We in Scotland are living through the early stages of a post-modern 'civil war', as is much of the developed world. Perhaps surprisingly, Scotland is leading the way into the future. There are good, local reasons for this. For most of the 20th century, and arguably for the whole period since the industrial revolution, the essential issue in politics was the battle between capital and labour for a share of the ever-increasing wealth produced by that revolution. You were either rich or poor; socialist or capitalist; white-collar or blue-collar; a union member or an individualist. You belonged to a 'class'.
Since the demise of Jacobitism in the 18th century, the idea of clan identity as a focus of political loyalty was discredited in Scotland. Our post-clan 'clan' became the class we belonged to, or even our niche within that class – like lawyers within the middle class or boilermakers within the working class. These replaced the old loyalties to, for example, the MacDonalds of Glencoe, the Macdonalds of Sleat or the MacDonnells of Antrim and the glens.
The big ideas of the 19th and 20th centuries were defined by two Scotsmen: Adam Smith in the early days of the economic revolution, and Keir Hardie at the dawn of the era of class politics. By inventing the 'science' of the market, Smith defined the rules by which we might, as a community, get rich without stealing our neighbours' resources, as Highland clans had so often done.
Hardie was the founder of parliamentary socialism. He helped to define the limits of greed in the allocation of the new wealth by establishing the principle that conflicts of opinion should be aired in debate at a public forum. Hardie walked to and from parliament in his tweed suit and deerstalker hat, at much the same time as his unrecognised opponent, Vladimir Lenin, was sitting alone at his shabby desk in Paris or Zurich working out how to prevent parliamentary discussion of resource allocation. His solution was violence, and his slogan was: 'Expropriate the expropriators.'
In recent years, we have seen the collapse of Lenin's system and the distortion beyond recognition of Smith's ideas. Hardie is simply forgotten (despite Caroline Benn's interminable biography of him). The 'class war' trenches of the 20th-century day have been abandoned and turned into history theme parks. Today's trenches are the lines of secret code and information that are increasingly defining us all as members of this group or that, whether politically, commercially or personally.
We are no longer members of the international brotherhood of working people, or of the transoceanic professional class to which Scotland contributed so much in the days of empire. Now we are members of searchable categories within a global mass. The result in Scotland is that we are moving into a post-modern form of 'clan' society, in which we increasingly prefer the company of others of our own 'ilk' – by which I mean those who share our buying preferences, our voting habits and our hobbies or charitable giving priorities. The modern form of external identity badge has changed from the clan tartan to our 'check-ins' on Facebook. Much of the vituperation on social media reflects the angry suspiciousness with which the Campbells regarded the MacDonalds, and vice versa. In effect, we've gone from class war back to a new form of clan war.
This change is bringing about a revolution in political thinking which is particularly noticeable in Scotland. The question we are all supposed by our political masters to be asking ourselves these days is this: where do we, as individuals, stand in the heroic battle to make Scotland the most virtuous country in the world? Do we have the ambition to become true believers in Scottish exceptionalism? Do we think that Scottish civic nationalism is more virtuous than, say, English civic nationalism, or Mr Putin's version of that idea?
Speaking for myself, I don't care either way. Scotland is simply my home. I did not spend my younger years trying to 'improve' my parents in order to make my family home more virtuous. The same applies to my national home. Some people aspire to serve it but they cross an important boundary, which Adam Smith would have recognised, if they try to force change upon us all. It is a truth too seldom acknowledged that public virtue comes at the cost of private liberty. Lenin well understood this, but he did not care about liberty. I do.
Part of the reason why Scotland is poised to lead the world in this new war of categories and consumer clans is because it has the resources to compete in the global market for virtue. At the beginning of the industrial revolution, when Smith was writing, England was in a similarly advantageous position in terms of physical resources. It had abundant reserves of coal, iron ore and hilly country with rain, which gave it sustainable hydro-power to drive the mills. Scotland's competitive advantage in the moral revolution today derives from our rich reserves of self-regard. We have massive resources of sectarianism, sanctimonious conceit and xenophobic grievance.
This is nothing new. After all, Keir Hardie himself had his clannish side. He campaigned tirelessly to expel the immigrant Lithuanians and Poles then employed in the Scottish coal mines because they drove down wages and were dirty, garlic-smelling 'carriers of the Black Death', as he put it. (They also happened to be Catholic refugees from Orthodox Tsardom, but we’ll pass over that since most Protestant Scots thought the same way in those days.)
Neither is there anything new in using complaint and self-pity as tools for resource capture. That has a pedigree going back, through 'Oliver Twist' to Biblical times. What is new is the fact that so many Scots take pride in political moaning or whining, rather than keeping it a guilty secret, like membership of a male knitting circle or the feeling that football doesn't matter much. But it doesn't matter, any more than comparative national virtue matters – at least not when it comes at the expense of personal liberty.