Wednesday 21 June 2006

Flying off the handle.

In the last couple of years, you might have noticed a general lowering of the regard Americans have for the French. There's been a lot of discussion about what might have caused this, and a lot of that discussion has concentrated on recent events such as the Iraq War.

Well, bollocks. What caused it is that, on the whole, the French have held everything about the USA, including its citizens, in absolute contempt for most of the time since the Americans helped liberate their country. Adlai Stevenson's famous exchange with de Gaulle had nothing to do with Iraq or UN resolutions. The French detest America, loathe it with all their hearts, and mention so at every opportunity. All that changed in the last couple of years is that more Americans started to notice, and decided they were fed up with it. Fifty years of ignoring the bile, and finally they send some back. We could wonder forever about the precise event that triggered it, but it's academic — let's face it: slag someone off for long enough, and, sooner or later, they'll stop liking you.

This would be a good point at which to stop and discuss what "the French" means. It doesn't mean "every single French person"; it doesn't mean "the French Government"; it may not necessarily even mean "most French people", though, in this case, it probably does. There is an impression conveyed by every nation. It's no doubt a result of a complicated interaction between government, media, public, and God knows what else. Some people's opinions count for more — not democratically, but in terms of how influential their voice is in the public discourse. Pardon my horrid turn of phrase there, but it seems like the best way to put it. We all understand what it means to say that the French are disdainful of Australian wine. There's a whole miasm of subtleties packed into those two words. Some French people love Australian wine. Nevertheless.

Earlier today, I read this:

A disabled man is dragged from his car and beaten up in Aberdeen, and a seven-year-old boy is attacked by an adult in Edinburgh — simply because they were wearing England shirts.

Here's the gist of the original article:

[New Zealander and primary schoolboy Hugo Clapshaw], who has lived in Edinburgh for two years with his family, said: "He whacked me on the head very, very hard and it's left a big bruise. ... He told my dad I should be supporting Scotland not England."


Hugo had been playing with his family in Edinburgh's Inverleith Park on Saturday afternoon when he was punched by a man thought to be aged between 24 and 30.


In Aberdeen, [Ian Smith, a disabled man,] was sitting in his parked car on Anderson Road when he was dragged from the vehicle and beaten up on Tuesday.


Mr Smith said: "He was a psychopath, it was a totally unprovoked racist attack because I was wearing an England top and displaying an England flag."

I'm English and I lived in Scotland for eleven years. I'm lucky enough never to have been physically assaulted because of my nationality, but I was very much aware of the possibility during my time in Scotland. It's difficult not to be, if you're English in Scotland. Even without any violence, the constant background racism can get wearing. I'm pretty thick-skinned, and I love Scotland, not least because it's full of Scots, who are great people, but, sometimes, I snap. Slag someone off for long enough, and, sooner or later, they'll stop liking you. And, being English in Scotland, you don't half get slagged off.

So, earlier today, I snapped. And I wrote a long rant which, as you may have seen, has now been removed from this blog. Too much anger and not enough thinking about the wording. I offended a couple of my friends, which I prefer not to do. So I'm going to try and make the same points here, but with a tad more consideration.

Various people have observed that there is an increase in anti-Scottish feeling amongst the English these days. That's "the English". I think that's probably true. One might come up with any number of reasons why this is so. My own opinion is that any reason that is based on recent events is probably not really it. Recent events might have given some people a little push, but the real problem is that if you slag someone off for long enough, sooner or later, they'll stop liking you. There has been a significant, notable, highly offensive level of hatred emanating from Scotland towards the English for at least as long as the French have hated America.

When Braveheart was released, there were more violent attacks on students in St Andrews (where I was studying at the time) in the first six weeks of term than in the entire previous year. (And there were a lot in the previous year, because Scots travel over from Dundee to St Andrews especially to beat the shit out of anyone who looks like they might be English or who answers a question in the wrong accent.) Someone staggered into the Union with blood pouring down their face pretty much every night. We all had to be very careful about walking around in public, and it was a bad idea to go out after dark.

There is, of course, a wide spectrum of anti-English feeling in Scotland. There are the bastards who physically attack English people; there are the non-violent customers who go into the same shop every day, not to buy anything but to tell the English sales assistant that they've stolen a Scottish job; there are the nationalist politicians who have built their careers on blaming all of Scotland's woes on England; and there are perfectly civilised, nice, friendly, wonderful people who will happily marry English people but who still routinely use the phrase "fucking English cunts". They'll tell you it's harmless banter, and, often, they're right. But it's a symptom of a general social atmosphere.

It's tempting to say at this point that the same people who say "fucking English cunts" would never say, for instance, "fucking niggers", but that's not as true as one might hope. The difference between racism in England and in Scotland is that, as a rule, racist English bastards know that their opinions are not broadly welcome. They'll express them in private, they'll express them in company that they know to be sympathetic, and, of course, they'll shout abuse at the objects of their hatred in the street. What they very very rarely do is to assume that their opinions are so unremarkable and socially acceptable that they can express them to any stranger who happens to be the same colour as them and expect broad agreement. I lived in the centre of Glasgow's Asian community for six years. I lost count of the Glaswegians who, on discovering this fact, would say something along the lines of "Isn't it a problem, living with all they Pakis?" Never met me before, don't know me from Adam, but hey, I'm white, so how could I possibly object?

That being said, very few Scots would say something like that to an Asian. Whereas being abusive directly to an English person's face is broadly socially acceptable in Scotland. Anti-English sentiment is so prevalent, so woven into the very fabric of Scottish society, that it is simply not noticed. Events like the ones described above are merely the pointy end of a very big Scottish stick.

Take football. During the World Cup (and, come to that, at all other times), the Scots make a point of supporting every team but England. It's quite funny at times, yes, but it can wear a bit thin. Look at it this way. If England play Saudi Arabia, a country where thieves have their hands cut off, Scots support Saudi Arabia. If England play China, a country where expressing your opinion freely can get you tortured, Scots support China. If England plays Cuba, a country so hellish for its residents that they will cross hundreds of miles of shark-infested waters in an inflated inner-tube to escape, Scots support Cuba. If England plays Libya, the country that blew up Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scots support Libya.

It's not just football: the Scottish press make a great point of celebrating any and every English defeat, to the point of having double-page spreads in their newspapers on Pakistan beating England at cricket, a sport in which maybe eight Scots are interested. No, not all Scots feel that way, but enough do that it sells papers. More to the point, most of the Scots who don't actually celebrate an English defeat still see no problem with the celebration. Insulting the English causes more Scots to buy papers and causes a negligible number of Scots, if any, to stop buying them.

In contrast, the only time an English newspaper would so gleefully celebrate a Scottish sporting defeat would be if it were England who'd beaten them. If the Scots beat anyone else at anything, the English media are congratulatory.

A significant number of Scots — and by this I don't just mean a majority; I mean something kind of similar to "the French": I mean that their attitudes are broadly dominant in Scottish society — a significant number of Scots take every opportunity handed to them to slag off the English; they complain regularly about the "imperialist bastards" who "stole" their country despite the fact that the Act of Union was actually England bailing out a bankrupt Scotland and the Scots managed to negotiate a deal where they were overrepresented in Parliament; now, Scots MPs get to vote on legislation that affects England while English MPs can't vote on similar legislation that's been devolved to the Scottish toy Parliament; the Labour Party only have a majority in Westminster because of votes in Scotland, and now it looks like the English are going to get a Scots Prime Minister foisted on them (can anyone even imagine any party getting a majority in the Scots Parliament with an English leader?); it's becoming more and more obvious that the Scottish Parliament is spending English money on shite; and there has yet to be a Scottish problem caused entirely by Scots that hasn't been widely blamed on the English — witness the widespread delusion nine years ago that having a parliament in Edinburgh instead of London would solve Scotland's problems: the problem with politicians, the thinking goes, is not that they're inept or corrupt, but that they're from the wrong country. The English have been largely ignoring the constant stream of bile from north of the border for decades. All that's started happening lately is that they've finally got fed up with it, especially since the bile started to become government policy.

Frankly, I can't get my head around an Englishman who's been in Scotland for twelve years being crazy enough to wear an England shirt. It's suicide. The New Zealander had an excuse for not knowing any better, poor kid.

South Labour MP Anne Begg said ... "I am horrified, this is not typical of Aberdeen which is a welcoming city. People from England live and work here."

Yeah, on the implicit understanding that they never express much pride in England, same as the English in every other Scottish town.

Just to be clear: yes, there are lots and lots of great non-racist Scots, some of whom are the best friends I've ever had and am ever likely to have. Which is why it's perfectly safe to wear an England shirt at a party with your friends. Wearing one in public is relying on the non-violence and non-racism of crowds of total strangers, in the most violent country in the developed world and one of the most racist places I've ever been; it's running one hell of a gauntlet. Wearing a Scotland shirt in England isn't.

In Northern Ireland, where a lot of people have more genuine reasons than the Scots to be resentful of England, loads of people support the England team, in football and any other sport that happens to be on. I used to know a Catholic who went out celebrating when England beat Germany a few years back, and no-one here thinks that's strange. In Scotland, he'd be a social reject, and celebrating in public would be very likely to get him beaten up.

The recent rise in anti-Scottish feeling in England is a Bad Thing — not least because, in my opinion, contrary to the impression I've just been busy giving, the Scots are much nicer people than the English. There's a reason why I don't live in England: bits of it are quite nice, but I really don't like living there, don't much care for the culture, and can only take so much of the people. England's football fans may have recently improved their behaviour, but I'll be very surprised if they ever become as well behaved, friendly, and non-violent as the Tartan Army. After the 1998 World Cup, the various hotels and bars of Marseille clubbed together to take out a full-page ad in a Scottish paper, thanking the legions of Scots fans for their visit and asking them all to come back soon. I can't ever see that happening for the English.

In short, I'm not slagging off the Scots here because I'm English. I'm complaining about the Scots because they're bastards, just as I've been complaining about the English for the last twenty years because they're all bastards too and have recently started complaining about the fact that the Northern Irish are all bastards. No doubt, if I ever do move to the US, this blog will become the one-stop shop for all your Americans-are-bastards needs. But there are things to be learnt from comparing the nations' differing styles of bastardacity. And, of course, personalities are independent: Scots can become better people regardless of whether the English remain gits or improve themselves.

I'll finish by repeating my summation from a couple of years ago:

Scotland is both the best and the worst place on Earth. I fucking hate Scotland. I love Scotland. Especially Glasgow. I really, really detest Glasgow, quite possibly the greatest city in the world, and, as for Glaswegians, they're wonderful, friendly people, a real pleasure to be around, the violent, malingering scum.

I stand by every word of that.


My experiences of racism in England are based on living in the South-East. I am reliably informed that public racism is far more socially acceptable in the North. Could even be worse than Scotland.

Another update:

A pertinent comment here from another Englishman who's lived in Scotland:

He's correct; you would have to be out of your mind [to wear an England shirt in Scotland], and I speak as someone who subsequently spent a decade in a nation whose cities were razed by the RAF within living memory. Walk down the street in an England shirt there and the worst that will happen is that people will approach you and tell you that they went to London on a weekend break last summer.


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