Scotland v England: the new auld game

Oil, jobs, Hampstead novelists, jokes about Jimmy and bars that won't take Scottish money. Oliver Bennett reports that when Scotland play England there will be more than football at stake
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Next Saturday England play Scotland at Wembley. During the week ahead, London will prepare for the Tartan Army to arrive - a prospect that awakens terrifying memories of football-fan mayhem in the 1970s and 80s.

A rabble-rousing soundtrack to this escapade is provided by the author Irvine Welsh, who with the group Primal Scream has released a record: The Big Man and the Scream Team Meet the Barmy Army Uptown. Laced with cursing, it has been received as anti-English, though Scots recognise it as anti-Glasgow Rangers; a side with Protestant, unionist support. As a result, Welsh has received death threats, and the Scream Team had to pull out of gigs for fear of violence.

All of which illustrates that Scotland is hardly a united front. Celtic hate Rangers; Glasgow hates Edinburgh. Above all, Scotland hates England: or so one might think. But is the old enmity really still there?

"We are brought up to think the English are a load of bastards," says Andy Fraser, a Scot who works in public relations in London. "The Thatcher years stirred it up, and plenty of Scots still have a chip on their shoulder about the English." For many Scots that nationalism is planted early, in the education system. "It's drummed into you at school," says Mary McLean, a Scottish designer based in London. "It's a lot of crap, really, but it still comes out in sport." As David Stevenson, the Scottish head of youth programming at Channel 4, says: "I don't hate English people but I do hate the English football team." Even immigrants to Scotland can pick up on anti-English attitudes. Ernesto Leal, a Chilean brought up in Scotland, arrived in 1976 and found a hostility that was "focused on the football". It was not, he felt, mere unfriendliness. "It is a deep thing that goes back hundreds of years."

"There remain huge amounts of righteous aggression towards the English," says Katherine Wilson, a Scot who begrudgingly works in London. "Even now I feel annoyed that it's our water and oil that the English are using. It may indicate a slight inferiority complex. But Scots are different. They're often nicer, for a start."

Professional Scottish nationalists tend to go softly-softly. "It isn't that the Scottish hate the English, but there is a big problem with the government," says Kevin Pringle of the Scottish National Party. "Scottish society has its own laws, education system, banknotes and football association. But this is overlaid by the Westminster structure." Pringle acknowledges the age-old antagonism. "The Scots have long historical memories, which reinforce the desire of the people for autonomy from England." Could this old antipathy become a Balkan-type situation with ancient rivalries taking vicious form? "Not at all," says David McCrone, professor of sociology at the University of Edinburgh. "National identity depends on there being a hated `other', and Scots define themselves against the English. But Scots do not feel that conflict with England is a major issue." Nor, he adds, do the English, most of whom are not hostile to devolution, and do not reciprocate the Scots' hostility. "I tell my students that the relationship between Scotland and England is like a marriage of convenience which involves negotiation."

McCrone adds that Scottish identity is no longer so enshrined in the "surrogate politics" of sport, as the populace is more involved in mature political demands. Tom Nairn, a colleague of McCrone's in the sociology department, agrees: "Scottish nationalism is real and deep-rooted and demands political action. But it doesn't translate into feuding or ethnic conflict."

David Stevenson, who lives in London, has found "vestigial" prejudice in England. "Bars sometimes refuse to take your one-pound notes, and people joke about `Jimmies' and Rab C Nesbitt." On the other hand, while he is "intensely proud" of being Scottish, he thinks there is a backslapping aspect which is "shite". "There's a chauvinistic, bourgeois golf-club, masonic, rugger-bugger Scottish nationalism that I hate."

Professor Bill Miller of Glasgow University's politics department believes that the Scottish and English are more alike than they often assume. "The differences are less than you expect," he says. "I don't think that sheer antagonism exists any longer." This is supported by a recent Gallup poll, which asked Scots whether they liked the English: 14 per cent did; 5 per cent didn't; 11 per cent didn't know; and 70 per cent "took them as they came".

None the less, most Scots settled in England would not pass Lord Tebbit's "cricket test". "I went to the England and Scotland Five Nations rugby match," says David Docherty of the BBC, who has been in London since 1981. "My friends asked me who I supported - Scotland of course! And I still specify Scotland in my passport." Fraser explains the Scots' bellicose sporting politics even further. "The Scots want to beat England, but they also want to see England being beaten by others," he says. "English fans cheer Scotland against someone else; but Scotland will be rooting for the other team."

Scotland prides itself on its cultural autonomy. Recently, a lecturer at Glasgow School of Art told me that his institution was one of a few in the UK that was truly free of London's influence. But as the writer Ruth Wishart put it: "Scots resent the way in which London is deemed the centre of any meaningful universe."

Novelists such as Alisdair Gray, James Kelman and Irvine Welsh use vernacular speech and are anti the "Hampstead agenda". "You call it dialect, we call it language," says Paul Scott, arts spokesperson of the SNP. "It is like the difference between Catalan and Castilian Spanish, and there's a great tradition of using it from the 15th century on, including Robbie Burns and Walter Scott." He also cites Scotland's flourishing folk culture.

A populist nationalism has been corralled around films like Braveheart - made in America, shot in Ireland and starring an Australian lead actor. "It had a very big effect, with full houses and applause," claims Scott. Yet David McCrone counters that there is much ambivalence about these "Hollywood manifestations". "People recognise these films as cod-history," he says.

Scotland is renowned for its healthy theatre scene, though the much-bruited National Theatre in Scotland has not emerged. The Edinburgh Festival has an internationalist ethos, though some believe it should pay a little more attention to Scottish culture.

"The Scottish element has been creeping upwards since the poet Hugh MacDiarmid remarked that `the only Scottish thing is the one-man band outside'," says Scott.

For at least 100 years, critics have proudly proclaimed there to be a Scottish renaissance. But even Scott agrees that a cultural cringe exists: "Criticism in the London press is still taken more seriously than criticism in the Scottish press." And the Irvine Welsh industry tends to inspire concern rather than fervour: Edinburgh council only allowed a small sequence of Trainspotting to be filmed there.

Elsewhere in the world, the Scots do seem to have a goodwill advantage over the English. "I've travelled a lot, and I let people know I'm Scottish and not English as quickly a possible," says Katherine Wilson. "Perhaps they only know about castles and whisky, but I get embraced for being Scottish."

Research published last year by the Scottish Tourist Board polled French and German tourists and found that "unexpected emphasis was placed on Scotland's differentness to England". But the tourists apparently found it difficult to differentiate between the Scottish and the English: Sean Connery was the only person they could positively identify as a Scot. Even so, Scots are currently eager to appear pro-Europe. "Scotland always was European," says Kevin Pringle. "There are European influences in its institutions, and even now it has much more interaction with the rest of Europe than does England." A survey by the Scottish Development Agency, however, found that Scotland was seen in Europe as a region of England. Its conclusion was that Caledonia should market itself more distinctively; though Scots high and low are embarrassed by their all-too-distinctive souvenirs, which David Stevenson calls the "tartanalia shite" and David McCrone calls the "kitsch, tartan and haggis factor".

Not that all Scots are passionate about their country. Francis Gallagher is a poet who has published a booklet called Fuck Scotland, which includes the lines:

Scots adore themselves but it's


to see why they love themselves

a bankrupt

politics predictable mediocre

culture a failed sad

people pouring their soul into

alcohol football ...

Well, yes; though it is worth noting that Scottish football fans have achieved a shiny reputation abroad. "They have to show they're better than the English by not being brawling, xenophobic streetfighters," says Tom Nairn. David McCrone adds: "There haven't been any Scotland-England matches for several years, so there is a sense that it's not the lightning conductor that it once was."

Hopefully, next Saturday will at worst display a pantomime of national hostilities. But we should expect a few verbal skirmishes at Wembley - lest auld acquaintance be forgot. "I don't hate the English," says Andy Fraser, "but I truly hope we beat them on Saturday."