If I should die, think only this of me,
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England.
The Soldier: Rupert Brooke
War poet, Rupert Chawner Brooke, died from a mosquito bite while on a lecture tour, not a bullet while fighting on the front line. Nevertheless the sentiment contained in his sonnet articulates what many a Tommy felt in his heart as he faced certain death lying face down in a mud mired trench.
Brooke’s longing for his homeland carries greater meaning than a safe haven in Blighty. Among English it conjures an idealistic, elegiac, Elgarian image of rolling hillsides, green and pleasant lands, ye olde pubs, and tranquil village life.
Born in Rugby, Warwickshire, educated at two independent schools, Hillbrow and Rugby, Brooks struck a youthful image to his peers, much liked, attractive to women.
Had he been able to scan the verse Brooke would never think to write, “…a corner of a foreign field that is forever Great Britain,” or, “… forever the United Kingdom.” Yet his use of “England” is taken to mean the entire British Isles.
The feelings expressed in the sonnet has meaning for every Jock, Taffy, and Paddy who fought in that catastrophic conflict; Brooke’s yearning is universal, his geography precise. For Jock, Taffy, and Paddy, theirs is not to reason why he does not mean the Highland’s of Scotland, or the mining valleys of Wales, or the potato famine fields of County Mayo. What is more, he means England for the English. His whole culture is English, his schooling, his society, his friends, his values.
We can argue the same of Robert Burns and his native Scotland. His poetry travels the world, crosses language barriers, is spoken in almost every country, if not every month at least every New Year’s night.
Lines from his poems adorn book jackets as titles: Of Mice and Men, and paraphrased from Comin’ Thro’ the Rye, J. D. Salinger’s, Catcher in the Rye, and so on, and so forth. Burns knew his poetic imagery was applicable to the lives of people.
There is a critical difference between Brooke and Burns. Burns poetry is universal in application. Brooke was talking solely of England, and almost certainly southern England.
Cricket not shinty
English politicians conforming to the colonial mindset of the imperialist foster the specious belief Britain is England, and only anything English has validity. It was never the “British” empire. It was the English empire. A few Scots made their fortunes, but almost all served the British empire in the role of subaltern, following the British government’s diktat, none members of the ruling power structure, either in a colony, or the homeland. Rulers of the British empire did not teach the “natives” shinty. They taught them cricket.
The Tebbit Test
The Conservative member of parliament, Norman Tebbit, proposed the infamous litmus test of British national loyalty, the proto-fascist proof of a loyal English citizen. His measurement of immigrant allegiance poses the question, which cricket team do immigrants cheer, England or their former country? By that yardstick, Tebbit sees every Jock, Taffy and Paddy as English.
The Tebbit test forces people into black and white boxes, failing to understand the multi-faceted nature of identity, or indeed, that no self-respecting Irishman would ever cheer an England cricket team. It has the undesirable effect of making those who cheer their own cricket team, disloyal, and those who cheer the English cricket team loyalist. Cricket is played in Scotland, but on its fringes, Border villages populated by English, and a few public school run on English lines. It is considered an import but is given far greater broadcasting time in news and sports programmes to any Scottish game.
Ordinary English have long been suspicious of incomers and intellectuals. Intellectuals tend to be tolerant of foreigners, or of foreign abstraction themselves. One supposes the distrust of foreigners comes from living in an island, one vulnerable to attack from all sides, across seas, and from the legacy of an empire, an accelerating rejection by nations unwilling to assimilate English mores, traditions and customs. Dislike of “Johnny Foreigner” is an unhealthy self-defeating bigotry for it drives the best ability, the most dynamic, to live and work elsewhere.
The jingoism of Tebbit that assumes anybody not born in England cannot be as English as the English is writ large in the British territory of Gibraltar. Images of the aesthetically challenged Union Jack flag are everywhere. Shops sell “T” shirts proclaiming “Keep Gibraltar British,” and, “Proud to be British.” Of Scottish culture there is not a trace though Scots live there. There is no mistaking Gibraltar means England ruled by the United Kingdom parliament. The Falkland islanders mean England too when they raise the flag, their farms and businesses heavily subsidised by the British taxpayer.
Differences? What differences?
For many a Scot England is, if not quite alien, occasionally strange. (The reverse is also true.) To a significant degree England has radically different politics, different traditions, national costume, sports and sports leagues, language and dialect words, religions, domestic architecture, use of land, national dishes, flora and fauna, in addition to a law system and an education system.
The NHS in England is legally and administratively separate from Scotland, though an individual can use either seamlessly. England’s current coalition is in the throes of creating a welfare system, part free, mostly privatised, unlike Scotland which wants to retain a welfare state.
Above all, the first thing a Scot notices is English ignorance of his homeland and its history. The history of Scotland is not part and parcel of English schooling. Learning the English Crown had the wearing of tartan banned as a way of crushing clan unity always comes as a surprise to many an Englishman. Other small differences surface. Like some Welsh place names, English find Scots dialect words and old Scots incomprehensible. The weather is always a negative, Scotland a cold, wet place, which to some extent is true although climate change has gifted warmer winters. Scotland tends to be a few degrees colder than the south of England. The first real insult comes in the form of the lowly shop assistant who questions the validity of the Scottish pound note offered in payment of goods. “Wat’s this, mate? Toy Town money?”
The Clydesdale Bank was the first to print paper money. Scottish banks still hold the right to issue their own notes. Little known because it’s usually a solitary experience, parking ticket machines refuse them. Only an English pound note is acceptable. The machine are designed to recognise only the portrait of HRH., Queen Elizabeth. (To the human eye it is hard to recognise the portrait on a pound note as the Queen in the flesh.) To avoid dispute and embarrassment Scots find themselves playing a second-class British citizen by ordering English notes from their Scottish bank before travelling to their neighbour state.
The urge is outward
Scots and English never quite feel at home the further afield they go, to Europe, Canada, Nova Scotia, New Zealand, and Australia, a rejection of their homeland that manifests itself eventually in romantic sentimentality. I am sure that is the same for all nationalities. On first visit to Scotland English remark how different Scotland is from their homeland. “It is a different country,” the most common remark.
In the debate about Scottish homogeneity the Scot is told independence, the severing of political allegiance to the will and agenda of the Westminster parliament, means Scotland becomes a foreign country, overnight. This is a ludicrous suggestion, one designed to play on the Scot’s sense of inferiority, a lower rank, servile forever.
An associate member
In reality, it is hard to name a Scot, male or female, fully accepted into English life. The most famous symbol of that attitude taken to extreme has to be Mary Queen of Scots; how well the English Crown dealt with her “assimilation.”
An example from the twentieth century is the founder of the British Broadcasting Corporation, Lord Reith, a son of the manse, never given government office by Churchill though he strove hard and long to achieve a parliamentary post. Austere and autocratic, he was successful steering the BBC to a set of basic broadcasting principles admired the world over. That did not stop the Daily Mail newspaper vilifying the man, his achievements, and his private life, forty-five years after his death in an article published in February 2014. One cannot get any more tattooed with an identification of English values than the first Director General of the BBC but it did him no good whatsoever as far as his political ambitions are concerned, or his legacy.
In more modern times we see how Gordon Brown, yet another son of the manse, found to his cost blind adherence to the British state attracts public opprobrium from English and Scots alike. His timing from chancellor of the exchequer to prime minister was unfortunate in the extreme when it coincided with the catastrophic collapse of the west’s financial system caused by embracing fantasy economics, corruption, and immorality.
The backlash that ensued goes as far as a resentment of a member of parliament with a pronounced Scottish accent. Better to utter a strangled set of vowels that sound English, such as Sir Malcolm Rifkind, former MP for Edinburgh South. Scots are rewarded for their service to the state as well as any other born in the British Isles, but gaining permanent membership of it is well-nigh impossible. Never the king, always the servant.
Us versus them
There’s always been a class war in England. It’s a national pastime. Early last century we had the lumpen proletariat versus the toffs. At the start of this century it is the haves versus the have-nots. Now it is partially superseded by English versus immigrants, a bigotry based on false immigration statistics. England wants to leave the European Union. Scotland wants to stay in.
The barons of big business educated by their neo-con antecedents have been extremely successful inculcating the masses with a dislike of immigrants of all kinds, especially those looking for work. First they bomb their lands, then they demand they accept western democracy, a perverted version of democracy. On the other hand, English emigrating to hot climates and the cheap living of Spain, Tuscany, Greece, and Albania are not to be classed as immigrants in a foreign land.
Historically, his country poorly governed by London’s politicians and consequently impoverished by the dead hand of the colonial administration, the Scot emigrated to faraway lands to make a new life. There they found themselves exotic and indulged in the new-found, respected identity. How sad to leave your homeland to gain respect.
The Lauder cringe
One manifestation of the Scot abroad is the Scot larger than the Scots, the man in the generous kilt, bushy beard, whisky swilling, boastful, reciting Burns badly, and chastising the English, rather like a professional Cockney more Cockney than the Cockneys, actor, Ray Winstone, a good example of the breed, a man who makes a feast of feigning working class origins and modesty.
Early in the twentieth century Harry Lauder spread a caricature of the Scots difficult to shake off to this day. In his day a world-famous entertainer, extraordinarily wealthy, exalted by Churchill as, “Scotland’s greatest entertainer,” he was extremely influential in portraying Scotland one stage-coach stop short of Brigadoon. Out of his comfort zone, a Scot might be what others want him to be.
Waving a gnarled walking stick and sporting a Tammy, Lauder sold a false image of the Scot and branded it on the public’s subconscious. A crass imitation, it has soured our image ever since. The Scot is depicted as a mean-spirited, judgemental, parsimonious, excessively basic in taste, perpetually swathed in tartan and silver ornamentation.
Stingy is not the same as money-wise. The head gardener of Victorian shipping magnate, art collector and art ransacker, Sir William Burrell, watched his master leaf through the estate’s annual accounts only to hand it back with the comment, “Fine, laddie, bu’ yer a ha’penny oot.” Then again, what millionaire arrived at his riches without keeping an eye on the pennies? In any event, Lauder’s representation is at odds with the legendary hospitality of the Highlander.
Nevertheless, a heather and kilts image is exploited by detractors when they dismiss Scotland’s democratic ambitions as no more than “Braveheart sentiment.” They adopt the attitude Scotland’s tough political resolve is facile – England’s political nous is embodied in Margaret Thatcher.
And the point is…?
We have reached the point of this thesis, the bizarre situation where a Scotsman feels so insecure in his own land, in his own worth, he considers himself a foreigner. Scotland’s detractors are happy to enforce that self-deprecating cringe. What impulse causes a Scot to think he will be a foreigner in his own land if it regains self-governance? Why does he feel his homeland of lower status than an artificially concocted state, the United Kingdom?
Interviewing Alex Salmond before an invited audience in Glasgow, journalist and broadcaster, Jon Snow, said he personally did not feel English, he felt British. Salmond gave the only answer, “That’s fine. For you.” By the same token why impose it on those who choose to feel only Scottish?
To know where you came from is to know who you are, and where you are going.
Second class, smoking
When one thinks of oneself as second class one imposes restraints on behaviour, ambition and hope. You accept decisions are what other people make elsewhere. Subservience tolerated causes us to think whatever the outcome it will be negative, our fate unchangeable. You can see apathy in the faces of those who inhabit the most deprived areas of Glasgow. There is less fearfulness to be found in the Highlands among crofters and farmers. They live under big skies that give them a greater spirituality. They do not live on top of each other as thousand are forced to do in Glasgow.
Resigned to fate, the equivalent of “it is written,” voting for a political party that offers radical change is considered a waste of time. Whatever we do is pointless. Making a good living, making capital, all happen under the jurisdiction of the dominant state. Life is being a passive consumer. Mutual aid, caring for another, are cast aside in preference for the doctrine of the state, a denial of community, a rejection of common solidarity, common welfare. Aspirations must coincide with the doctrine of the state.
Enduring those conditions Scotland and the Scots have nowhere to go but up.
As for the poor fellow who feels independence makes his children foreigners overnight, I suggest he finds a place to live elsewhere. Presumably he already lives in London.