Magazine article The Spectator

A Bletherer Bites Back

Magazine article The Spectator

A Bletherer Bites Back

Article excerpt

THERE is a streak of fear and more than a touch of loathing in the way Scotland is currently being written about in England. We are, it appears, a nation of racists, mean and narrow in outlook, deeply ungrateful for the new parliament we have been promised, resentful at Westminster's continuing power, greedy for more subsidy, wasteful and incompetent in political administration, anti-British, parochial and unpleasant. Two hair-raising articles in The Spectator, one by Katie Grant, another by Neil Drysdale, painted a picture of almost pathological Anglophobia; a Centre for Policy Studies report predicted 'a prolonged period of self-destructive, inwardlooking politics, and a level of instability unknown for more than 200 years'. Expatriate Scots have pitched in with a vengeance: John Lloyd in the New Statesman described an Edinburgh `awash with anti-English sentiment' and quoted one MP who drew a comparison with antiSemitism in pre-war Germany. Again in The Spectator, Andrew Neil said he felt a stranger in his own land and railed against `the nasty underbelly of contemporary Scottish attitudes'.

It is standard practice to attack the politicians who run one's country, quite unusual to turn on the people themselves. I can only assume that I who live here have missed something, though I am probably a member of what Mr Neil calls `the blethering classes', and may even be one of his bien pensants (dread phrase). I can find very little evidence to support this apocalyptic view of Scotland, and a great deal to challenge it. I think it is demeaning to the Scots themselves to assume that they are driven by prejudices that have so infected their political judgment and character that they are prepared to jettison 300 years of close and amicable relations with the English. I believe that most commentators viewing us from afar have misread the current level of support for the Scottish National Party as meaning that independence is a foregone conclusion. And I doubt if more than a handful of the thousands of English visitors pouring into Edinburgh for the Festival this week will recognise a city awash with anything other than very large amounts of alcohol and a strong dash of good humour.

But how to combat the charges? No one doubts that you can uncover incidences of Scottish hostility towards the nation that has been so long its dominant partner. I can outdo Ms Grant or Mr Lloyd any day with Anglophobic anecdotes (though the one repeated regularly about an allegedly anti-English murder in Balerno this year was nothing of the sort). We are too close for comfort: `so close, so like, so wizened by the same east wind,' as the nationalist R.B. Cunninghame Graham put it. We dislike English condescension. We are prone to detect slights where there are none. We are less confident than we should be. We have a lamentable habit of supporting foreign football teams other than England's. We are rude about Jimmy Hill. We did not take to Thatcherism. We complain about Tim Clifford who runs our National Galleries without even pretending to moderate his Englishness. We suffer, as G.K Chesterton once wrote, from 'a double dose of the poison called heredity: the sense of blood in the aristocrat, and the sense of doom in the Calvinist'.

I would, however, no more use these differences to support a charge of racism than I would suggest that 30 years of IRA atrocities have rendered the English profoundly anti-Irish, or that the blood-curdling chants at a Celtic-Rangers game suggest we are on the edge of a sectarian bloodbath. …

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