What’s the world coming to when you can’t insult a Scotsman without fear of being hauled before the beak? This isn’t a dystopian nightmare; it’s the reality of thin-skinned Britain in 2014. On Saturday 5 April, three Gillingham fans were arrested on suspicion of a ‘racially aggravated public-order offence’ after reportedly calling Rotherham manager Steve Evans a ‘fat Scottish wanker’ – or words to that effect. If the Gills fans are convicted, our society will have slid a little further down the slippery slope of intolerance.
Should it be a crime to call someone a ‘fat Scottish wanker’? I don’t believe it should. I’d hope that Scots wouldn’t get their knickers in a twist over a bit of name-calling. However, while the phrase clearly isn’t a term of endearment, I can’t see how it is racist. Forget the dewy-eyed tosh of Braveheart; the truth is that the Scots are not an oppressed people. They’re not regarded as foreigners. They’re not treated as second-class citizens. They do not suffer employment discrimination. The ‘No Irish, no blacks’ signs that were once displayed by British landlords never applied to the Scots. Consequently, to call someone a ‘fat Scottish wanker’ isn’t an expression of xenophobic hostility, unlike racial insults such as ‘nigger’ or ‘paki’. It doesn’t reinforce the message that Scots ‘don’t belong here’. It’s just an insult. It’s no more racist than calling the Welsh ‘sheep shaggers’ or Scousers ‘hubcap thieves’.
They won’t win prizes for wit or ingenuity, but many terrace taunts trade on regional stereotypes. In the context of a football stadium, these taunts are just ‘banter’. The insults are made in jest. Does anyone seriously believe in these stereotypes? I doubt it. Equally, I can’t imagine many fans on the receiving end are actually upset by the jibes.
The problem with contemporary anti-racism is that this once-progressive struggle for equal rights has degenerated into a reactionary purge of inappropriate language. Little wonder that insulting other nationalities, regardless of whether they suffer discrimination, is now seen as racism. If insulting a Scotsman is deemed to be racist, one wonders what the language police will outlaw next. Will it be a crime to abuse footballers with ginger hair? Will football fans be nicked for perpetuating regional stereotypes? Will fans be prosecuted for referring to opposition fans as pikeys, inbreds or dole scroungers?
You may laugh, but that is precisely what’s happening in Italy. Last summer, the Italian football federation (FIGC) introduced tough new sanctions to punish ‘territorial discrimination’ – insults aimed at fans from other regions of Italy. Both Juventus and Milan have been hit with partial stadium closures as punishment for anti-Neapolitan chants.