February 8, 2007


Grand alliance: May 1 will mark the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union between Scotland and England. Yet there will be little celebration in either country. Does no one care any more - or are we witnessing the return of the auld enmity? Ian Jack reflects on Britishness, his experiences as a Scot in England and the rise in nationalism on both sides of the border (Ian Jack, February 8, 2007, The Guardian)

From the English perspective, few treaties between nations - few amalgamations of nations that were not previously the best of friends - have had such long-lasting and har monious results. And yet the 300th anniversary of the implementation of the Treaty of Union on May 1 will be marked by no loud celebration in either England or Scotland. Politicians from all parties tiptoe around the subject, apart from the Scottish Nationalists, that is, who have to consider the treaty a scandal and disgrace. The National Archives of Scotland, along with the Edinburgh and London parliaments, is assembling an array of documents for display this summer, while the Scottish National Portrait Gallery is mounting a show, Shotgun Wedding, about the union. In London, the British Museum and the British Library are planning exhibitions about the history of "Britishness", perhaps to Gordon Brown's advantage, though neither will open until next year. This year's commemoration is to be Britain's abolition of the slave trade (1807), a safer ground for thankfulness than the treaty that made Great Britain a political reality 100 years before.

Opinion polls point to the obvious reason. "British" has become a less desirable identity, a journey out of fashion that began in Scotland and then spread south when the English discovered that "England" and "Britain" were two different national identities and that they could wave their own flag at football games. Devolution has left England fraught with reasonable but so far unanswered questions. Why does Scotland attract more public spending per capita than England? Why are Scottish MPs at Westminster allowed to vote on legislation that affects only England? Why doesn't England have its own parliament like those in Edinburgh and Cardiff? Why are there so many Scottish accents on radio and television, and why so many in government? The Tory party, for 10 years now without a single seat in Scotland, has become the English party. In Scotland, the SNP may win a working majority in May's parliamentary elections and promises to hold an early referendum on independence if it does, the question sweetened by the promise of offshore oil revenues.

All of this would seem like fertile ground for the first true outbreak of Scotophobia since the 1760s, but among the people I know and meet I can't see it. Perhaps, like Anglophobia in Scotland, it has learned to hide itself from its targets; Scotland has several hundred thousand English-born residents in a population of 5.1 million, and despite enlightened progress in Scotland on the "bloody English" question, there will always be a Braveheart in a cold flat somewhere cursing them. (For what? For everything!)

More probably, the English don't care enough to be phobic. For many of them, the idea that Britain is more than simply a greater England is relatively new, the words England and Britain being used interchangeably by English historians well into the 20th century. Even as perceptive a writer as George Orwell didn't see the light until, ill with tuberculosis in a Scottish hospital a year before he died, he noted Scottish difference to England and what he felt were the small but ominous stirrings of separatism. ("After all," he wrote in Tribune, "the Nazi party only had six members when Hitler joined it.")

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 8, 2007 8:22 AM

Had a taxi driver in the Midlands last fall try to refuse a Bank of Scotland tenner...

Posted by: Rick T. at February 8, 2007 9:57 AM

Lots of businesses won't accept them. That's due to a past outbreak of counterfeiting rather than any anti-Scots feeling.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at February 9, 2007 9:10 AM