by Mark Simpson (Guardian Unlimited, April 8, 2007)
It’s over. ‘Britain’ and ‘Britishness’ are politically moribund terms. The proof? Scottish-flavoured New Labour’s recent laughable attempts to resurrect “Britishness” as an “inclusive” post-Imperial identity. Not so much because they flopped as the fact that Britannia was now such an empty vessel that she could be so casually appropriated by New Labour in the first place.
Whatever the outcome of next month’s elections to the Scottish Parliament – and at the moment the Scots Nationalists are ahead – unionism as a political force and national identity is finished. Anxious New Labour strategists aside, there’s no real appetite for it either side of Hadrian’s Wall. Meanwhile, across the Irish Sea even ‘British Forever!’ Loyalists like Ian Paisley are now in government with Sinn Fein Irish nationalists.
New Labour’s attempt to buy off Scottish nationalism with parliaments, unequal voting rights, free prescriptions and universities, shiny new bridges, has failed. Worse, it’s only served to ignite the political frustration of those ‘British’ people paying for much of this – people who, despite the best efforts of the political and media classes, increasingly see themselves as English.
Amidst all the chatter in London about whether the Scots will embrace the Scots Nationalists or not in May and whether it will be a good or bad thing for Scotland, hardly anyone is asking what the English want, or even acknowledging their existence.
There’s a good reason for this. Whatever they brought the English in the past, the institutions of ‘Britishness’ are now largely a conspiracy against England and the English. A way to keep them disenfranchised and identity-less – except during international football matches (and then only because the Scots refused, years ago, to join a UK team). Those ‘chavvy’ plastic St George’s flags fluttering from black cabs and housing estates mocked by the middle classes are all the English are allowed. The Welsh can be Welsh. The Scots can be Scottish. But the English have to be British.
The BBC, Westminster, the Monarchy and above all London all block the emergence of an English national – and political – consciousness. Why? Because it would undermine their power, their status and indeed their point. The institutions of ‘Britishness’ may or may not favour ‘Scottishness’ (and ‘Welshness’) but they are quite definitely all set against Englishness. London is the former capital of a global empire turned capital of globalisation still pretending to speak on behalf of a ‘Britain’ that doesn’t exist any more – but located in the heart of an England that actually does.
Such impotent discussions about whether the English should also be allowed a parliament of their own that are occasionally indulged seem somehow to always overlook the rather salient point that there would have to be a revolution before the English got a parliament of their own. Even if Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and the blinking Isle of Man all seceeded, London would probably still try to claim to represent ‘Britain’ rather than recognise English sovereignty – or the English.
For England to assert herself power and status would have to be wrested out of the hands of ‘British’ institutions that reside in the English capital. Institutions that claim to represent a country that no longer exists save in the speeches of apparatchik, globalising Scottish chancellors keen to smooth the way for their London coronation.
Why do you go on about mongrel social amalgam when describing England. Why do you imply that English identity is an ethnic one?
It’s time to create a civic English identity – trouble is the British nationalists, right and left wing, are against this.
I’m a Welsh nationalist. I believe in English independence (or parliament at least). Contrary to popular belief, Welsh and Scottish nationalists aren’t anti English, they’re just anti-British.
It’s time one of Europe’s earliest nation-states becomes a nation-state again. Don’t listen to the smug British nationalists. They’ll support Britian ‘cos their jobs in the media, government etc depend on it. The future of England is in the hands of those people who no longer have a selfish stake in Britishness – the working class and SMEs.
Perhaps that’s a fate that awaits all “empires”, i.e. nations that have grown beyond their borders, conquering other peoples of different cultural, social and ethnic origin. Great Britain is as much a construct of history as Rome and Spain were and are. The Celts in Gaul may have called themselves Roman for a short while, just like Latin Americans or Catalans called themselves Spanish in the past. So it’s no surprise Scots and Welsh really don’t want to be called British forever. I’m not sure whether “England” could be reconstituted as a nation since it is such a mongrel social amalgam of Scandinavians, Germans and Celts (not to mention contemporary influences). It would make sense to talk of Yorkshire and Lancashire and London as separate identities, for whom England may mean as much or as little as Britain (or, worse, Europe)