MANY of us have an embarrassing middle-aged uncle. You know the type. He used to be quite sensible – even a bit boring - until he had the midlife crisis. Then he left the wife and kids, got a hair transplant and started wearing clothes that are far too tight for him.

His friends and family were worried at first. Then he started turning up at parties drunk and ranting, making a right show of himself. And now he’s either off the guest list or nothing more than an wince-inducing afterthought to be sniggered at by teenagers.

It pains me to say it, but as the recent palaver over blue passports only highlights, England is now Europe’s embarrassing middle-aged uncle.

David Torrance: Nationalist rhetoric is filled with increasingly desperate hyperbole

It has been heading this way since David Cameron arrogantly announced the EU referendum, of course, when the country’s mad relatives (Eurosceptics and Boris Johnson) were let out of the attic and treated as if they were entirely sane. Then it got worse: the lunatics were allowed to take over the asylum, leading us to the bizarre parallel universe we now find ourselves in, as the Brexiters rev their souped-up Ford Cortinas in preparation for driving the UK off the White Cliffs of Dover, and the European Union simply points and laughs at the utter ridiculousness of it all.

But even Scots satirist-in-chief Armando Ianucci, creator of The Thick of It and The Death of Stalin, couldn’t have made up the passport fiasco.

After months of nonsense about the life and death necessity of returning to the old blue British passport as an expression of our national identity, De La Rue, the UK company that makes the burgundy EU one we use now, has lost out on the contract to yes, you’ve guessed it, a European firm that can do the work more cheaply. And since procurement rules say the Government is legally-bound to accept the lowest bid, all this will apparently lead to jobs being lost at the De La Rue factory in the north east of England, a region vociferously in favour of Brexit.

Predictably, the Brexiters are blowing a red, white and blue gasket, and we are now in the surreal situation where right-wingers ideologically opposed to the spending of public money are demanding that the Government splashes even more of our taxes on an expensive quote for a passport that we only need because awful Little Englanders managed to persuade people that any of this matters in the first place. Depressingly, the hysterical petition in support of this increasingly Kafka-esque position currently stands at well over 100,000 signatures.

David Torrance: Nationalist rhetoric is filled with increasingly desperate hyperbole

The innate folly of England’s Brexit misadventure, the bizarre masochism at its heart, the self-destructive “no one likes us and we don’t care” mentality is thus laid bare. Indeed, the utterly pathetic tragedy of it all would almost be humorous if we Scots weren’t being dragged along against our will.

The English used to be feared and respected in equal measure. They were efficiently ruthless, as the masterminding of the British Empire – and, arguably, Thatcherism - proved. But they were also known for the inherent good sense with which they went about their business. This was not a nation that would allow itself to be swept up by revolution in the nineteenth century, or the “isms” – fascism or communism – in the twentieth.

Other countries looked to England as a model of fair-mindedness; the nation’s inherent arrogance was tempered by it. And this sensible, often rather dull country, was capable of confounding itself and others by producing great radical and creative forces, from the Chartists and the Suffragettes, to William Blake, David Bowie and Kate Bush, none of whom could ever have been from anywhere else.

In the twenty first century, however, England has lost its way and allowed itself to be tempted by the malign forces of petty nationalism.

Scotland has also succumbed to some degree, of course, but we seem content to put our narrow-minded energies into daft things like moaning about Union flags on tins of shortbread and boxes of strawberries, and sugar being removed from Irn Bru. England, on the other hand, is a much bigger country, more used to having power and thus far more aggrieved at the changes the modern world has forced upon its declining status.

David Torrance: Nationalist rhetoric is filled with increasingly desperate hyperbole

This isn’t the only reason people in England voted for Brexit, but it is certainly part of the psychology that lies behind it all. And that’s why things like passports seem to play such an exaggerated role in the proceedings, with Brexiters apparently willing to go to Captain Mainwaring lengths of ridiculousness to defend their little piece of Blighty.

It’s hard to tell where all this will end. Perhaps England’s embarrassing midlife crisis will run its course, and our neighbour will see sense, stop making a show of itself, return to staid dependability and abandon all this Brexit nonsense. By God, I hope so. Because until then, the joke is on Scotland too.