Sandy Campbell: Anyone but England?

Posted by in March's Magazine

 Bannockburn, a mere 700 years ago

This story starts in the pubs of Leith during the sun-soaked months of June and July. The occasion, the World Cup and England’s valiant efforts to ‘bring it home’ with a team of thoroughly decent young men, under the inspirational leadership of their manager, Gareth Southgate. Would this new incarnation of refreshing humility and general decency from across the border bring on a softening of the ‘anyone but England’ cries from our side of the Tweed? Alas, it was not to be.


Let me state my own position. Of course, I understand football rivalry; nothing hurts more than to see my team being beaten by Hearts (thankfully a rare occurrence these days). The greatest day of the football part of my life was to witness Hibs win the cup in 2016 ending over a century of hurt. Yet I feel satisfaction (little more) when Hearts beat the Old Firm, and I want all Scottish teams to do well in Europe – yes, including Rangers. 

But the level of venom I witnessed being directed at England (as represented by these personable young men) was, in my view, quite different to anything I’ve witnessed against any club opposition. The constant speculation outside the games as to what life would be like if they actually did ‘bring it home’ seemed to dominate all games, whether England were involved or not. Statements like: “They would never stop going on about it.” and “1966 all over again” dominated pre-match and post- match rants. As if, should Scotland ever win the World Cup, we would keep a modest silence on the matter out of sensitivity to the feelings of our English friends. (Like we don’t go on about Bannockburn – just a mere 700 years ago.)The animated all-encompassing nature of the emotions expressed, coupled with a level of passionate patriotism for Columbia and Croatia, countries we hardly know, left me wondering what the deeper reasons could be for such virulence, expressed in a tournament in which we weren’t even involved. Victimhood has a certain allure these days. And Scotland does victimhood to a band playing. I believe our sense of injustice is inexorably tangled up in the Union and our consequent shared history as an imperial world power. Yet we forget that the Treaty of Union, which those of us on the independence side want to dissolve, was our idea in the first place and was agreed by the only ‘democratic’ measures available in those times; unlike Ireland’s story, which was one of brutal military colonisation. Maybe we were ‘bought and sold for English gold’, yet our ‘parcel of rogues’ did very well out of the Union. Scotland’s men of power thrived on the backs of the Colonised.

But today we like to imagine that all the worst bits of the British Empire were a result of the actions of the English, with the Scots just there on the list of the oppressed. The truth, however, is quite different. We bear at least an equal guilt, if you believe that there is still a dept of guilt to be borne. Glasgow flourished and became the second city of the Empire on the back of the slave trade and tobacco; Edinburgh the home of the Enlightenment. Scots created many financial institutions which thrived on the rise of the British Empire. We even founded the Bank of England. Nyasaland (later Malawi) was, to all intents and purposes, an outpost of the Church of Scotland. 90% of all imperial commissioners in Nigeria were Scots. We dominated the East India Company at a time when Scots made up only a tenth of the population of the British Isles.We Scots indeed have some contradictory truths to face about our complicitness with England’s adventures on the world stage – yet it never thwarted our national pride; only nurturing a grudge that we weren’t getting what we felt should be our fair share of the spoils. I possess a commemorative medal of my grandfather’s from before the First World War with the inscription – “the Empire is ours too”, emblazoned alongside thistles, crowns, lions rampant and Union Jacks. 

Fast forward to today. In my view the relationship between our two countries needs to change radically. My form of nationalism is to love my own country, not to hate others. I do not resent England for being dominant. How could they not be when they outnumber us by 11 to 1? Our grumble should not be with them but with ourselves. The solution is in our hands and yet, in 2014, not enough of us were willing to grasp that particular thistle. Instead, we remain stuck in a familiar state of curmudgeonliness. Perhaps it is more comforting (indeed safer) to add to the litany of glorious defeats than to take the scary step into self-actualisation and leave the resentments of the dysfunctional parental home behind us.

Which is why this July I was supporting England with a fair degree of enthusiasm. Not because they are a part of Britain, the very existence of which I want to see dismantled, but because they are our neighbours and I like their country and their people. So, this Scottish nationalist says to all my English friends, without a glimpse of any gritted teeth: “Well done England! Your boys done good.”

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