WE ALL have our stories, and they always involve sport. It is the summer of 1996, Scotland vs England at Wembley, and Gazza has just scored that goal.
In a corner of a pub on Glasgow's Great Western Road, is a small gaggle of Englishmen, including me. We had all lived north of the border for a while and therefore knew the wisdom of restraint in such circumstances. We're English after all; apart from the hooligans who represent our distorted mirror images, we're not that keen on ostentation. But, oh, that goal… the sheer genius… we couldn't help it. We yelled. Then a pint glass came flying, narrowly missing our heads. Then the abuse. We watched the rest of the game back at the flat.
Four years later, the European Championships again, England are playing Germany. Scotland aren't even in the tournament, but that doesn't change the Scots' opposition – we know that. Another Englishman and his girlfriend are watching the game in a pub near the Kyle of Lochalsh. After Michael Owen missed an easy goal attempt, up comes a local, practically spitting in my friend's face as he mocked his disappointment. Another friend recalls watching an England vs France rugby match in Edinburgh a few years back, when – after England won – he and his friends were kicked as they made their way out of the bar. I think every Englishman in Scotland has such a tale.
This weekend, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland has declared enough is enough. "It is all too easy to dismiss this as healthy rivalry. It is not," says Sheilagh Kesting. "The lessons of our sad and sectarian past make this clear… There is a thin line between banter and something that is much more sinister."
Her comments will trigger further debate about the bittersweet relationship between Scotland and its super-sized cousin down south. So is it good-natured banter or systematic racism? Who better to ask than us?
And, it has to be said, there are quite a lot of us. While the public debate on migration in Scotland has moved on from the Irish in Glasgow to the Lithuanians in Lanarkshire and the Poles in Inverness, the fact is that it is the English who make up Scotland's biggest migrant community. Well over 400,000 English-born people live north of the border. Edinburgh, not surprisingly, is the most English part of the country – Greenock, in the west, is the least. We follow no particular social grouping. Nor have we come here for any particular reason. We have married Scots. We got jobs up here. We fancied the house prices. Or we came here to go to university and ended up not leaving. And asking around among a random cross-section of the group, it seems that, despite the Moderator's claims, we are a pretty content bunch.
At his home near Cupar in Fife, Tom Gilbey is typical. "I have never been insulted by a Scotsman in my life," he declares. It is 20 years since he came to Scotland, having married a Scot. Their two children now feel "half-Scottish and half-English" he says. "It is all just banter and that is part and parcel of life. It has been going on for a thousand years and it isn't going to change. It goes on in every part of the United Kingdom. That's just the way we are."
Alexandria Richards, originally from the south of England, but now living near Coldstream, agrees. "We all live in harmony. Any hostility is tongue-in-cheek. Whenever there was a rugby match, the Scots support anyone but England. I find that a little bit unpatriotic. Why not support one of the British teams? I would always support Scotland against, say, France. But it's not important."
Certainly, there have been occasional cases of discrimination which have hit the headlines. Eight years ago, Colin Pearson, the publican of the Farmers Inn in Clarencefield, Dumfriesshire, was sued for alleged race discrimination against a local English couple, who claimed they were being forced to leave the area because of the abuse. But this was an isolated case.
Talking to fellow Englishmen who live north of the border, the point about sport and 'banter' is made time and time again – with many insisting that this is only during major sporting occasions that they are even conscious that they are not of local stock. "The only time I've ever been aware I'm English was when I was watching an England vs Scotland game on the telly and I was the only one in the pub who cheered when we scored. There is a big difference between banter and sectarianism and it hasn't crossed that line yet," says another Englishman, living in Edinburgh.
So are the Moderator's claims a little off-beam? Or is it just that the English up here feel that complaining about discrimination is, well, a little un-English? In the only major piece of research into the English experience in Scotland, a study found that 94% of English people in Scotland insisted that there was no problem. The research was conducted by Murray Watson for his book Being English In Scotland. "If the host nation had been accused, under Scots law, of anti-English feelings, the likely verdict would be that of 'not proven'," he concludes.
Most English people in Scotland seem to agree, and they say the Moderator's views are too simplistic. The Scottish-English relationship is far more multi-faceted than she suggests. For example, many of those from the north of England believe they have more in common with Scots than they do with their own English cousins in the south. Richard Wilson, an academic at Glasgow University, who has lived in the city most of his life, says: "I come from the north of England. I found Bolton society and the attitudes of industrial Lancashire mirrored in Glasgow. Up north we felt sorry for the effete Southerners because, although they may have had more money made by selling our industrial heritage, they were emotional cripples incapable of really enjoying themselves."
It therefore saddens him, he says, that the Scots don't seem to be able to ditch their knee-jerk opposition to England. "I support both England and Scotland when they play third parties and am saddened by the anti-English sentiments shown by some Scots," he says.
Other northern English migrants agree that they feel at home up here. "There is a similarity between the English from the north and the Scots," says one Englishman in Edinburgh. "There is the working class background and the broadly Labour supporting approach. The values are similar. There is the shared animosity to the south of England."
So do southerners up here feel they get singled out? Alexandria Richards in Coldstream – who comes from London – insists not. "I've never found it a problem at all." Another born in south England, but who now lives near Paisley, adds: "I have never personally experienced any, but it obviously does exist. The fact that I'm English might be one of the first things Scots notice about me, but it's often the first thing they forget."
Nor did any of the English people who I spoke to feel that their nationality had affected their careers in any way. In 2002, Mark Souster, a rugby commentator, took on the BBC after claiming he had been sacked because he was English. But few agree with him. Indeed, the very idea of structural anti-Englishness was met with derision when I put it to my fellow countrymen – and the rise of the SNP is not seen as a threat. One English resident of Edinburgh said: "There's probably been a rise in patriotism since the SNP came in, but I don't think that's a bad thing. The SNP coming in was about change, not about any drive towards anti-Englishness."
The SNP's firm attempts to isolate the extremist fringes of nationalism in Scotland appear to have worked.
But for now, the conclusion can only be reached that, from the English person's point of view, there is no genuine anti-Englishness to speak of in Scotland. The question is why?
In his book, Watson offers a few possible explanations. Firstly, he suggests, the English migration to Scotland has been "invisible". English migrants have not congregated in a ghetto community but instead have spread themselves across the country, getting jobs in all forms of work, and have not therefore been pigeon-holed or stereotyped in the way that other migrants have.
Furthermore, according to Watson's analysis, the English have also "assimilated" into Scottish culture. There are plenty of examples of Scots English who, after a few years, feel perfectly at ease wearing a kilt. Many others are more than happy for their children to grow up as Scots. And there is no little admiration among many English people for Scotland's strong sense of itself. Eventually, the only thing that distinguished many English people in Scotland from the Scots themselves is the accent, and even then, the Scots tongue has a way of getting hold of English vowels. Watson concludes: "The evidence points to a successful integration… combined with widespread geographical dispersal and socioeconomic diversity of English migrants, the nature of their assimilation and acculturation added to their invisibility."
The truth seems to be that English are only discriminated against because any community has an instinctive distrust of incomers – and the fact that most share the same skin colour, tastes and culture as their hosts means that they are, in reality, discriminated against far less than other minorities. And anyway, aren't some prejudices acceptable? Wouldn't it make next month's England vs Scotland rugby clash a lot duller if a basic rivalry wasn't involved?
Going back to my friend in the pub in the Kyle of Lochalsh, his story had an interesting ending. The guy in the bar who had abused him and his girlfriend was shown the door by his fellow Scots, who were disgusted by his behaviour. Neither of the Sassenachs had to buy a drink for the rest of the night. On behalf of the contented majority of English people living in Scotland I say this: if that's how much you hate us, then let's have more of it.
English people who have flowered in Scotland
He may have been born in Singapore, but playing on after a head knock, his three lions drenched in blood, made Butcher an English football legend. He played for Rangers and managed Motherwell, and is now assistant to new Scotland team manager George Burley.
The most successful Englishman at the Scottish Parliament, the Kent-born Scottish Nationalist was Minister for Environment. An active member of the SNP for over three decades.
An honorary Scot, the Harry Potter author has only lived in Scotland since 1994.
Creator of T in the Park, Scotland's largest annual rock event, which provides the economy with an estimated 15m. He initiated a second festival, Connect, at Inveraray Castle last year.
As the chief executive of Standard Life Investments, he controls one of Scotland's most important investment firms.