My England My Scotland

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Thistle Versus Rose: 700 Years of Winding up the Scots by Albert Jack (2014)

Introduction

As a proud Englishman, I am also a Scottish nationalist. That is, of course, in the same way that I may be considered a lesbian. I am in favour of all the same things. I fully understand. I am sympathetic. I see where you are all coming from. The love of a lovely woman and an independent Scotland would both do me nicely, thanks. We are on the same side.

The rivalry between the English and the Scots has been going on as long as history itself. No sooner did man learn to walk upright and light a fire than the people from the colder end of this island started arguing with the Sassenachs over who owned what cave, where the goats could be grazed and whose unevolved woman belonged to whom. (Not unlike parts of Scotland today.)

And this is the perfect time to examine such a rivalry, what with 2014 being the 700th anniversary of Scotland’s original bid for independence when spider-inspired Robert the Bruce laid a trap for the effeminate King Edward II near a small stream called Bannockburn, south of Stirling. But what has really got me going is Scotland’s referendum in September when everyone north of the border gets to vote on whether they want out of the United Kingdom or not.

I have two major issues with this referendum. The first is why so many of the prominent, high-profile Scottish nationalists who have been calling so loudly for independence no longer live in Scotland. I could name the actors and the tartan-wearing pop singers I refer to but what would that achieve? My point is; the notable thing about the Scots is, as soon as they can afford to leave, they usually do. My other irritation is that while these expatriate patriots are respectfully listened to, we English aren’t even eligible to vote in this referendum that affects us all. But that is probably just as well because it could result in the strange situation of the Scots voting to stay in and the English voting them out.

So, if the Scots were to hand back everything we’d given them when we waved them on their un-merry way, then how would they be affected? Well for one thing I doubt they’ll be very happy when they start having to queue up at Immigration. Imagine that.

Applying for an English visa just to pop across the border to Berwick for their weekly shopping. And then having to pay import duty on the way home. And don’t anybody north of the border expect the European Union to recognise an independent Scotland any time soon.

That would be seen as a green light for every other backward-thinking province and region in Europe to start demanding independence. For example, an independent Scotland would give the Basque people of Spain ideas above their station, and what would happen then?

So Scotland’s independence from England means independence from Europe as well. Not a glorious separate European state at all. Far from it. Don’t think Italy, Portugal or the Netherlands: think Andorra, San Marino or Liechtenstein instead.

We even introduced the Scots to their national dish. Haggis was actually invented in Scandinavia by the Vikings (haggva is Old Norse for ‘to chop up’), who brought it along when they invaded England. ‘Hegese’, as it was then called, was very popular in medieval times (English tastes were more primitive then) and was first written about in 1430: Scotland only formally adopted it during the eighteenth century. So that’s haggis off the menu for an independent Scotland.

Not to mention the Scotch egg, which was brought back to England from India by the soldiers of the Empire and worked up for Victorian picnics by London’s Fortnum and Mason. And Scotch broth, which turns out to be a very English soup (its name is a dig at the legendary meanness of the Scots as it’s something that can be made from very cheap ingredients). And that’s just the starters.

Our pathetic Chancellor has threatened them with the removal of the pound but what about if we took back our language too? There is no question that the good people from north of the border would struggle without English. A recent census revealed that as few as one per cent of the population can speak Gaelic.

But this brings us to the question of who is actually Scottish and who is actually English anyway? Those lines blurred a long time ago. I have a friend who insists he is Scottish because he supports Glasgow Rangers.

I keep telling him he isn’t but he will not listen and wants me to mind my own business. But my evidence is compelling. Namely that he was born in Newcastle and has a Geordie accent. But that is not good enough for him and so he is Scottish.

Mind you, he has made a few quid and lives in Los Angeles now so that doesn’t matter anyway.

Even Scotland’s very own patron saint, St Andrew, wasn’t a local boy. He was a disciple of John the Baptist and was born somewhere near the Sea of Galilee. He has also been adopted by Russia, Malta, Cyprus, Ukraine, Sicily and, because he apparently told Jesus that story about the loaves and the fishes, is also the patron saint of the Association of Fishmongers.

He was later crucified on a saltire cross (that’s an X-shape if you are reading this in Glasgow), which accounts for the Scottish flag, but there is no record of him ever visiting Scotland. He had probably never even heard of it. Mind you, England’s St George was himself a Roman soldier, the son of a Greek Christian.

While it’s just about possible he may have spent time in Albion, as the legends have it, he certainly didn’t slay any dragons. So I think honours are about even in the saints debate.

So you can see it is complicated. So complicated that our little group of islands in the North Sea can’t even decide what to call ourselves now, while we are united. Is it England, as many insist? Or is it the British Isles? How about Great Britain? No? OK, try the United Kingdom then.

Could it just be Britain, as the Americans believe? I don’t know why I just brought them into the debate; what do they know about our history? They have precious little of their own. In England and Scotland we have schools that are three times as old as America. Even some of our town toilets are older than America. Forget I mentioned them.

Of course there has to be a head to my tail: just how would England cope if she were deprived of all her Scottish influences? One thing we do know for sure is that in the past, despite our natural dislike, mistrust and rivalries, whenever our little group of islands has been threatened we have always put our differences aside and fought together against our common enemy. And as soon as that threat subsides we are quick to adopt our old prejudices again.

In contributing to the debate between England and Scotland, I intend to explore both cultures of our once-great countries, where they differ, where they match and where, on occasion, they meet somewhere in the middle. We all live on the same island, only separated by a thin and unguarded border.

Could it be possible that we are more alike than is comfortable to admit? The good people of Newcastle and Carlisle might well have more in common with the Scots than they do with the natives of southern England. And what does a line on a map mean anyway?

While the Scots have moaned and bellyached about the English for centuries, we have for the most part maintained a dignified silence. But as I’ve never been too good at being dignified, or silent, I’ve decided that it’s high time to get to the bottom of the situation.

Now, be warned that I come to this debate armed with the sword of fact and a shield decorated with historic events. I may even have God on my side. I’ve gathered together all kinds of amusing stories from history, surprising statistics and witty quotations from everyone from Samuel Johnson to Frankie Boyle.

What I want to find out is how English culture has influenced the Scots and vice versa and what exactly we have done to annoy each other so much over the last thousand years. So now it’s time for you to settle back into your favourite armchair with a glass of something neutral – maybe a nice Irish whisky or French wine – and enjoy the argument.

Is it really too late to learn from our shared history?

Albert Jack, England (2014)

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