Distorting our imperial history is dangerous

14 April 2023. By Nigel Biggar for The Times.

As brutal regimes flex their muscles, nationalists’ caricatures of the Empire burden Britain with an imaginary guilt

What moves voters is often not the analysis of policies. When the think tank These Islands conducted a focus-group survey of the Scottish electorate in 2021, it discovered that many supporters of independence did so basically because they trusted Nicola Sturgeon.

Presented with counter-evidence, they would respond: “But that can’t be true, for otherwise Nicola wouldn’t say what she says”. The shine has now come off Sturgeon because her commitment to gender self-recognition broke that trust.

Voters are moved by the perceived trustworthiness of politicians. They’re also moved by the perceived beauty of political visions. Many who support Scottish independence do so not because they’ve analysed the economic pros and cons but because they’re inspired by a vision of an ideal Scotland: variously egalitarian, socially responsible, green, pacific, European.

There’s nothing wrong with that per se. The problem arises, however, when the nationalist ideal inflates itself by a distorted depiction of not-Scotland, of Britain. One such caricature takes the form of the equation Britain equals empire equals evil.

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