THE cost of living crisis is biting ever harder. Family budgets are at breaking point. Food bills keep rising.

Campaigners report it is the topic most often raised on the doorsteps as the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election approaches its climax. A strange time, then, to get hot under the collar about the origins of a cartoon character.

A battalion of facts has been marshalled in defence of a UK Government poster depicting Dennis the Menace alongside the headline: “Created in London … Unleashed in more than 100 countries.” Underneath is a Union Jack graphic.

The poster provoked anger because, of course, Dennis the Menace was not “created in London” at all but in Dundee and in a bid to deflect attention from that undeniable fact, all sorts of ludicrous nonsense was spouted. The poster was not, we are supposed to believe, about Dennis the Menace the character but about the CGI series produced at the Beano studio in London. So that’s all right, then.

Except it wasn’t all right. No amount of spin could hide the basic fact that this poster was a lie. There was no mistaking that the cartoon image was the same young thug who made his debut in the pages of the Beano comic way back in March 12, 1951. It was clearly yet another indication of the British Government’s determination to slap a Union flag on the most iconic Scottish products.

READ MORE: UK Government poster claims Dennis the Menace was 'created in London'

Dundee West’s SNP MP Chris Law hit the nail on the head when he described it as “cultural appropriation”. Glasgow’s resident superhero genius Mark Millar said it was “madness” and added that Dennis, and presumably his ever-present canine pal Gnasher, was “as Scottish as Sir Sean”.

But rather than apologise for getting upset over something so superficially trivial we should ask instead what lies behind such an obvious mistruth.

What makes this an important issue is not the lie itself but that the UK Government feels so strongly about the issue to go to all the trouble of erasing the rebellious anti-hero’s true roots.

That question itself goes to the heart of why Scotland considers itself to be a different – if not yet an independent – country and why those deeply opposed to independence want nothing more than to destroy that belief and are queuing up to tell us that Scotland is a region rather than a country.

The status Dennis the Menace enjoys as a Scottish icon may not be as clear-cut as you might imagine. There is nothing particularly Scottish about the character himself, or his dog for that matter. In one of those inexplicable coincidences that defy logic, he shares the exact same birthdate as another Dennis the Menace halfway across the globe.

On March 12, 1951, Hank Ketcham published an American Dennis the Menace initially distributed by Post-Hall Syndicate as a syndicated comic strip for newspapers.

It was the exact same day that an issue of the Beano was published by Dundee’s DC Thomson containing the debut of a new character with the same name drawn by David Law.

Although the characters were different – Scotland’s version being altogether meaner than the US cutesy youngster – it was at one time suspected that one of the two creators must have copied the other. There’s no evidence to back up that theory. In a pre-internet age, how could one have known what the other was doing at exactly the same time half a world away? It was impossible.

When the first Dennis the Menace hit the cinema screens in 1983, it was the American character centre-stage. Even when DC Thomson’s Dennis appeared in 2009’s Dennis the Menace and Gnasher TV series, he spoke with an English and not a Scottish accent.

The National:

What’s undeniable is that Scots took our own Dennis to our hearts. Whether it was due to his rebellious nature or his disdain for the accepted standards for childish behaviour, Dennis tore up the rule book. He was a trailblazer too. His comic strip was one of the first to feature a child as the main character. Youngsters loved him... and the Bash Street Kids and Minnie the Minx followed in his wake, both in the Beano.

Dennis the Menace was one of our own, even if the company that created him – DC Thomson – was not quite as universally popular. The historian Tom Nairn once said that Scotland would be free when the last minister is strangled by the last copy of the Sunday Post – a scathing comment on the reactionary parochialism of the company’s flagship newspaper at the time.

The Sunday Post, in common with the majority of the Scottish media, came out against independence in 2014. Its parent company is therefore hardly likely to share the outrage over the rewriting of The Menace’s history.

DC Thomson’s website described the comic – “The art of breaking the rules” – as “one of the most recognisable British brands of all time”. And there – right next to that headline on the website – is a graphic which perfectly illustrates the problem: a montage in which a handful of Scottish icons are overwhelmed by David Bowie, The Beatles, Big Ben, Adele, Mary Berry, Winston Churchill, a Jammy Dodger, Marmite, Paddington, the London Underground, Shakespeare... and on and on and on. It’s endless.

Because that’s where we always stand within the Union – outnumbered, subsumed. Accepting being a small part of something great when we could be something greater by standing on our own feet.

And so we give it all away. Dennis the Menace ... created in London. It’s just petty to complain. Our beef? Stick a Union flag on it because, well, Britain’s the important brand, isn’t it? Scotch whisky? Another great British brand. Share and share alike.

The organisation Keep Scotland The Brand was early to spot how the Union wants it to work. The more Scottish produce you rebrand as British, the less you can point to what makes Scotland distinctive, the less you can define what being Scottish means. We give it away and bit by bit, we lose it. And they hope that when they go further and actively take it away, we don’t even notice.

Hell, we might not even clock that it’s Scotland which bears the brunt of Westminster’s most damaging decisions. It was the case with the poll tax as the 1970s turned into the 80s. And so it was with Brexit, a disaster for the UK as a whole but its worst economic effects have been north of the Border.

Personally I’ve never been one for all that shtick about Scotland being the best country in the world. It’s enough, surely, to be no worse than anywhere else. Certainly no worse than all those other countries that somehow make independence work. But that does not mean we should overlook the great things we do have.

Not understanding the true value of Scottish resources has cost us dearly in the past. Let’s take the most obvious example. Most countries which discover oil emerge richer. The benefits of Scotland’s oil were squandered by Westminster. Not only that – we were criticised as being somehow selfish or parochial when we said so, as if we were wrong to even suggest that such resources were Scottish rather then British.

The same will undoubtedly happen with Scotland’s rich supply of renewable energy. Labour leader Keir Starmer has already raised the prospects of Scotland’s renewables being harnessed to power the UK as if that is something worth celebrating.

How much easier would it be for Westminster if bit by bit Scotland’s identity was subsumed into the UK? Then all our resources would simply be UK resources and Westminster could help themselves to boost once again the south-east at our expense – a massively expensive high-speed rail link from London which will barely reach Euston, anyone?

So the anger over the birthplace of Dennis and Gnasher is about a lot more than just a children’s comic character. It’s just the latest in a long line of moves to convince us that everything good about Scotland comes from Britain. And that’s what makes Westminster the biggest menace of all.