Flower of Scotland | Do nationalist feelings last longer than 90 minutes?

Your like again,

That fought and died for,

Your wee bit Hill and Glen,

And stood against him,

Proud Edward’s Army,

And sent him homeward,

Tae think again.

Ritchie writes that “singing about bonnie Scotland” has proven easier than enacting change at the polls, linking lack of political independence to footballing independence. The independence in football has evolved from the long-standing institutional integrity of the Scottish FA and similar organizations that pre-date FIFA, although, as Ritchie speculates, then FIFA boss João Havelange might have preferred a unified Great Britain “given that the home nations have a weaker political status than Catalonia or Bavaria.”

A voter (SNP supporter?) strides toward the polls at Pencaitland, outside Edinburgh, on May 3. The Scottish National Party secured 47 seats, out of 129, to 46 for Labour. (Copyright © 2007 The Scotsman)

But, whether given voice by these terrace chanters or by the uptick in Scotland’s performance in the latest UEFA qualifying rounds, some commentators ventured a bold line around the May 3 elections, and voters took a collective leap. Irvine Welsh, author of Trainspotting, the off-kilter ode to Hibernian fandom, referred in the Financial Times to the previous Labour-controlled Scottish hierachy as “a spineless Vichy administration” (“Sneers and Self-Loathing on the Scottish Campaign Trail,” May 5). Kevin Ferrie in the Herald in Glasgow critiques the devolved government for failing to “release the power of sport in … addressing the physical, mental and spiritual health of the nation,” and he challenges “80/90-minute nationalists” by asking how long “the rest of the world will let us get away with the status Scotland currently holds as a province allowed to participate in international competition?” (“Politicians Are Persistently Fearful of Sport as an Election Issue,” May 3).

It is surely only a matter of time before other governing bodies look to the Olympic example. With so many nations fighting for representation at their major events, to allow—with apologies to the many proud Irish who do not like this geographical description—the British Isles to have four or five slots seems a remarkable indulgence.

Whatever the motivation, Scotland’s voters have tweaked the modern-day equivalents of the Scotch Professors, managers Alex Ferguson (Man Utd), Walter Smith (Rangers) and Alex McLeish (Scotland). Shortly before the election, the trio joined 12 other former Scotland players and coaches in a poster campaign supporting the Labour Party, saying, “We are proud that Scotland has always stood on its own two feet, but we also believe that Scotland stands taller because we are part of the United Kingdom” (“Scots Football Stars Team Up to Support the Union,” Edinburgh Evening News, Apr 23). Raith Rovers supporter and Britain’s prime-minister-in-waiting Gordon Brown also faces the peculiar task of leading a new Labour government while those from his homeland look toward possible separation.

If an independent Scotland can even be imagined, study of native sporting cultures and the multitude of identities expressing themselves through football shows that “being Scottish” defies easy description. While we auslanders imagine a land of clan and tartan, “[f]ootball demonstrates,” writes Bradley, “that not everyone born in Scotland wants to be imagined as a Scot and even if they do, the nature of this Scottishness can vary in relation to ethnicity, geography and religion, among other influences.” Football creates easy opposition, but difference must be accommodated and not just jeered from the terrace, as if one were watching, to quote George Blake in The Shipbuilders (1935), old clans reliving “ancient hatreds in this struggle for goals.”

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