Saturday, February 13, 2016

We're No' Like Thame

Some thoughts on Scottish patriotism and nationalism here, starting with a seemingly irrelevant digression into football.

Back in the seventies, Scottish football supporters were viewed in much the same light as football fans everywhere else in the UK were - basically, as scum thugs in need of merciless baton-charges.  That's why Scottish football stadiums got fences and cages, just the same as the ones south of the border did.

But a funny thing happened to supporters of the national team as the eighties progressed.  Gradually, Scotland fans came to view themselves as a bunch of cheerfully drunken reprobates, almost as ambassadors for the nation, spreading merry tartan larks wherever they went.  They began to police themselves for bad behaviour, shouting down any supporters who might be inclined to fight other fans or throw things.

To put it mildly, this was an unexpected turn of events.  I'd put it down to a single cause - the appalling behaviour of some English football fans, whose violent rioting was so consistently extreme that it got the entire nation, rather than just a few clubs, banned from European competitions.

In reaction, Scottish fans seem to have decided en masse that We're no' like thame.  Thus, for the last thirty years, the Tartan Army has mostly spent its time responding to our constant failures with good humour and fraternal bevvy-sessions with rival fans, priding itself on its good-natured banter.

And, you now, it's all good.  The aggressive friendliness and mugging up to the cameras can be a bit toe-curling at times, but it creates a far more pleasant atmosphere at and around games.  If you have to be known for something, far better that it's for thirstiness and ingratiating patter, than hurling bottles and fighting with coppers.

Nonetheless, a glance at our domestic league will tell you that our garrulous bonhomie is largely an act, an assumed role.  Despite the cheery chumminess of the national team's fans, we can be just as riotous and violent as supporters south of the border.

Further, the statistics on violent crime* in Scotland make for depressing reading, showing that we're the most savage and stab-happy nation in the First World.  Adults quickly forget this, but when you're a guy aged between about fourteen and twenty one, just walking down a high street in an unfamiliar town can be a seriously risky enterprise.  People in Scotland would view e.g. the Americans as heavily armed, violently-inclined and trigger-happy, but the kind of constant, needless post-pub group batterings that are commonplace in Scotland astound tourists from across the Atlantic.

And still, when we invoke our national self-image, it's far closer to the Tartan Army's view of ourselves as endlessly friendly banter-merchants, than it is to the reality of an average Friday night in Kirkcaldy.  And this remains true, even though many of us see that reality up-close and personal on a regular basis.

Now, I'd say that all of this is fairly unremarkable, and that people in nations all over the world see themselves in a similar light.  No doubt, there's a geezer in Moscow right now chibbing a stranger through the lung, then getting teary-eyed over the wit and candour of an imagined Russian national character.  And yet, Scotland games are testament to the fact that ideas really can make us better people, at least for ninety minutes.  If that seems trite, I suspect that a visit to one of Russia's World Cup qualifiers might bear the proposition out.

And you should bear all this in mind, when observing the current upsurge in Scottish nationalist sentiment.  My guess is that a large part of it is the result of looking south of the Border at the comical bastardry of the Tories and UKIP, and declaring - We're no' like thame.

But of course, we are like them.  Popular opinion may be a bit less vicious towards migrants and benefits claimants and the European Union, and it may currently be ridiculous to imagine any serious Scottish equivalent of the English Defence League sprouting up here.  Still, this is a matter of degrees rather than a singular, special difference in our national character.

And yet, the current political landscape in Scotland is largely sculpted from this one idea - that there's a unique and precisely Scottish cameraderie that, presumably, stops exactly north of Berwick Upon Tweed.

Let's just say that I find this belief difficult to credit.  We may be less prone to boo-hoo about foreigners than our English cousins, but that's mainly because much of our boo-hoo is directed at our English cousins.  We are more open to socialist views than people in other parts of the UK but even so, there's a damn a good reason why our current government makes lots of noise about its left-wing credentials, while noticeably never doing anything that so much as smells like redistribution.

This notional Scotland, these stories that we tell ourselves about our collective amiability as a stark dividing line between ourselves and others, have now moved from a fun fantasy for football supporters to something approaching a national myth, and who knows?  Perhaps if we all believe it hard enough, it'll make us a better people and a better country, much as the Tartan Army's conviction in its own essential good-spirits have made watching Scotland games more pleasant - or at least less dangerous - for everyone.

A passing acquaintance with reality, however, suggests that we'll remain the same flawed and impulsive people that we've always been, much like everybody else is, and that no amount of self-congratulation or back-slapping is likely to effect any material change in that situation.

*Note that those two reports about Scotland as the developed world's most violent country are ten years apart, which suggests a level of consistency, if nothing else.


Phil said...

Still nothing! Are you the only actual Scot around here, FR?

gregorach said...

No, he's not, but the only bit that I'd dispute is the contention that this supposed camaraderie "stops exactly north of Berwick Upon Tweed" - in my experience, most people are perfectly happy to include folks in the north of England as being more like "us" than they are like "them" (which obviously raises the question of what you mean by "the north"). But anyway, I'd say it's more of a north / south gradient than a sharp line. We just draw the line at the border because you have to draw the line somewhere, and that's where there already happens to be one.

Anonymous said...

Identity is important. And creating an identity by comparison with those we're unlike is just as effective as measuring ourselves against those where we feel there's a similarity.

In short, for purposes of comparison, who is the "other"?

The great success of Scottish Nationalism has been to establish as a given that England/Westminster/rUK is the "unlike", even though the data shows that the similarities are greater than the differences.

dsquared said...

Definitely true on the Northerners. I have had Scousers try to tell me to my face that Liverpudlians are warm and welcoming to outsiders, not like those stuck up racists down South.

Phil said...

There's actually being friendly and then there's not being gratuitously snooty. I grew up near Croydon; when I moved to Manchester (a while ago, admittedly) I remember being really struck by how equally people dealt with me. I was used to a certain servility, either towards me or required from me, and used to social interactions opening with a quick informal checking-out to establish who needed to be respectful to whom. None of that in Manchester, and probably not in Liverpool either.

They'll rob you blind if you're not from round here, though.