Last year’s vote by the United Kingdom to leave the EU raised questions of whether Scotland would now have another referendum on leaving the UK. (Scotland and England and Wales joined together in the Act of Union in 1707. Prior to that they had been separate countries ruled by the same monarch since 1603.) The last referendum was held only in 2014 and saw a ten-point victory to the Unionists. However, the Brexit vote saw Scotland vote to stay in the EU 68% – 32% while the UK as a whole voted to leave it. Added to the results of the 2015 general election, where the Scottish Nationalist Party won all but three of the 59 Scottish seats in the House of Commons (the SNP is for Scottish independence) and the idea that another referendum might be held is not far-fetched. The SNP is about to have its spring conference later on this month and the subject of another independence referendum will be on the agenda again. Indeed, I see that in today’s paper it is being reported that Nicola Sturgeon (the SNP’s leader) is mooting Autumn 2018 as a date for another referendum. The interesting thing is whether an independent Scotland would be allowed to join or remain in the EU – would Spain’s concern about an independent Catalonia see it block any independent Scottish request to join?
And now to rugby. Why? Because, crazy as it may seem down here in New Zealand where the cricket season is in full swing and autumn has just begun, the rugby season has already started. Very quickly, our sporting attention has turned to the start of the international club competition (the Super Rugby competition involving teams from New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Argentina and Japan) and the upcoming tour by the British and Irish Lions team of New Zealand. This is a tour that happens every four years by a composite team made up of the best players from England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland (Northern Ireland and Eire). They tour South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and thus they visit each country every 12 years. It is a big deal, particularly as the Lions bring a crowd of passionate supporters who spend up large during the five weeks the team is here.
As the Economist notes, this United Kingdom team is unique to Rugby Union:
“An all-Britain team played football in the London Olympics in 2012, but has not since; rugby league’s equivalent squad disbanded in 2007; England pinches Britain’s best cricketers.”
This may be one reason that Scottish rugby players might not be so keen on independence (although many Scottish athletes objected to independence on financial grounds – training facilities and money were located south of the border). On the other hand, Scotland is one win away (admittedly against England at Twickenham – a hard place to win) from winning its first triple crown (beating England, Wales and Ireland in one year) since 1990.
“Jim Telfer, a former coach of the national side, has suggested that any Scot seeking reasons for secession should spend ten minutes with smug English fans at Twickenham. The English don’t help themselves: they banned bagpipes from stadiums when hosting the Rugby World Cup in 2015.”
If Scotland beat England at Twickenham this weekend then national pride will certainly be enhanced in the north. Whether that means that Scotland will push for independence is another matter. Either way, I’ll be hoping they storm fortress Twickenham and take the triple crown.