Monday, June 23, 2014

Why Don't British Nationalists Like the English?

This is more of an observation than an essay.  But the tone of recent No Campaign propaganda has reminded me that when I was growing up in a fairy conventionally loyal and unequivocally Unionist Scottish middle class milieu in Glasgow and Perthshire, I often heard pretty insulting things about the character, morality, and general masculinity of Englishmen which would count as being pretty shocking nowadays. Even now, I'd argue, there is something deeply anti-English about Scottish Unionism.

Like lots of things about this whole campaign, this seems innately counter intuitive.  Surely Scottish Nationalism is anti English?  Actually,'s the opposite, Empire Loyalism is anti English.  Always was.

Habitual denigration of the English, in my childhood,  came from our deep dyed Unionist/Scottish pride in running the Empire in our wearily superior Scottish way, on behalf of what seemed to be, if military and business anecdote could be trusted, effete snobs who would clearly have been quite incapable of painting the globe pink without our manly, practical, down to earth - and of course, modest - assistance.  We may have only been the Sergeant's mess, but heaven help the Colonel without us, we seemed to say.

Ignoring all the Taffs, Paddys , Scousers, Geordies and Cockneys (inter alia) that we must have come across from time to time in the Punjab, It was almost as though the only Englishmen we were conscious of were the high Tory grandees who used to enrich our grouse moors once upon a time - and the only kind of Scotland we could imagine being was primarily to be reliably on hand to load the guns for them. With a doff of the cap and surly mockery in the bar afterwards.

All the markers we think of as being "Scottish" from tartan to the work ethic, from pragmatism to insane bravery in the trenches, from inventing everything useful to the skirl of the kilt and the swing of the bagpipes were tied to our seeing ourselves as the other ranks without whom the entire affair would have gone repeatedly tits up from Waterloo onwards.  Our self image as well as our surface badges as Scots were all pretty self-evidently Unionist in history and practice.  We marked ourselves out as being "better" Britons because we were Scottish. Scottishness was Unionist and it was better than being English.

This kind of thinking permeates the least attractive side of us from Guy Mannering to James Bond. It is also the a reason why to some genuine Scottish patriots, especially of the old fashioned patrician variety,  self government somehow seems intrinsically un-Scottish,  independence seems abnormal, a superfluous aberration from our good senses. Below stairs, meanwhile, too,  it is the source of our comfortable irresponsibility, and what is probably our very irritating moaning about everything while never taking any chance of changing it.

It is also why, to a Scot of my generation, "Scottishness" retains faint whiffs of embarrassment, of the second rate; of shit TV and anodyne kitsch folk culture, of rotten comedians and cringing deference to anyone with the right kind of accent. It is also why, later, on the left, I moved in an atmosphere where all things nationalist (or Scottish Nationalist anyway) were thought of as childish and regressive, as symbols of Tartan Toryism. The British Road to Socialism was our  received route planning back then.

This has all changed of course.  Within the useful correctives offered by Gerry Hassan among others, there is now a kind of civic consensus in Scotland around a numinous set of vaguely  left/liberal values which are thought of as an alternative civic set of markers of "Scottishness" On the surface, this Civic Identity" is carelessly shared largely, by both the Yes and No camps, at least in Scotland.  And to me it has an unpleasantly familiar whiff of Caledonian superiority in a new and more caring guise, as if Richard Hannay were opening the best damned crèche in the colonies.

What is not shared, I don't think, and not just in my childhood experience of Scots Empire Loyalists going on about English Nancy Boys,  is the deep seated mistrust and maybe even dislike of the neighbours at the heart of the No campaign.

The very core of the fear in "Project Fear" is fear of English vengeance.  All the stuff about trade barriers and borders and passports and no one ever buying whisky again are predicated on the same thing: on the apparently inevitable consequence that they will hurt us if we dare.  This expectation which informs all the dire prognostications of economic boycotts and general administrative bloody mindedness, even of proper fisticuffs over the assets - is based on an image of the English as petty, spiteful, nasty and vengeful. The No campaign seem certain that  the majority stakeholders in the "greatest multinational family" in history will react like vindictive children and deny us access to any of the joint assets in terms of property and currency and EU membership at the very least.

What must Scottish Unionists think of English people that they really expect so petty a reaction? On the one hand they talk about partnership and family and community, and in the next breath they seem to picture our neighbours as a bunch of people who will want to hurt us so badly that they will hurt themselves in order to punish us. They are arguing for fellowship on the grounds that the "other fellows" are dangerous.  They are arguing for family solidarity on the basis that Daddy is a psychopath.

The British value of tolerance (copyright M. Gove) will not be extended to us. The English have never been proper Britons, apparently.

Like I say, this is more of an observation than an essay, but I do think in the meanwhile that it is strangely telling that those who are most keen to maintain our "family of nations" are the same people who expect nothing but economic and political violence from one of its members if we dare to disagree with them.

 How happy a family they are expecting after a No vote is anybody's guess.


  1. Fanciful tripe.
    Build on self written history.

  2. I'm not sure that either remaining within the Union or wishing to leave is based on anti-Englishness for all Scots, although many seem to have that view if much of the online debate is to be believed. Scotland will leave the UK not particularly because Scots don't like the English, although many don't, it's because they believe they'll be better off with independence. Frankly I don't think the Scots really give a toss about the English, or about the fact that whatever the Scots decide on 18th September the English, who have no Government and no say in the matter, will simply have to accept the consequences. At least in the short term.

  3. Devolution has exposed just what the Scots think about the English. No Scot has said that only students from England paying full tuition fees in Scotland, is in any way wrong. On the contrary, we are told that the Scots can spend their money any way they want and Scots care more about education than the English. Then we are reminded that Scots will vote according to the financial figures. In other words if Scotland's economy is better in the Union they will vote 'no', but if the figures favour leaving then they will vote 'yes'. Somehow we English are not supposed to be insulted by that. Scots are saying that they are only in it for the money, otherwise they wouldn't stay in a Union with the cash-cow England.

    Scottish nationalists care more about breaking up England than they do about secession. Alex Salmond is constantly making overtures to the North of England, when he's not stirring up division in Cornwall.

    For what it's worth I like to see a bit of revenge from the English and no favours shown to the Scots.

    1. I've said it's wrong. And plenty of others have. Ergo your statement that no Scot had said it's wrong is untrue. And if you care to get your complaint right, it's students from England, Wales and Northern Ireland who are charged to attend university in Scotland. For what it's worth i'd like to see a bit of grown up relating on these issues.

  4. Mr Gash kindly get your facts right Scotland does not depend on England to survive. The McCrone report highlights that Scotland would be second to Switzerland in richest European terms. We in Scotland are only against the English political elite who are so far removed from the aspirations of us Scots and have ignored our needs for decades. We are not afraid to move on and stand up for ourselves anymore

    1. @Nor Scot, there's not much point in trying to get S Gash to be rational. Having tried to enter into dialogue with him before, he's determined to believe that the good folk of England are the most put upon and persecuted people on the planet. Apparently what motivates the SNP and the Yes campaign isn't thoughts of independence and how to improve the country but scheming dastardly plans to carve up England. Apparently it's also the fault of all Scots (not just the political elite) that England didn't get a parliament via the initial devolution settlement. Never mind the task is to get the people of England themselves to demand this of their representatives, Scots weren't out campaigning for it more than the good yeomen of England so that somehow means that therefore they're to blame. All of this rather barmy and paranoid and also narcissistic.