Tuesday 27 July 2021

What shall we call them?


They joy of being a civil servant in Scotland has just increased. The Scottish Government is backing proposals to encourage eight thousand of them to take a pronoun pledge. Fortunately, this will not involve abstaining from alcohol as previous pledges once did, nor will it involve polishing wooden furniture. Rather it will merely involve adding a few lines to the end of each email stating their preferred pronouns.

I’m not a civil servant, but I imagine if this takes off, I too will face the task in the next couple of years of asking IT how I can add a little message to each and every email I send. I will then face the challenge of thinking of which pronouns to include in my signature.

I am tempted to go with it/they rather than she/her, but I might try to come up with something really exotic. What about if I said that my pronouns must be ooh/aah? Woe betide anyone who gets them wrong or in the wrong order.

Other possibilities might involve using Polish words such as Żółć and Źdźbło or alternatively I could insist that everyone addresses me with Russian pronouns and uses them correctly in each grammatical case. This would involve everyone having to make their keyboard capable of using Cyrillic and learning sufficient Russian grammar to not get mixed up between ею and ней.

If all eight thousand members of the Scottish civil service took just this sort of creative approach to their pronouns, then no one would know how to refer to anyone and perhaps then the Scottish Government and Leslie Evans might learn a lesson that they would not forget.

The absurdity of the idea of asking people to provide their pronouns at the bottom of their email is that if everyone genuinely did make up their pronouns and insisted that they be used in just that way by everyone else, then the language of pronouns would rapidly collapse.

Pronouns are not subjective. They are not words I make up. Rather they are words that we are taught as we learn a language usually as children. If all the millions of English language speakers used different pronouns and insisted on everyone else using them, we would simply be unable to do so. A personal pronoun is not personal in the sense that we each get to make one up, rather it is part of a common language and its use is determined by rules and customs shared by the language community.

Writing emails is a completely unproblematic activity because it does not usually require that I know anything about the identity of the person I am writing to. The reason for this is that I rarely write to someone using He or She. I use You instead. If I am writing a formal letter to someone and I don’t know whether it is a man or a woman I write “Dear Sir or Madam”. I then use You throughout the letter. There is simply no need to know this person’s preferred pronouns. It is a non-issue.

I only ever use He or She when referring to someone else (rather than to you) either in writing or in conversation. This too is usually completely unproblematic. When I write “Boris Johnson was speaking in the House of Commons and he fell over”, I don’t need to ask him about his preferred pronouns. Rather I make assumptions based on his name and his appearance.

There might be the odd occasion when someone has a first name, I am unfamiliar with when I’m not sure which pronoun to use. There might also be times when I’m not sure whether a baby is a boy or a girl or more rarely if someone is a man or a woman. In these cases, I do my best to avoid embarrassment by not using pronouns at all. It’s usually possible to come up with a sentence which avoids He or She. I might talk about “your baby” or “that person”.

Even with people who describe themselves as transgender, the rules for pronoun use will turn out to be the same as for everyone else in nearly all circumstances. The transgender person might insist that all zer colleagues call zer ze or zer, but no one else will. Everyone else will judge zer based on zer appearance and call her she if she looks like a woman and he if he looks like a man. The preferred pronoun will simply not apply to anyone else, because no one else will have learned it.

So, the only result of the Scottish Government’s encouragement is that a few civil servants will have to learn a few non standard pronouns for people who prefer them, but this will change absolutely nothing outside the office. If I see a transgender person robbing a bank and he looks like a man I will describe him as He to the police whatever his preferred pronouns, because I won’t know them. I will judge by appearance, because this is how we speak. Language is not subjective or a matter or preference. For this reason, asking about preferred pronouns is peculiarly senseless. You are born with your pronouns. It has nothing to do with choice.

The language of pronouns is so easy and straightforward that a normal five-year-old will use the words correctly in nearly every circumstance. If the Scottish Government’s civil service initiative were extended to the whole population (it will be unless this nonsense is stopped) then no one would know how to refer to anyone else without first asking them, which given that we continually use He or She to refer to people we have never met is clearly impossible. A simple linguistic task would be turned into a lifetime of confusion, mistakes and microaggressions if the SNP had its way with everyone having the right to complain if we got their pronouns wrong.

Leslie Evans’s scheme depends on 99.9% of civil servants opting for the He/Him She/Her option. If they didn’t then no one could remember how to refer to colleagues. It’s only if a tiny percentage chose non-standard pronouns that the scheme could be workable.

So don’t object if you are “encouraged” to choose your pronouns. Rather let everyone pick the weirdest most wonderful, unpronounceable pronouns they can possibly make up. Insist that Leslie and Nicola call you Źdźbło and Żółć and get the pronunciation correct and they will soon think better of their encouragement. 

Sunday 25 July 2021

Gaelic road signs : a response to justified criticism


About a year ago I described a trip to the Highlands and my difficulties with Gaelic road signs. Faced with a roundabout with multiple place names in a language I could neither understand nor pronounce I unjustly blamed my getting lost on the signs rather than on my own poor ability at navigation. I received some sympathetic responses from other road users, but also some criticism from those who either could not see the problem or who felt that if I could not read such signs, I should not be driving at all.

Rather like Shostakovich when his opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District was described in Pravda as “Muddle instead of music” I took the criticism of my muddle to heart and resolved to change my ways. Shostakovich wrote his Fifth Symphony as “a Soviet artist's creative response to justified criticism” and I too decided to respond positively to my own lack by learning Gaelic.

I already speak a few languages including Russian and Polish so I thought it couldn’t be that hard to gain a reasonable proficiency in Gaelic. I began by buying all of the beginner Gaelic books on Amazon and began to study. I would urge all those who justly criticised me to do the same. I found Gaelic to be a rewarding language to study. True it is very distant from English. Far more distant in my view than Russian is. It is impossible to guess the meaning of most Gaelic words unless they are loan words, but this challenge meant all the more satisfaction when I began to improve.

After a few months I began to watch BBC Alba every evening. At first, I could understand nothing without the subtitles, but soon I began to understand a few words and then whole sentences. I looked forward to being able to include myself at the next Census in the select group of Scots who could justly describe themselves as Gaelic speakers. But I wanted to go further.

When I wrote my original muddled article because I had read that there were only 11,000 vernacular Gaelic speakers in Scotland. The best thing I could do in response to the criticism I received was to turn that number into 11,001. But in order to do so I would have to put my new found Gaelic language abilities to the test. I would have to speak Gaelic every day.

Unfortunately, in my house we only speak Russian, English and Polish. My husband is from a part of the Soviet Union that was part of Poland until 1939 and so he had grown up speaking Polish although it was forbidden. We had never spoken much Polish until a year or more ago, when he met some Poles here and I felt a bit left out being unable to understand what they were saying. So, with some encouragement and some help I began to learn Polish and eventually got to the stage where we could switch between English, Russian and Polish quite naturally. But what was I to do about becoming a vernacular Gaelic speaker?

The pandemic made it impossible for me to seek out Gaelic speakers in Aberdeenshire or even a Gaelic evening class, but when it became possible once more to travel within Scotland, I resolved that we would go to the Highlands once more in search not so much of An Gearasdan [Fort William] which I now knew to mean The Garrison, but of a Gaelic speaker with whom I could chat.

It was with joy that I saw my first Gaelic road sign again. All was clear now. I knew that A' Mhanachainn [Beauly] meant The Monastry and that Drochaid a' Bhanna, meant Bonar Bridge. I no longer was confused by the signs. I never missed my route. I felt indeed that my driving had improved and all due to the just criticism that I had received.

It was in Inverness that I first attempted to use Gaelic. Surely in the capital of the Highlands I would meet success. True I hadn’t heard anyone actually speaking Gaelic, but that must have been because of their Highland shyness. I went into the Tourist Information Centre. All of the signs were bilingual and I was certain that here at least I would have my first Gaelic conversation.

My initial question about places to see around Inverness was met with blank stares. I asked about A' Mhanachainn, but no one seemed to know where it was. I wondered if there were any Gaelic speakers in the office, and there was, but unfortunately, I spoke too quickly for her and my vocabulary was rather more extensive. She had studied Gaelic at school, but spoke at the level of someone who had an O level in French. This was hardly vernacular speaking. My search continued.

I decided to revisit the place where I had spent a few years as a child. In those days there were no Gaelic road signs, but there were still quite a lot of Gaelic speakers. My childhood friends hadn’t spoken any Gaelic, for which reason I didn’t learn more than a few words, but I remembered that their parents and grandparents were fluent. Surely here I could practice my Gaelic.

We drove on a single-track road to what must be one of the remotest parts of mainland Scotland. There were Gaelic signs everywhere. Whatever I could possibly have wanted to know about the village and the area was available in both Gaelic and English. This must have had a beneficial effect on those who had remained after I left.

I was able to find some of my school friends now much older as was I. But when I tried to switch the initial conversation from English to Gaelic, I once more met blank stares. I continued my search in the pub and the restaurant and in the shops, but to my dismay I heard not a single word of Gaelic. In desperation I asked one of my old friends if there was anyone, I could have a conversation in Gaelic with? I was told that the school teacher might speak Gaelic, but it turned out that her fluency was rather worse than mine. I asked her if there was anyone I could talk to. She thought that perhaps Fiona Mackenzie might be able to help. Fiona was now 85 and she was indeed a fluent Gaelic speaker. She was quite impressed with my ability to converse, but unfortunately, she kept switching back to English. I’m not used to speaking Gaelic anymore she told me. I asked who she talked to in Gaelic. I don’t very often she explained. It turned out that nearly everyone she knew spoke only English and that had become her habit too.

My Gaelic journey had come to an end. If I wanted to be a vernacular speaker my only option was to live with Fiona Mackenzie which would make commuting to Aberdeen rather difficult or else move to the Outer Hebrides or a small pocket on the tip of Skye.

I had put in enormous efforts to make up for my failure to appreciate the benefits of Gaelic road signs. I had done my bit to preserve Gaelic as a living language in Scotland, but it had turned out my goal of adding to the Gaelic vernacular speakers of Scotland was only going to be possible if I moved to one of the remotest and most sparsely populated villages in Scotland where the only speakers were in their eighties and nineties. This would obviously leave me quite quickly as the only Gaelic speaker in the village.

But still I recommend those who criticised me a year ago to take the same journey I did. They would then discover the utility of the Gaelic language. How it helps the learner to understand and pronounce road signs and avoid getting lost. Most importantly if enough Scots chose to make the effort to actually learn Gaelic, rather than merely support ever more funding for ever fewer speakers, I might be able to use the Gaelic that I learned. I will keep learning Gaelic in the hope that one day I will find someone in Aberdeenshire who speaks it rather than merely cares about its preservation, but I’m afraid the only languages that I will speak here will be Polish and Russian.

But at least I can watch BBC Alba and have atoned for the sin of thinking that Gaelic road signs were not useful.

Wednesday 21 July 2021

The Great Indy and Ref Swindle


If I go around knocking on doors collecting for a local cancer charity, but it turns out the money is going to me, I am liable to be convicted of fraud and might expect to spend some time in jail. If Nicola Sturgeon asks independence supporters to provide money for an independence campaign, but indyref2 doesn’t happen, yet the money raised is gone some might wonder if for her next project she might produce an album called the Great Indy and Ref Swindle. Pete Wishart could change his surname to Rotten, while her own husband might reasonably adopt the surname Vicious to describe his text messages about Mr Salmond.

The moral dilemmas about raising revenue however are intricate. When in my office someone had the idea of paying for a goat instead of everyone giving each other Christmas cards, I pointed out that there wasn’t a goat. The twenty pounds that we paid to the charity might equally well go to pay the wages of a secretary. Indeed, we might have to buy several thousand goats in order to pay the salary of the chief executive. Were we being swindled when we were encouraged to buy a goat which our money might not be used for?

My local cancer charity would also have administrative costs. So long as most of the money raised went to helping cancer victims and only some went on paying the cost of printing the leaflets, then there would be no question of dishonesty. But what of the £600,000 the SNP raised to fight indyref2? It wasn’t that some of the money bought metaphorical goats, while some was used to pay the chief executive. Rather no goats were bought at all, because there was no indyref2 and therefore no campaign.

When we pay National Insurance, most of us know that there is in fact no insurance. The money that we pay does not go into a separate fund that is used by a future government to pay our pensions and benefits. Rather National Insurance is just a way of splitting the tax bill so that it doesn’t seem quite so big. They money raised goes into the general pot, is spent and it will be up to a future government to pay my pension out of revenue raised then. Is the SNP’s raising the £600,000 the equivalent of us each paying National insurance?

It is reasonable to assume that when I am old enough, I will receive a pension. Every one prior to me has received one. So, what I am paying for when I pay National Insurance I do indeed get, even if the specific pounds I pay in National Insurance might go on something else. But the SNP were raising money for something that might never happen. There is no way of predicting if there will ever be an indyref2 campaign, because it depends on the political fortunes of the SNP and the decision of the British Government.

When the SNP decided to raise money for an independence campaign, it looked as if political momentum was with them, but shortly afterwards at the 2017 General Election the SNP lost 21 seats and it’s share of the voted declined 13.1% to 36.9%. That sort of percentage is hardly going to win a referendum, so no wonder plans for indyref2 were shelved.

In 2020 support for independence increased and once more there was a lot of talk about independence and indyref2. Nicola Sturgeon would demand a second referendum just as soon as the pandemic was over. But what about the money that had been raised for the campaign prior to its being called off in 2017? Well, we don’t know exactly what happened to it, but it is reasonable to suppose that the SNP used it for its campaigning. It could reasonably argue that the only way to get to an indyef2 campaign would be if the SNP won lots of seats at Holyrood and Westminster.

The SNP could point out that just like National Insurance, there would be no problem so long as the £600,000 was spent in the future, even if it had been used for other things in the past. But the SNP as a political party unlike a government has to raise money through donations. It cannot or at least ought not to tax the Scottish people to raise money for its political campaigns.

But here we have a problem. Let’s say in two years’ time, support for independence is once more high and the SNP is demanding Indyref2 and it appeals to its supporters to give it a campaign fund. Let’s say these supporters raise £600,000. Problem solved say the SNP. We now have the £600,000 to spend. But what if I had previously contributed to the campaign fund? I would reasonably expect there now to be £1,200,000. Unless the SNP has another source of revenue it cannot make up £600,000 by appealing again for the same thing. It could appeal for more SNP members, or it could increase the membership fee, but it can hardly appeal for a new indyref2 campaign fund after spending the previous fund, that would be to treat its supporters as fools.

Independence has become like socialism. It is something that Labour traditionally promised but was never quite able to deliver. Nicola Sturgeon has promised indyref2 so often that she has become the little girl who cried indyref2. The Great Indy & Ref Swindle is unlikely to see anyone prosecuted. This is Scotland. The lesson we learned from the Alex Salmond scandal was that no one was prosecuted and moreover it had no consequences whatsoever at the ballot box. If you vote for scandal, don’t be surprised when you get more.

Two huge scandals in the same year. No problem say the Murrells. If they can survive Salmond, they can certainly survive this. But the deep pockets of Scottish nationalists, which can fund bloggers, a newspaper, and a near continual independence campaign because independence is just around the corner, may become rather less deep when they realise that it isn’t.

Before the Scottish Parliament election there was endless talk of forcing indyref2, holding an unofficial poll or even doing something illegal. This feverishness raises party revenue and wins SNP seats, but it looks less than honest now when we pocket the seats and the power but put off indyref2 until another day. This pattern has been going on since 2014.

As All under one Banner begins marching again, I wonder if they realise that they are being marched to the top of the hill and then down again. The Grand Old Duchess of Dreghorn once more plays the Great Indy and Ref Swindle on the turntable.


Saturday 17 July 2021

Could the SNP avoid a hard border after Scexit?


While support for the SNP remains high and while many Scots support independence at least in theory, there is no question now that both face an intellectual challenge over EU membership. For this reason, the independence movement has become divided over how to overcome the challenges caused by Brexit. While the UK was an EU member it was possible to argue that if only an independent Scotland could gain EU membership too then life would go on much as before. Scotland in that case would trade as freely with the former UK as any other EU member and there would be no requirement for border checks either on goods or on people. Scots would have exactly the same rights to live and work in the former UK as we do at present simply because EU citizens had these rights too. The EU guaranteed that Scottish independence would not disrupt trade and free movement with the former UK, but this ceased to be the case after Brexit, which is why the SNP fought for Remain.

There would still have been disadvantages if Scotland had voted Yes in 2014. We would still have had to replace UK Government funding with either spending cuts or tax rises. Scotland therefore would have been poorer, which is why a majority of Scots voted No. But the argument is unquestionably worse now than it was then.

The pandemic has shown even more clearly that Scotland depends on UK Treasury money to supply us with vaccines and furlough. Scotland’s deficit has become larger and it is more unconvincing than ever to suppose that we would become richer by giving up free money from Mr Sunak.  But worse still Brexit has completely changed the logic of the SNP argument and it has yet to come up with a convincing answer.

If the SNP had voted for Theresa May’s soft Brexit which would have kept the UK in the EU’s Customs Union, there would have been no issue with trade between an independent Scotland and the former UK, but the SNP thought along with other Remainers that it could stop Brexit completely. This was a strategic failure that means the SNP now has to deal with the fact that the UK is neither in the Customs Union nor the Single Market. It means that the border between England and an independent Scotland would be the external border of not only the EU but its Customs Union and Single Market.

The SNP argues that Scotland could have a similar relationship to Ireland’s with post Brexit UK. There is after all no hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.  But this is because Northern Ireland remains de facto in the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market and Ireland remains in the Common Travel Area.

But for an independent Scotland to be in Ireland’s position would require the whole of the former UK to become like Northern Ireland and for the Common Travel Area to be extended to Scotland post-independence. The SNP would have to persuade the former UK to accept de facto EU membership and to have Brexit in name only. Membership of the Customs Union would make trade deals with places like Australia difficult if not impossible. Membership of the Single Market would mean the former UK would have to accept free movement of people from the EU. In that case the former UK might as well rejoin the EU. To suppose that an independent Scotland would be like Ireland is to suppose that the former UK would embrace Remain to make the SNP’s life easier, which is unlikely at best given than the SNP is the only major party campaigning to rejoin the EU.

Some prominent independent supporters, notably Alex Salmond, have suggested that Scotland might initially join EFTA (European Free Trade Association) as a way of avoiding a hard border. The main distinction between EFTA and the EU is that EFTA members are not in the EU’s Customs Union, which enables them to have trade deals with other countries. But EFTA does involve being part of the Single Market and accepting free movement.

Would EFTA membership help an independent Scotland avoid a hard border? The problem for Scotland is that it would only help if the former UK could be persuaded to form a customs union with Scotland. It was after all the maintenance of the de facto EU Customs Union between Ireland and Northern Ireland which enabled them to avoid a hard border. But if the UK has rejected a Customs Union with the EU, why would it choose to establish one with an independent Scotland?

Scotland in choosing the EFTA route would still have to follow the rules of the Single Market, which would make the Scottish economy gradually diverge from the former UK’s economy, but a custom’s union only works when countries have a common external trade policy, which would mean Scotland having to follow former UK rules on standards and trade. But this would be incompatible with membership of the EU’s Single Market. Either EFTA or EU membership would require the Scottish economy to follow the EU path and diverge from the former UK, which would make a customs union undesirable if not impossible for both economies. If Scotland wishes to align itself economically with the UK and maintain the Customs Union and Internal market that exists at present between the parts of the UK, the only way to do this is to remain in the UK.

All present EFTA members are part of Schengen while none are parts of a customs union with each other or anyone else. Scotland’s being in a customs union with an economy as large as the former UK might turn out to be incompatible with EFTA membership even if the former UK could be persuaded to agree to it. It is therefore hard to see how a trade border between the former UK and Scotland could be avoided. It would not be in the interest of the former UK to align itself too closely with an independent Scotland because it would find itself having to follow EU Single Market rules in order to stop Scotland disobeying them. It is impossible to imagine a former UK Government agreeing to this.

Ireland at present retains free movement with both the UK and the EU due to the Common Travel Area. Would this option be open to Scotland after independence? The Common Travel Area was set up in 1923 as a way to avoid patrolling the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State. If Northern Ireland were to cease being part of the UK there is no reason to suppose that the Common Travel Area would continue. Whether Scotland was admitted to the Common Travel Area after independence would depend on the other members. Scotland would have no right to membership and it cannot be assumed.

One of the reasons why Scottish membership of the Common Travel Area might be problematic is that membership of Schengen is a condition for joining the EU. Ireland has an opt out. EFTA members might also object to Scotland avoiding membership of Schengen. But if Scotland were part of Schengen, then there would be no border checks between Scotland and the other parts of the EU. But there have to be border checks between Schengen and non-Schengen members otherwise someone could fly from Greece to Edinburgh and then simply get a bus to London.

Free movement between the UK and Ireland requires that Ireland has a similar immigration policy to the UK and that there is no large-scale illegal immigration between the two countries. Scotland would not be able to be part of the Common Travel Area if it followed SNP policy of significantly increasing migration to Scotland, not least because there would be nothing to keep these migrants in Scotland.

The Common Travel Area is as much an anomaly as Northern Ireland’s continuing to be de facto part of the EU. The historical context (decades of terrorism) applies to the border between the UK and Ireland, but it does not apply to Scotland. Leaving the EU meant that the UK had to give up free movement with the EU. Scotland cannot assume that leaving the UK would not involve giving up free movement too. The SNP might wish for an independent Scotland to be like Ireland, but this would require both the EU and the former UK to agree. There is no guarantee that they would do so.

Prior to the pandemic and certainly prior to Brexit, we had the idea that most borders would be open and that they were just lines on a map that could be ignored. But we have discovered that even the internal borders within the UK have been closed on the whim of Nicola Sturgeon. But if the SNP finds it convenient to close a border which is not even an international border, so too might a UK Government decide that in the event of Scotland voting for independence it would promise to make life as difficult as possible for Scots.

Just as the UK Government decided in 2014 that it was not interested in a currency union, though the SNP wanted one, it might also decide that it was not interested in allowing Scotland to continue to enjoy the benefits of being part of the UK after leaving. This after all was the line that the EU took after Brexit. If the EU can take away our European citizenship and rights to live and work in the EU, the UK Government might decide that the best way of persuading Scots not to vote for independence is to promise them that there would be no open border between Scotland and England whether Scotland joined EFTA, the EU or the Star Trek Federation. It could build a fence or dig a moat and there is nothing much the SNP could do about it.

The UK would be destroyed by Scottish independence, there is no reason to suppose it should react any differently to this existential threat than the EU did over Brexit.

Wednesday 14 July 2021

It's still OK to hate him because he's English


The racist abuse suffered by the English football players who missed penalties was peculiarly stupid. The English football team is picked on merit. It so happens that a large number of those players are black. The manager’s judgement must be that these players deserve to be in the squad. If they underperformed other players would be picked in their place. It follows therefore that those players who were racially abused were in part responsible for England qualifying for the tournament and reaching the final. The racial abusers are therefore insulting the penalty takers who were responsible for getting England to the position where they could take the penalties in the first place. The abuse is therefore not merely wrong, but self-defeating.

The squad is picked on merit, so we can assume that without the players who were racially abused it would be a worse squad than it is at present. We can assume then that the racists would prefer a worse team to be competing. But to complain about people missing penalties while wishing for less talented players to take them is senseless.

The fact that the team is picked on merit and that people from all races, backgrounds and religions are picked on the basis of their talent means that the support for the England team reflects the population in England. Everyone is equally English no matter where their parents came from. This is quite unusual in the world.

In places like Poland, Hungary and Japan and others, it is only really possible to be Polish, Hungarian or Japanese if you were born there and your parents were born there too. In Britain we are taught to be wary of such an idea, but it was commonplace here too until recently.

The response to the abuse of the English players shows that the vast majority of people in Britain reject the idea that they were not really English. We also reject the idea that people should be hated, disliked or abused because of characteristics we were born with. We should be judged on the basis of our character, thoughts, morals and actions because we are responsible for these things. We ought not to be judged on the basis of our race, sex, age or physical characteristics because we were born with these and cannot help them.

But just as I am not responsible for the colour of my eyes, so too I am not responsible for where I was born or my nationality. To hate and abuse someone because he is black is therefore just as wrong as to hate someone because he is English.

Racism is still clearly still a problem in England. But we may be hopeful that progress is being made. Sporting teams are picked on merit. There are laws to prevent racial discrimination in work and black people have demonstrated that they can reach the top in a variety of fields. More importantly the vast majority of people were horrified when the footballers were abused and condemned it. No serious thinker, politician or writer has tried to justify the racial abuse that occurred. Rather ordinary people have sought to express their support for the black players.

But in Scotland it is still commonplace to hate people for sectarian reasons, for political reasons and for xenophobic reasons. These hatreds have largely been eradicated in England, but we still have work to do here.

It is routine on social media for Scots to be abused by Scottish nationalists if they describe themselves as British. I have never once seen a Scot abuse a Scottish nationalist because he is Scottish, but it is commonplace for Scottish nationalists to use hateful language to describe people who think we can be both Scottish and British at the same time. I am routinely abused simply for being a Scot who disagrees with the SNP.

Hating people because they are black, of Pakistani or Indian heritage is unacceptable in Scotland, but hating people because they have an English heritage is not merely acceptable it is routine. Even newspapers and media journalists frequently describe our nearest neighbour as the Auld Enemy. People make generalisation about English people, being arrogant, condescending, snooty or always talking about England during football matches, that would be completely unacceptable if they were made about any other country. Imagine criticising people from Pakistan by making generalisations about their character. But we make generalisations about English people and have stereotypes about their character that we simply would not dare to make about anywhere else.

This is sometimes dismissed as banter and good fun. Everyone hates England after all and wants them to lose. But a number of incidents have shown how this banter can quickly turn nasty and violent.

Sporting rivalry is perfectly reasonable, but Australia and England can maintain a keen sporting rivalry without ever expressing that they hate or dislike the other’s country. England cricket fans do not hope that Australia loses whenever it plays someone else, nor I suspect did Germans support first Ukraine, then Denmark and finally Italy in a desperate hope that their sporting rival would lose. Germans did not buy the football shirts of England’s opponents or dance in the street in delight when they missed a penalty, because Germans have learned that hating people because of their nationality or where they were born or their religion is not merely unpleasant it is dangerous.

Some idiots, thankfully few in number, made racist remarks when a black footballer missed a penalty, but in Scotland there were loud cheers from those watching on TV, who then went out on the streets to celebrate that the goalkeeper had saved his kick. While there was condemnation of the racists who insulted him and hated him because he was black, there was no condemnation whatsoever of those who hated him because he was English. But he could no more help that he was born with black skin than that he was born in Ealing. But in Scotland while it is wrong to hate people because they are black it is still quite acceptable to hate them because they are English. Indeed, it is only because of this hatred that so many of us can’t quite bear to live in the same country as Bukayo Saka.