“THE FRIENDLY Games have come to the friendly city,” declared Glasgow Council leader Gordon Matheson on the eve of the Commonwealth’s quadrennial sporting jamboree.
Having been to Glasgow, I wouldn’t argue with Mr Mathieson that his city is a fine and proud one. But friendly? I’m not so sure. But then, as an Englishman, the places in Scotland where I have received a warm welcome probably wouldn’t trouble the back of a postage stamp.
Let’s get this into context. I’m not for a minute saying there aren’t friendly people in Scotland, there are. It’s just that sadly my trips north of the border have been defined more by the antagonism and thinly-veiled enmity I’ve encountered than any affability on the part of the locals.
In Edinburgh, for instance, I walked into a smart city centre bar to find its occupants midway through a raucous, profantity-filled celebration of an English defeat at rugby – seemingly oblivious to the fact that Scotland had also lost.
In the Borders, members of a golf club made a point of rooting for South Africa as some friends and I watched them play England in the same sport. And on the Isle of Skye, I accidentally spilt beer on a disgruntled punter whose mate, when I tried to apologise, shrieked: “And he’s English as well!”
If nothing else, the Scots are well-balanced in as much as they often do a good impression of having a chip on each shoulder. In their eyes, we English are fair game. It’s why Andy Murray couldn’t understand why there was all that fuss eight years ago when he said he would be supporting “anyone but England” at the football World Cup.
At this year’s tournament, when the cameras panned across the Uruguayan fans celebrating Luis Suarez’s winning goal against England, they revealed in their ranks a striking figure in a ginger wig, Tam o’Shanter and Scotland shirt. And if anything, Glaswegian Mark McConville’s celebrations were even more delirious than those of the Uruguayans around him.
Some people find this amusing. I just find it a bit pathetic. Scotland is a fine country with stunning scenery, vibrant cities and an enviable cultural heritage. So why does it expend so much energy worrying about putting one over on the English? Too often I get the sense that Scots focus more on what they’re not than what they are. For some, Culloden may as well have been last Tuesday, not two-and-a-half centuries ago.
And this national self-image of the plucky underdog nobly kicking back against the bully is being sharpened by the Scottish National Party in the run-up to the independence vote on September 18. Remember leader Alex Salmond and his wife raising a Saltire in the Royal Box as Andy Murray lifted the Wimbledon title last summer?
Ironically, not even Scotland’s most famous sporting export is immune from the taunts of some of his more irascibile countrymen. A friend who was at Perth racecourse reported how racegoers watching the tennis on a big screen used a seven letter-profanity, after the word “English”, because he happens to live in Surrey rather than Stirling.
Murray, as his subsequent criticism of Salmond’s flag-waving proved, has grown up a bit in recent years. But can the same truly be said of Scotland? There’s a clue in the fact that English athletes have been briefed on how to react if they are booed at the Commonwealth Games.
Ask English people about September’s vote and some will say they hope the “Yes” campaign prevails, if only to put a stop to all this yapping from north of the border. If the Scots think they can do a better job on their own, then let them try. You would have to say that the odds look stacked against them. In becoming independent, Scotland would need to integrate more heavily with Europe. Yet incoming European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has insisted no new country would be allowed to join the EU for the next five years. That would put thousands of Scottish jobs, exports and businesses at risk.
As a member of the UK, Scotland is part of a very powerful, rich and influential state. Independence would put it on a par with Turkmenistan – which has an equivalent population.
Then there is the question as to how it would make ends meet without access to the British money pot. Jokes about deep-fried Mars bars aside, the reality is that Scottish men and women have, by some distance, the lowest life expectancy in the UK and the highest health spending per person at nearly £200 more than their counterparts in England. That North Sea oil will need to go a long way.
There’s no getting round the fact that going independent is an almighty economic gamble, especially in times of recession and rising unemployment.
But the biggest question for those who see England as the barrier to Scottish ambition is that if Alex Salmond gets his way and Scotland does win independence, who on earth are they going to blame then?