Cap in hand

by John Joannides

This is my first posting here so it’s with some considerable satisfaction that I find myself doing what I normally do, that is to stretch my remit so far beyond what it actually is as to try the very patience of an angel.

I am casting my mind back. Far, far back in time to when I first met the young lady that I was eventually to marry. Musically challenged, or rather challenging, is the way I would have described her at the time but on reflection I admit that it was my own insistence at dwelling upon the trailing edge of music made predominantly by the progressive rockers of the 1970’s that was the cause of many a musical difference and misunderstanding. I still can’t quite get to the point of appreciating the soundtrack from Starlight Express but there is much that she appreciates that I have become fond of too.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a fan of Gabriel during his dressing as a flower stage but my net is now cast considerably wider.

It was during one of our many short road trips across England that I became acquainted with one of her new favourites. A predominantly acoustic band that was briefly popular with the masses but which was also blessed, as is often the way, with far more talent than is usually made apparent by the saleable releases played on the commercial radio stations.

“Scottish?”, I said. “I think so”, she replied. “They’re called The Proclaimers”.

There was one song in particular the set the goose bumps all aquiver. Called Cap in Hand it was a veritable anthem of a song driven by a deep seated desire for equality and a passion for Scottish nationalsm in a British Union that was apparently seen by some as being driven predominantly for the benefit of the largest nation in that Union, England.

I felt completely at ease with the song, seeing it as a relic from times long gone. I certainly did not notice in it anything recognisably current with respect to Scotland’s place in the Union but I fairly admit that I had not undergone any particular political awakening before hearing it for the first time.

Things are different now and I am less at ease.

Here’s a taster but I do urge the eager reader to get hold of a copy to listen to as only then can you really get a taste of the songs energy and fervour.

I could get a broken jaw from being in a fight
I know it’s evening when day turns to night
I can understand why stranraer lie so lowly
They could save a lot of points by signing hibs goalie

But I can’t understand why we let someone else rule our land
We’re cap in hand

We fight – when they ask us
We boast – then we cower
We beg
For a piece of
What’s already, what’s already, what’s already ours

Less at ease indeed and that’s not just because I lack any memory of seeing a Scotsman begging and cowering to an Englishman (I doubt any of us have such a memory). No, I am less at ease because the political climate that persists in the Union serves to deflate the song entirely. Absolutely. Utterly.

England now is barely a nation except in the hearts and minds of those that call themselves English. While Scottish ministers hail Scotland as a nation in its own right they deign to refer to England as “The Regions”. More painfully our own UK politicians, with mandates from English constituencies, seem eager to join in with the absurd nomenclature. Even UK government ministers are not immune from using such derisive language. This is The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and here are its nations and regions. The regions are The English Regions. I bet you don’t remember voting for that particular paradigm shift in the British Union.

England has no parliament. England has no executive to look after its interests. England has per head public spending that is far less than that of Scotland. England has few civic institutions that have not been misappropriated for Britain and England has no national anthem.

What England does have is a growing number of people that are beginning to wake up to what is happening to their country. If there is one thing that the English can be counted on for it is a tolerance that is born out of a sense of fair play and justice. A sense of equality. But the bond has been broken by New Labour’s disastrous devolution settlement. A settlement that sees Scotland with its own parliament, Wales with its own Assembly and an unpopular and unfair regional agenda in England.

The English will soon be struggling to keep their Shire Counties intact.

The dangers to England posed by the increasingly asymmetrical state of the Union is no longer a secret and the fight back has begun. Part of that fight is an anthem for England and one of the reasons why it will be difficult to attain is because its existence goes some way to gaining recognition of England as a singular entity. The very notion is contrary to the direction of travel of the British Union and, to some extent, the political aspirations of the European Union.

But hey, that won’t stop us trying. After all, why should we English have to beg for a piece of what’s already ours?

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Jerusalem has so much more going for it…. it mentions the name of our country whereas God Save The Queen, Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory, and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot don’t.

— Billy Bragg, The Mirror

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