Today at 5pm GMT the 119th Calcutta Cup competition will take place. It struck me as an interesting fact that the trophy was inspired by a game between British expatriates in India in the late c19. Of those British expats who lined up to play, the English took side against the Scotts, the Welsh and the Irish. They knew they were British expats but a simple demarcation was to delineate on some pseudo ethnic grounds. I say ethnic, but of course ethnicity is a socio-political construct. Biologically we are all the same species and genetically the story is very much more complex.
This morning on Radio4, I think I heard Alastair Campbell say he was Scottish before he was British. I would like to deconstruct this sentiment in a moment but I believe he then went on to say his parents were Scottish, he was born in Yorkshire and moved to Leicester when has was 11. So really, and by really I mean legally, he was British - English. British since that is the internationally recognised nation to which he claims citizenship and presumably holds a passport for and English because he lives in an English county as defined in The Interpretation Act 1978, Schedule 1. I find it particularly interesting that "Scotland" itself is only partially defined in legislation. This definition is in section 126 of the Scotland Act and has the effect of specifying that "Scotland" extends into the marine environment to the limit of territorial waters (ie out to 12 nautical miles). Alastair went on to lament the irony that his bag pipe playing father and staunchly "Scottish" mother are not even able to vote in the referendum for Scottish Devolution. To me though this is fair, as the only sound definition of Scottish is: To be a British citizen and reside within the marine environment of the largest Island in the archipelago and not to be English, where English means to reside in the area consisting of the counties established by section 1 of the Local Government Act 1972, Greater London and the Isles of Scilly. (Note: Wales is explicitly referenced in this context, as it was formerly treated as part of England). In short, do you have a UK passport? Do you reside north of the area defined as England in the 1972 Act? If the answer to both is yes then you can rightly call yourself Scottish.
Would you call yourself Scottish first though? Even if you could claim a link to relatives that once lived there (ok, parents is a close link, but you get my point. Al didn't live there himself, ever). I have recently explored my not too distant heritage and established that despite my evident Irish heritage in my surname I am 62.5% "English" from name origins. First and foremost though, I consider myself British and part of me is deeply saddened when our nation, The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, seems destined to break up the unity that has been fought for, for generations. So why do people from certain regions feel that they need to put that first? I appreciate the need to feel like you belong, to understand your heritage, and to honour your ancestry by remembering it; but why put it first? Should we not be looking to secure our unity and to put our nation first?
There is a potential contradiction for me here though, I am a big supporter of localisation and devolving more powers regionally but not when it damages the necessary sovereignty of the nation. Also why only the 3 regions of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland? This I think hit the heart of the problem for me about the devolution debate. It should be about political power and regional control within our nation, it should not be about ethnic rivalry and cultural divide. Alex Salmond, like Alastair Campbell, is British first and foremost.
So back to the Calcutta cup, today I will be cheering my local team, England, where I live, but I will not be engaging in quasi-racist chanting at my fellow British citizens who choose to support their own local team, even if it was only their parents who lived there.