Tuesday, March 9, 2010

It's affection, Jim, but not as we know it

Northern Ireland's leading 'liberal unionist' blogger Chekov - who must be suitably thrilled to now find himself supporting the only major anti-agreement party in the province - has returned once again to his fixation with Scotland. It's all rather touching really, his general affection for us as a nation shines through his every word - he just can't stand our patriotism, our left-wing politics, our choice of government (especially our First Minister), and our national anthem. But if we could just get our act together and sort out those minor details for Chekov, rest assured there stands a man who desperately wants to love us. I'm guessing that Raffle Night at the Drymen Conservative and Unionist Association could well be the prototype for the 'real Scotland' that's just bursting to get out.

Anyway, it's our national anthem that's the theme of the day, with Chekov delightedly picking up on Jim Telfer's desire for Flower of Scotland to be replaced by a more 'mature' anthem. Unfortunately, perhaps due to the heavy spin on the Scotsman article he's quoting from, Chekov appears to be completely misinterpreting Telfer's words, with the suggestion that the former Scotland coach is in some way embarrassed by the 'nationalism' of the lyrics. What Telfer actually seems to be saying is that we've reached the stage of development as a nation where we can stop "defining ourselves through England" - which is in fact a solid, small 'n' nationalist argument that most SNP members would, I'm sure, be able to wholeheartedly agree with. Indeed, if there's one thing that almost guarantees that we will continue to 'define ourselves' through England, it's the continuance of the political union with our much larger neighbour. By definition, all parochial 'ninety-minute nationalists' are political unionists, if only by indolent default.

Where I part company with Telfer is that I simply don't recognise the problems he identifies with the lyrics of Flower of Scotland. It's categorically not an anti-English song, or even a song that's particularly about England - it's an anti-Edward II and anti-occupation song. Are Dutch celebrations of the liberation from Nazi rule deemed 'anti-German'?

In truth, Flower of Scotland is in many ways almost the perfect national anthem - its lyrics look to the past, present and future of our country simultaneously.


  1. It's a great song for a Scotland Vs England game but not really fit as an anthem. I, as a Scottish nationalist, am a firm supporter of English nationalism - is that a bad thing? We are cousins with a lot of shared interests. The sooner we start working together the better.

    Is that a scary prospect?

  2. A few points James.

    1) The UUP might be anti the Hillsborough Agreement, which was carved out behind closed doors by two extreme parties, but that certainly doesn't equate to being anti the Good Friday Agreement.

    2) Whilst 'chippiness' against the English and nationalism are not precisely the same thing they do tend to be rather closely related. To quote Billy Connolly "It's entirely their fault (the SNP), this new racism in Scotland, this anti-Englishness".

    3) The national anthem is GSTQ in Scotland, as in the rest of the United Kingdom.

    4) I'm interested in this implication that anti-nationalism is the same thing as anti-Scottishness. That's long been the SNP's tactic and it's simply not true. I'm not 'fixated' on Scotland, but I did live there for 7 years and naturally I do have an interest. I certainly lament the popularity of the SNP, but then I also lament the popularity of the DUP or SF in Northern Ireland.

    5) FoS is certainly a neat emblem for your rugby team. A long ago victory which was followed by a series of humiliating defeats.

  3. Chekov - in this context, what is the definition of an 'extreme' party? Is it one that is prepared to make painful sacrifices and compromises to make power-sharing work, or one that throws its toys out of the pram and tries to utterly obstruct progress, mainly - as far as I can see - out of a fit of pique that it wasn't the centre of attention in the negotiations? The DUP may be an unpleasant, hardline party in a whole lot of other ways, but it seems that on constitutional matters the UUP have decided it's their turn to be the extremists (and the Tories by extension are also tainted by this).

    Not only is chippiness against the English and nationalism not 'precisely' the same thing, they are pretty much polar opposites. As I hinted at above, people who on a micro-level moan about the English a lot tend to support political union with England, either consciously or by default. A paradox? Not at all - it's because they'd 'miss the English if they were gone', because they'd have no-one to complain about, blame everything on, feel inferior to, strive and fail to get the attention or respect of, etc, etc. By all accounts the ultra-Unionist Secretary of State Willie Ross was the archetypal example of that phenomenon. This union is a deeply dysfunctional relationship. Nationalists - whether of the small 'n' variety that I suspect from his words Jim Telfer is, or of the capital 'N' variety that Alex Salmond is - do not, to coin a phrase, feel this unhealthy need to 'define ourselves' through England at every turn. Once the psychological jump is made of seeing Scotland as a nation on an equal footing with every other, it's possible to break out of that suffocating prism and become as interested in how we relate and compare to Norway, or Slovakia, or Ecuador, as in how we relate and compare to England.

    I'm not remotely impressed by a typically hysterical quote from Billy Connolly, who for decades has exhibited a similar irrational hatred for the SNP and the broader Scottish national movement to your own. Indeed, he spent much of the 1990s bemoaning the inevitability of a Scottish Parliament, despite it clearly being the 'settled will' of his countrymen and women. One point on which he would probably part company from you is that, if memory serves me correct, he regarded full independence as actually being a lesser evil to devolution.

    On a point of pedantry, yes of course you're right about God Save the Queen, and if your own brand of unionism is to constantly remind people that they're stuck with symbols of national identity that they can't relate to whether they jolly well like it or not, well feel free to just carry on doing what you're doing. Every little helps, as Tesco would say.

    There's a character limit for comments, so I'll break this in two...

  4. I'm interested in this implication that I have implied that anti-nationalism is the same thing as anti-Scottishness. What in my words could possibly support such a contention? You wouldn't have made it up by any chance? The point I was making about you is that you clearly don't much like Scotland as it is actually is, and prefer an 'alternative Scotland' that doesn't really exist. That in fact is not a charge that could be laid against the majority of unionists - almost by definition, most unionists are to be found in the Labour party, and they therefore tend to be proud of our left-of-centre political culture. Many political unionists are also more than comfortable with the saltire, with other symbols of Scottishness, and with the reality that Scottish national identity has primacy over Britishness in most people's minds. There just isn't a widespread Scottish zealotry for a 'union of uniformity', however much you long to detect one.

    The one refreshing part of your comment was your dig at the state of Scottish rugby. I'm guessing that probably indicates that you - like, to be fair, many of your fellow travellers - are an enthusiastic supporter of the all-Ireland rugby team, which is fantastic. That's the kind of 'unionism' I thoroughly approve of!

  5. Almost every national anthem in the world relates to the history and development of the nation in question. FoS is no different in that respect.

    However, the obvious candidate is Scots Wha Hae, written by our greatest poet, to celebrate our greatest commander's address to the troops prior to our greatest victory, invoking the spirit of our greatest patriot. Plus it is a damned fine song and, if done right, would terrify any visiting football or rugby team. (not something that can be claimed re FoS)

    Just on a point of clarity, God Save the Queen is a state anthem, not a national anthem. The United Kingdom is a state made up of two nations, a prinipality and a province.

    Fact are chiels that winna ding.