CONFINED to barracks due to a cycling race. As reasons for working from home go, it is slightly better than the dog ate my parking permit. As I write, vast swathes of Glasgow, a city that needs further disruption like it needs another fire, have been sectioned off, midway through the working week, to make way for bikes.

To heck with carers trying to reach disabled people, to already struggling high street businesses, to people who cannot work from home. On the upside, it keeps a body out of the war.

Yes, there is a conflict bubbling out there besides the one between Mamils (middle-aged men in Lycra) and drivers. It is one that is always with us, sometimes obvious at other points sotto voce and veiled. It is not about independence. Well, it is to some extent. Comrades, I give you Scotland’s class war.

HeraldScotland: Puzzle, starring Kelly Macdonald

One of the first shots came from the unlikely source of Kelly Macdonald. The Glasgow-born and usually uncontroversial actor who found fame in Trainspotting was asked during an interview if fellow actor and Nairn resident Tilda Swinton counted as being Scottish. Ms Macdonald replied: “I have a problem with people that are Scottish but don’t sound it. I get very, very confused. She’s posh Scottish. Posh Scottish people are really English. I am not posh.”

Ms Swinton could be said to be the very definition of posh. Born in London, daughter of a major-general, privately educated, she has described her voice as being like “something out of 1930s BBC”. Yet woe betide the interviewer who calls her English.


Another barrage came from Max Hastings, the former Telegraph editor who says he is "passionate about all things Scottish". Writing about his forthcoming pilgrimage to the Highlands to fish and shoot, he suggested trading his tweed jacket and breeches for jeans and a T-shirt. Why? Because he and his fellow visitors have noticed that the locals are revolting, or as he puts it: “We have become progressively more conscious that more than a few Scots wish that Englishmen who engage in country pursuits would practise them somewhere else.”

While noting the cash benefits they bring to remote areas that might otherwise never see a tourist, he concedes: “The Highlands and most of their native inhabitants are poor. The spectacle of southerners roaming their hills and glens in huge, glittering 4x4s with fitted champagne bars, searching for things to kill, gnaws at their very fibres.” One wishes Sir Max luck in finding a T-shirt that expresses all of that.


The final salvo, for this week anyway, comes from Edinburgh where a van and a trailer belonging to a charity attracted a snippy note from two residents of a West End street. According to the missive, the vehicles, which belong to another local, were “lowering the tone of the area”.

Bradley Welsh, the van owner, was not surprised. “This is Edinburgh. There’s an upper class and a working class and the divide is very much there.”

To sum up: For a person to be truly Scottish, they must not talk posh, look posh, do posh things, or park their van in a posh street. Are we happy with that, Scotland? While we are at it, should it be conceded that “posh” here often means “English”?

Now this is a can of worms that comes emblazoned with the warning “do not open”. The entire direction of Scottishness in the past few decades has been away from narrow definitions and towards inclusiveness. If you live and work here you are Scottish, right? Failing that, having a Scottish parent or grandparent, or some other forebear who left these shores long ago, was qualification enough. This way, Scottish nationalism came to regard itself as a different kind of nationalism, one that was softer, kinder, more welcoming. Come one, come all. If you are Irish, come into the parlour; if you are Scottish, pull up a chair.

But how welcoming are we when it comes to differences in class or wealth? The following drill will be familiar to anyone with a relative, friend or colleague who does not have a Scottish accent. You introduce Mr A. Some moments later comes the query, “So where do you come from?”. Mr A says Glasgow, Edinburgh, etc. Then the follow-up arrives: “But where are you from originally?” Said with not a shred of maliciousness, but said nevertheless.

Rich Scot/poor Scot is another divide. Is a person who is poor and has lived here all their life more Scottish than one who has moved around and is better off? Is a football fan more Scottish than a rugby supporter? A Highlander more Scottish than someone from the Central Belt? A River City viewer more Scottish than an EastEnders one? We could go on, distilling Scottishness like the finest of whiskies (one more: if you hate whisky, can you be truly Scottish?). Where does Scottishness begin and end?

Scotland is no Shangri-La, free of all prejudice, hatreds, and petty grievances. Let us not believe that guff. But nor should we do ourselves down. You can see Scotland’s essentially welcoming nature in dozens of little kindnesses that take place every day between strangers. You can see it in the demonstrations of support for refugees threatened with eviction. You could even see it yesterday, in those Glaswegians not at all narked at the disruption caused by the cycling and who turned out to cheer on the riders.

But the debates about class and accent show Scottishness is more than a matter of birth certificates. It is a state of mind, and that state of mind is naturally to the left of the political centre, as defined at Westminster. It was not always thus. Every now and again, as with recent gains for the Scottish Conservatives, the pendulum swings, but the left of centre position largely holds.

We may still be talking among ourselves about what it is to be Scottish, but we know for certain what Scottishness is not. It is not Boris and burka bans or Blair and war. It is extending a helping hand, not slamming a door in someone’s face. It is grace under pressure, valuing character above wealth, principles more than provenance. Worry not about Scots. We know who we are.