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Posted by in August's Magazine

Heard the one about the Englishman, the Irishman and the Scotsman? No? Then read on. The news has been full of pictures of the Middle East, where popular uprisings have seen the people take to the streets in an effort to overthrow the countries’ leaders. Meanwhile the BBC, as is usual at this time of year, had sport on its mind offering the image of Brian Moore, erstwhile England Rugby hooker and bete noire of the Scottish nation leaping to his feet punching the air in celebration, the occasion? An English sporting triumph perhaps? No, it was Andy Murray, darling of Scotland, beating Ivan Lubjic, on the centre court at Wimbledon. In the crowd two days later were Rory Mcllroy and Colin Montgomery, meanwhile Murray was in text contact with David Haye the British World Boxing Champion. These sportsmen had found a common bond, although they were from differing home nations they were British sportsmen supporting and cheering on other British sportsmen. Although on the surface these two items were totally unconnected, both stories provoked in me thoughts of nationhood and self-determination.

Murray’s (still unrealised) assault on Wimbledon, and the debate that rages around it, are in many ways a distilling of myriad discussions on what it means to be British and to live in Britain. However for those of a Nationalist persuasion in Scotland, Murray’s seeming adoption by the English is seen as an unwelcome sign of English arrogance, (Mcllroy’s support is fine because he is Northern Irish). And yet the English are merely displaying the fact they have bought into the ‘British’ idea, Most people down south are pretty clear that Murray is a Scot and, despite his earlier assertions that he would support any team other than England, have for the most part responded by forgiving, forgetting and supporting. Of course were they to reject Murray then the Nationalists would once again bemoan English arrogance and infer that poor Andy was paying the price for being Scottish. To be honest the English can’t win, they are damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

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Historical enmity
Brian Moore’s reaction was interesting and said much of the English psyche. This is a man who knows the difference between being English and what being British is, he is after all an English internationalist and a British & Irish Lion. He played and battled, with and against the best that the home nations could provide. As an England player he wore his heart on his sleeve and he was prepared to take the jibes of a Scottish nation in his stride throughout his career, and yet he was still comfortable to leap to his feet in unadulterated joy as the Flower of Scotland conquered (almost) London SW19.

Nationalists in Scotland talk of a more grown up future, one of mutual respect but often play on the past to engender resentment, focusing on the differences between the two nations and the historical enmity in order to support their political aims. Following the historic victories in the recent elections you would have expected Scotland to be in a ferment of Independence fever, yet the talk in the pubs was of Wimbledon, Alex Salmond’s tirade against the UK Justice System, the fact that the Football season was nearly on us already and, of course, Rangers and Celtic and the anti-sectarian legislation.

Jenifer Dempsie, former advisor to Alex Salmond, wrote in the Scotland on Sunday that ‘the Scottish Independence movement differed from the Basques and Catalans in Spain’, in that ‘they would discuss politics in the bars and restaurants and hold events and concerts as it was intrinsic in their culture’ and that ‘our Independence Vote needs to move into the mainstream away from the chattering classes’. As we move towards the referendum that our political masters deem necessary I can’t help feeling that this particular aim, stems not from a popular uprising but from political ambition. The differences between what is happening in the Middle East and Spain and us could not be starker, there the people are driving the politics, here the politicians are leading the people and as with all politicians I mistrust their motives, be it Unionist or Nationalist.

Cheer to rafters
Which brings me back to our erstwhile Englishman, Scotsman and Irishman, they demonstrated that you can be patriotic to the part of the UK of your birth and blood, that you can give your all for that country and yet you can also count those that were once your opponents and, in centuries past your enemies, as compatriots now and cheer them to the rafters for their exploits. It isn’t in itself a reason for keeping the Union or for not re-examining the way we are governed, however in a world of hatred and war, where one tribe is able to massacre another, where one religion seeks the right to be seen to be the true religion over another, It does give us a glimmer of hope. We can move forward together and, perhaps, sport can conquer all.

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