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Extract from Herald Chess Column, Scotland, Saturday June 28.
Which country are you in? ‘Scotland’, I imagine, is the reflexive answer for most Herald readers; ‘Britain’ for a few others. Neither answer seems wrong. So are you in two countries at the same time? On such questions I see abundant shades of grey, but some see it, aptly, in Black and White.
As indicated in today’s news section, Chessbase.com ran a provocative article: “The United Kingdom of Many Sporting Entities?” which suggests that we might be guilty of having our cake and eating it too. Does it make sense to represent Scotland internationally while travelling on a British passport? Former world championship challenger Nigel Short thinks not, and describes the situation as “absurd, anachronistic, and profoundly discriminatory.”
For those who value geopolitical clarity (an oxymoron?) this predicament is problematic because Scotland competes with England and Wales, fellow citizens, in the same way we compete with independent countries like India and China, but not with semi-autonomous regions, arguably nations, like Quebec or Catalonia, who do not have separate representation.
I have played for Scotland most of my life, and was also proud to represent Britain in a one-off match against China last year. Personally I am at ease with this sense of nested nationality, and I don’t see why my passport has to subsume my patriotism.
Scotland is, I feel, a country, but you don’t have to travel far to find people who disagree, and who have stern binary views on such matters. Britain may pride itself on its pick ‘n’ mix constitution, but in the eyes of foreigners we are an anomaly, tolerated only because our geopolitical pragmatism far exceeds our sporting prowess.
The importance of this issue is brought home by imagining that F.I.D.E is F.I.F.A and the discussion applies to football, which, as anybody who has listened to Radio Scotland will know, is a national obsession. The argument remains just as strong: one nation, one passport, one team!
This discussion acutely brings out the tension in being both Scottish and British. How much of our national identity is based on the possibility of flying the flag for Scotland in sporting competitions? What happens if you take away that form of expression? Do we forget we are Scottish? Or do we rebel against the loss of identity by demanding our own sovereign state?
Leaving our claims to nationhood to one side, getting separate representation in the first place was due to the fact that F.I.D.E, like F.I.F.A, is comprised of national federations rather than sovereign countries, but this looks more like an historical accident than a political principle. The question then becomes what you do with the mess you find yourself in, and whether trying to clean up the mess creates more problems than it solves.
Here is the full discussion on ChessBase.