Wednesday, 18 January 2012
God damns the English, says Scot
I heard the 07:48 Thought for the Day from John Bell of the Iona Community (no BBC link provided). His thought summed up was this. Independence is a sacred cause. The English are moral scum. The English are entirely to be represented by the South East of England, by which we don't mean hop-pickers and ex-miners and people in seasonal jobs in Margate, but the kind of people Braveheart was fighting, plus bowler hats and umbrellas. The Scots, he believes, are a downtrodden people, and, what is worse, the butt of cruel patronising English jokes. They are altogether nobler than the English. And what is more this is so because God says so.
It was this last point that particularly struck me. God, that is. The way God hates some people.
My first encounter with Scottish hatred of England was at the end of the 1966 World Cup when the Scots deservedly beat England, then freshly World Champions, at Wembley. Good for them. What followed was a mass invasion of the pitch and the breaking of the goals, and marching round with the goalpost and bits of turf as trophies. I was seventeen at the time. It was my first British experience of visceral mass hatred. It stuck in my mind if only because I had not heard anyone say a bad word about Scots in England. I might, of course, have led a sheltered life, with relatively few corpses in Hungarian streets.
Then there were other occasions. The translation conference at Cambridge where a young Scottish academic announced that Scotland was one with Africa in being the victim of English colonialism and that the only thing Scots had done in the cause of Empire was build a few ships. They hadn't actually run any of it nor did they benefit from any of it. Scots were on a par with the poorest Africans. She further worried that she wasn't herself quite Scottish enough and opened the notion of deep Scottishness which rang with me in terms of deep Hungarianness, a subject dear to the heart of Hungarian nationalists and indeed racists. She of course was, so she said, coming at this from a left wing point of view. I did put the deep Hungarian question to her which slightly puzzled her. 'How can that be? We're good people,' she implied in her answer.
There was also the Scottish student in my art school class the first sentence of one of whose stories began 'The English ran over our cat'. It was, you understand, the cruel English nation that ran her cat over, because that's the kind of thing the English do.
I could provide several instances but this will do. I only add - no true Scot will believe me of course - that I still haven't heard the English, any of them in public, or to me in private, or in my presence, badmouthing Scots or Scotland. In fact we learn that the English trust the Scots voice, have a high regard for Scottish virtues,and that more English than Scots support Scottish independence. But this only makes it worse for some Scots, who would hate to support anything the English support, even it if it is Scottish independence. Who do you support? Anyone playing England (sic Andy Murray before his PR makeover).
Personally I have nothing against Scottish independence, any more than I had against Slovakian, Czech, Slovenian, Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian, Ukranian, Georgian, etc etc. I am far more interested in the human race than in in their flags and national anthems, though I can quite see why people gather round emblems, habits, traditions, places and languages. I can even see why people take pride in them. They should take pride. A certain pride in the best of one's ancestors combined with a certain honesty (the best honesty that can be managed in the circumstances) is to the good. Though maybe pride isn't quite the word.
Maybe the right word is pleasure. I do take pleasure in Hungarian powers of invention, in the fifties football team, in 1956, in the remarkably surviving Hungarian language and its literature. It's nice to say 'I am one of those'. 'That's my language'. 'They lived where I lived and saw the same houses, the same river.'
And there are times when pleasure and pride can be legitimately harnessed in conflict with enemies. There is no history without the battle for survival or expansion. Calamities of nature, lack of resources, external military pressures, and sheer desire, have usually been behind the drive to expansion. We are where we are because of such battles and I cannot personally feel quite pious enough to condemn them all form the safety of retrospect. All I insist on remembering is that the status quo is always interim and even the map of a thousand year reich or empire, even in China, is constantly being nibbled away by mice with very sharp teeth.
The hoarded resentments of history are, as I understand it, a source of social energy and solidarity. It's just that my time as an adult has been dominated by the omnipresent sense of righteous victimhood. The young Scottish academic was proclaiming the wounds of her nation while wearing the comfortable clothes of righteousness. She was also lying about the past by substituting one truth for all the others.
I like most of the Scots of my acquaintance, and, in so far as one can generalise in this way, I admire much about the Scottish tradition of intellectual energy and forthrightness. Listening to Alex Salmond, though, is like hearing a stream of bile and contempt for anything south of Hadrian's Wall. The idea of Scottish independence he preaches is contingent on the idea of English wickedness. And in so far as Scots subscribe to this they are best left to themselves. I'll certainly not be visiting the Iona Community.
Just one final word. The economic argument for or against independence is a low argument either way. There are certainly practical considerations but in such emotional matters they are secondary. If people really want something on moral grounds then blow the economics.
The great Scottish hope, often referred to, is North Sea oil. To some degree it is independence. It will make Scotland rich. Scotland will be able to say to the contemptible English: You can't have it. Not unless you pay through the nose, you Sassenach bastards.
Oil is, as you see, a moral issue.
Why do I say these things? Because I like the English people I live among. I don't think they are scum. I expect someone will inform me that there are hordes of English motorists looking to run over Scottish cats. I'll look out for them.