Take a good look at the picture. What do you see? Is it Nicola Sturgeon celebrating a win by Scotland’s football team? Or is it Nicola Sturgeon celebrating Jo Swinson losing her seat? Or is it both those things? Is it graceless and tacky? Or celebratory and inclusive? It matters because people react in radically different ways. It also matters because the image reveals the troubling, Trumpian way in which some independence supporters think.

You may remember when you saw the image for the first time. It was in December 2019 and the results of the General Election were coming in. Nicola Sturgeon was watching them on a monitor and when she realised the Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson had lost her seat, she laughed and cheered and clenched her fists. The First Minister of Scotland then realised she was being filmed and attempted to be a bit more dignified. But it was too late. It had been caught on camera.

To be fair to Ms Sturgeon’s political instincts, she then tried to roll it back when she realised her celebration did not look good. “Sorry, I got over-excited,” she said. “I understand more than most, the pressures and the challenges of leadership and to lose her seat tonight when she's led her party through this campaign will be a bitter blow for her.” Make up your own mind about how heart-felt the apology was, but at least it was an apology.

So why on earth has the clip been used again? It appeared on the First Minister’s Twitter feed on Thursday when Scotland won on penalties, but it was an odd and thoughtless choice. She could have used a picture of the team, or a clip of fans celebrating, or endless flags, or any number of other things, but instead the First Minister, or whoever tweets on her behalf, posted the 2019 election video. There it was again: the clenched fists and the gloating.

But more than being odd and thoughtless, the use of the clip was revealing about the way some supporters of independence think. When critics of Ms Sturgeon said using the video was narcissistic or inappropriate, her supporters defended her; the First Minister, they said, was simply expressing how she and other Scots were feeling about the football; some said the clip showed how “the whole of Scotland” was feeling; others said it didn’t matter that the clip showed Ms Sturgeon celebrating a win for the SNP; and many expressed their hope that the FM would be clenching her fists again some time soon after winning an independence referendum.

You can see the problem, can’t you? What voters of a strong nationalist persuasion tend to do – and they’re often bewildered at the idea that it might be a problem – is conflate concepts that are actually separate: Scotland the nation, national identity, political identity, the Scottish Government, and, arguably, Scottish values. These things can be inter-connected obviously, but they are different and can work in opposition to each other depending on your political views.

However, what many Scottish nationalists do – and their reaction to the Sturgeon clip demonstrates it – is conflate the whole lot: the SNP, Scotland, independence, and, it would seem, Scotland winning at football. In other words, a win for Scotland is the same as a win for the SNP is the same as a defeat for Jo Swinson is the same as hating the Tories is the same as supporting Scottish independence is the same as being Scottish. Trump supporters see things in a similar way: supporting Trump is the same as supporting America is the same as being American. It’s a troubling way to think, but that’s how it works.

You might say in response that, because of the health crisis, the First Minister has been trying to resist the usual conflation of SNP and Scotland, but others might say she hasn’t been trying hard enough and her supporters certainly seem to be unaware of the distinction. So great is the conflation in their minds that some of them even objected to Tories celebrating the football victory. A Scottish win, in their minds, is an SNP win, therefore what are bloody Tories doing celebrating? Everyone knows that Scotland – the whole of Scotland – hates Tories.

Many Scottish nationalists also specifically fail to understand that national identity and political identity can be, and usually are, different things which is why they cannot fathom the idea that the clip of the First Minister might be inappropriate. The First Minister celebrating a political victory and celebrating a win by the football team should, and are, different, but in the minds of many nationalists, they aren’t because their national identity and political identity are identical twins.

The truth – and I’m not quite sure how many times this needs to be said – is most Scots do not think that way. Scottishness (mine and yours) is largely, perhaps totally, irrelevant to our opinions, which is why we are all Scottish but have different views. If the reverse were true, every one of us would hate Tories and support independence. But that’s not how it works, which is why some thought the clip of Ms Sturgeon was joyous and others felt a bit queasy.

One bit of consolation is that the difference of opinion isn’t likely to go away even if support for independence continues to grow. As I’ve said a few times recently, it’s probably a good idea for unionists to prepare, intellectually and emotionally, for a possible defeat on independence, but the good news (and again, this may be something some nationalists will struggle to understand) is that independence and our constitutional status are not the only, or even the pre-eminent, influence on national identity.

What this means in practical terms is the British identity will not disappear in Scotland if we become independent because for many Scots, their identity is not linked to Scotland, its constitutional status, or the SNP. Admittedly, there may come a day when Nicola Sturgeon is again seen pumping the air with her fists, this time at the news Scotland is independent. But the values and identity of many Scots will not be changed by that. There may also come a day when the first election of an independent Scotland proves to Ms Sturgeon once and for all what her supporters struggle to understand: opinions, values, identity, and the SNP are not one and the same thing.

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