Gordon Brown: Marcus Rashford shows England isn’t just a nation of football hooligans

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England manager Gareth Southgate and Marcus Rashford - Reuters
England manager Gareth Southgate and Marcus Rashford - Reuters

Marcus Rashford and Gareth Southgate can help save the Union by proving to Scots that England is not a nation of "toffs and football hooligans", Gordon Brown has claimed.

The former Prime Minister said new research, published on Thursday, shows people across the UK share near-identical priorities and values, undermining a nationalist narrative that portrays the home nations as irrevocably divided.

The polling, carried out by Mr Brown's Our Scottish Future pro-UK campaign group, found people across the UK held similar views on immigration, law and order, defence and the importance of local decision-making.

It also showed 53 per cent of even committed independence supporters would feel “warmer” towards England if they felt the country was represented by figures such Southgate and Rashford, rather than Boris Johnson’s Government.

Writing in the New Statesman today, Mr Brown claimed the findings had profound consequences for debates over Scottish and Welsh independence and proved Britain was “moving closer together not further apart.”

Rashford bridges divide

He said Rashford, the 23-year-old Manchester United striker and high-profile food poverty campaigner, and the England manager Southgate, who has spoken out in favour of equality and tackling racial injustice, represented values shared across the UK.

“If people start to see that the England that is presented to them by other people is not the England that really exists, and they can identify with Marcus Rashford or Gareth Southgate, then that changes their view,” Mr Brown told journalists. “It makes them more warm towards a better relationship with England”.

He added: “What you see is a change in the attitudes of people in Scotland, and that the image that Scots have been taught to have of England - full of toffs and football hooligans - is not the image that England really has.”

Mr Brown said Rashford had met 400 children virtually in his home town of Kirkcaldy after he persuaded him to host an event in Scotland.

“There was no sense of a Scottish-English divide between the audience and him,” he said. “He captivated that audience by the way he expressed what his aims were, what he had in common with them.

“Once the debate is actually about what you have in common, instead of what divides you, the atmosphere changes quite fundamentally.”

Almost identical numbers across England, Scotland and Wales said equality, tolerance, liberty and diversity were important in making them proud of their nation, and held the same views on issues such as the importance of the NHS, the research found.

UK unites behind Raducanu

Mr Brown cited US Open tennis champion Emma Raducanu, who was born in Canada to Chinese and Romanian parents, as a new “British sporting icon” people across the UK could unite behind, while maintaining their own regional or national identities.

However, he criticised Mr Johnson’s “muscular unionism” strategy, which involves the UK Government directly intervening in usually devolved areas and "hoisting more Union Jacks", claiming it backed up the impression that people must choose between Scotland and Britain.

He also said he feared the Prime Minister would divide the UK in an effort to win the next general election.

“There is a danger that the next general election in Britain will be fought as a battle between a Conservative Party… that plays an English card and claims that Labour would go into a pact with the SNP, which of course is a lie,” he said.

“That plays into the hands of Nicola Sturgeon who wants to fight the issue of Scotland versus Britain.

“But I think… people will start to understand the importance of cooperation. To have a green revolution, deal with climate change, or even to deal with vaccination and economic regeneration, you've got to have cooperation between Scotland and England.”

Rona Mackay, and SNP MSP, said: "Far from providing answers, Gordon Brown's party remains a significant part of the problem. Scottish Labour's continued denial of Scotland's democratic right to choose an independent future in a post-pandemic referendum serves only to enable Johnson and his hard Brexit zealots to inflict further damage on the people of this country.

"If Gordon Brown wishes to contribute to the debate, he should start by upholding democracy not damaging it.

“And no amount of constitutional tinkering or devo max would protect Scotland from the likes of Brexit or a Tory power-grab – only independence will do that.”

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