In my Kitchen I have a framed gigantic poster. It refers to a demonstration held on June 12th 1988 by the Scottish Committee of the Anti-apartheid movement under the then ubiquitous slogan: “Free Nelson Mandela.”
It was a wonderful day, when the sun shone from start to finish, and a great demo, not repeated in my experience until the day we all marched against Blair’s Iraq War.
But it was also memorable for another reason. This was a pre-internet age, so, although we were all aware of another important event happening at the same time we were largely isolated from it. When we all finally arrived at Glasgow Green there was a man with a portable radio plugged into his ear who was the subject of repeated approaches, mine among them. “Don’t worry”, he assured his interlocutors, “Ireland are winning one nothing”. In my memory at least he added the further endorsement “It could be a perfect day.”
For, on that very afternoon, somewhere in Sweden, the Republic of Ireland were beating, indeed did beat, England in the European Championship.
Now, let’s analyse this exchange. We were on a demonstration about events in Southern Africa; we were at a time when many of the marchers likely took the view that the demand for a Scottish Parliament was a diversion from the class struggle and we were among a lefty audience, many of whom probably took the view that football took too important a place in our culture. Not for a minute however did the respondent doubt that the news that England were being beaten would add to his questioner’s joy of occasion.
Well partly because all small countries resent their larger neighbours: The New Zealanders support anybody, in any circumstance, against the Australians; as the Dutch against the Germans but then again last Summer the only two Countries rooting for a Spanish defeat in the World Cup Final were the Dutch themselves.....and the Portugese.
But also because there is a particular feature of Sports coverage in this Country where more culturally sensitive politicians cede the moment to the Alan Partridges of this world. "We" does not include me, despite my being televisually addressed in that manner, our boys are not my boys and I am not alone in resenting that while it is appreciated that not all Liverpool Fans might be heartbroken when Manchester United are outclassed by Barcelona, there is no appreciation that there might be a similar sentiment north of the border when the Germans fourth goal went in last Summer.
To quote from Monty Python however, that is no basis for a system of Government. If Scotland was Independent, English coverage of their own national team be unlikely to become less partisan. We simply wouldn’t haven’t to listen to it. Unfortunately however the actual performance of our own national team would not get any better.
I was prompted to write this tonight by watching Spain against England in the European under 21 championship and having to listen to the commentary but earlier on I saw the final instalment of Fergal Keane’s history of Ireland. Now Ireland’s relationship with England is quite different from Scotland’s but those who would make that comparison would be well to listen to the words of Sean Lemass, speaking, in the early sixties as to how, forty years on from 1921, the idea that Independence itself would solve all of Ireland’s problems had proved, over time, to be wholly illusory.
That is nonetheless the proposition that is being sold to the people of Scotland today.
While it is an end that I would in no sense advocate, is there little doubt that a United Kingdom team would have contested more than one World Cup final? Or that if Denis Law had scored a hat-trick in the process that we wouldn’t be too bothered by the technicality that the second goal hadn’t actually crossed the line?
I say this only to highlight that there is a downside to independence, on the football field as it would be in the real world. But at least on the football field we get to hate England as a consolation.
It would, I fear, be less consolation in the real world..