an event that deserves to be commemorated, however, is something I’d thought obvious.

But of course I’d forgotten – foolishly, momentarily – that you can never slake a Scotsman’s thirst for grievance. Well, some Scotsmen, anyway. There is a type of Scottish nationalist for whom commemorating the First World War is some kind of obscenity.

Worse than that, actually, it is a “British nationalist” conspiracy designed to put Scotland in its place and remind them that this place remains within the United Kingdom. We must, I suppose, admire the Kaiser’s foresight in launching his war a centenary before Scotland trudges to the polls to decide its future.

I should say that the SNP leadership takes a different view on this. But, as so often, the leadership is more sensible than the movement. More sensible too than some of its own backbenchers. Joan McAlpine, for instance, this week used her propaganda column in the Daily Record to assail David Cameron’s plans for “jingoistic celebrations” of the war.

It should hardly need saying that these “jingoistic celebrations” exist only in fevered nationalist imagination.

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