Witness: The English in Scotland - Crossing the borderline

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The Independent Culture
WE'RE IN Smithie's pub, in Edinburgh's elegant Georgian Newtown, watching Manchester United beat Juventus. The beers are unfamiliar - Deuchars, Caledonian and McEwan's 80/-. Not a pint of Speckled Hen to be had. But around the table everyone is English. There is even a motif of St George's flag on a mirror nearby, albeit alongside the blue of the St Andrew's flag.

Suddenly, Dwight Yorke breaks through, weaving towards goal only to be felled by the 'keeper before Andy Cole scores United's winner. Everyone, Scots and English alike, rises and roars with delight. We're all on the same side to cheer Alex Ferguson, Scotland's greatest football brain, lead England's greatest club to European success.

But Justin Woodroffe, educated at Westminster public school and an emigre from a smart home in Chelsea, is recalling last year's World Cup, when the English gathered at Smithie's to cheer Glenn Hoddle's men. "I remember being on the train to London during the England-Colombia match," says Justin, just 21 but with a cut-glass accent apparently modified by ancestral indulgence in fine port and cigars. "I had a mini TV with me and all the Scots were cheering the opposition. But when we reached London, I shook hands with them and there were no hard feelings."

It was a charitable reaction. But others may easily feel, given the rise of Scottish nationalism, that life north of the Border is less welcoming than in the days before Mel Gibson took to the kilt and whooped the English in Braveheart. I want to find out if the Anglos feel threatened.

The first problem is finding the Anglos. It is very easy to insult someone who may sound as though he was raised somewhere near Buckingham Palace, but quickly protests that he is broad Scottish and can trace his ancestors back to the Battle of Bannockburn. For example, Magnus Linklater, chair of the Scottish Arts Council and son of Eric Linklater from Orkney, would certainly consider himself Scottish. But Eton took its toll: "I find that the occasional Glasgow taxi driver and people I don't know from Adam ask me when I am going back, or have I been here long."

Having sorted the posh Scots from the Anglos, the next step is to discover where they congregate. The Anglos do not have an expat network; they like to muck in with what the Scots do. (Justin has even sampled a deep- fried Mars bar.) Unlike Ireland and post-colonial societies such as Zimbabwe (where the Anglo-Irish and the old Rhodesians make sure their farms back on to one another and where each community likes to pray and party together), here the Anglos melt in. But if you want to flush them out in one spot, football is the key.

My friends watching United in Smithie's definitely are English. And they are used to questions about fitting in during an upsurge of Scottish nationalism. "Every time I phone home they mention it," says Justin, who works for an upmarket letting agent in Edinburgh. "They feel strongly that Scotland is being taken away from them. They can't see the good side of what is happening. My brother thinks Scotland is breaking up the Crown."

Others around the table nod in agreement, drinking whiskys and vodka (no one touches the beer). So what are the benefits? Jane Rodger launches forth enthusiastically. Aged 35 now, she left London five years ago to become head of department at a bank in Edinburgh. She talks about her Scottish friends, about how Scottishness is inclusive. "I feel I'm a part of it all. I'll go along to a ceilidh and feel welcome." "You're right," says Justin. "They come and take your hand and whisk you off."

For someone like Jane, genteelly middle-class, Scottishness does not mean anti-English, it means feeling comfortable, finding something that perhaps got lost in her stressful yuppie life back in London. "Coming to Scotland is like being in England 20 years ago in terms of values and courtesy. People say `thank you' when they get off the bus. They are polite on the telephone. A feature of city life in London is that you frequently feel isolated. Here there is more community."

Jane is typical of many English enthusiasts living in Scotland. They are here seeking out something. You will find them up in the Highlands sending their children to schools where they will learn Gaelic.

Typically, the English are moderate Scottish nationalists; in the 1992 election almost as large a proportion of them backed the SNP as was the case among native Scots. The Anglos are usually pro-Scottish parliament, but against independence. Separation would be a step too far, cutting them off from their roots, while the parliament makes the place they have come to more important, less provincial.

Edouard Sebline, 21, an urbane history of art student at Edinburgh University, sips on his whisky. He doubts that nationalism has a hard edge. "My great- aunt," says Edouard, son of a Kent insurance broker, "has lived here for more than 65 years and of course she has an English accent.

"She says that she has seen the change in national feeling very recently. I feel it is contrived because it helps sell newspapers and suits some politicians. I don't feel it is deep-seated."

I suspect that the English here do not feel threatened by nationalism, because it is anti-metropolitan more than it is anti-English. When the SNP leader Alex Salmond stirs up feeling against "London Labour", his words are reminiscent of William Cobbett's rantings in the 1820s against the English capital, which he considered a tumour and called the "Great Wen". "These are sentiments," says Christopher Harvie, author of the recent study, Scotland and Nationalism, "which you are just as likely to hear in Hull or Newcastle."

There is, of course, violence against the English. There are occasional stories along the lines of "my daughter was spat on in the playground because she was English", which the London press leaps on. But one suspects that these stories are often over-simplifications, where nationality has become conflated with other disputes.

Listening to Justin and Edouard, it is clear that alcohol plays a big role in English-Scot conflicts, which sound very like the town vs gown battles found in university towns such as Oxford and Cambridge. As Christopher Harvie says: "The `Yah' factor is important. If you go into a pub and shout across the bar, "Hilary, are we going up to your Daddy's place in Cromarty for the ball?', the wee Marys tend to get a little upset."

Justin and Edouard, each of whom has lived in Scotland for several years, are - like most young people who have encountered pub violence - acutely aware of where the fault line runs between the Scots and the English.

"I realised on New Year's Eve up here," says Justin. "I was with my best friend, who is Scottish, and there were 200,000 people on Princes Street singing Flower of Scotland. I said, `Hey, this is a bit nationalistic', and my friend gave me a stare which said, `Don't mess'. With that harsh glance, someone who had been a close friend for four years let me know where the borderline is."

How far then, I ask, could the Scots go in their nationalism before my drinking partners felt threatened? Justin orders another vodka and tells a story.

"I was in this pub watching a match with a load of English people, and these five Scots came in making a real nuisance of themselves, shouting about the English. They were even pulling at the girls' hair. And people just let them get on with it. It was only when they picked on a black bloke and called him a nigger that everyone got upset and we got angry with them.

"That was a real eye-opener. It was when it stopped being patriotic and became racist that we wouldn't put up with it any longer."