I remember, years ago, having an argument with a friend of a friend about property ownership. He was vehemently opposed to Right to Buy for council house tenants, but when I asked him if he owned his own flat he replied, reluctantly, that he did. Pushed further, he confessed to a degree of hypocrisy.

But the point was that this bout of self-awareness had to be prompted. The friend of a friend, who claimed to be of the Left, was content that his desire to own property was entirely consistent with his opposition to others enjoying the same privilege.

I was reminded of this exchange on reading of leaked internal Labour data showing that a high number of members who have joined the party since last year’s general election are “high status city dwellers”.

Over-represented groups, it went on, “tend to be long-term homeowners from urban areas (particularly inner city area) who have high levels of disposable income”, while those “who are under-represented tend to be either young singles/families who rent properties on a short-term basis and require financial assistance or those who live in rural communities”.

The Herald:

And here was the rub: as a group the former made up four per cent of the general population in contrast to 11.2 per cent of the Labour Party’s membership. Lord Watts recently referred to these as a “London-centric, hard-Left political class who sit around in their £1 million mansions, eating their croissants at breakfast and seeking to lay the foundations for a socialist revolution”.

There used to be a less verbose term, ie “champagne socialists”, those who proclaimed their belief in wealth redistribution while proving remarkably adept at accumulating it. Now of course there’s nothing hypocritical per se about being both wealthy and a socialist, but the contradictions tend to manifest themselves in other, more profound, ways, of which more below.

Champagne socialists, meanwhile, clearly have a Scottish corollary, what might be called “champagne nationalists”. As the former Scottish Government policy chief Alex Bell observed last week, the recent “smattering” of news stories concerning SNP MPs have, ironically, revealed Scotland’s governing party to be “just like other British parties – composed of self-starting entrepreneurial types, Thatcher’s children to a person”.

Bell was referring to stories concerning property portfolios and undeclared business interests, generating a picture, as he put it, “of bustling aspirational types who see no wrong in getting rich”. Indeed, barely a week goes by without such reports featuring Alex Salmond, who’s fast becoming the Tony Blair of the SNP, apparently on a ceaseless quest to increase his income, almost as if he was a freelancer rather than a full-time MP.

Of course Mr Salmond is doing so on a more modest scale than the former Prime Minister and donates a chunk of his earnings to good causes (although so does the much-maligned Blair), but it remains curious. The former First Minister has spent decades maligning grasping, get-rich-quick Tories, and yet it’s not obvious how he draws any sort of political (or moral) distinction between their behaviour and his own.

Another example is the Coatbridge MP Phil Boswell, who late last year admitted to benefitting from a tax loophole despite having campaigned for a crackdown on tax loopholes. But then in a recent book profiling the SNP’s (at last count) 54 MPs, he spoke of his belief “that people should be rewarded, and there’s nothing wrong with paying someone more than someone else if you’ve earned it”.

“The world we live in is very materialistic,” he added for good measure, “but we shouldn’t be frightened to reward hard work.” Again, not a surprising viewpoint coming from a Conservative or (New) Labour MP, but a bit more problematic from one who said he’d “always been Left”. And of course Boswell et al have proclaimed their commitment to “social justice”, it’s just that few seem committed to the degree they’ve actually done anything about it.

Usefully, a few years ago academics at the University of Leicester investigated this phenomenon, studying data gathered in 48 different countries during five periods between 1981 and 2009. Respondents were first asked to rate themselves on a scale of 1-10, with 1 signifying “Left-wing” and 10 signifying “Right-wing”, to determine how they classified their own political beliefs.

Those perceptions were then compared with indicators of the respondents’ actual ideological position, established by asking them whether they believed wealth should be divided more equally. Unsurprisingly there was a gap. “Individuals either choose not to, or are unable to, locate their ideological positions reliably compared to those of the positions of their compatriots,” concluded the study. In other words, where individuals thought they sat on the ideological spectrum was often completely wrong.

Of course folk tend to tell themselves (and others) stories contrived, consciously or subconsciously, to cover up these contradictions. If they earn lots of money or avoid tax they’ll pontificate about “social justice” and vote Labour or SNP rather than Conservative, and if they opt to send their kids to a private school (as is their right), it’ll always be attributed to individual circumstances – say bullying or poor facilities – rather than a desire to endow their offspring with an advantage when it comes to university access and, thereafter, the jobs market.

Many of this latter group are therefore quite content to fork out around £12,500 in school fees but then fulminate against the suggestion they might also contribute towards the cost of university tuition. Perhaps they believe they’ve already paid enough (albeit indirectly) for that coveted place at Edinburgh or St Andrews; as we learned last week, a staggering 35 per cent of medical students in Scotland come from fee-paying schools.

Laying aside the intergenerational inequalities such hypocrisy propagates, perhaps more damaging is the impact on policy making, for in government or opposition these champagne nationalists and socialists retain a proclivity for gesture politics but no corresponding inclination to do much beyond that. The reason independent schooling is rarely discussed in Scotland is that privately-educated professionals disproportionately dominate (although to a lesser extent in politics), and the same is true of those with backgrounds in business, finance, consultancy and the upper echelons of the public sector.

So instead they tinker: making something “free” or tweaking a minor tax while using the word “radical” a lot. It’s why Trident looms so prominently in Corbyn or Sturgeon-generated discourse, and why campaigns to remove statues attracts zealous support from (by any definition) privileged undergraduates. Neither achieves anything concrete, certainly not for the worst off in society, but it’s immediate and makes them feel good about themselves.

Thus the politics of nationalism and the Left invariably becomes little more than massive displacement activity in which thousands of party members and voters are, often unwittingly, complicit. Yesterday John Swinney spoke of building a country (Scotland) which is “prosperous, but fair”, although in reality – and no matter what happens on 5 May – the former adjective will always receive a lot more attention than the latter.