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Reflections on Burns Night From a Scot Living in London

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There I was passing a shelf of specially-ordered Burns Night haggises at Waitrose in Canary Wharf when I overheard a woman speaking to her friend.

"Any Scottish people I've known have always been really arrogant and loud," she said in an East End London accent.

"Yeah. Big drinkers too," her friend nodded, picking up a haggis and eyeing it suspiciously. I thought about saying hello, exaggerating my normally soft Scottish accent but instead left them to it.

Their conversation had turned to independence and the words "Couldn't survive by themselves," hung in the air.

Them and us; a mentality that has long existed in Scotland but is increasingly prevalent here.
I like to think it stems from hurt - that the English were wounded upon realisation there was growing support for independence and reacted with anger.

Phrases bandied about by commentators - Scotland is subsidised, Scots are ungrateful - fuelled venom. But surely you (if you are English and reading this) are a little bewildered as to the seemingly sudden sentiment of Scots to break our ancient union. Why now? Why at all?

Spending my time between Scotland and London, I have gleaned an invaluable insight into the relationship between the two countries and an understanding as to why we have reached today's tense stalemate.

I am Scottish and intensely proud of being so. I also live in London and value the British identity on my passport.

As a weekly columnist for Scotland's biggest-selling daily newspaper for six years, I replaced opinion writers for the London-based version such as Jeremy Clarkson and Kelvin MacKenzie, not least because they were increasingly prone to anti-Scots comments.

Whenever I made mention of the Auld Enemy on my page, my inbox would strain with readers' expletive rage.

This is in not a political analysis of the situation and what has caused it - there are plenty of experts who do that superbly not least here; it is an attempt to explain the Scottish mindset caused by everyday experience.

The sentiment of being hard-done-by by England is hardly new but for a substantial part of the nation it is current, ingrained and passed down by generation. Exacerbated by the drip-feed of English bias through media, it sticks in the collective throat.

For instance, when Scotland plays an international football game, the England match is often shown instead because TV budgets and decisions are made - though the BBC is attempting to regionalise - in London. Can you imagine turning on the box only to see tartan banners in the crowd when you had expected to see England play?

The views of sports presenters are solipsistic towards England - building their players up as word champions in the early rounds before we all see the ugly truth unfold - the latest disgrace of course, the rugby stars' unsavoury behaviour in Australia. Little mention if any is given to Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland, three nations fed up since 1967 with comparisons to 1966. The adage that if a competitor wins they are British but should they lose Scottish, is exaggerated for laughs but not wholly an untruth.

We hear Her Majesty referred to as the Queen of England by English people answering questions on quiz shows; politicians lamenting that hundreds of English soldiers have died in Afghanistan. I am sure you can understand for a nation whose soldiers' bravery in fighting for Queen and country is legendary - and not least for the families of Scottish soldiers - this is hugely offensive. We hear such English narcissism ad nauseam and each instance parlays into a final moment where we stop and shout "hold on, this isn't fair. What about us?" That moment has come and the real reason it is now? We had no choice but to support Alex Salmond at the last election.

Hatred towards Margaret Thatcher stems from her treatment of Scotland as her own personal political laboratory decades ago and yet still the word 'Tory' is a dirty one, reflected by the fact we have just one Conservative MP.

While presenting a radio talk show in Edinburgh I once said that "Thatcher wasn't so bad and I would have no qualms voting Conservative given the mess Labour was making" only to see the caller phone lines go into a meltdown of wrath and a cab driver swear on air.

Our mentality - and of course I generalise - is of underdog and we sneer constantly at our southern neighbour's arrogance. I rather suspect we sometimes enjoy doing so.

While the brain-drain to London of able, eloquent and ambitious MPs (whatever you say about Gordon Brown, he still got the top job) was left unchecked, Westminster viewed Holyrood in journalistic terms as a quaint local newspaper to their mighty Financial Times. And Scotland suffered.

Salmond was the best of a bad bunch and while Tony Blair, Brown, then Cameron let him get on with it, devolution flourished into a country so restored it now wants independence (though a recent Sun poll showed just 29% of Scots would vote for it compared to a hefty 41% in England and Wales). Could this mean the unthinkable: that we like you more than you like us?
Along with a terrier of a right hand woman in Nicola Sturgeon, Salmond played a waiting game that has paid off.

The Tories were never an option but neither was Labour. For Scots knew a Brown-led government had left Britain on its knees financially, the fatal decisions had been made in London and wanted revenge. England too was angry at the economic hangover and reacted by voting Cameron into No10. We simply chose Salmond instead.

But we are a long way off breaking away.

It seems one hell of a gamble to find out if we would be financially better off as Salmond says as a result of keeping money from North Sea oil, by breaking up the union to find out. And before you go quoting the Barnett formula, which gives the Scottish taxpayer £1,600 more than in England, please remember the figures were not dreamed up by Scots - they were thought up by esteemed Englishman Lord Barnett who thought that, after much consideration, it was fair.

The threat that is more imminently real than independence is a change in attitude to the way the Scots are perceived by the English. Play the surly lodger for too long, blaming Westminster for our woes, and is it not to be expected you will fall out of fondness with your little cousin?

I believe Scotland is the best country in the world and that to be Scottish, the best nationality.
Come on, don't you envy out pride, identity, belonging, personality, ginger genes, freckles, kilts, tartan, whisky, humour, haggis, lochs and beauty? Wha's like us?

But that's the beauty of being British - we get to be proud of being Scottish, English, Irish or Welsh - and British too. To dissolve the ancient union would dilute the power of all of us four.

Go on, celebrate the Bard tonight, 25 January.

Google your local area for restaurants serving haggis, buy one from the supermarket (vegetarian options are normally available if you don't fancy sheep intestine) or simply raise a glass to the Scots. And remember - a good many of us do not want to part with your esteemed company.

Happy Burns Night.

My Burns Night picks in London:

Scottish food specialists Boisdale offers superb fine dining with divine game dishes and one of the world's biggest whisky bars at its Canary Wharf, Belgravia and Bishopsgate restaurant.

Green's on Cornhill, near Bank and bustling with business minds, is serving its Burns menu until Friday - www.greens.org.uk

Martel is the author of showbiz romantic comedy Scandalous, published by Penguin and available here on Kindle.

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