“Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves, Britons never shall be slaves!”
This ultra-patriotic ditty was written by an arch Scottish unionist to celebrate a British victory over Spain.
So it seemed ripe for re-examination, given the rumblings regarding Gibraltar and the escalating lunacy of Tory Brexiteers, of both the born again and fundamentalist variety.
As tunes go, it’s an oldie – but a baddie. A nasty anthem for Brexit and the brand of aggressive unionism promoted by Theresa May and Ruth Davidson.
There is a strand of British nationalism that is as hostile to Scotland as it is to Spain, or indeed any country that doesn't bow at the feet of Britannia.
It is defined by arrogance, a sense of entitlement and a determination to dominate.
It’s all there in Rule Britannia, as inappropriate now as it was in 1739 when penned in the patriotic fervour following the Battle of Porto Bello against Spain.
Britain had triumphed, momentarily, in a remote part of what is now Panama.
It was a colonial skirmish known as The War of Jenkins’ Ear. (Jenkins was a sea captain whose lug was – allegedly – severed by the dastardly Spanish.)
If you have ever watched a Gilbert and Sullivan light opera, this will sound comically familiar.
The song was written by a Borderer, James Thomson, for a party in honour of the Prince of Wales. Thomson was one of those Scots on the make, who took full advantage of the union with England.
While some of his countrymen worried about the loss of Scottish language, identity and sovereignty after the 1707 union, he saw opportunity if he could ingratiate himself with London society.
He was a “North Britisher”, who believed in suppressing the identities of Scots, Irish, Welsh and English into this a new domineering Britishness – personified by the king and his bullish military forces.
You’d have thought we’d have moved on since 1739 but the sentiments which inspired Rule Britannia seem as rabid as ever in May’s increasingly deluded Britain.
Read the rest of my column here.