We all do it: look back at our lives and edit out the bad bits and emphasise the good bits. It’s a way of staying sane and putting unhappy experiences into perspective. But when it happens collectively, as a nation, when we all do it together, when we edit the story of the entire country to make ourselves look good, or heroic, or hard-done-by, we have a problem. Scotland has a problem.

Nicola Sturgeon touched on what’s causing the issue the other day when she was asked whether black history should be included in the school curriculum. Yes it should, she said, because children need to have a better understanding of their identity and where they come from and Scotland’s history, good and bad. “And when it comes to colonialism and slavery,” she said, “there are aspects of Scotland’s history that are pretty shameful and we have to be prepared to face up to that.”

I agree with Nicola. I also agree with the historian Tom Devine – who would dare do anything else? – when he too said last week that Scots have failed to face up to their involvement in the slave trade and I agree with him about the reason for it: the Scottish sense of victimhood. “It is very difficult for a people who see themselves as victims,” said Sir Tom, “to accept that in their history they had also been oppressors.”

READ MORE: Mark Smith: Staff are refusing to work on JK Rowling’s new book because of her trans comments. Good on them

But this is where it gets complicated. Most of us would probably agree that a consensus is building that Scots need to do more to acknowledge and disseminate the fact that we were deeply involved in colonialism and slavery. Indeed, in his 1999 book The Scottish Nation, Tom Devine goes further: not only were Scots involved in imperialism, the Scottish missionaries that were to the fore in Africa, India, and elsewhere gave it a moral imperative. In other words, not only were we up to our oxters in it, we convinced everyone that building a British empire was the right and moral thing to do; God’s work.

The question is though: to what extent is a sense of victimhood, and a denial of the true picture, still a problem? Sir Tom believes things started to change in the 90s and that a greater interest in Scottishness led to a greater willingness by Scots to accept their past, but I’m inclined to agree with Nicola Sturgeon that the problem hasn’t really gone away and that there’s more to do in facing up to the shameful parts of our past. Ms Sturgeon was talking about schools, but it doesn’t end there: there’s politics, popular culture, social media, everywhere.

And that’s the problem with the tendency to turn away from the more shameful bits of history and see ourselves as victims – ones who suffer rather than ones who inflict suffering – because it’s pretty much there wherever you look. Many of our most celebrated historical figures are icons of suffering – Mary Queen of Scots in particular – but I’m afraid you can also see the same narrative in 2020 in the way some nationalists argue for independence: we must be free, they say, because under the English we are suffering.

This mentality of suffering is also particularly prevalent in the way Scots see conflict – a point well explained in a recent Zoom chat I sat in on involving some of the historians who belong to the Scots at War Living History Society. One of the great myths about the First World War, they said, is that Scots suffered more per capita than other parts of the UK and that the infantrymen who were sent over as canon fodder were disproportionately Scottish.

READ MORE: Mark Smith: What the row over Glasgow's war memorials tells us about ourselves

None of it’s true. Scots weren’t just infantrymen being sent over the top by English toffs, they were officers and doctors and they didn’t just serve in Scottish regiments. There were also Scots in the general staff and, of course, the man who was running the whole thing, Douglas Haig, was a Scot, the point being that there were Scots at the top of the British Army and at the top of British society and British government and they’re still there today.

Getting more Scots to accept this point is not going to be easy though, as one of the historians who took part in the Zoom call, James Taub, pointed out. When people have identified with a message all their lives, he said, they’re going to be reluctant to change. What’s more, as Mr Taub said, much of the modern Scottish identity comes out of our perception of important historical events and the idea that Scots suffered more. History isn’t just who we were, it’s who we are, and that’s true even when we’ve got the history wrong.

Which leaves us with the difficult job of putting it right. Nicola Sturgeon is unlikely to agree that the tendency to see ourselves as victims rather than oppressors feeds into the way some nationalists frame the case for independence. But the First Minister does seem to be suggesting that we’ve been getting it wrong in the way we educate children about some of our history. In supporting the inclusion of black history in the curriculum, she also seems to be suggesting children need to know more about the role Scotland played in the oppression of colonialism and that’s undoubtedly a good idea.

READ MORE: Mark Smith: Cruel and unjustified: the legal case against the Scottish Government that you might not have heard about

However, it needs to go further than that because we’re all guilty of telling the same, wrong story. We do it when we talk about English imperialists and don’t talk about Scottish ones. We do it when we talk about our lonely imprisoned queens and not our brutal warrior kings. And we do it when we talk about Scottish infantrymen on the Western Front and not the Scottish officers who were running the war.

And we do it too, I’m afraid, when we talk today about Scots suffering in the shackles of the UK. The idea, I suppose, is that Scots have suffered disproportionately in the past and that we’re still suffering now and in some ways, the story is understandable – the role of victim is better than the role of oppressor. But the truth is we have always been both and it’s time for what Nicola Sturgeon says she wants: a proper understanding of history, the story of the good and the bad, the story of who we were and who we are.

Our columns are a platform for writers to express their opinions. They do not necessarily represent the views of The Herald.