In a part of Britain in which the population still gets overly excited about the ideological alignments of its football clubs, the British flag is not just a neutral patriotic symbol.
Thirteen-year-old Lee Heron was earlier this year sent home from his high school in Newton Stewart, Wigtownshire, for wearing a Union Jack T-shirt his mum had bought him at Primark. This attire, his teacher deemed, was likely to inflame sectarian tension among the pupils.
I do not know enough to pass any comment on the merits of that particular case. But in the local context, the reported decision of some Scottish university Labour clubs to hand out Union Jacks as a freshers’ week recruitment incentive is probably sending the wrong message to an entire section of the population.
Yet even before David Cameron and Alex Salmond agreed the terms of a referendum on Scottish independence – likely to be held in 2014 – Labour has been remarkably anxious to position itself as plus unioniste que les unionistes on this issue.
So it is that former chancellor Alistair Darling – who would no doubt have strongly supported a Nairn thesis-style break-up of Britain at the time when Neil Kinnock famously branded him a ‘bearded Trot’ – has ended up heading Better Together, the main anti-independence campaign.
At least he is likely to end up on the winning side. In the terms in which the argument is currently framed, the Scottish National Party looks set to come a cropper.
After dropping his earlier insistence that Scottish residents be given a chance to tick a box in favour of further devolution, Salmond faces resounding defeat, at least if the opinion polls are anything to go by.
While I personally favour outright Scottish independence – for reasons I have set out elsewhere – this remains a minority outlook on the English left.
Officially, reluctance is expressed as opposition to ‘breaking up the historically constituted unity of the British working class’. Unofficially, the very real fear is that if Scotland leaves us, the parliament of what remains of the UK will be handed to the Tories in perpetuity.
Given that Labour’s heritage is support for Scottish home rule rather than independence proper, let us accept that progressive Sassenach opinion can reasonably differ. What does worry me is the tactical ineptness of Labour’s apparent determination to do the Tories’ heavy lifting for them.
As the joke went after China gifted a couple of pandas to Edinburgh zoo, Scotland now has twice as many ailuropoda melanoleuca than Conservative MPs. If Better Together was reliant on a Tory figurehead, the referendum would be another ballgame altogether.
By entering a formal alliance with the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, Labour is selling itself short, and reinforcing the impression north of the border that little separates the three London-based mainstream parties.
Scottish Labour leader Johann Lamont should think twice about ramping up the quasi-Thatcherite rhetoric in a bid to attack the SNP from the right.
A far better choice would be to oppose independence independently, while pushing for the combination of greater autonomy and greater social justice that most Scots seem to want.