Living in Yorkshire,
Roger Ratcliffe knows what he will
do if he’s given a vote on
Scottish independence

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After the Tokyo Olympics this summer’s Euro Championships seem like an age ago, but still in my mind is the way the so-called beautiful game’s ugly side reared its head. Racism and soccer
seem never far apart.

For me, the Euros highlighted another form of bigotry – anti-Englishness in Scotland. It’s mostly low-level stuff and by no means widespread, but it troubles me because this particular prejudice is one that is contributing to the Scottish push for independence.

Here’s an example. An English friend living north of the border went to his local pub to watch the England v Germany match but didn’t hang about when he realised everyone was cheering the Germans. This likelihood had been flagged up earlier by Scottish tabloid the Daily Record. Scots, it reported, were rushing to get their hands on Germany football tops and flags ahead of the crunch Euro 2021 tie against England.

Was this just a bit of friendly football rivalry, as suggested by the Daily Record? In my view not entirely. As someone who grew up in Scotland, I’ve always been aware of a strain of anti-Englishness there. Conversely, having spent much of my adult life in Yorkshire I have never sensed antipathy towards
the Scots.

This is a simplification, I know, but over the last couple of decades I’ve detected what might be called the Braveheart effect. Braveheart was Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the 13th century Scottish warrior William Wallace who fought the English armies of Edward I. The film boosted the belief – something I remember hearing as a child – that the Scots were brutally repressed by the English.

You can hear the ancient bitterness in the words of Flower of Scotland – sung before Scottish national sporting events – which celebrates the victory of the Scots over England at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The historical grievance against England is one factor behind the Scottish National Party’s successful exploitation of nationalist sentiments compared with Plaid Cymru’s efforts in Wales.

Now it is being reported that the campaign for another Scottish independence referendum is about to be kickstarted by Nicola Sturgeon. Why this matters in England is that people like me who have Scottish heritage and live here seem likely to be given a vote, presumably because the SNP has conducted polls suggesting that a clear majority of expats favour independence.

Recently, I pointed out to some SNP-supporting friends in Yorkshire it was okay for them to feel patriotic but they would not suffer the predicted negative consequences of Scottish home rule. Scotland is already in a mess. Thanks to its obsession with independence the SNP has ignored many aspects of domestic life. The once famous education system is becoming an embarrassment. Drug-related deaths are highest in Europe. Deaths due to poor diet are also soaring. The state-owned CalMac ferries keep breaking down through lack of investment.

Ah, the SNP says, the party will take Scotland back into the EU. All will be well. It’s the pill that cures every Scottish ill. I’m not so sure, though. Post-Brexit wrangling over the Northern Ireland border suggests to me that the last thing Brussels will desire is a land frontier with England. I think it would be tragic if those old enmities made the Scots choose a new and potentially calamitous future.

Roger Ratcliffe has worked as an investigative journalist with the Sunday Times Insight team and is the author of guidebooks to Leeds and Bradford. Follow him on Twitter @Ratcliffe

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