There’s something primal about the Six Nations rugby. There are few sporting events that make the British public’s blood boil to such an extent. When Scotland takes on England at Murrayfield tomorrow, emotions will be sky high. Everyone watching will share the passion of those on the field. Whether in the stadium, the pub or on the sitting room sofa, spectators will scream in anguish, leap up in celebration and maybe even shed tears, whether through joy or heart-wrenching disappointment.
For most of the year I don’t follow the rugby, not at club level anyway. But if I consider the times I’ve felt most emotional about sport, Five and then Six Nations rugby matches feature a disproportionate number of times: pure joy when the Scots completed the Grand Slam in 1990; sheer excitement when Gregor Townsend slipped a pass to Gavin Hastings and the latter scored under the posts in the dying minutes against France in 1995; outright fury when Shane Williams scored for Wales with the last move of the game to beat the Scots in 2010.
So why does the Six Nations trigger such animation?
Owing to its physical nature and trial of strength, no sport seems more like a battle than rugby union. Each time Scotland runs out in the Six Nations it’s like they’re taking the field to defend our country. It’s tribalism that makes us so passionate about these contests. Our country’s pride and honour is at stake and we want to see it inflated rather than burst.
That’s no bad thing is it? It’s great to be patriotic as long as it doesn’t spill over into aggression. And that’s one of the things making the Six Nations such a superb event. Yes, there’ll be animosity between the Scots and the English tomorrow, yes they’ll taunt each other a bit, but there won’t be fighting in the streets… will there?
Tomorrow’s clash between England and Scotland undoubtedly carries increased tension. Relations between the two countries have seldom been so strained in recent memory. I can well understand why the English are fed up with us: The Scots continue to take the very most of what the Union has to offer, enjoying considerable financial advantages over our fellow Brits south of the border. Meanwhile we’re pushing hard to be offered a chance of breaking that Union. We demand to choose our freedom, well not quite yet actually, in a little while… Basically we want to have our cake, eat all our cake and be given a new cake.
The Scots have always been given free rein to express their dislike of the English – the oppressed and subjugated nation tends to get away with a bit of “hard-done-by” rhetoric. It has, for instance, been fine for us to support any other team against England in any sport (apart from cricket – for some reason we support the English at cricket,) and the poor old English have just given a slightly hurt sigh and gotten on with it.
But perhaps they’re not so willing to put up with it anymore. Increasingly there are commentators in the English broadsheets and elsewhere expressing the view that Scotland should be cut loose, left to their own devices, that the Scots need England more than vice-versa. I’m not so sure. Scotland abounds with natural resources and space, the country has a distinct national culture that’s known and loved across the globe, it has some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, in short it has a good deal that the English would be worse off for losing.
What concerns me most would be the instability and uncertainty created by a split, at this time of global economic strife (set to last for the foreseeable future,) it’s not what we need is it? What would happen to the currency? How long would it take to decide the future of the North Sea oil (years?) what about the military? And so on, and so on… The logistics of it are mind-boggling.
I’m not saying I don’t like the idea of independence, my heart emphatically says yes. That’s the same bit of my heart that will be willing the Scots to victory tomorrow at Murrayfield, the bit of my heart that stirs when I hear the Declaration of Arbroath, that breaks a little every time I leave the country and lifts a little every time I return.
If we lose tomorrow, I’ll be temporarily gutted but it won’t be the end of the world. I’ll still be Scottish and proud of it. In fact, whatever happens in the future, whether we remain a part of the UK or not, I’ll be Scottish and proud. At the moment, though, I’d like to keep my hands on that cake while I’m eating.