Thursday, February 08, 2007

Editor's Note: Today is the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union between Scotland and England. As such, we have a very special guest blogger, Hamish. A few notes on useage. First, Hamish is from Not Around Here, so he insists that soccer is "football." For purposes of this blog entry, we will indulge him. Second, the poem at the end is supposed to look that way. It is called "Scots."

Your regular and loyal blogger has invited me, a subject of Her Britannic Majesty from the north of Her realm, to share two articles fresh of the press – Grand Alliance and Why Did Scotland and England Unite? – which discuss the pending three hundredth anniversary of the Act of Union between Scotland and England. The only instruction I was offered was to write “nothing crazy.” Had I been invited to comment on the Act of Union nineteen years ago, when the deranged manager of the Scottish national football team had persuaded the entire country that Scotland would bring the World Cup home from Argentina, crazy might have been an apt description, at least compared to comments that might have been offered nineteen-and-a-half years ago, when the deranged manager of the Scottish football team was forced to go into hiding, the country sobered up, and we rejected independence, albeit narrowly, in a national referendum. Only Margaret Thatcher could stir up again the heady brew of Scottish nationalism after that fiasco, although there was nothing to be done with the football team, a combination of circumstances that I truly believe led to the neither-here-nor-there halfway home of a Scottish Parliament with limited powers that sits, appropriately enough, at the very foot of a sizeable hill.

Ian Jack, in the first article above, does a very fine impersonation of a Scot who lives in England, helped, no doubt, by the fact that he is a Scot who lives in England. I lived in London for several years, which is almost like living in England, and, like Mr. Jack, was never told to get back to where I came from, was called Jock only occasionally, and only once or twice had to endure chronic renditions of what I assume were well-intentioned attempts at the Scottish vernacular (English people think Scots talk like Groundskeeper Willie (sound here), and, sadly, some of them do). He omits another peeve, which is the southern tendency to refer to the neighbors in the north as “scotch,” a description which, like the golden liquor itself, is good for headaches. He is right, too, I think, to suggest that differences between the nations have greatly diminished. The whole place, north and south, is slightly smaller than Oregon – a useful comparison if you happen to know the size of Oregon – and I once had occasion to realize how small a geographical footprint the kingdom has by taking a taxi from just north of London to Scotland at relatively little expense. It is unsurprising that neighbors pressed that closely together can begin, like spouses, to resemble one and other. I think it is also fair comment to note that since the Act of Union was sold to the rogues that used to run Caledonia, it has been a largely pleasant experience (the 1980s notwithstanding).

There has been for as long as I am aware a sign on the border between the two nations which, when entering from England says “Welcome to Scotland” and which, when making the return trip, says “Haste Ye Back!” There never used to be any sign for England, perhaps because the English didn’t know there was a border to the north. Now one can see “Welcome to England” from a good distance. This might be more significant than you would think: a novel development since I moved to the United States is that Scottish independence may no longer be a question to be decided by Scots. As reported in The Telegraph, a recent ICM poll found that a greater percentage of English people wanted Scottish independence than Scots. Although one might think that it would be an improved state of affairs for Scots to have a say in where their troops are sent and who their friends are in the world, or at least get to sing some of the songs, I think it may well indeed be the growth of English nationalism which determines the matter. Unless we can find eleven really good football players.

And why did Scotland and England unite in the first place? As intimated above, I’m with Burns on that one:

But pith and power, till my last hour,
I'll mak this declaration;
We're bought and sold for English gold-
Such a parcel of rogues in a nation!



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