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.


Phil Simmons said...

For once I wish I'd heard "Thought For The Day" ! I *have* heard Mr Bell before in the same slot, and been content to ignore him as yet another rather bland, well-intentioned ecumenical speaker of the kind that regularly graces it (personally, I'd like to hear Prof Richard Dawkins or some unreconstructed Odinist given a turn, but that seems unlikely somehow.) Perhaps he was just trying to find out if anyone actually listens ?

His utterances, as reported, do seem rather bizarre, though. Most of the Scots I know have been ready to rib the English - or at least me, as their representative - fairly mercilessly, but I'd always assumed this was the same kind of playing with stereotypes that I myself exercise, for instance, when watching my home nation's team playing, say, the French at rugby. I love France as a country and culture, but I'm quite prepared to make schoolboy jokes about garlic, baguettes and Napoleon Bonaparte so long as I don't think anyone is likely to take me too seriously.

I'm dimly aware that there may be a more serious resentment among some Scottish people dating back to the various wars between our leaders 300-and-more years ago, but I'd always assumed that, since the Scottish clans were at least as adept at fighting among themselves as they were fighting the English in those days, and as we Sassenachs are, in general, slightly ashamed of our more belligerent ancestors, most Scots were happy to consign such conflicts to history, where everyone has form. If these ancient hatreds are being manipulated in order to provide some kind of mystical folk-memory justification for Scottish independence, then it is genuinely worrying.

As you point out, George, the problem Scots Nationalists have selling secession is not with the English, but with other Scots, so Alec Salmond needs to make it quite clear that neither he nor his party will tolerate this kind of nonsense. I don't suppose minor religious figures such as Mr Bell will make much difference either way, but there have been sadly too many examples in Europe recently where ancient battles between neighbours have been used to romanticise chauvinist political manoeuvring that does not, and cannot, have anything to do with them.

But as to your student's cat, are you sure that *wasn't* a joke ?

George S said...

I may be being oversensitive, Phil, but I do think atavistic memory is an easily manipulable curse. One only has to think of the Serbs, Croats and Bosnians and how Yugoslavia erupted into the most terrible violence.

I don't expect the same here (while noting that no one expected it there either), because, as you say, the nature of the ribbing tends to defuse the less articulate energies that go into tribal hostility.

I do however think that there is atavistic hostility at play here and that it springs from an intensified if common human need to transfer frustrations to an easy or traditional enemy, to the point that the approval or indifference of the other party can make things worse.

People seem to love the sense of having been wronged. It justifies everything by shifting the blame and makes it highly desirable to keep that other bad figure handy. I loath this attitude. It smacks of hypocrisy more than anything, like the Scottish academic O mention in the post.

I suspect the Scots indulge in something of this, as do the Irish. My explanation of the intensity of feeling was that neither the Irish nor the Scots have ever known a variety of enemies. There has only ever been one, so a 300 year old, or even a 500 year old wrong is nursed and exhibited as at some perpetual boozy flower show.

Most of the time that can be sublimated in the form of sport, jokes and mild stereotypes, but not all the time. The Hungarians must have their Jews and Roma: if they could harm them with impunity they would.

The UK antagonism has been fairly cosy so far but it may not be so for ever.

The girl was serious, just a bit naive. A solemn creature.

looby said...

Your post articulately summarises your articulation of a bemusement I share, about the hostility towards the English that any Englishman who has spent time in Scotland encounters. For a nation that gave birth to Hume, Smith et al, they seem to have a chip on their shoulder that they turn into an identity.

looby said...

Forms of "to articulate" used twice. The unforgiving nature of internet posting towards one's solecisims.

George S said...

Would these off-the-shoulder jobs be deep-fried chips, Looby? [terrible jokes #328]

looby said...

Mars Bars, surely?

Wish I'd have been at the conference and had the presence of mind to ask her why she thought that Virginia Street in Glasgow is so named, given her desire to separate her country from the dirt of international trade.

George S said...

And there was I thinking they named it after Virginia Wade. Virginia Wade / Would have nothing to do with international trade / And would only greet / People who lived down her street.

Gwil W said...

I love Scotland and I love the people. I love them all even Rab C Nesbitt - in fact maybe I love him the most.
I love the English too. I love England. I love the Lake District and the Yorkshire Dales. I love Stephen Hawking and his black holes. But most of all I love Wales. I love Aberdaron and R S THomas and I love Dylan Thomas and Laugharne and I love Robinson's beer and Wrexham lager. I love the whole damned place every rock and every Cambrian stone. The first place God made.

George S said...

And nobody would blame you for that, Gwilym. It's right, I think, that people should love their land and culture best. Others will identify their own feelings towards their countries in such ties of affection.

Gwil W said...

You are right George. Roots go deep. We must love the other trees in the forest even so. It's what makes the forest great. And makes it great fun. If we do it right.

Dafydd John said...

You have given us a series of joyous messages over the past few day, George, this is not one of them!

You write:
"Listening to Alex Salmond, though, is like hearing a stream of bile and contempt for anything south of Hadrian's Wall."

I think that is just wrong, but if you do believe it, I think it's such a serious accusation that you should try to justify it - chapter and verse.

I remember, a few years ago now, being at Harefield Hospital, where my brother was recovering from a heart transplant operation, being in the company of a Leicester man whose life had just been saved by the same procedure under the emminent surgeon Professor Maghdi Yacoub, and he had just one message for the assembled gathering - that ALL foreigners should be sent back to where they came from.

And what do we learn from this anecdote? Nothing really; no more than we learn from the cat story...

Nos da.

Anonymous said...

I find any kind of group identity troubling when it seems mostly or largely predicated on Not Being Like Those Other People.Scottish people who are just so happy (or relieved ?) that they are not English.Ulster Protestants whose maxim could be "We might be scum but at least we're not Catholic scum." And so on. These attitudes dreary at best, genocidal at worst.

How sad to just be defining yourself in terms of what you despise.

NB Am not saying that ALL Scottish people or Ulster Protestants do these things.

Angela France said...

Thank you for this George. I wish I had time to respond at more length but I have to get ready for work. You have voiced my concerns about many of the Scots' attitude exactly.

panther said...

I can't help thinking, if Scotland does go for independence, a lot of this victim mentality will have to change. Because once you have independence, you have to make decisions and take responsibility for them.

That might be a good thing.

Gwil W said...

The idea of removing the St. Andrews cross from the union flag is a bit belated.

The Welsh emblem is not even on the union flag.

Wales was not permitted to have its own flag until fairly recent times.

When we talk about UK identities we have to be careful. The Windsors, for example, only became the Windsors in 1916 or thereabouts. They are in fact a mixture of Saxe Coburg Gotha (Her) and Schlesswig Holstein (Him).

Why Harry goes around with the name of my country on his army uniform where his real name should be is something of a mystery to me. This implies that his name is Harry Wales.

If we started looking deeply into the UK's so-called heritage there's a real danger it wouldn't stand close scrutiny.

George S said...

Well indeed, Gwilym. Who was the last English king of this country downtrodden by Welsh Tudors, Scots like James VI, Dutch like William of Orange and Germans like the Windsors? And why hasn't there been at least one token Hungarian on the throne?

George S said...

Dafydd, I thought I had explained what I thought good and what excessive about nationalism.

Let me turn your Salmond question round. Can I ask you to find me five quotes from Salmond in which he is complimentary or even conciliatory to England and the English?

Or ten by any number of living Scots? at any time?

Dafydd John said...

I'm much too busy, George! But it wasn't me who made what was, at very best, an exaggerated claim.

But the point of home rule, self-determination or independence is that you take away even the possibility of being in a position to blame anyone else.

Those who make accusations against the 'whingeing Scots' and still oppose the idea of Scottish independence (not you, George) can't have it all ways.

We Welsh are constantly being accused of lacking humour because for some reason we feel offended when we still hear the sort of jokes about us that people wouldn't even imagine saying (and broadcasting!) in this day and age about the Irish, Pakistanis, Jews... But the Welsh, it seems, are fair game - or so the BBC keep saying when there are complaints.

One other thing, have people noticed that the 'British media' seem to think that the UK is actually made up of two nations? All discussion on Scotland's future
has focused entirely - as does your blog George - on the relationship between Scotland and England, and the consequences of Scottish independence on England!

If Scotland does go her own way - it changes everything, for all of us.

George S said...

Exaggerated, was it? I have never heard Salmond speak without disparaging the English in some way. His form of nationalism depends on fomenting the sense of hostility that is already latent.

As a point of information I wasn't discussing Scotland's future, as you put it, nor the effects of independence on England. Where have I done that? I wish people wouldn't assume what I was writing about but read what I actually do write. It's a typical case of: 'If you say this you must also be saying things you haven't as yet said but you'll be thinking so I'll criticise you for that'. It's easier to deal with people as ready packages. I give you more credit than that, so assume this is an off day.

I was specifically discussing Scottish attitudes to England and the English. Not sure how Wales fits into that.

OK if we are trading invitations, give me a list of anti-Wales jibes broadcast by the BBC in the last year. Not the whole list, just five, say. You'll know these as these must be close to your heart.

And, OK, let's forget the kindly things Scots mutter to themselves about the English. Too much research needed there, I agree. Why don't you say five nice things about England and the English yourself? I will be mildly surprised to receive an answer to that but I am reasonably patient most times.

Dafydd John said...

Well, if you insist, and I've just 'borrowed' this:

"Recent examples of anti-Welsh sentiment in the media include the journalist A. A. Gill (born in Scotland to English parents) who in the Sunday Times described the Welsh as "loquacious, dissemblers, immoral liars, stunted, bigoted, dark, ugly, pugnacious little trolls." The English writer A. N. Wilson stated: "The Welsh have never made any significant contribution to any branch of knowledge, culture or entertainment. They have no architecture, no gastronomic tradition, no literature worthy of the name." (Evening Standard, 1993)

In 2000, a cross party group of Members of the National Assembly of Wales, representing all four political parties in the Assembly, called for an end to what they termed "persistent anti-Welsh racism" in the UK media.

English television personality Anne Robinson appeared on the comedy show Room 101 in 2001 and made derisive comments about Welsh people, such as "what are they for?" and "I never did like them". The show is designed to draw extreme views from interview subjects in order to generate controversy and humour. The people she was thinking about were supposedly those who spoke Welsh around the market stall operated by her mother in Liverpool during her childhood. Her comments upset some who accused her of racism. North Wales Police spent 96 hours investigating the issue, and concluded that no crime had been committed. She was cleared of racism by the Broadcasting Standards Commission, who stated that her comments "came close to the boundaries of acceptability" The North Wales Police have also investigated allegations of anti-Welsh racism made against Tony Blair and columnist Cristina Odone. Again, no charges were brought.[8]

Writer Neal Ascherson commented that: "Southern views of the Scots over the last hundred years have been faintly sceptical – "chippy, lacking in humour, slow to unbend" – but on the whole affectionate. (Contrast English attitudes to Welshness, which, for reasons I am not sure of, are often genuinely hostile)."

Dafydd John said...


BBC presenter Jeremy Clarkson is well-known for his xenophobic comments which sometimes take an anti-Welsh direction, e.g. "It’s entirely unfair that some people are born fat or ugly or dyslexic or disabled or ginger or small or Welsh. Life, I’m afraid, is tragic."[10] Another example, in the context of Wales's 2008 Grand Slam victory: "You can never rely on the French. All they had to do was go to Cardiff last weekend with a bit of fire in their bellies and they’d have denied Wales the Six Nations Grand Slam. But no. They turned up instead with cheese in their bellies and mooched about for 80 minutes, seemingly not at all bothered that we’ve got to spend the next 12 months listening to the sheepsters droning on about their natural superiority and brilliance. Or worse. Give them a Grand Slam and the next thing you know, all our holiday cottages are on fire. There are, of course, other reasons I hoped the French would win. I’d rather live in France than Wales; I’d rather eat a snail than a daffodil; I’d certainly rather drink French fizzy wine; and I’d much rather sleep with Carole Bouquet than Charlotte Church." On his BBC2 show he placed a plastic map of Wales in a microwave and burned it to audience applause. On Sep 4 2011, writing in his weekend column for The Sun newspaper, he said "I think we are fast approaching the time when the United Nations should start to think seriously about abolishing other languages. What’s the point of Welsh for example? All it does is provide a silly maypole around which a bunch of hotheads can get all nationalistic."[13]

In October 2010, Rod Liddle, an associate editor of the The Spectator magazine, described the Welsh as "miserable, seaweed munching, sheep-bothering pinch-faced hill-tribes" in a short post calling for the closure of S4C as a result of the 2010 Comprehensive Spending Review.

On the 12th of August 2011, Roger Lewis columnist for the Daily Mail said of the Welsh language "I abhor the appalling and moribund monkey language myself, which hasn't had a new noun since the Middle Ages..." whilst reviewing a book by Jasper Rees, Bred of Heaven."

Do you really think Clarkson would be allowed to say those things if he was talking about Jews or Muslims, for instance, on the BBC?

As for me, well I do have English friends, lots of them! I don't know what you think Welsh society is like at the beginning of the 21st Century - Norwich isn't that far away. English born people probably make up 30% of the population here. Do I feel annoyed with those of them who come to our largely Welsh speaking communities to live, who then become instantly annoyed because that is the nature (for now) of those communities, and insist on the locals changing for their benefit? Yes, I probably do. We are talking after all of a language that's threatened with extinction, and I think poets especially should be aware of the impending death of a culture and a language in so many of these smaller, economically challenged communities.

I like your literature, especially poetry (though I do find some of the latter tedious), but that is probably true of a lot of ours as well.

I visit as much as I can and love it.

I love your humour very much indeed (when it's good).

I love Tottenham Hotspur most of all...

I just like the English, no more no less than I like the Scots or the Irish or the French or the Germans or the Americans or Australians...or the Welsh - no, hang on, the Welsh manage to annoy me intensely day after day after day.

George S said...

Well, there wasn't much in the last year, Daffyd, which is what I was asking for, and I see you go back to 1993. Nevertheless, I can see it is close to your heart and you've done a bit of checking. At the same time it mighty also be worth checking the people Anne Robinson, Jeremy Clarkson and A A Gill have not been rude about. I think you'll find the list of the insulted rather long, Clarkson practically every week. I do, as a matter of fact, think that Clarkson would get away with Jewish remarks but not with Islam or Moslems - the danger there is too high.

'I think poets especially should be aware of the impending death of a culture and a language in so many of these smaller, economically challenged communities.'

This is precisely why I answered your earlier comment the way I did. Again you are suggesting I think something I don't: that I don't care about the Welsh language (see above). How you get that out of an article about the Scots really does beat me! I am for the preservation of any and all languages. But you don't bother with any evidence, you don't bother to ask, you just go on leaping ahead until you finally make up something for me to think so you can attack it. You actively want to find something disgraceful and since you can't, you invent something. That is part of the mindset I worry about.

Having English friends is not the same as liking something about England and the English. I am not sure how you would react if, when you asked what I like about Wales and the Welsh, I said I had some Welsh friends and I liked the way Swansea play.

I would perhaps say something about the beauty of Wales, about the tradition of poetry, about the sense of solidarity, about the hard history of mining, about the tradition in singing, about the good humour, about the imagination and its inventions, about the sense of the transcendental etc etc. And if you gloried in those things I would glory with you. Hence the passage on pleasure in the post.

But of course you haven't asked me. To tell you the truth I didn't find that all that difficult. It never once stuck in my throat.

Dafydd John said...

When I tried to discuss honestly how things are in Wales and how I react to certain situations and certain pressures, there was no question of suggesting that you believe anything which you haven't claimed to believe, or that you were saying anything other than what you have said - I was merely saying it as I see it, responding to your challenge, as it were, without creating a list. You want me to prove that I have no problem with the English, well I'm afraid you'll just have to take my word for it. As someone else almost said - 'Is it because I is Welsh??!' And, of course, a nationalist, and therfore must have an 'enemy'!

I still think your claim that absolutely everything you've ever heard Salmond utter has been hateful, anti-English bile, is in itself extreme. In fact, I honestly can't believe that you believe it yourself.

panther said...

Salmond is a Scottish nationalist, he has set out a particular stall. By definition, part of his job has to be to suggest in all sorts of different ways why Scottish people would be better off if they were an independent nation. Unfortunately, such suggestions carry with them implications that "the English" (as a generality) are : untrustworthy,or too snobbish, or too effeminate, or too rich, or too arrogant, or. . .Even if he doesn't quite use those words (and I admit, I have not yet been tempted to go through all of Alex Salmond's speeches with a toothcomb), he appeals to (has to appeal to, even) those sorts of sentiments.

Am not saying I like those sentiments, or that approach, but as a nationalist seeking independence, tat bis what you will do. To start with, seeing people in terms of generalities strikes me as being utterly daft (as well as dubious, and potentially explosive, naturally.) The most one could ever say is "SOME English people are arrogant (as are some other people from other places." But that's less of a soundbite.

George S said...


'Is it because I is Welsh??!'

No, it is because you brought in the subject of Wales.

Dafydd John said...

It's probably best if we leave it there for now - in case we actually do fall out!

But I thought you'd pick up on the 'Is it because I is Welsh??!' bit. Perhaps Welsh humour loses its potency as it travels east.

Anyway, you have more important things to think about; Lukas, and I haven't yet congratulated you and the family - he looks a fine, fine little boy.

George S said...

Thank you, Dafydd. No hard feelings at all.