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Last Updated: Friday, 11 January 2008, 18:40 GMT
Scotland v England
Paola Buonadonna
By Paola Buonadonna
The Politics Show

Edinburgh University

In a personal reflection on nationhood, Politics Show reporter, Paola Buonadonna recalls her time at Edinburgh University and draws her own comparisons of time spent on both sides of the Scottish Border...

The Italian language is not too subtle when it comes to referring to different areas of Great Britain.

They're all 'England' as far as the common parlance goes.

It is therefore something of a miracle that I did not get killed, (or at least glassed) in my first few months at Edinburgh University, when I talked with great enthusiasm to anyone who'd listen about my new adopted country while apparently remaining unaware I was actually in Scotland.

I knew it all along of course. I just didn't think the name mattered.

After those three years in Edinburgh, I made the - at that time - inevitable if predictable journey to the Big Smoke 'to find a proper job'.

And aside from a frankly surreal three-year stint in Brussels, I have been trapped inside London's gravitational field ever since.

While this is not an official qualification to write about what it is like to live in the two nations... well, let me just say that I've given Great Britain 18 years of my life and there cannot be many Italians (who are emphatically not involved in either pizza or ice-cream preparation) who can say the same.

Scotland first...

Scotland was my first taste of life abroad and everything about it struck me as foreign and fascinating and wild.

Scottish Highlands
Those far flung corners of the Highlands - what beauty

Cities seemed merely afterthoughts, dark-grey, dark-red tattoos on the barren wind-swept landscape, silent sentinels keeping watch over the raging seas.

There was something about the endless opal light of summer days, the howling of the winter gale winds, the smell of the hops from the breweries in the air that belonged not just to a different latitude from the Mediterranean, but to a different universe too.

The people were lovely to me.

English students were often privately vilified, occasionally publicly harangued and not infrequently beaten up especially after alcohol had played its part.

But I was the 'right type of foreigner', one that had not come over to crow, to sound smug and superior and look down on them.

Strength of identity

Once I became familiar with the accent, and I could actually understand the locals, their belligerent inferiority complex towards 'Down South', the (deep-fried) chip on their shoulder became evident, but didn't cloud my relationship with them.

I came after all from the land where tanks rolled backwards - I was no threat to anyone and could set no example.

I'm not sure what "Fair fa' yer honest, sonsie face..." would be in Italian?

The other side of that coin was a strong sense of identity.

There was a real people, a real history with a living legacy underneath the cacophony of bagpipes and the tartan tat.

People who danced at Ceilidhs in their kilts and at their weddings cooked... haggis.

London called

Then one day I got off the coach at Victoria station, and, blinking in the watery sunshine of a London early autumn day, I had an intellectual notion of where I was.

But aside from all the superlatives (one of the largest cities in Europe, with the most languages spoken etc), there was, to paraphrase Gertrud Stein, no 'there' there.

Over the years, whether I was spending the weekend in sleepy market towns or reporting from large post-industrial cities, the concept of what it was to be in England remained an elusive one.

An homogeneous, commercial-chain blandness permeates the place.

London Skyline
Ah.... London

There is no defining audio-visual cue, no atmospheric shorthand.

My foreign-ness, on the other hand, weirdly, began to stick out.

My accent, clothes and manners marked me as un-English, where the distinction was not between those who are English and those who are not but between those who are English and those who want to be.

Eventually I came to understand that England is a state of mind as much as a geographical expression - a statement of tolerant but self-satisfied otherness from the rest of the world.

Reasonableness, common sense and fair play yes, but handed down to the world by a culturally superior race.

Of course things have evolved and changed, often beyond recognition in the course of the last few years.

England has become a lot less courteous and phlegmatic a nation.

There are puzzling bouts of celebrity-induced public hysteria, a troubling disregard for privacy and more generally a nastiness has crept up in the political discourse.

The prevailing value is (catching up with the rest of the world, I have to say) self-interest rather than fair play.

Devolution, devolution, devolution...

Meanwhile Scotland went and got itself official nationhood status, no less.

It seems to me that it is impossible to exaggerate the importance of devolution in its effect on the Scottish psyche.

Scottish Parliament
What can I say..?

Aside from a (sorry everybody) bafflingly ugly parliament building, it has given Scotland a chance to prove itself and not just exist in resentful contrast to a more powerful neighbour.

Of course this process can and does go too far - I was pleased for Glasgow when it won the City of Culture tag in 1990.

But now, Edinburgh has its own Harvey Nichols for heaven's sake, and I fear the further spread of self-obsessed, materialistic blandness like the plague.

So, I've lived to see it all... England without fair play and Scotland without a chip on its shoulder... It might be time for a move to Wales.

The Politics Show, with Jon Sopel on Sunday 09 December at 12:00 GMT on BBC One.

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