What touches England, touches everyone…

Arthur Aghey has a cogent answer to Brian Feeney’s urgent question: why are there no Unionist intellectuals?, by falsifing the premise. In this month’s Prospect magazine he probes the issue of English versus British identity, with particular attention to the tensions raised by the West Lothian question. The ambivalent character of Englishness, he argues, touches all of those inside the Union.

Outside Northern Ireland, “British” refers almost exclusively to the legalities of citizenship, while English, Scottish, Welsh and Irish refer to national belonging. This convention can be traced in part to Linda Colley’s work Britons (1992) in which she argued that Britain was an invention temporarily superimposed on much older loyalties. For Colley, these natural loyalties of Welsh, Irish, Scottish and English were bound to wax once the artifice of imperial Britishness began to wane. In sum, Britishness has become understood as exterior and formal compared with the interior and sentimental nature of national identity. This has given rise to two competing tendencies. In the first, Britishness becomes dispensable if popular identity is there to be authentically expressed in national institutions. In the second, the national becomes dispensable since Britishness signifies all—the idea advanced in the Parekh Report of 2000, a high-water mark of multiculturalism.

The politics of Englishness used to be conducted in an idiom that preferred, as Disraeli once said, government by parliament rather than by logic, an idiom that could see no point in removing an anomaly just because it was an anomaly (see Robert Jackson below). The consequence was an unthinking unionism in which England, as Bernard Crick has put it, was a relationship as much as a thing in itself. The insight here is not that Englishness is a relationship defined by some “other” (and so lacking an identity), or that Englishness has a fixed meaning, but that the Englishness of Britain and the Britishness of England have been bound up together. Devolution has clearly modified things: unionism can no longer be unthinking, because devolution has modified the institutional relationship between England and the other parts of Britain. Bargaining between the territories is more visible than the multinational solidarity that makes such bargaining possible in the first place. As a consequence, the English question has become England’s British question, and the question is to what extent devolution has undermined English patriotic identification with the UK. In short, does it inevitably mean disintegration?

Finally:

Devolution has increased the attraction of clear-cut identities and it is possible to put the logic of simplicity into political practice. It would mean adopting the policy Tom Nairn has long advocated and Michael Portillo has now adopted—that the English should turn their attention from the management of British decline into the management of disintegration, a sort of “Four Nations and a British Funeral” strategy. It would be, in my view, a tragic case of national separatism based on the narcissism of small differences. On the other hand, the multinationalism of Britain can be understood as an appropriate location for popular Englishness. Billy Bragg captured the interconnected parts of this relationship when he sang: “Cos my neighbours are half English and I’m half English too.” He is “half English” because of the Britishness which has made England what it is today and his British neighbours are half English too, because whether they like it or not—many don’t but most do—what touches England touches everyone.

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  • Yank in Ulster

    In one way, it is still remarkable that the UK even exists as a single state, with several nations contained within it. Not many examples of this across the globe.

    In another way, I’m fascinated that the West Lothian question hasn’t been resolved, several centuries after American founding fathers figured it out: two legislative chambers, one based on population and the other on a straight formula of 2 seats (Senators) per state.

    If English politicians are really perturbed about the undue influence of the “Celtic mafia”, then do something about it!

    Yet there is a particularly English reluctance to embrace English devolution or to pursue all-out disintegration of the UK.

    Indeed, I expect the English to address this is a particularly English way, which is along Aughey’s conclusion of individuals referring to themselves as “half-English” and “half-British”. Perhaps we’ll see the hyphenated identity of “English-British” or even “Ulster-British”?

  • Keith M

    “In one way, it is still remarkable that the UK even exists as a single state, with several nations contained within it. Not many examples of this across the globe.”

    Off the top of I head I can think of China, India, South Africa, Spain, Russia and Indonesia, so it’s far from uncommon.

    The Wst Lothian question does need to be resolved and quickly. We’re now getting examples of legislation which only impacts England being rejected by English MPs but going through on the votes of the Welsh and Scots. This is unsustainable in the long term.

  • DK

    KM: ““In one way, it is still remarkable that the UK even exists as a single state, with several nations contained within it. Not many examples of this across the globe.”
    Off the top of I head I can think of China, India, South Africa, Spain, Russia and Indonesia, so it’s far from uncommon.”

    In all of your examples, there are additional differences that are minimal in the British context – such as language or race. You can’t tell by looking the difference between an Englishman and a Welshman, but you could tell the difference in China between a Han and a Mongolian. Wales is the only UK region with a strong alternative language, but the devolution vote was extremely tight in wales, suggesting that nationalism there is not strong as regions in the other countries you listed.

    I think what I am trying to say is that independence from Britain is weak in Wales and England and not much stronger in Scotland. This is based on the fortunes of the “nationalist” parties in the countries of Britain. Only Northern Ireland has a strong nationalist party(s), but it is not seeking independence, but rather to join another state.

    Politically then, even with a resolution of the West Lothian question, Britain will still exist. A love-hate relationship maybe, but if the even weaker relationships across the EU can get it together politically, the far stronger links between the British nations will be hard (and pointless) to break.

  • PHIL

    Keith M is right, the WLQ must be answered but I don’t think that the present government will do it as it is in their interests to keep things as they are. The reason English politicians don’t do anything about this is because there are very few in positions of power and those in the Labour party that are English are more interested in their careers than any democratic deficit that affects their country. I doubt that anything will change without a change of government and although I think that the Tories “English votes on English laws” is unworkable in practice, it will provide the catalyst that will ultimately lead to English independance.

  • Prince Eoghan

    “I think what I am trying to say is that independence from Britain is weak in Wales and England and not much stronger in Scotland.”

    Pro-independance(Greens, SSP, SNP) parties are in the lead in Scotland according to the latest poll. Indeed the SNP on it’s own are ahead of labour, so I’m afraid that your position on Scotland if not altogether wrong, is far from being correct.

    One of the things that has always grated proud Scots is the immediate identification as being “English” whenever we identify ourselves as being British. This has being going on forever. One story goes of Scottish troops in liberating French towns in 1944 continually being adressed as Anglais. This lead to even the most linguistically challenged sodjer learning(pardon my French) No, no je nais pas Anglais. Je suis Ecosse. Pride, especially Scottish pride could have it no other way, on occassion going to farcical lengths.

    Phil and I have touched on this many times about us going our separate ways. I believe that the Scots and English have the makings of great friends as well as neighbours. Just so long as we are both in charge of our own affairs.

  • Brian Boru

    I think Unionism has few intellectuals because it is too reactionary to have them. It is an ideology based on fear, and that leaves little room for productive political and artistic thought.

  • Brian Boru

    “In all of your examples, there are additional differences that are minimal in the British context – such as language or race. You can’t tell by looking the difference between an Englishman and a Welshman, but you could tell the difference in China between a Han and a Mongolian. Wales is the only UK region with a strong alternative language, but the devolution vote was extremely tight in wales, suggesting that nationalism there is not strong as regions in the other countries you listed.”

    Some of that is supposed to have been not so much opposition to devolution as opposition to getting far less autonomy than Scotland and feeling insulted by that.

  • P O’Neil

    Having up until resently lived in Scotland, still have lots of friends and family there, I have a fairly reasonable understanding of the political situation. Without a doubt, the biggest fear in Scotland, is Tory rule. The way things are looking at the moment for Blair and the Labour party, odds on favourites that the Tories will probably get into office come next election.

    The SNP are ahead of labour in the polls, but if the Tories do get into office (or it looks like they will) then there will be a massive swing in votes towards the SNP. The undertones in Scotland are ones for change and FULL independence.

    ” I believe that the Scots and English have the makings of great friends as well as neighbours. Just so long as we are both in charge of our own affairs.”

    I dont think so, there is still massive anti-English feeling in Scotland, if only bubbling away beneth the surface. There are still a lot of things to be addressed ie easier for English students to get into Scottish universities because of the weight the Government gives to the inferior A-levels; also a lot of higher paying jobs in both public and private sectors are given to English people (not because of ability but rather a few years working in London; buying up more houses etc etc. There is still a lot of ill-fealing to say the least. Some remote places up in the Highlands (also parts of Wales) English have been burned out of their homes, as resentment and hostility grows amoung the ‘locals’ these situations will only escalte.

    As for the ‘Union’ if Scotland contiunes on the road that its on, then come next election Scotland will go for full independence. Personally, I had hoped that it would have been the 6 counties to have broken away first. Soon enough though, the UK will be no more. GB RIP.

  • Prince Eoghan

    P O’Neil

    I agree with much of what you say, though not many of your conclusions. The white settler thing has unleashed a high level of antagonism in rural areas against the English. Also, the fact that many huns, copying their 6co’s volk hero’s are shoving England tops down Scots throats to assert their Britishness, tends to grate on your average Scot.

    Where I badly disagree is if the Tory’s came to power. The Scot’s many of home only vote Labour to keep the Tory’s out would flock back to labour as a way of propping them up britain wide. There is a genuine fear here of English tory rule that has not gone away. Maybe I am wrong, and the SNP has got the ball rolling and wee Alex can lead us to independance, God I hope so.

    Watch out for growing Unionist confusion and anger eminating from the 6co’s, as it begins to sink in of the break up of the Union from the outside. England will not tolerate paying for her little frankenstien entity much longer after, especially Scotland departs with her money.

  • P O’Neil

    “Where I badly disagree is if the Tory’s came to power. The Scot’s many of home only vote Labour to keep the Tory’s out would flock back to labour as a way of propping them up britain wide.”

    I’m not so sure, but will be interesting to watch in the lead up to the elections. I really don’t see the Scot’s voting for Labour en-mass, or for Brown, who under Blair’s tutolage has become the perfect little traitor, errr, I mean Englishman…

  • Prince Eoghan

    Aye, that does throw in an interesting dynamic. Wee Broon has declared himself in a way that is not popular, and certainly fools no-one, Scot or English.

  • Kathy_C

    posted by Kathy C

    Hi all, When you want to see how people are feeling…look at their symbols and how they respond to them. The flag…union jack is a huge symbol…and now the cross of St. George is seen more and more in england. I recently watched a special on PBS about windsor castle and how they wanted to increase the revenues of the gift shop…they moved it closer to the tourist and they changed the symbol of the shop…now it is of St. George…and the cross of St. George is being actively marketed because that is what people are buying over the union jack. Also, I’ve seen how the last few years the BBC world report has gone from an orange set to a white and red set with the red being put on the white background in the shape of the St. George Cross. What was once…portrayed to the world as orange…now is red and white. Just this week a real interesting change….when Tony Blair was at the white house and he walked out for the press conference with Bush…the way the union jack was being draped had changed. There were American flags and union jacks…and each union jack was folded so the red cross of st. George was the promient feature….it is what was seen. Rather interesting…..the symbols are changing…and the symbol of St. George is rising…which means the english feeling of identity is rising over the english feeling of uk….. One way or another…that union jack flag will change

  • Keith M

    P O’Nell “As for the ‘Union’ if Scotland contiunes on the road that its on, then come next election Scotland will go for full independence.”

    Well done, you are rivalling your namesake when it comes to complete and utter nonsense. Support for the SNP is in the decline. Look at the recent general election results;
    1997 : 22.1%
    2001 : 20.1%
    2005 : 17.7%

    Even if you consider the tiny Scottish Socialist Party (most of who are disaffected Labour people), you can also see the trend;
    2001 : 3.1%
    2005 : 1.9%

    Less that 1 in 5 Scots voted for party’s supporting independance at the last election.

    Devolution (just as in Wales) has neutered the separatist vote.

  • Prince Eoghan

    “Watch out for growing Unionist confusion and anger eminating from the 6co’s, as it begins to sink in of the break up of the Union from the outside. England will not tolerate paying for her little frankenstien entity much longer after, especially Scotland departs with her money.”

    Posted by Prince Eoghan on Aug 01, 2006 @ 02:15 PM

    Seems like I was right, Keith here is an ICM poll on favouring independance. This is not election material, but these polls are very rarely far wrong;
    http://www.independence1st.com/polls.shtml

    And the latest Holyrood opinion polls;

    http://www.alba.org.uk/polls/2006polls.html

    You must be mellowing Keith, not calling for anyone to be quite rightly targetted today?

  • Keith M

    “This is not election material, but these polls are very rarely far wrong”.

    That’s funny because I remember nationalists and republicans pouring cold water on similar polls favouring Northern Ireland remaining in the U.K. by a margin of around 2-1. It sems like people believe what they want to believe!

    If independence is more popular in Scotland, why are the voters deserting the parties that support the idea at the only poll that counts (the ballot box)?

  • PHIL

    Prince,

    I would say that anti-English feeling in Scotland (and vice-versa) would decrease post independence, but there will always be b1gots and nutters in both countries no matter what the political relationship between our nations.

    P O’Neil,

    I concur with what PE has said, Gordon Brown fools nobody in England either! I can see that Scots would vote Labour in order to keep the Tories out, but I don’t think that is as big an issue as it was prior to devolution as Scotland will still decide most of its domestic affairs regardles of whether Westminster is blue or red. It is strange that you use the example of English students finding it easier to get into universities as English students suffer in that they have to pay for higher education, whereas students from Scotland or EU residents from outside the UK don’t pay if they study in Scotland.

    Kathy C,

    I agree with much of what you say regarding English identity replacing British identity in England, but it is the English people that are leading that change. If you think that Blair and the rest of the British establishment are suddenly becoming English then you are sadly mistaken. Blair et-al are Brits first and Brits second, third and fourth. England shall get its parlaiment eventually and independence will soon follow, but it will be in spite of people like Blair, Brown and Cameron, not because of them.

  • Prince Eoghan

    Keith.

    I have provided you with two of the most recent polls, I can do no more.

    I would be surprised if these numbers hold up at next years elections. However the polls would need to be massively wrong if at the very least the pro-independance parties, in particular the SNP and Greens did not at the very least gain a dozen or more seats between them.

    We will find out next year, but my gut feeling is that the ball is rolling:¬)

  • lib2016

    Keith M,

    Can’t speak for others but here’s one ardent republican who believes that reunification should take place as part of the process envisaged in the GFA i.e. not now but when the circumstances are right, after a process of aligning and integrating the two economies and after we have at least some idea of what sort of constitution is envisaged.

  • A question for the unionists/loyalists.

    If the scenario happened where Scotland left the union, would the unionist population try a new union with scotland or would they wish to stay in the same union with England and Wales ?
    Or would a new dynamic happen where they’d look south for practical reasons or instead try go it alone with an completely independent state in these islands?
    Also would Scotland or England and Wales want that union to continue?

  • Slugger O’Toole Admin

    Brian,

    Did you actually read the post above?

  • Kathy_C

    posted by Kathy C

    Hi all,
    Phil, I agree with you….! It will change not because of blair but in spite of blair. The fact about the cross of st. George in the queens gift shop and how the flag was draped at the white house…shows that many in britain are flexing their pro english side and blair and co…aren’t the bravest politians and follow the way the wind blows…and right now the wind is blowing on the cross of st. george…. Politicans use symbols to stir the crowd…and if done properly…can get a really good stir. James Bond and MI and MI6 may say they want their drinks shaken not stired…but it is in the stiring that things get accomplished…;0)

  • Keith M

    First of all let’s be-bunk ythis nonsense about St.Geotge’s flag. In case anyone has failed to notice England (not the U.K.) are the current rugby world champions and are also enjoying one of their better periods in football (reaching the last eight in three consecutive tournaments). Flag flying by fans all all nations has increased hugely over the past ten years or so.

    I go to the Eurovision Song Contest every year, and almost without exception it is the union flag that is carried by fans. It’s just a case of finding the right flag for the right event.

    There was a problem with the union flag when it was comandeered by the BNP etc during the 1980s, but thankfully that has been slowly reversed. however serves as a warning to people in this country, not to allow the national flag to become associated with one group of nationalist extremists.

    Prince Eoghan “I would be surprised if these numbers hold up at next years elections. However the polls would need to be massively wrong if at the very least the pro-independance parties, in particular the SNP and Greens did not at the very least gain a dozen or more seats between them.”

    A dozen seats? That’s nothing. In 1999 the SNP won 35 seats. Four years later, continuing the drop in support the SNP won 27.

    Therefore a gain of only a dozen seats would just be regaining the ground lost in in 2003 with a small bonus.

    If the support for independence is as strong as you suggest, the SNP (plus the SSP) should be able to gain an overall majority. That’s the benchmark against which I (and I suspect most others) will be measuring the SNP.

  • Shuggie McSporran

    Keith M

    “First of all let’s be-bunk ythis nonsense about St.Geotge’s flag. In case anyone has failed to notice England…”

    It’s worth rembering that England have had many moments of sporting success in the past, it isn’t a new phenomenon – but the St.George’s cross is. Prior to the devolution era England’s sporting fans flew the British flag pretty much exclusively.

  • Nevin

    • Sunday 2nd April – TESCO DROPS CROSS OF ST GEORGE LABEL; MAIL ON SUNDAY REPORTER

    [i]’Traditionally, English produce has been labelled with a Union Jack – only a very small number of products would ever have carried a St George’s flag.

    ‘Customer research has shown us that, once customers know a product is British, if it is from England they are most interested in knowing the region where it was produced.

    ‘This is what we are moving towards with our produce labelling.'[/i]

  • PHIL

    Nevin,

    Tesco is well known for its questionable labeling policy (e.g. English cheese carries union jack, Scottish salmon carries saltire) but to be honest I don’t let it bother me as I can always shop elsewhere. There is a lovely farm shop in Billericay, Essex that sells much nicer food at cheaper prices.

  • Ziznivy

    The noises coming out of the Conservative Party about Gordon Brown are disquieting for me as a unionist. Behind the raising of the Lothian Question I can’t help but perceive an anti-Scottish agenda. The undertone seems to me to come a little close to “we can’t be having one of these Scots as PM”. Now I understand the difficulties that devolution has caused. I understand the reluctance of English MPs to allow Scottish, and Welsh votes to decide issues which are only relevant to England. The job of PM however, is the job of politically leading the United Kingdom – all its parts. If any candidate from Scotland, Northern Ireland or Wales is to be rubbished for the post due to his nationality, some fairly fundamental questions about the UK are being raised.

    There cannot be two categories of MP in Westminster. The only answer to the question that can be countenanced is to introduce devolved regional administrations in England. Otherwise we are looking at a Kingdom which is not united at all and does not conform even loosely to the multinational, multicultural state for which sensible unionism strives. In this scenario petty regional nationalism would have realised their own vision of a English colonial hegemony. That cannot be allowed to happen. And it is disappointing to see the most historically unionist party sacrificing the integrity of the union for cheap short-term political gain.

  • PHIL

    Ziznivy,

    Correct, there must not be two categories of MP’s at Westminster, that is why there should be only English MP’s sitting there! You say that the only answer to the WLQ is for England to be partitioned into regional assemblies, but the English will not accept that as another foreigner who tried to tell us how we should be governed found out when the “north east” said a resounding NO to his plan for an elected assembly (hasn’t stopped him going ahead with UNELECTED assemblies though). If the UK is to survive (and I sincerely hope that it doesn’t) then England MUST be treated as one nation with one parlaiment. Regionalisation or the status quo are not acceptable to the majority of the English public.

  • Maria

    “The white settler thing has unleashed a high level of antagonism in rural areas against the English. Also, the fact that many huns, copying their 6co’s volk hero’s are shoving England tops down Scots throats to assert their Britishness, tends to grate on your average Scot.”

    Comment by so-called Prince Eoghan

    Comments like this sicken me. If this is typical Scot than the sooner the Union breaks the better! Hun indeed! Check out your own history first! Saxons in Lowland Scotland, English people here there and everywhere inter-marrying with Scots, Bretons in England and now the almost certain knowledge that the Celts did not make it here en masse!

    It has NEVER been as simple as Celt/Anglo Saxon here!

    YOU DISGUST ME! Twelve of my gran’s uncles died in the Great War. How DARE YOU rake this terrible era back up, for your own petty little Scotlander ends?

    It is offensive to the English, the Germans and everybody else. I repeat – HOW DARE YOU??!

  • John

    As an Englishman, I am becoming increasingly tired and resentful of the ‘chip on the shoulder’ that many non-English posters seem to be carrying around.

    A sense of English identity is reasserting itself, paradoxically strengthened by the very Political Correctness that NuLab has used in its attempts to suppress that flame. The EU’s Trojan Horse in England, ODPM/Govt Offices under Jabba the Grope tried to legitimize the Balkanization of England through promoting elected ‘Regional Assemblies’. They failed.

    English people are waking up to the fact that our Scottish and Welsh neighbours are being allowed expressions of national identity and democratic fora that we ourselves are being denied, and that we are also paying more than our fair share.

    Scots may understandably fear another Tory Government like that of Thatcher, but English people equally resent being ruled by a clique of Scots, whose own constituents are exempt from the laws they impose on us.

    As an ordinary member of the public, I don’t have any solutions, but any settlement that denies me the right to express my identity and directly elect those who have the power over me is increasingly unacceptable.

  • PHIL

    John,

    There are only two workable solutions, an English parlaiment in a federal union or independence. I would prefer the latter but am open minded to the former.

  • gadgie

    There is a case to be answered by Tesco on their removal of the Cross of St George from English produce. There is a suggestion they are pandering to Welsh and Scottish bigotry. Can they sell English goods depicting an English flag in those two countries. After the world cup
    saga of assaults on English people and English flag burnings in wales and scotland, I would suggest the truth lies there.

  • PHIL

    Gadgie,

    You may have a point but as far as I am aware Tesco have never marketed English produce with a St. George’s cross, even when a product is obviously English (e.g Cumberland sausage, Red Leicester cheese, Yorkshire pudding etc). I can fully understand why Scots, Welsh and Irish get upset when English symbols are rammed down their throats during World Cup’s etc. by a media and retailers that think UK=England, but there must be acceptance that when something is produced in England, it should be marked accordingly and if that puts people off purchasing something then so be it. Personally, I would have thought that a union flag would be more off putting to an Irish, Scottish or Welsh nationalist than a St. George’s cross.