WHEN I saw the words “F*** off Scotland”.trending on social media over the last few days, it made me think of that line from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: “How shall we f*** off, oh Lord?”

The insult may have began as a hashtag on social media cooked up by English Brexiteers angry that Scottish judges had ruled Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s proroguing of Parliament illegal, but it’s become a phrase which sums up everything that’s wrong with the union.

Those three, crude words explain succinctly the subterranean discontent between Scotland and England. Many in England see Scotland as standing in their country’s way, so the Scots should ‘f*** off’; and many Scots would happily ‘f*** off’ to be rid of the union.

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Of course, there’s many English and Scots who think in much more sophisticated terms, and plenty who’ve nothing but feelings of friendship for their fellow countrymen and women on the other side of the border, but there’s something in the harshness and simplicity of the insult which speaks of disturbing truths when it comes to Scotland and England. The narrative is one of uneasiness, simmering anger, growing distrust, and a sense that, as things stand, we’d probably be best going our own separate ways before it gets worse.

That three-word hashtag is in essence the public expression of a significant slice of popular opinion. A vocal group in one part of the union - England - is telling an entire other part of the union - Scotland - to sling its hook in no uncertain terms. England is sick of Scotland, and the Scots are no longer wanted. That’s what the insult symbolises.

Support for and against independence is fairly evenly split – a poll in August showed Yes on 46 and No on 43, a poll this month had Yes at 43 and No at 44 – so the insult backfired from the get-go. You can’t really tell someone to get lost when they’re already heading for the door.

Independence supporters began riffing on the insult, saying on social media just how desperate they were ‘to f*** off’. I’ll get my coat, seemed to be the overwhelming response. Many Scots took the insult and kicked it straight back at those doling it out.

Insults are curious things – they often say more about the people wielding the words than those on the receiving end. If you have to turn to insults then you’ve probably lost the argument. So, when it came to ‘F*** Off Scotland’, the words said more about the emptiness of English nationalism, than they managed to hurt the nation or people of Scotland, which was the intention after all.

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Social media is the curse of humanity – a bottomless pit of stupidity and cruelty – but it does reflect our darkest thoughts, perhaps darkest truths, back at us. And here it was showing us the basest thoughts, the most disappointing truths, about the relationship between Scotland and England.

The crudity of ‘F*** Off Scotland’ is reflected in more nuanced polling. UK-wide surveys show widespread support for a second independence referendum and a poll on a united Ireland. When Don’t Knows are removed, 60 per cent favour a second Scottish independence ballot, and 73 per cent support a vote on Irish unity. Some could read those figures as a large proportion of the rest of the UK saying ‘why don’t you troublesome Celts have your vote and go - let England get on with her affairs without your interference’.

Why would Scotland and Ulster want to hang around? Brexit has eaten British democracy alive, and risks undermining the rule of law. There’s complete disregard for the will of the Scottish and Northern Irish people when it comes to Europe, and Brexit directly threatens the Good Friday Agreement.

Tory members have said they’d willingly sacrifice the union for Brexit. Asked whether they’d rather avert Brexit if it led to Scotland or Northern Ireland breaking away from the UK, respectively 63 per cent and 59 per cent of party members said they’d be willing to pay for Brexit with the end of the United Kingdom. If the Conservative and Unionist Party can’t be bothered defending the union any more, why on Earth should the average person in the street in Edinburgh or Belfast, Derry or Glasgow?

The direction of travel doesn’t look likely to change in favour of Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Conservatives are now sitting at 37 per cent in the polls, while Labour is on 25 per cent. The Brexit Party is on 13 per cent, and the Lib Dems are down one point to 16 per cent. If you’re in the majority in Scotland and Northern Ireland, and support remaining in the EU, then those nationwide electoral maths are designed to unsettle.

However, if Scotland did ‘f*** off’ we now know we’d be in a much better place than we were back in 2014. Back then, the EU was certainly not on the side of independence. Scotland was told by Spanish premier Mariano Rajoy that the country “would remain outside the European Union” if it voted for independence. Even Ireland said an independent Scotland would have a long wait after applying for EU membership. Many Scots voted No in order to protect their European identity.

Now, though, Belgium’s ex-PM and the former president of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, says EU attitudes to Scottish independence have changed. There’s now “much more sympathy”.

There’s a cynical power-play by European figures here, of course: Brussels will oppose independence as long as the UK is a good EU member, but as soon as the UK meddles with Brexit then Brussels will start to look more favourably on independence movements.

However, Van Rompuy’s comments certainly mean that any second independence referendum won’t be muddied by will-we-won’t-we arguments about EU membership.

Hardline English Brexiteers may think they’ve a new insult to play with, but in truth it’s Scotland which has friends in Europe now, and that means if we do one day decide to ‘f*** off’ then we won’t be left standing all alone. The same cannot be said now of any future England in a post-Brexit world.

Neil Mackay is Scotland’s Columnist of the Year