Why ARE the Scots so sour about the English?


Last updated at 11:42 26 May 2006

Why won't Scotland back England at the World Cup? The Scots certainly appear to have a grievance at the minute, as they recoil at every expression of English nationalist spirit in the build-up to Germany. LEO MCKINSTRY looks at the rocky relationship between Scotland and England

Britain's greatest comic author, P.G. Wodehouse, once hilariously wrote of the Scottish penchant for gloominess: "It has never been hard to tell the difference between a Scotsman with a grievance and a ray of sunshine."

And the Scots certainly appear to have a grievance at the minute, as they recoil at every expression of English nationalist spirit in the build-up to the World Cup in Germany.

While a mood of excitement increasingly grips the country as Sven's men prepare for the tournament, there is absolutely no sense of the Scots joining in the fun. Indeed, just the opposite is true.

Never mind that we English put up with a cabinet dominated by Scotish voices (the new Home Secretary's booming loudest of all). Never mind that we are content for two of our three major political parties to be led by men born north of the border and that we'll even tolerate the Speaker of the Commons being tartan to his fingertips.

Never mind that we endure, with commendable forbearance, the Caledonian accents that prevail on the airwaves, from Andew Marr to Jim Naughtie, via Kirtsy Wark and Lorraine Kelly.

When it comes to England's part in the World Cup, an atmosphere of disgruntlement and dismissiveness, of non-cooperation and antagonism, appears to prevail among those who hail from north of the border.

So Sir Alex Ferguson, the gum-chewing son of the Clyde, who has never lost either his Caledonian accent or his chippiness on the journey south, seems to be doing all he can to prevent England's star player, Wayne Rooney, from taking part in the World Cup.

As the dictator of Old Trafford, he has even presided over the departure of much-respected club doctor Mike Stone, who was deemed too enthusiastic about Rooney's recovery from a broken foot.


Similary, the grandly-titled first Minister of Scotland, Labour apparatchik Jack McConnell, has publicly announced that he will not be following England's fortunes because of other commitments. Even tennis player Andy Murray, whom the English have taken to their hearts, has said he will wear a Paraguay shirt when England play them in their first match.

And when the Chancellor Gordon Brown, a genuine football fan, unlike so many opportunistic politicians, expressed his support for England, he was widely criticised in his native land. In the mindset of all too many of his fellow Scots, it was almost as if he had committed an act of treachery.

Sadly, there is nothing new about Scottish hostility towards the English national football team. The great Manchester United and Scotland striker Denis Law, who played alongside Bobby Charlton at club level in the Sixties, once said that the blackest day of his life was when England won the World Cup in 1966.

He played golf the day of the final so he would not have to watch it on the television. Law's attitude may have appeared eccentric 40 years ago, but it would be commonplace throughout Scotland today.

It is certain that a large section of the tartan population will be cheering on whoever England's opponents are, while anyone walking into a Scottish pub with a T-shirt festooned with the cross of St George will be asking for that traditional local greeting: the Glasgow kiss.

But this deep-seated contempt for England's cause is not just profoundly offensive, it is ludicrous given that we are all part of the same nation.

It's not even as if I'm biased by birth. Like most Irish Protestants, I am partly of Scottish extraction, yet I will be wanting England to win as fervently as any native of Brighton or Barrow. Though I was born and brought up in Ulster, I have always been passionately Anglophile.

I felt that, if I wanted to regard myself as British, if I had any sense of allegiance to the United Kingdom, then it was only right to support our biggest national team.

Many of the happiest moments of my life have involved sporting victories by England, whether it be the Ashes last year or the triumph in the rugby World Cup in 2003.

Yet, to my regret, my passionate support for England has often been questioned by Scots and my fellow Northern Irish. They seem to think anyone born out-side England should automatically be hostile to the country.

Dominated I find this absurd, not just because it seems to be a betrayal of what it means to be British, but also because it is deeply offensive to all the support given by the English to Scotland and Northern Ireland, in taxpayers' money and in tolerance over the years.


Frankly, I am amazed the English have put up with it for so long, especially from the Scots. England pours money into the public sector north of the border, with the result that state spending is 20 per cent higher there.

The English also allow their public life and media to be dominated by Scottish politicians and Scottish voices. But the reverse certainly does not apply.

The Scots are far too focused on their own nationhood to tolerate the English playing the same role in their civic culture.

And there is not the slightest sense of gratitude from the Scots towards the English. Instead, the English have to endure the outstretched palm, asking for more money, or the clenched fist of grievance.

That hostility is woven into the fabric of Scottish history, stretching back to Braveheart and the Battle of Bannockburn. But it was somewhat diluted by the twin forces of the Act of Union in the 18th century and the expansion of the British Empire, which made the Scots more outward-looking.

But the end of Empire, combined with post-industrial decline, gave birth to a new mood of anti-English Scottish nationalism in the Seventies. And this has only been worsened by devolution, not a measure to solve a constitutional problem but essentially an attempt by Labour to buy off the Nationalist vote.

All it has done is awakened an even stronger sense of Scottish national identity. At the same time, it has provoked a phenomenal growth in separate English nationalism.

Before devolution and the endless appeasement of Scottish victimhood, there was a far greater sense of unity. Successes by English heroes, in the arts, sport, science or in battle, were seen as triumphs for the whole nation.

The Union Jack was the national flag of both England and the United Kingdom. The cross of St George was almost a relic of the past.

In fact, until the 1970s, the terms England, Great Britain and the United Kingdom were almost synonymous. Politicians could talk about England, referring to the UK, without provoking howls of outrage from sensitive Celts.

When Nelson signalled on the eve of Trafalgar, that "England expects that every man shall do his duty", he was referring to the whole nation, including those north of the border, who ultimately played an invaluable role in the defeat of Napoleon.

But today, as England prepares for the world cup, every flag you see in the street is the cross of St George. England's successes or failures in the tournament will be ours alone - while Scotland will weep at the former and rejoice in the latter.

In sport, as in public attitudes, hostility between our two proud nations has replaced the mutual respect that once prevailed. And it's hard not to feel that we are all the poorer for it.

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