In an article about Scotland’s first black footballer, Andrew Watson – a similar story was also told in a recent episode of The Alex Salmond Show – there is an interesting description of the original English approach to the game:
Scotland was simply the best footballing nation in the world […]. The reason was simple. Scotland quickly developed the passing game, with Glasgow and what is now West Dunbartonshire […] as the cradles of the sort of football which is now played worldwide. England stuck with the original dribbling game in which individual players would try to take the ball forward – Scotland saw football as a team game and practised it, England viewing training as cheating, and of course professionalism was not allowed. England persisted with their old-fashioned approach until 1881.
I cannot help thinking that this story – England relying on uncodified gentlemen’s rules for a long time before suddenly giving in because they want to win, too – is now repeating itself in the area of governance and statecraft.
Basically, the uncodified UK constitution always made corruption, nepotism, bad governance and many other governmental malaises possible, but practically all politicians and civil servants agreed implicitly to adhere to some rather strict (and even less codified) gentlemen’s rules, so in effect, the UK was governed rather well – obviously not perfectly, but probably not worse than many other countries in Western Europe.
Recently, however, it would appear that the majority of the Tory party have decided to stop playing by rules that make it hard to win. Brexit seems to have been the catalyst, but I cannot help wondering whether intermingling with Russian oligarchs, Middle Eastern oil billionaires and dictators from all over the world in London (where so many of them have properties, send their kids to school, do their shopping and whitewash their money) has led to a feeling that they were being done by playing by old-fashioned rules.
The effect is that the UK is now rapidly hurtling towards becoming a third world country in all but name. (I cannot help thinking that we need a word for a country that is going in the opposite direction of a developing country – an enveloping* country, perhaps?) UK politics is clearly becoming dominated by corruption and nepotism, and a lack of good governance (visibility, predictability and accountability are all disappearing).
One would have thought that this descent into chaos would have been a gift to the SNP and the wider independence movement – it should have been easy to present independence as an easy way to return to living in a well-governed country without corruption and nepotism.
Sadly, there are signs the SNP have been affected by the same problems – there are too many examples of bad governance for comfort, such as the handling of the Salmond sexual harassment case, the way Joanna Cherry was prevented from getting into Holyrood, the inflated wage bill at SNP HQ, the non-transparency of NEC proceedings, and many more.
Hopefully the SNP will get their house in order soon. I fear that the UK will only get more chaotic and corrupt as the political distance to the EU increases, so it’s imperative to be able to state truthfully that an independent Scotland will be a very different country. Otherwise, what’s the point?
* The word develop acquired its modern meaning from the 17th-century belief that an egg contains the animal in miniature and matures by growing larger and shedding its envelopes.