Saturday 19 June 2021

The Tartan Army has shamed Scotland


An acquaintance of mine called John Bull moved to Scotland as a student from Bulford in Wiltshire. He loved Scotland so much he decided to stay. He met a Scottish woman and because she was an SNP supporter, he began to move in Scottish nationalist circles. He campaigned for Scottish independence in 2014 and has voted SNP since. Like many English people on the Left, he viewed the SNP as progressive and the only alternative to Tory Government in Scotland. He thinks Scottish independence will bring with it fairness and equality and the chance to create a social democratic society which is inclusive and without the xenophobia that he now associates with England. He has been told that he is just as Scottish as anyone born and bred in Scotland and refers to himself as an English-Scot or perhaps simply a Scot with English heritage. He joined the Tartan Army, bought a kilt a Glengarry and Scotland shirt and joined those on the trains to London.

John has a southern English accent and it’s rather posh, because he went to a private school. His parents and most of his friends from Wiltshire vote Conservative. This accent had not normally been a problem in SNP party meetings. Rather he was viewed as useful evidence that the SNP was not at all full of Anglophobia. If John could vote SNP, then clearly, independence supporters could not be motivated by hostility to England. Rather they just wanted self-determination. John became one of the “some of my best friends are English” and for this reason was considered convenient.

He noticed in fact that supporting the SNP was just about the best way possible for an English person to avoid some of the hostility that an English accent can give rise to. So long as he wore his SNP lapel badge and told about how he hated Tories then he found even on All Under One Banner marches his kilt, his white cockade and his English Scots for Yes flag gave rise to few if any hostile comments. He was accepted as an honorary Scot and no one much asked if he was entitled to the tartan that he wore.

John had never been to an England Scotland football match though he had followed Celtic ever since moving to Glasgow. He condemned the sectarian singing of the Rangers fans. He thought it was entirely just that a drunk Rangers fan had recently been arrested for singing “I’d rather be a P*ki than a T*m”. Such xenophobia, racism and sectarianism had no place in a modern progressive Scotland. If only Scotland could be independent, there would be no such expressions of hatred. He considered the songs he sometimes heard about Irish Republicanism to be merely natural expressions of the injustice of Irish history for which he repented as a descendant of the oppressors.

It was on the train down to London that he began to hear some songs about England. If you hate f*cking England clap your hands. He didn’t quite know what to do with his hands. The combination of his English accent and the words he was supposed to be singing didn’t quite fit so he began simply mouthing them. But people noticed that he wasn’t singing. He began to not quite feel as if he was part of this army.

Nearly everyone in the Tartan Army was entitled to wear the kilt they chose to wear. There were few if any black faces. Those Pakistani Scots who were born and bred in Scotland and who sometimes wore adapted Scottish dress which reflected both their sense of being Pakistani and Scottish had for a variety of reasons chosen not to get on the train. Perhaps it was the crates of McEwan’s Export they might have seen being carried onto the train. Perhaps they preferred other sports, but no Muslim women with tartan headscarves let alone tartan veils chose to join what was anyway an overwhelmingly white, male Scottish born invasion.

Not one member of the Tartan Army discovered any hostility to Scotland when he arrived in London. If he had booked a hotel, the receptionist was polite and said nice things about his kilt. There were some glances of bemusement and the odd friendly joke, but London was used to people from all countries and all forms of dress and Londoners did not reply to the hostile songs that they were forced to hear.

If the Tartan Army had sung about how they hated the French, they would not have received such a welcome in Paris. If they had sung about how they hated the Russians, they would have had their kilts stolen, their sporrans emptied and they would have received such a kicking from the Russian police and fans that they would have indeed been forced to think again about such an invasion. But in London the Tartan Army met only tolerance.

London is perhaps the most multicultural, multiracial city in Europe. Londoners in recent times have never seen such an overwhelmingly white crowd as the Tartan Army, which was so intent to express both its hatred of the English and how progressive, multiracial and multicultural Scotland is. The team of the bigoted English had rather more black players.

John began to wonder why he had got the train at all. He couldn’t find a pub where he could watch the game and so stood in the street with beers, he had bought in a supermarket with other white men mouthing words of hatred about the people he grew up with and the place where he used to live.

He tried to tell himself that it was all banter, due to an historic sporting rivalry that reflected ancient battles from the Middle Ages, for which he was sorry. Scotland had indeed been oppressed by his ancestors. These songs of hatred, were not really hatred of course. English people like him were not hated in Scotland and his fellow Scottish fans did not really even hate the people they were singing in front of in London. It was all just good fun that sometimes got a little out of hand because of the drink.

He noted how Nicola Sturgeon had condemned the singing. Didn’t this reflect how Scotland was really not at all hostile to England and the English. But then he began to remember how the word “Tory” had a certain universal application to English people, who could be Red or Blue Tories, how the word Britain had come to mean England and how Westminster was code for English power. He remembered how Sturgeon had no gratitude for English tax payers’ money and whenever anything went wrong it was always the fault of those south of the border and he began to sense that the motivation of those singing of their hatred of the English was not so dissimilar to those voting for independence.

Anglophobia in Scotland is not as serious as either racism or sectarianism. Few Scots will beat someone up because of an England shirt or discriminate against an English person. But decent Scots who would not dream of going to Pakistan to sing “if you hate Pakistan clap your hands”, think it perfectly reasonable to travel to London not so much to see a football match (they didn’t see it live), but merely to gather in large groups to tell about their hatred of its inhabitants. If English people had gone to Glasgow for the same purpose there would have been rather more trouble. But English people are largely tolerant of Scottish hostility and barely notice. Perhaps for this reason the Tartan Army feels the need to sing so loudly and so repetitiously.

But how are we to rid Scotland of sectarian hatred and racism if we tolerate and take part in such singing? How can we condemn the language of hatred directed against people who happen to be Catholic or Protestant if we think hating our nearest neighbour is just fine? To hate people because they are from England is just as bad as hating people who happen to come from Pakistan or Poland.  The Tartan Army would not dream of singing songs of hatred about Pakistanis, so why does it think expressing hatred of English people in England is a legitimate way of following a football team. We didn’t mean it really is hardly an excuse for most singers of sectarian songs don’t really mean it either. Few join the IRA, most will have friends who are Catholic or Protestant, just as most will have friends who are English. But singing with hatred creates the conditions which enable these forms of hatred, whether racist, xenophobic or sectarian to continue. It is this for reason that the Tartan army has shamed Scotland.