‘I BELIEVE we can build a more secure and united nation by taking action against the extremists who seek to divide us, and standing up to the separatists who wish to tear our country apart.”

I guess the first are Corbyn and his lefties. But is the second me? Or you? Or are we both of these terms? And what will “taking action against” or “standing up to” involve, precisely?

Strange, fevered days. May’s speech in front of Downing Street the other day had one other target, of course – the “bureaucrats of Brussels”, those “who do not want these talks to succeed. Who do not want Britain to prosper.” And that’s a Britain whose “best days lie ahead”, a-brim with “confidence in our country”, which will “stand tall in the world once again”.

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Out of that stack of boilerplate, one chunk is particularly gnarly: “once again”. What is the exact and exceptional nature of the Britain that Brexit is supposed to recover? Given the likely prospect of serious Tory advance across the island, some personal idealisms may need some re-examining.

For years, indy types like me have been waving away the “British Question” by invoking a misty future of Scandinavian or Nordic-style “Britishness”. Surely once we figure out our best confederal or inter-state relationships between a fully autonomous Scotland and the rest of the UK, we can relax into a broad “island” (or even “islands”) story.

A story that admits light and shade, Enlightenment and Empire, glorious achievements and shaming crimes. These “British” isles would be a complex and profound archipelago, beaming all kinds of “soft power” to the world (as the Scandis do).

A zone where historic forces and interests had rearranged themselves with precision and mutual care – and which were modest and constructive about their global impact.

England would begin its properly post-imperial path, recovering its identity by exploring its regional diversity. A family of nations with grown-up relationships, where the maypole meets the ceilidh, etc, etc.

But Brexit has really clobbered all that. In the short term, there’s a direct link between the kind of ultra-Unionism that May now espouses – which even seeks internal enemies of that “unity” – and the terrifying economic challenge of a hard Brexit.

Given the trade-and-geopolitical storms a thoroughly post-EU Britain is about to face, all British-national assets must be tightly battened down – whether it’s natural resources, the nuclear phallus, the “dedication and hard work” she requests of people in her speech.

Thus the short shrift given to any “differentiated” solutions coming from any other part of the kingdom, let alone Nicola Sturgeon’s mandate to seek continued connection to Europe (the threat of violence in Northern Ireland maddeningly excepted).

There can be no unruly departments or branch offices within UK PLC – a single enterprise now competing frantically, and increasingly alone, in the “global race”.

How an indy-majority Scottish Government responds to a British state which now must reverse aspects of devolution, in order to survive a coming economic winter, is a whole other column.

But today I am interested in the kind of British exceptionalism that pulses away at the heart of Brexit – both those who voted for it, and those elites who are steering the outcome. If the British context seems harsher than ever for Scottish progress, we need to figure out what deep emotional investments are driving our adversaries.

The British exceptionalism of the Brexiteer elites is an extraordinary thing. In many ways, it’s as much an act of cult-like “positive psychology” and “learned optimism” as the Yes campaign was accused of.

Take David Davis, when asked whether the UK was up to the challenge of separation from Europe. “Our civil service can cope with World War Two – they can easily cope with this”, he responded. And this days after Boris Johnson had compared French diplomats to Nazi prison camp guards, who threatened “punishment beatings to anybody who seeks to escape” the EU.

You can’t deny the David-Brent-like exuberance here. Take “Empire 2.0”, the cheesy internal nickname given to Foreign Office plans to reconnect with the Commonwealth as a trading network. Or the “Anglosphere” – an assumption that Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US have a natural affinity with the UK. All of this under a rebrand of “Global Britain”, adopting a “Hello, World” stance to far-flung countries and trading partners.

None of this survives contact with reality. Just take the hard numbers on the Commonwealth, as related by the Financial Times. In 2015, 44 per cent of total UK exports of goods and services went to the EU; only 9.5 per cent went to the Commonwealth. Thirty-two Commonwealth countries have free-trade agreements with the EU – and when UK leaves, those countries will have to pay $800 million in additional duties to get into the UK market.

The prospect stinks. By the way, these stats are from the same FT that Micheal Portillo described as the “Daily Remainer” on Thursday’s This Week on BBC. “You’re meant to be a British newspaper”, he bellowed. “Where’s the national interest in all this?” It’s weird to see bits of the elite tear lumps out of each other in public.

But the weirdness goes all the way down. In a brilliant short essay on the Centre For European Reform’s website, Simon Tilford delivers some home truths. “The British need to accept that quite a bit of the world sees Britain’s past differently from the British themselves – and that EU membership often helped to mitigate these historical tensions, while enabling Britain to punch above rather than below its weight.”

But will that acceptance come while characters like Liam Fox make claims that “the UK is one of the few countries in the EU that does not need to bury its 20th-century history”? The comment raised a flurry of reminders of British-inflicted horrors of the last century – the induced famines in India, the Mau-Mau massacres, and indeed the blood-soaked exploitations of the entire Imperial period.

Fox is obviously invoking a Britain as the last line of defence against the Nazis in 1940-41. But as Gideon Rachman writes, this history allows the Brexiteers “to nurture a national self-image as champions of freedom and plucky underdogs, rather than imperialist oppressors.” The way that war imagery and metaphor so easily leaps onto the pages of the Brexit tabloids is a small indication of the psychological laundry tumbling around here.

Is Scotland up to its oxters in British-imperialist gore? Of course it is. Writers and academics like Louise Welsh and Tom Devine, among many others, have made valiant raids on the popular consciousness to remind us of the fact.

Yet do we like to be reminded of it any better than the most jack-waving Brexit voter? Some of us, not so much. Many creatures live in the petri-dish of the Scottish Tory revival, but some of them are certainly reacting against a Scotland that would maturely and complexly assume both its own power and its own responsibilities in the wider world. This is different from a Brexit voter in England, whose Leave vote is a braid of various fears, rages and senses of dispossession, given a British-nationalist voice. Instead, there are hundreds of thousands in Scotland, either complacently affluent or wearily stressed, who reach for the consolations of British exceptionalism as a great simplifier of options.

In a world of chaos, stick with the biggest, most solid boat you can find – even if it’s casting off into uncharted waters, listing a little and rusting a lot more. At least that’s easier than the active demands involved in kick-starting your small country as a nation-state.

Patience, reason and compassion are the last weapons left in my indy armoury. It’s not good for any of us to be rendered as divisive “extremists” and tearing “separatists”. We have to stick to the High Road – indy as the chance for a good society. Perhaps for the sake of our flailing opponents, most of all.