by Alan D. Harvey



Probably the most mystifying - and indeed most disturbing - development in post WWII British society has been the upsurge in Scottish, Welsh, and even English, "nationalisms".


Wales was united with England as long ago as 1536 to form the embryo United Kingdom, and the parliaments of England and Scotland were officially merged in 1707 - though the de facto union had actually taken place in 1603 when the crowns of Scotland and England were united, the term Great Britain first came into use to describe our nation, and our beloved Union Flag was first introduced. In 1801 Ireland (all of Ireland) was united with Great Britain, and the final unification of the British Isles to form the United Kingdom at last came to fruition.


That should have been the end of the matter, for all logic and common sense shows that Britain is a single nation geographically, economically and culturally. Furthermore, recent archaeological and DNA discoveries have confirmed that the British people are ethnically far more homogeneous than was previously imagined, and that the so-called "Keltic" and "Anglo-Saxon" components of our nation have in reality an almost identical racial mix.


Alas appalling government mishandling of the Potato Famine and meddling from the Vatican produced a growth in Irish "nationalism" during the latter part of the 19th century, which reached its tragic conclusion in 1922 when 26 counties broke away (hopefully temporarily) from the rest of Britain. In spite of this disaster, however, the United Kingdom as a single nation produced the greatest Empire which the world has ever seen, was the crucible for the Industrial Revolution and global entrepreneurship, and together with our Commonwealth brothers and American cousins defeated three of the most evil regimes ever to inflict the planet during the 20th century.


Viewed in such a context the upsurge of regional "nationalisms" during the recent few decades has been an enigma, and runs counter to the historical imperatives of our global age. The Italians and Germans, after all, were united as nations far later than Britain, only during the mid-19th century in fact, yet (with the exception of the quixotic Northern League) there seems to be no call for regional breakaways from these nations - nor indeed from most of the great European nation-states.


It is the contention of this writer that the main reason for the growth of regional "nationalisms" within the United Kingdom lies with international sport, particularly with soccer.


The fact that the four basic regions of the United Kingdom are allowed to compete at an international level in so many sports is totally unique, and the end result is that the people of our nation are often divided at a time when they should all be united in patriotic zeal supporting their national team. This has led to the obscenity of Scottish fans openly supporting any other international team who play against their English fellow-countrymen, and the even more hideous spectre of English fans chanting derogative slogans about their Scottish fellow-countrymen. During an era when international sport is so dominant in most people's lives, is it therefore any wonder that this internal division should cause so many to start advocating complete independence for their regions?


There is of course a historical reason why Britain uniquely competes with four different teams at international level. Most of the world's main sports were developed and codified in Britain, so during the early days there was nobody else to compete against at the highest level other than between ourselves!


Be this as it may, there has never been any uniform structure for British teams competing at international level. In both soccer and the Empire/Commonwealth Games the four component parts of the United Kingdom have always competed independently, whereas in both lawn tennis and the Olympic Games there have always been united Great Britain & Ireland/Northern Ireland squads. In both rugby union and golf, however, there has traditionally been a mixture, with the four home nations competing independently in some competitions, but united in others. Prior to the introduction of the Rugby World Cup the highest pinnacle of the game took the form of the British Lions' tours to the three great southern hemisphere Commonwealth nations, when united teams from the whole of the British Isles were selected - and here perhaps lies the most hopeful example for the future. In golf there always used to be a similar structure, with united British Isles teams being selected for the biennial Ryder, Curtis and Walker Cup competitions against the United States - though regretfully in more recent years a united British team has been superseded by a united European team in the Ryder Cup, an unpopular and ridiculous step which must be reversed as soon as possible. Cricket has always been an anachronism however, for although the national team has always played under the archaic name of "England" it is actually a united British team, with such players as Mike Denness, Robert Croft and Martin McCague all qualifying for selection in recent years through their births in other parts of the British Isles. Hockey provides the most optimism however, for although they also fielded four independent home nations teams in some competitions and a united British team in others, moves are evidently currently afoot to field a single united team for all matches in future.


In many other countries all sports fall under some form of central control. In New Zealand the white fern badge is common to all sports at international level, and likewise in South Africa during the days of civilised rule the springbok badge was awarded to all those who represented their country. Britain should clearly therefore adopt a similar system, with a central authority sanctioning the awarding of a common national symbol to all recognised sports (i.e. not pseudo-sports such as synchronised swimming and model aircraft racing!) at international level, with selections for such teams being opened not only to citizens of the United Kingdom, but indeed to all Britons from throughout the British Isles.


As for the nature of this common national sporting badge it seems obvious that rugby's precedent should be followed, and it should therefore be the lion. A common design must be agreed upon, but hopefully this will feature a realistic lion emblem surmounted by a crown, rather than any more abstract stylised form.


It must be emphasised, however, that the advent of united British sporting squads will not mean the end of separate Scottish, Welsh and English teams etc., as the component regions of the British Isles will continue to play "home internationals" as trials for final selection, as well as against visiting touring sides from overseas.


The advent of such a united system under a common badge would seem to have many advantages :-


1) It will inspire greater British unity and patriotism, and thereby will undoubtedly strike a deathblow to regional "nationalisms".


2) It will help to re-emphasise the fact that all of Ireland is part of one British nation.


3) As far as golf is concerned, the end of a united European team in the Ryder Cup may prove to be yet another nail in the coffin of the EU.


4) Britain may at last start to win more international competitions!


As far as disadvantages are concerned - well, there don't appear to be any!


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