Is Britishness dying?

Duncan Hamilton in the Scotsman writes that devolution has weakened British and strengthened Scottish identity and that the next phase of constitutional realignment will not be as a result of a groundswell in Scottish public opinion demanding independence but rather a reaction from England to the disintegration of Britishness and the re-emergence of Englishness”. Is Britishness disintegrating and what effect would the rise of English nationalism have on unionism and Britishness in Northern Ireland?

  • Biffo

    Thanks Tom

    I’ll check that out a bit later.

  • Ringo

    Biffo –

    There was a report done in 2002 commissioned by Eamon O’Cuiv’s department, and the most striking thing about it was that of the 154 Electoral Divisions that were classified as being a Gaeltacht, only 18 were Fíor Gaeltachtaí – ones where over 75% spoke Irish daily. Of these 18 only 12 were outside Galway, 4 in Donegal and 2 in Kerry.

    As for hard population stats – the report above does contain one indicator which is useful in this regard – the ‘Deontas’ or the grant to Irish speaking families.

    Assuming the size of a family doesn’t vary significantly between the different regions, there are over one and a half times as many families in Galway who qualify as there are in Donegal. If the number of families in Mayo (about 12% of the Donegal figure) is added the Connacht figure is higher again. The Munster figure is 4/5ths that of Donegal.

  • Ringo

    Of these 18 only 12 were outside Galway, 4 in Donegal and 2 in Kerry.

    Should read:
    Of these 18 only 6 were outside Galway, 4 in Donegal and 2 in Kerry. The other 12 were in Galway.

  • beano @ Everything Ulster

    “Ulster boasts more native Irish speakers than any where else in Ireland. Does that not make you proud – you being “everything Ulster”?””

    I’m not interested in the other 3 counties though 🙂 even if what you say is true, which seems to be being debated by people with more knowledge on the issue than myself.

    Irish is rarely used in Northern Ireland according to the European minority languages bureau, which exists specifically to promote minority languages. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that a good proportion of those learning the language do so to show how Irish they are, which in turn, is often to show how not British they are (not that this is always the case), especially in the more urbanised east of the province around Belfast.

    I’ve no problem with the Irish language per se, and may in fact look into learning (at least a little) of it myself at some stage. But to suggest it should have official status is nonsensical, particularly given the intensive care it requires in the South which seems to have a large number of people speaking it as a first language. It may well be of cultural significance, and historical importance, but it is not necessary for communication.

    With the number of people who speak Welsh as a first language compared to Irish (in NI), comparing the two is misguided.

  • Tom Griffin

    In un-Enlightened Ireland, the issue has remained, frankly, ethnic. That is the difference.

    I think the contrast between Scottish civic nationalism and Irish ethnic nationalism is over-simplistic.

    The article I linked to above provided some good evidence of ethno-nationalism in Scotland.

    Conversely, there is a history of civic nationalism in Ireland: the United Irishmen for example, who were closely linked to the Scottish Enlightenment

    That is not to deny the obvious fact that these issues in Ireland have become bound up with an overt sectarian conflict in a way the fortunately haven’t in Scotland.

  • Biffo


    “Should read:
    Of these 18 only 6 were outside Galway, 4 in Donegal and 2 in Kerry. The other 12 were in Galway.”

    Does that mean the Mayo Gaeltacht is now extinct? Sad.


    Apologies I should have said Ulster boasts the second highest number of native Irish speakers.

    Alternatively we’ll play by your rules and exclude 3 of the counties. – Ulster comes in joint third along with Leinster and proudly boasts the lowest number of native speakers.


    Thanks for the reply. I have to go right now but I’ll come back to this. I will say for now that I’m in agreement with Tom Griffin. Your views on this are too simplistic, you’re not looking at the whole picture.

    Also I get the impression that you are keen to see Scottish nationalism in a positive light, and Irish nationalism in a negative light (ethnic unenlightened)

    That maybe tells me more about your personal views and preferences than it does about the nature of nationalism

  • Ringo

    Biffo –

    Does that mean the Mayo Gaeltacht is now extinct? Sad.

    Not yet, but there isn’t the critical mass of regular speakers left to maintain it for the next generation. I think that studies have shown that once less than 70% of the population in an area speaks Irish that it goes rapidly into decline. Thats why those 18 ED’s are very important. The are the only areas where it is truly self-sustaining.

    As an aside the údaras elections are coming up and every voter in the 154 Gaeltacht ED’s has a vote as far as I’m aware. So you’ve got all these local politicians in east Galway City wandering around estates where there is a bigger non-national population than native Irish speakers trying to canvass ‘as Gaeilge’.

  • maca

    “Is maca around today, I have a few questions to ask him about irish”

    Cinnte, bím “around” gach lá (I’m here every day). You have my email.

  • IJP

    Tom and Biffo

    Actually I accept your points entirely.

    To Biffo I would say:
    a) frankly you would need at least a dissertation to do the topic justice, I was merely making the briefest of broad-swipe attempts to answer your query; and
    b) you are quite correct that it reflects my preferences, indeed I fail to see how any objective observer could prefer ethnic political nationalism (fundamentally undemocratic and inevitably a cause of conflict) over civic nationalism (a properly democratic tradition).

    Tom wisely raised the United Irishmen, who were part of the Enlightened tradition. Modern Irish Nationalism does not (as represented by its political leaders) descend from them, though. I make no excuse for expressing the view that that is unfortunate.

  • Rebecca Black


    I did but I lost it – my mailbox was overfilled so the kind IT folks at TCD wiped the whole thing coz they said it was taking up too much space.

    I was curious to find out how much you know about the old Irish names for Newtownards. Is Baile Nua correct?

  • cladycowboy

    we shall fight them on the beaches,on the buses and tubes, bars and common grounds, we shall never surrender!!!!

  • Davros

    cladycowboy – at the moemnt ‘fighting them in bars’ is something more associated in the public mind with members of the IRA and SF ….

  • cladycowboy

    Very true Davros,

    I’m sure there isn’t a soul on this website who isn’t disgusted with the incident you allude to.

    However,it doesn’t mean there isn’t brutal fighting every ‘leave’ weekend in the bars around Aldershot and the like, which never makes the news..

    ..i’ll just stick to ‘We shall fight them on the beaches’ bit..happy?

  • Davros

    However,it doesn’t mean there isn’t brutal fighting every ‘leave’ weekend in the bars around Aldershot and the like, which never makes the news..

    It did when I lived and worked close to an army base in England. Now I dare say if there wasn’t just “brutal fighting ” but a savage and horrible murder – this wasn’t after all a nice neat Hollywood death where the victim gets a tidy stab , goes You got me and falls to the ground, but a prolonged and vicious beating in which an eyeball was ennucleated – ie forced from the orbital socket and left hanging – and the mans head was stamped on time and time again. If such a murder had happened in a garrison town and members of the Tory party were involved and there was a huge cover-up operation mounted with which a nationally and internationally famous politician was involved as happened in the Markets Riots and if Michael Howard had stonewalled for 2 weeks … then it would be just as much in the public arena as the behaviour of Adams, McGuinness and even Alex Maskey has been in this case.

  • cladycowboy


  • Dan

    I’m English living in Scotland and I am witnessing first hand the decline of Britishness in Scotland.

    I don’t believe that there is a huge demand in England for seperation from the UK but the Scottish national difference in attitude to Britishness is essentially removing the option from the English of being British. I used to like the fact that when I lived in England I could support my own national team and also support the Welsh, Northern Irish, Scottish football teams. In fact most people I know even supported the Republic if they were playing a non-british team. To me that was what being British meant to the average person, not some kind of colonial feeling but wanting your british brothers to do well. Obviously this doesn’t happen in Scotland where the opposing team to England is always your favourite team. I think that if you have no common feelings, no common threat then invitably it will die.,,3561-1442180,00.html

    “While a quarter of schoolchildren aged 14 to 16 prefer to think of themselves as English, only 12% of teachers held similar views”

    The vast majority of English people like myself believe they are British first English second. I don’t think that the English regarding themselves as British first English second is really the end of Britishness in England.

  • maca

    Very interesting Dan.
    Although you say you regard yourself as British first English second have you seen any change in this over the years? Do you think many people are beginning to value their Englishness more rather than their Britishness?
    Also, the attitude in Scotland, does this affect your own view of Britishness in any way?

  • stephen r

    Most English people, in my experience, are both sentimental and unthinking about the Union, treating being British and English as synonymous. There is an emotional attachment to the Union but I sense this may change. Devolution has left a deep imbalance in British constitutional arrangements, which are clearly to England’s disadvantage. The effects aren’t yet fully felt but already a student or elderly person going into a care home who lives in Northumberland is worse off than his/her equivalent across the border. Most English voters are unfamiliar with the Barnett Formula but were the tabloids to give it as negative a press as anything emanating out of Brussels I think you’d find support for the Union begin to erode.

    I am English, but have lived in Ulster and Scotland before moving to the Netherlands and have spent relatively little time in my native land over the past 17 years. When I do return I’m surprised how many flags of St George I see. England fans used to cheer Scotland on, now they mock. Simon Heffer recently wrote a little noticed book arguing for the end of the Union from an English perspective (not recommended) and Boris Johnson recently made critical noises. It strikes me as an issue the Tories could run with in 2009, espec if Gordon Brown leads Labour.

  • SeamusG

    “There is an emotional attachment to the Union”
    Have to say, I’m yet to come across this. Maybe a sign of the fact that you’re not in England much Stephen.

  • maca

    Here’s a question, would England be better off on her own, economically or otherwise?

  • Biffo

    Better off on her own I suppose (ess above mentioned Barnett Formula)

    Independance for England!

  • Biffo

    Britain – Hands Off England!

  • Davros

    Here’s a question, would England be better off on her own, economically or otherwise?

    might give Manchester Utd a good excuse to send a certain Scotsman hame 😉

    Everton 1 – 0 Man Utd

  • Dan

    “Although you say you regard yourself as British first English second have you seen any change in this over the years?”

    I guess when you live in Scotland when you are English inevitably you will feel more English. I don’t think a single day goes by without someone mentioning my difference (normally in banter). I used to give as good as I got, but now I’m finding it annoying that I can’t really feel at home here even though I am about to have children with my Scottish wife. I still feel like I’m British first as I’m English of 1/4 Welsh descent and I live in Scotland, I am a product of Britain and even if the Union dies I will be geographically British.

    “Do you think many people are beginning to value their Englishness more rather than their Britishness?”

    Yes, my friends down south are becoming more resentful of Scotland’s special treatment and the fact that they percieve English people are somehow subsidising the Scottish parliment and Scotland’s moves for independence. Some of the more right wing would like to leave the UK first, probably to save face in the light of rejection. I would say that Scotland contributes as much as it receives, if you take into account oil and the strategic importance of the nuclear submarine bases.

    “Also, the attitude in Scotland, does this affect your own view of Britishness in any way?”

    I live on the west coast think there is a kind of reticence to say anything positive toward almost everything; England, the Union, the NHS, the weather. This kind of over shadows thinking about anything positive Scotland gains from the Union. (I’m from the North of England and we have a similar but milder outlook toward things.). If anything I feel like I’m trying to hold my wife and I together by hoping that the UK stays together. I find I get annoyed by the fact that a lot of people in Scotland drive round with EU number plates on that say SCO not GB (including my own secondhand car) even people I know who really are pro-UK never say so because they don’t want to be associated with Rangers fans and sectarianism. Nationalists are very vocal and I think as children are brought up in this environment they will inevitably become nationalist.

    I have a friend who is a Celtic fan of Irish descent who has worked in England, has Welsh and English friends and thinks that the UK as it exists now is a great modern social (he can team up with the Welsh to support England’s opposition) and economic union of countries – he considers himself Scottish but also British – he could never fly a union flag though (for understandable reasons) nor would he really argue that strongly for the Union because he would be seen as less Scottish if he did so. It is people like him that stay silent that will bring about the end of Britishness.

    Being from Lancashire I guess I am really proud of some of what Britain achieved in terms of the industrial revolution. A lot of countries have colonial pasts of which they are not proud but Britain, aside from the mistreatment of people all round the world, brought some values to other countries like education for both sexes of which the UK shouldn’t be embarrassed about. I think of the great Engineering and inventing achievements of the UK as what demonstrates what the English, Welsh, Northern Irish and Scots can do together and I think it is a shame that nationalist resentments are going to end this. In contrast as far as I can see the Pub thinking in Scotland as regards history is that: Scotland was a united utopia until it was forced into slavery to England. The Scots were forced to then run the British empire and direct English brutality whilst inventing everything on the planet of worth and having the cash and credit stolen by England. I even heard an SNP politician describe today’s Scots as slaves to England – I think she was right that they are slaves – but they are slaves like English, Welsh and Northern Irish people to mortgages and debt -hopefully she will be paying that off with the oil money.