Her eyes were filled with venom.
“Why don’t you fuck off back to where you came from?” she spat out at me.
I was frozen to the spot. The two hulking Rottweilers she’d just let off their leashes were suddenly taking an interest in me.
All I’d done was ask if she wouldn’t mind clearing up her dogs’ shit. They’d both just taken very big dumps on the grass verge in front of where I was sitting having a quick Kit Kat before finishing off my postal delivery round.
“You come here taking our fucking jobs,” she continued. “Fuck off back home.”
With that, she slapped the Kit Kat out of my hand and kicked out at my bike. A cascade of gas bills and thermal underwear catalogues spilled to the floor while the Rottweilers pounced on my half-eaten chocolate bar. Then she turned and walked away, calling her dogs after her. Their freshly expelled turds were left behind like territorial trophies.
Just another day in the life of an Englishman in Scotland….
I really wish I could say the above was an isolated incident. But it wasn’t. In the six years I’ve lived in east Scotland, I’ve experienced regular and varying degrees of anti-Englishness. Or, to give it its proper name, racism. The most recent incident ended up in court. But more of that later….
Last week, a consignment of 1,000 fake Algerian football shirts was intercepted by customs at East Midlands Airport. It was headed for Glasgow, where a kilt-wearing, Saltire-waving, deep fried Mars Bar-scoffing entrepreneur was (probably) poised to cash in on his country’s fondness for a bit of English-bashing. Yes, the World Cup has started…
On Saturday, many pubs were decked out in the Stars and Stripes and assorted other American paraphernalia. And my local morning paper, the Dundee Courier, devoted half of its (broadsheet) front page to the earth-shattering tale of a Kirkcaldy resident who, on buying the new Scotland kit from on-line retailer Sports Direct, received a free England mug and flag with his order. According to the paper, he “donated both to charity”.
All of which would be quite funny if it wasn’t such a sad reflection on an otherwise half-decent country.
During the World Cup, it all largely remains “friendly banter”. But stripped of its sporting context, it is nothing less than shameful bigotry.
Part of the problem is that many Scots genuinely believe that being anti-English is not the same as being racist. This attitude extends all the way to the top. The Scottish Government’s own anti-racism website lists all the ethnic groups that are represented in Scotland – making up about 10 per cent of the population - but repeatedly fails to refer to the biggest of the lot – the English. It genuinely seems to believe that it’s only racism if the person abused is non-white.
The Scottish Government’s current incumbent, incidentally, is the Scottish National Party. Nothing about that name says “welcome to our inclusive, friendly country”. Like the British National Party, it has traces of, “if you’re not one of us, fuck off” about it.
By the way, in case anyone is any doubt about the term “racism” being applied to anti-English sentiments, may I refer you to the Scottish Court of Session which, in 2001, ruled in a case involving an English commentator employed by BBC Scotland that the term "race" also covered feelings of "national identity or origin."
Now, here comes the science bit…
In April this year, a report by three academics at Edinburgh University found that English graduates at Scottish universities were being driven back south because of anti-English attitudes. The report, published in the Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, concluded that Scotland was an "unwelcoming country" for the English.
She hammered on my front door to call me, amongst other choice phrases, “a fucking Englishman”.
Meanwhile, the number of racist crimes committed in Scotland for 2008-09 was 6,590. (The ethnic background of victims is not recorded) Per head of population, this is significantly larger than the figures for England and Wales (which I only mention because I’m fed up with Scots telling me how they were practically tarred and feathered when they last travelled south of Carlisle).
For the part of Scotland I live in – the north-east – the number of racist incidents increased by 58 per cent on the previous year, from 391 to 616.
I was one of those crime statistics. My new neighbor took exception to me asking her to turn her music down at 1.30 in the morning. The next day, she hammered on my front door to call me, amongst other choice phrases, “a fucking Englishman”. Fortunately, my (Scottish) wife was a witness. I reported her to the police and she was subsequently charged with a racially-aggravated breach of the peace.
After 300 years of hurt, Scotland has a major chip on its shoulder. The natives don’t like hearing that from a Sassenach, but that’s the most charitable way of explaining the anti-Englishness which permeates all levels of society. It’s perpetrated in subtle – and not so subtle – ways, from the blinkered, parochial attitude of its media to the obsession with its history. The average Scot would rather bang on about the exploits of William Wallace, Alexander Fleming and Kenny Dalglish than confront the reality of his country’s crumbling infrastructure, violent crime(Scotland’s Violence Reduction Unit acknowledges that knife crime is endemic) and appalling lifestyle(97.5 per cent of the population lives unhealthily, according to a report from Glasgow University last week).
“Petty and narrow-minded doesn't begin to describe the mentality of Scotland when it comes to England…..Maybe one day, if we ever grow up and become a proper country that stops blaming all its ills on its larger, wealthier neighbour, we might gain the credibility we crave in the wider world.”
Switch on a Scottish-produced TV or radio programme up here, and you will hardly ever see a non-Scottish face or hear a non-Scottish accent. Scottishness, it often seems, counts for more than intelligence, articulacy or the ability to read autocue convincingly. (If you don’t believe me, check out STV’s nightly magazine show, The Hour.) The situation has improved slightly in recent years, but non-Scots still barely register on the airwaves (and especially not in an anchor-type role). Compare that with English-produced TV and radio news shows, where a rainbow of skin hues and accents reflects the diversity of the viewing and listening public.
Meanwhile, the highlights of STV’s primetime schedule last year were Made in Scotland – featuring golf, whisky, haggis and Dundee – Scots at War, Scotland From The Air, The Greatest Scot and Scotland’s Greatest Football Team. For tourists watching in their Edinburgh and Glasgow hotel rooms, this is probably great TV. For Scotland’s immigrants – including me - it’s distinctly marginalising. It’s as if the words multi-cultural, diversity and inclusive never quite made it past Gretna services.
In short, the place stinks of nationalism, “a silly cock crowing on its own dunghill”, as the poet Richard Aldington defined it.
No wonder people like my neighbor – and there are many of them according to those crime stats – have some warped sense of their own superiority over non-Scots in general, and the English in particular. No wonder she thought she was within her rights to call me a fucking Englishman. No wonder that skank with the Rottweilers thought it was perfectly acceptable to point out my error in taking a job in Scotland and tell me to fuck off back home.
Here’s the punchline to my tale as a victim of racism in 21-st century Scotland. When it reached court, none of the local newspapers deemed it worthy of coverage, not even the aforementioned Dundee Courier (despite me tipping them off). So no-one was there to witness Sheriff (Magistrate) Norrie Stein as he almost apologetically found the accused guilty and told her:
“I’m afraid you now have a criminal record. Several years ago you would probably have been found not guilty, but these days people are more sensitive to these issues.”
It didn’t end there. Sheriff Stein had one last surprise for me, when he told the newly-convicted racist in a distinctly sympathetic tone: “As you have no previous convictions and are clearly not one of the criminal classes, I am admonishing you.”
According to my legal dictionary, an admonishment is given when “an offence is considered trifling”.
But maybe I shouldn’t have been too surprised with the court’s decision. Scotland’s judicial system is, after all, the only one in the world which offers juries the option of a third verdict – not proven, loved by defense lawyers but condemned elsewhere as “illogical”, “anachronistic” and “indefensible”.
A bit like racism, in fact.
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