When Scotland failed to qualify for the World Cup, its political leader, First Minister Jack McConnell, said he would support any team playing against England. So, according to a poll, would two-thirds of the population of Scotland.
Following Mr. Connell’s announcement, a 7-year-old boy wearing an English St. George’s Cross on his T-shirt and kicking a football in a park with his father in Edinburgh was punched in the head by an adult attacker who screamed: “This is Scotland, not ****ing England!” Athough many Scots expressed shame and apologies to the “wee boy,” this was only the beginning of a series of vicious incidents. In Aberdeen a disabled man was dragged from a car and attacked for showing a St. George’s Cross flag. In Linwood, Renfrewshire, two England supporters aged 19 and 36 were hospitalized after being beaten up by Scots when they toasted England’s victory over Trinidad and Tobago.
When these incidents were reported in the press, readers’ letters revealed many similar happenings, such as: “I am a swerving soldier and I and many other English families in our area are sick of being targetted by your yobs…targetting parked cars with English flags, ripping down English flags from houses…” A former Royal Air Force man wrote: “The last time I was [in Scotland] I was openly insulted and will not return.”
Leading London journalist Stephen Glover wrote: “An Englishman living in Scotland displayed the St. George’s flag outside his house by way of identifying with England’s World Cup team. His windows were smashed. The same man says that abuse was also hurled at him when he went to his local shop wearing an England strip….Whenever I visit Scotland, I am amazed at how self-preoccupied the country has become…I mourn for my disintegrating country. Some profound re-shaping of national identity is taking place. I grow more and more fearful.”
England-Scotland football matches have been banned because of vicious fighting. English conventions at Scottish hotels have been canceled.
Scottish politicians complained that the BBC chose as a World Cup theme tune Handel’s “See the Conquering Hero Comes,” which — as if any rational person cared! — was originally written in tribute to the Duke of Cumberland who defeated Bonnie Prince Charlie’s forces at the battle of Culloden in 1746 (to add piquancy to this, Cumberland had large numbers of Scots on his side, while Bonny Prince Charlie’s very claim to Scottish nationality was more than a little dubious).
Normally, when federal states like the U.S., Australia, and Canada are engaged in international sporting contests, people put aside state rivalries and support the national team as a matter of course. That things are going so differently in Britain shows one aspect of an increasingly dysfunctional political culture.
A Scottish police spokesman said: “We will not be advising people not to wear English shirts.” What is astounding is that this needed to be said at all.
What is happening between England and Scotland is really nothing to do with sporting rivalry. It is to do with a surging nationalistic and political hatred that has flourished since the Blair government granted Scotland its own National Assembly, and, perhaps co-incidentally, the adversary culture stepped up a general attack on established British history and traditions. In a number of visits to Scotland since 1973 I had never until recently encountered anything remotely like it.
However, a couple of years ago I drove along the England-Scotland border with the Australian poet Les Murray, who does periodic reading tours in the area. Among other things we were exploring the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall, which the Roman Emperor built across the island to keep out the northern barbarians.
I commented on the number of St. George’s flags on the windows of cars and houses of the English side of the border. Les told me they were becoming more frequent every year, in reaction to Scottish nationalism on the other side. I have Scots relatives who recently moved to England partly in disgust at the growing anti-English obsession and extremism in Scotland.
Meanwhile the conservative London Daily Telegraph recently opined: “Only rarely these days do we hear … the use of ‘England’ to mean ‘Britain.’ In 1966, England flew the union flag almost to a man; today, they have finally grasped the difference…”
Scotland’s favored financial treatment is also provoking something deeper than resentment in England. A House of Commons committee reports that a majority of people in England now oppose a Scot becoming Prime Minister. Lloyd George was Welsh, Ramsay McDonald and Sir Alec Douglas-Home were Scots, but all were thought of as British, with no question about their British patriotism. Nor was the Scottish background of Tony Blair and a large number of his ministers an issue when New Labour came to office in 1997.
England and Scotland have Labour governments in deep trouble. In Scotland, where the Tories are comprehensively wrecked, the next government may be Scottish Nationalists, who may well encourage even more extremism.
From the day it gained office in Britain New Labour, in an ambiguous alliance with forces further left, has either initiated or connived at loosening, weakening, unscrewing and generally damaging the structures of virtually every British institution and tradition. Its crowning achievement may be the actual destruction of the United Kingdom.