THOSE of us Scots who like to see England do well at World Cups have had an easier time of it these last couple of weeks. The refrain “anyone but England” is noticeably less popular in Scotland this year than at any other time in the last two decades or so. Admittedly, the research to justify such an observation has extended little further than assorted tabloid phone-in columns and the reactions of friends and families when I said I hoped England would beat Colombia the other night.

From such robust study I’ve been able to deduce the reasons for this thaw in our attitudes to the prospect of English success in a World Cup. There is an acknowledgment that, in Gareth Southgate, England have a manager who fits the model profile a Scot would construct for the occupant of this position: he is calm, grounded, respectful of opponents and seemingly immune from making grandiose claims on his team’s behalf. His players seem cast in the same mould: they are no-one’s golden generation and none could be described as a galactico.

Now only Sweden and perhaps Croatia stand between them and the final. Both of these teams are good but England are eminently capable of defeating either. This is when those of us who always back England will have our faith tested: not in the feat itself but in the hoopla and euphoria that would accompany it south of the border and then be conveyed into our living-rooms. There’s only so much we can take of “It’s Coming Home” while the prospect of Nigel Farage re-launching his political career on the back if it is beyond contemplation.

The feats of Mr Southgate’s team and the uncharacteristic humility that has clothed them has led some English political commentators and intellectuals to see in them the stirring of “progressive English nationalism”. I think I know what they’re getting at. It is derived from a collage of live television footage from all corners of England showing the scenes of joy that ensued after England has converted the winning penalty against Colombia. In this we saw English men and women, old and young and of many colours uniting under the Cross of St George. This was reinforced by the knowledge that the players on the winning England team came from several different ethnic backgrounds.

This progressive English nationalism, as opposed to the contaminated UKIP/Rees-Mogg brand with its appeal to the flag, the suspicion of immigrants and the echoes of old naval victories is one that liberals and reasonable-minded English people can rally round. It doesn’t bray and snort but gathers and listens. It is best encapsulated in a sharply-observed and graceful essay by Jason Cowley in this week’s New Statesman.

In it Mr Cowley observes that England has been searching for a reasonable and inclusive identity and regrets that it has come to be seen as “a contested identity, too often associated with reaction and an ineradicable sense of loss or denied altogether by ultra-liberals enraptured by multiculturalism”. He rebukes Jeremy Corbyn the internationalist for fearing to be defined as too English and Theresa May simply for fearing everything and “having no feeling for the rhythms and textures of modern England”. He salutes Mr Southgate for seeming to articulate something more compelling and lucid than either of these two about English identity.

I harbour one or two mild concerns about the desire to embrace this progressive English nationalism. It seems to maintain that, in the desire to develop this new genus, we must inevitably reject any concept of division as this will give succour to the politics of extremism, anger and fractiousness. It seeks, in Mr Cowley’s words to heal an England which is “chronically divided: between provincial towns and metropolitan cities, between the conservative old and the liberal young, between graduates and non-graduates, between renters and owners”.

The great social leaps forward in the UK in the 20th century, those that at last began to bridge the chasm between the haves and the have-nots were all born of division and a refusal to accept the status quo while it favoured the affluent elites. By all means let’s strive to develop this more inclusive and less strident Englishness but not at the expense of being divisive and rebellious if the massive gaps in attainment evident in all strata of English and UK culture and society remain.

I’m not sure either that England has previously lacked an identity as immediately identifiable as the Scottish, the Irish and Welsh ones. The favoured narrative of both Left and Right in England holds that Brexit exploited this absence of a robust English identity at a time when Scottish nationalism was becoming the prevailing political force in Scotland. Rather, I’d contend that the English media and political classes have always eagerly annexed Britishness and subsumed it into “being English” so that British and English became interchangeable.

The Wimbledon fortnight, the English cricket team, Henley, the Chelsea Flower Show, each and every royal occasion: these have all been the robust hallmarks of an unspoken English identity which has endured over centuries. The BBC is the instrument by which English culture suffuses and then supplants the cultural identities of those other nations it likes to call regions. English identity may not be much spoken of and remain understated when measured against the increasingly confident cries for self-determination coming from Scotland but it is no less strong and distinct and has the institutions and the customs to prove it, all of which are piped unilaterally into the households of “the regions”, there being no alternative.

Yet, if we are seeing the rise of a new progressive English nationalism then it is to be welcomed and it is no less valid or important for being fuelled by the heroics of Mr Southgate and his players. Might I also dare to suggest that this new reasonable English nationalism has been inspired by the nature and character of Scottish nationalism? It too submitted itself to a process by which it threw off suspicion, exceptionalism and insularity and began to embrace diversity, inclusiveness and the value of an open border.

Altogether now: three Lions on a shirt, Jules Rimet still gleaming …