A MATURE sense of independence would not seek to diminish the patriotism of Scottish Unionists. Yet, during the first referendum campaign there were some on the Yes side who sought to imply this and more. Thus, if you were at ease with the Union flag and the notion of the United Kingdom you might be considered something less than fully Scottish.

The official Unionist strategy during that campaign was characterised by an assortment of myths and half-truths spun into a dark confection. These ranged from the cost of decommissioning oil rigs decades in the future; scaring the elderly about their pensions; rough checks at the border and, the biggest one of all: being dragged out of the European Union. Some Scottish nationalists didn’t help themselves either and the concept of somehow being deemed less than 100% Scottish simply for voting to maintain the constitutional status quo was the most regrettable.

There were many valid reasons why a majority of Scottish citizens voted to remain in the UK. Many coalesced around a sense of shared cultural values and close family connections. Others could be found in a fond regard for the Queen or bequeathed memories of the great struggle against fascism. I suspect, too, there were many who had little affection for the union and were enchanted by the idea of an independent Scotland. These became the principal targets of Project Fear and uncertainty over the currency helped edge them towards the No camp.

To deploy words like treachery and cowardice in criticising these Scots also undermined the essential decency that lay at the heart of the SNP striving to ensure that the 400,000 English people living in Scotland also had the right to vote on our constitutional future. This also characterises Nicola Sturgeon’s repeated calls for all immigrants to see in Scotland a safe haven and to be regarded as Scottish when they get here.

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The First Minister never attaches a requirement to vote Yes in any future independence referendum. I suppose it’s this, more than anything else, which reinforces the belief that Scottish nationalism is something nobler than the versions currently in vogue across several European administrations and which seems to drive the increasingly muscular proponents of a hard Brexit.

By dint of having been a former UK Prime Minister and chancellor Gordon Brown is given free rein to inveigh against the evils of Scottish nationalism. His scripts on these occasions draw from the same well of fiction that he often visited during the first referendum on independence. This week he described Scottish nationalists as “pushing a more extreme form of separation” while conflating it with the DUP and Boris Johnson’s extreme English nationalism. Mr Brown wrote: “As the Second World War ended, George Orwell made a distinction between patriots who instinctively love their country and the opposite, a political nationalism that he defined as ‘power-hungry tempered by self-deception’".

Mr Brown remains one of the ablest politicians to have emerged from Scotland but this is unworthy of his status. He must know that this is a gross distortion of what drives Scottish independence and nationalist politicians who share his ideas of social democracy.

My Herald colleague Marianne Taylor recently chided him elegantly for this when she wrote: “It's the underlying slur in these regular dispatches that immediately turns folk off, the insult to the intelligence of Scots, and indeed everyone else in the UK, in the way he equates the “toxic nationalism” of Boris Johnson’s no-deal crusade with Scotland’s right to choose a different future.”

If you were being unkind you might conclude that much of this is the rage of a latterday King Lear in a sad and unedifying attempt to remind people that he was once important. Mr Brown, though, has a chance to redeem himself. Soon he may have to accept the reality of an independent Scotland and at such a point he will have a decision to make. Does he continue his self-indulgent and increasingly bizarre rants against the iniquities of Scottish nationalism or does he use that big brain of his and those considerable gifts of oratory to convey a more positive and unifying message?

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Earlier this year the Office for National Statistics revealed that Scotland’s annual population growth rate had stalled. Last year’s growth of 0.6% was the same as the previous year and is slower than any year since mid-2004. There were also fewer children born in Scotland than in any of the last ten years, while the number of deaths was the highest since 2000.

Among the challenges facing an independent Scotland will be to increase its population by attracting immigrants who can contribute to the stability and growth of our economy. Presumably, the large number of English people who already live here will attest to a high quality of life where their aspirations for themselves and their families are being met. As yet, the status of EU nationals in England after a no-deal Brexit remains precarious. Scotland’s First Minister has already reached out to them to make a home in a Scotland which will strive to re-join the EU and guarantee all of their rights as citizens of Scotland.

Many have already begun to encounter the hostile environment deliberately created by English Conservatives and led by Theresa May as Home Secretary. The ground is already being prepared for a new phase of hostility as the advocates of No Deal begin to blame the intransigent EU for hard Brexit. Any post-Brexit consequences will be laid at their door too, and Dominic Cummings, the master of Leave's social media smoke and mirrors, has been hired to ensure that such a narrative seeps into the consciousness of Middle England. In such a scenario Scotland will indeed become a haven not only for them but to many English families who may also desire to escape the chill that’s coming.

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I respect Mr Brown’s love for the Union and I recoil at the thought that this makes him anything less than authentically Scottish. In turn I would urge him not to disfigure his reputation with immature mud-slinging against independence. By all means, as a proud Briton, preach against the hard-right rhetoric of Brexit. But please, Mr Brown leave the cheap tricks to snake oil salesmen and conjurors like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings.