Euro 2020 has prompted much discussion about the impact on English self-identity, but relatively little reflection on the meaning of the tournament for Scotland.
Support for Scottish independence has risen since 2017, reaching a peak of 54 per cent last winter. The most recent polling suggests that, of those with a settled opinion, 52 per cent would support independence.
As the England men’s team entered its first final in a major tournament for 55 years, just 35 per cent of Scottish fans were behind them. Pro-independence daily the National went so far as to publish a mock-up of Italian manager Roberto Mancini as Braveheart’s William Wallace on its front page.
The New Statesman analysed over 400,000 football-related tweets sent in Britain during and after the match. The data shows that Scottish viewers were indeed disappointed by England’s early lead in the penalty shoot-out, and cheered on the Italian team when they evened the score.
But there was no such celebration from the Scottish side when Marcus Rashford’s penalty kick hit the goalpost. Despite having cheered the Italian goal just moments before, Scottish Twitter users appear to have been just as disappointed as English fans.
Nor was this change in sentiment reserved for Rashford. When a stunning save by England goalkeeper Jordan Pickford gave the team one last chance to clinch victory, Scottish Twitter erupted in a wave of euphoria precisely mirroring that south of the border. When Bukayo Saka’s shot was intercepted moments later, costing England the trophy, viewers went quiet in Scotland and England alike.
That it was Rashford’s missed penalty that prompted Scottish fans to switch sides may not come entirely as a surprise. When asked who deserved to be on Santa’s “nice list” in December last year, 34 per cent of Scots included Rashford, a share matched only by NHS staff and Captain Tom Moore, and higher than that received by either the Queen or Nicola Sturgeon.
As of January, Scots' net approval of Rashford’s performance in holding the government to account over Covid-19 stood at 52 per cent – far ahead of the next-best performers, Piers Morgan (33 per cent) and Keir Starmer (24 per cent).
Scots have also generally been more supportive of the England team’s anti-racist politics than fans in England. The team’s decision to take the knee before each match had net support of 44 per cent in Scotland, compared to 39 per cent south of the border.
England will always dominate the Union geographically, demographically and economically, but certain kinds of Englishness may be easier for Scots to bear than others. It was not, however, the team’s progressive politics that ultimately won over Scottish fans, but its impending defeat.
It may well be that the future of the UK requires an Englishness which is not only anti-racist, but humbled.