Thursday, June 22, 2006

"Scotland... and whoever plays England"

Some nasty incidents across Scotland. A child punched for wearing an England shirt . A disabled man in Aberdeen attacked for flying a Cross of St. George from his car.

The print journalists have a great story- the "Scots *all* hate the English". Don't you just love the way these scribblers can create a storm of moral outrage? I don't defend the violent morons for a minute, but it is time we looked at ourselves with a clearer eye, and listened a lot less to the ignorant and the simplistic views that comprise the bulk of our media commentary.

However, the UK does face some serious challenges, and unless these can be addressed rationally and coolly, the four centuries of political union may well fall apart. Of course the SNP- Scotland's separatist party- would like this to happen. Increasingly too, there is a body of rather facile, Conservative commentators in England who want to break up the Union too- for their own narrow and short term reasons.

The time has come to make the Liberal case for the Union, and to explain what Britain is and also what it is not. Firstly, the UK is not a "nation state". It differs radically from almost all other European states- Switzerland being a noticeable exception- since it does not exist to protect or promote a single, majority cultural-linguistic group. The UK is a state of several nations and multiple identities. In that sense the British polity looks more like the US, Canada or Australia.

This is one reason why the UK has been far more successful in attracting immigration: apart from the necessity of speaking English, the British state has not sought to impose a uniform cultural or even national identity upon people who live here or who come here. This flexibility has been a source of great strength- despite some problems, the fact is that immigrants have settled more harmoniously in the UK than, for example, in France or Germany.

These British multiple identities have allowed people of many different cultural backgrounds to flourish, and the general success of immigration has had a hugely beneficial effect on the British economy. Despite the scare stories from spurious groups such as Migration Watch, there is no doubt that any dramatic reduction in the openness of the UK to reasonable levels of immigration will severely impact the growth of the economy. It is also, incidentally the same dynamic that has formed several daughter states of the Union of Crowns: the USA, Canada and Australia.

Those "Little Englanders" (or "Scottish Numpties") who want to end the Union are very much the same people who want to eliminate major immigration. These anti-global cultural particularists would prefer a twee parody in an economic backwater than a state that can compete with the best in the world. It is because we have a multi-national and multi cultural state that we have been able to reinvent ourselves. If we choose a mono national separatism, then we will have removed any chance of contending in the global economy and will have dealt a blow to the forces of globalism that alone can provide continued prosperity. Free Trade was ever the watchword of the Liberal party and it is still what we stand for today.

I rejoice in a multiple identity. I am European- especially when traveling in Asia and America, I see very clearly what we have in common as Europeans, and what distinguishes us. I am British- a European English speaker with a political identity that has stood up against tyranny and which is yet flexible and mutable. I am also Scottish (albeit of mixed heritage) -especially when I support the national Rugby Team. Scottish-British- European is a multi-layered identity. I am happy to have a sense of humour about the foibles of each of these identities.

So- I will still be supporting "whoever plays England" but I will do it with a smile- it truly would be a tragedy if sport was to end up damaging the valuable political union that we still share with the other nations of the United Kingdom. In the same way I will take the joshing about the "sweaties" that I am likely to get in return in the same spirit.

We are friends- indeed we are family- it is time to remember that a bit more often. The irony is that the thug who punched the little boy for wearing an England shirt neither knew nor, apparently, cared that the boy was a New Zealander. When the thug is found, it is tempting to want to give him a taste of his own medicine for bringing Scotland into disrepute. However we must ask ourselves how we can stop this stupid, pathetic and cowardly thuggery from gaining a further foothold. It is time for those who believe in the British political identity to make a stronger case to the Scottish people and to put the Little Englanders back in their box.

1 comment:

Sam, Problem-Child-Bride said...

Beautifully argued.

I have a 4th degree of separation. In addition to identifying myself as a European, a Brit and a Scot, I am also an Outer Hebridonean - I won't get into how we divide ourselves up in the Western Isles, but 5 miles in any direction and we become fierce and protective about our football teams, accents, histories etc.

30 miles from wherever you live in Britain is The Enemy and the enemy of your enemy is your friend. It's the way we are as a nation and most people have enough humour to recognise it to be broadly friendly rivalry.

You cannot, in my opinion, legislate against the humourless: the Little Englanders and the Numpty Scots. The culture has to be what squashes the twittery out of those people. I look forward to the TV show where Messrs. L. England and N. Scot, are lampooned in the manner of David Brent (the kind of character we all worry we might be a tiny bit like, sometimes, and go to pains to expunge whatever suspicious trace of him they think they have.

Legislating against them just backs them into a corner, where they snarl more loudly, and makes them think they have a point.

Glad I found this site; it's a good read.