It has been a difficult few weeks for those among us Anglos who feel ambivalent towards the Scottish (and I imagine that would include a great many of us).
My reservations about that cussed, narky country were most crisply encapsulated in this week's startling picture of a deranged Hearts fan attacking the Celtic manager Neil Lennon in his dugout. However, for a while now I've been conscious of glancing at the border with an increasing sense of envy and – if I'm honest – a slight feeling of bitterness.
Now that the Scots have started to move towards a referendum on complete independence following the recent staggering SNP victories, I'm beginning to realise that they are shrewder and more determined than I have hitherto given them credit for.
This is where the envy and the bitterness come. Because they seem to have got us by the short and curlies. They can vote on English matters – Scottish MPs voting in favour of tuition fees and prescription charges for England – while we have no say in, or benefit from, the fact that the Scots themselves enjoy free higher education and prescriptions. Public spending in England is significantly lower than in Scotland and, thanks to the idiosyncratic wonders of the Barnett formula, each Scot is subsidised by more than £1,500 per person per year from the Treasury.
The Scots have even conspired to provide our last two Labour prime ministers and a perpetual flow of key cabinet ministers.
And there are also cultural reasons for envying the Scots. They seem to enjoy an intense feeling of national pride, for no reason other than that they are a small nation with a tiny GDP which exists in inverse ratio to their national ego.
This vigorous egotism is reflected in a passionate nationalism. This pride is fed on the national myth of historical exploitation – built on the reality of North Sea oil appropriation, the Highland clearances, the evils of empire and so on. This sense of victimhood has long chafed, partly because of the aforementioned subsidies. Simon Heffer of The Daily Telegraph recently put the figure at £24bn. Quite a trick to feel victimised with that many groats in the coffers. And to characterise the English as evil colonialists is to ignore the fact that the Scots pretty much ran the Empire for us, with great enthusiasm and efficiency.
But, as I say, until relatively recently, I could pretty much put up with this injustice. After all, it was still a fairly hellish place to live. What was normally hushed up by the proud Scots was that they still have some of the worst levels of poverty, inequality, drug addiction, violence and drunkenness in Europe.
Scotland has twice the rate of heroin addiction of England. A United Nations report in 2005 recorded that it was the most violent nation in the developed world, and the ruckus at Celtic suggests that things have not got much better on that front. (Incidentally that kind of repulsive sectarian hatred and intolerance in England outside of, perhaps, Liverpool, is unthinkable.)
Despite all these blots on their national culture, the Scots somehow retain an indestructible ego that I admire for its sheer chutzpah. A few years back I had a spirited debate in print with the notable Scots person Andrew O'Hagan, who wrote an article in which he castigated "English arrogance which resides in the view that they are naturally dominant in the British Isles". But the English are naturally dominant – 84 per cent of the population of the British Isles is English while 8.5 per cent Scots. But O'Hagan's confusion is understandable – given the amount of noise they make and influence they wield, this is quite hard to credit.
In the same article, O'Hagan castigated the English working class as spiteful and fascistic. This sort of abusiveness – and even racism – can easily be found elsewhere. A A Gill, for instance (he actually left Scotland aged 6) writes in his book The Angry Island that the English are "unpleasant, unfair, cruel and above all smug ... the lumpy and louty, coarse, unsubtle, beady-eyed beefy-bummed herd of England". Could you imagine an English commentator writing something so slanderous about the Scots?
The closest we can get to a compliment from the Scots comes from Irvine Welsh in Trainspotting where his character Renton says "I hate being Scottish. We're the lowest of the fucking low, the scum of the earth, the most wretched, servile, miserable, pathetic trash that was ever shat into civilisation. Some people hate the English, but I don't. They're just wankers. We, on the other hand, are colonised by wankers. We can't even pick a decent culture to be colonised by. We are ruled by effete arseholes."
Well, speaking as one effete arsehole to the servile miserable pathetic trash – good on you. You've played an outstanding game, politically and economically. But I think the game might be coming to a close – and partly out of the hubris of that very Scottish egoism. Because, if independence comes and the subsidies finally dry up, I suspect they might find that the English had been more useful to them then they imagined (something the historic grassroots opposition to independence in Scotland clearly recognises). But, for me, I have had enough of them. Much as I have liked pretty much every Scot I have ever met (I find them nice, clever, cultured, polite, lovely people), I'm quite happy for them to bugger off, get their hands out of our exchequer, their placemen out of our governments, and their sense of perpetual grievance out of the Union.
And even when independence comes, I'll probably still go on cheering the Scottish football team in the way the Scots never do for the English. We're soft like that – in the heart, as well as the head. But perhaps we're not completely daft. Which is doubtless why the PM, for all his fine words on the Union, has made no move to try and block, or speak out against, the referendum on Scottish independence. Perhaps he's finally realised that getting shot of the Scots will guarantee Conservative dominance in what remains of the Union on a permanent basis.
It would be a clever, politically cynical and utterly ruthless move. Positively Scottish, you might even say.Reuse content