Another international football tournament and another example of the kind of disorder involving England and Serbia fans that we hoped was a thing of the past.

The Prime Minister was also prompted to urge followers of his national team to avoid singing tasteless chants about German casualties in the two world wars during Euro 24 matches. There was no requirement for John Swinney to make similar entreaties to Scotland fans in Germany.

While supporters of other nations turn to anger or bravado when they are losing, the Tartan Army resorts to self-deprecating humour.

As Scotland pulled a late consolation goal back in their 1-5 thrashing by Germany last Friday, Scotland fans taunted their hosts with a rousing rendition of “You’re not singing anymore”.

It would be funny if it were not such a tragic reflection of how, in so many areas of public life, Scotland has become a parody of self-endorsed failure.

Scotland manager Steve ClarkeScotland manager Steve Clarke (Image: free)

The way the Tartan Army cheerfully accepts sporting humiliation is a backhanded acceptance that, whatever glory days we once enjoyed, are now firmly in the past and, without significant and meaningful change, in the past they must remain.

There was a time when the greatest accolade that could be bestowed upon Scotland was to be told that we punch above our weight. Now we cannot even lay claim to that distinction.

Our sporting disappointments are linked to poor performance in lots of other areas, including the economy, business, international education comparators, health outcomes, arts, and science.

In virtually every area, the way we deal with setback and underachievement is confused, short-termist and defeatist. The greatest frustration for the many people who work hard, day-in and day-out, to try to turn things around is that their efforts are thwarted by the mammoth institutional and economic forces ranged against them.

The message that Scotland is subsidised by Westminster, and that we should be grateful for that beneficent support, informs everything we do and the way we feel, generating a mood of uncertainty about what Scotland is and where we are headed.

Are we a nation or a region? Do we represent ourselves or a larger whole? Who is in charge and what represents success for us?

The annual CBI-Fraser of Allander Scottish Productivity Index, published earlier this year, showed Scotland lagging in 10 out of the 13 productivity indicators, compared with the rest of the UK.

It revealed that Scotland has the highest rate of economic inactivity due to long-term sickness among the four nations, standing at 37.1%. The findings also showed business investment as a share of Scottish GDP contracted by 0.3% in 2022 to 9.5%, underperforming the UK which in the same period, had a 0.3% rise to 9.8%.


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Campaigners right to protest Baillie Gifford Book Festival funding

In education, formerly regarded as one of Scotland’s great strengths, the picture is one of steady decline. The most recent figures published by the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) for 15-year-olds, revealed a drop in standards in 2022, corresponding to nearly a year in mathematics, over six months in reading, and a term in science.

While Covid was partly to blame, the longer-term picture reveals that, in the decade to 2022, the Scottish decline was equivalent to about 16 months of schooling in mathematics, eight months in reading, and 18 months in science.

Despite being part of the sixth richest economy in the world, Scotland continues to have appallingly poor health outcomes. Scottish men live on average 76.52 years, compared with 79.9 years in England, and Scottish women 80.73 years versus 83.6 south of the border.

In Glasgow, male life expectancy is now 72.9 years, seven years less than the male average in England, and only slightly higher than for men in war-torn Syria. In Maryhill and Springburn, two of the most deprived areas of the city, male longevity is 71.1 years, putting them on a par with male life expectancy in Iran and Nicaragua.

In other areas of civic life, we see the same, depressing picture of decline and failure repeatedly. The country’s two main arts companies, Scottish Ballet, and Scottish Opera, are a shadow of their former selves, and the main funding organisation, Creative Scotland, is a dysfunctional joke.

Rare examples of global achievement, such as Andy Murray in sport, actor Brian Cox and Booker Prize winner Douglas Stuart, had to leave Scotland to gain success.

While the Tartan Army merrily satirises our dire footballing performances, the response among too many Scots to the country’s failures in other areas is to shrug and accept them as inevitable.

nionist politicians like Gordon Brown who continue to peddle worn-out sophisms about how the country’s many problems can be overcome by continued constitutional tinkeringUnionist politicians like Gordon Brown who continue to peddle worn-out sophisms about how the country’s many problems can be overcome by continued constitutional tinkering (Image: free)

The waters are muddied by unionist politicians like Gordon Brown who continue to peddle worn-out sophisms about how the country’s many problems can be overcome by continued constitutional tinkering which would still leave the main centres of industry, commerce, and fiscal control in the south-east of England.

In an extraordinary interview this week, Tony Blair insisted that devolution has worked by keeping Scotland in the UK and that independence was now further away than ever.

He told Holyrood magazine: “Whatever people think about Brexit, even if they’re ambivalent about it…you’re kind of thinking, this is a huge mess and, therefore, Do we really want to gamble with the Scottish economy?”

In other words, Scotland should remain part of the same constitutional arrangement that has savaged its economy by taking it out of the European Union against its will, because the alternative would savage its economy. As an exercise in hubris and national self-blaming, that can rarely have been equalled.

Just as similarly sized independent European nations like the Netherlands, Portugal and Croatia have bested Scotland on the football field by implementing long-term sporting development programmes, so others have exploited their autonomy to power ahead economically.

Norway has one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds because of income derived from North Sea oil; Ireland is Europe’s fourth richest country by GDP per head; Finland, Sweden and Belgium are among the most competitive economies in Europe.

Anyone who has watched Scotland’s football team compete in international tournaments for any length of time will know that the current campaign will end in disappointment and there is nothing the fans on the terraces or in homes across the country can do to change that inevitability.

In contrast, we have the ability and the opportunity to address and reverse the pattern of decline in other areas, and all we have to do is to grab it.

Carlos Alba is a freelance journalist and author. He ran the media campaign for Ken MacIntosh’s bid to become Scottish Labour leader against Kezia Dugdale