Is London’s Anglo centric unionism fundamentally at odds with unionism in the devolved territories?

If you read nothing else this week, try this fascinating insight from Richard Wynne Jones, director of the Wales Governance Centre at Cardiff University (where I’ll be speaking in few weeks), into what may turn out to be one of the key drivers in pushing the United Kingdom apart:

English nationalism is a curious concoction, combining a rather unlikely sense of grievance about how England was treated within the devolved UK with a sense of entitlement and even superiority about the UK’s place in the world.

But however improbable this combination may seem to those of us who live in England’s shadow, its potency cannot be gainsaid. English nationalism has played a key role in the two UK-wide votes held since.

In the 2015 UK general election the Conservatives made extraordinarily effective use of English fears about possible SNP influence over a minority Labour government.

The party’s opponents all testify to its effectiveness. Former Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg speaks of the “visceral fear” of the SNP that saw his party being swept away in its former strongholds in the southwest of England.

But it was about more than simply concern with the SNP. Nigel Farage speaks of how the Conservatives capitalised on “some quite vehement anti-Scottish sentiment” among the English.

It was, he said, a sense that “the Scottish tail has wagged the English dog in the most remarkable way”, with particular dismay at the way that Scots are “getting our money”.

In other words, it was not just about Nicola Sturgeon and Alex Salmond. Such a move encouraged some Scots to vote SNP. The Tories knowingly pursued a polarising strategy.

A strange form of unionism, you might say, but it makes more sense if you accept that theirs is emphatically not a union envisaged as a partnership of even near equals.

Theirs is rather a United Kingdom regarded, in essence, as a “Greater England”. Local differences with this Greater English state can be tolerated, but it is toleration within limits.

It was a reckless and desperate attempt by Cameron to get a clear win at the election. He succeeded politically in breaking his coalition partners the Lib Dems and helping to bust the Labour party as a going concern in Scottish Westminster seats.

And he adds this intriguing layer:

The Remain campaign operated as if Britain was a comfortably multinational and multiethnic society. By contrast, the Leave campaign embraced a characteristically Anglo-British understanding of the UK.

The latter was rewarded with the overwhelming support of those who feel a strong sense of English identity. Those who felt British but not English voted overwhelmingly to remain. Why is this a problem?

Wynne Jones concludes:

For unionists in the devolved territories, however, it’s an utterly dismaying vista. Not only is the unionism of the UK government not their unionism, it’s fundamentally incompatible with their vision of union.

And while most will likely respond to the existential threat represented by a second independence referendum by championing the United Kingdom even in its Greater England guise, some will not.


  • Jollyraj

    Presumably Enda also doesn’t recognise the Irish Republic as a state.

  • Jollyraj

    In the UK, we have one man, one vote. Doesn’t matter where you live.

    Hard to see what problem there is with that.

  • Jollyraj

    “I watched the Ireland v England game last Saturday in the company of several Scotsmen (and true Scotsmen at that, not Celtic-supporting Scots of Irish descent). They were delirious with joy at the final whistle (although the result was actually bad for Scotland). There was no question of them supporting a fellow-UK team”

    I think that’s rather a silly point. The six nations is a healthy rivalry between….six nations. It isn’t ‘the UK vs the rest’ – that is (sort of) the British Lions (yes, I know…).

    Scotland have long had a rivalry with England, true – but in the context of this year it is only natural to root against the team that beat you and for the team you have already safely beaten. You are confusing sport with politics.

  • Kevin Breslin

    These are rather low expectations Jeff.

    To me England is another part of Europe, it’s not one I disassociate from but one increasing that is disassociating from me and people like me. I would hope I would feel barrier free to work anywhere in Europe and make a home their without having to swear allergence to their head of state or abandon my individuality to please xenophobes. It is the home of my cousins and some friends, but I have cousins and friends in other parts of the world.

    I was raised by an entrepreneur who was able to start businesses across Europe and beyond, my uncle was an engineer in the Middle East, I have another who is Northern English working across Europe too. None of them experienced discrimination for their nationality. None of them were born in ethnically diverse London of course but despite that handicap they gained customers from around the world themselves without a London and in some cases a GB base.

    You speak of diversity, how much diversity have you taken on board?

    Have you tried to learn new languages and new science. Is this really a diversity you embrace or are you just giving yourself a pat on the back for headcounting Hindus and Sheiks like Catholics with ashes on Ash Wednesday in Belfast City centre.

    I like the way you say ethnically diverse rather than culturally diverse, because people can’t choose their skin colour or even accent, but it’s not okay for them to be strange in their cultures or mannerisms, because that’s fair game, that’s “refusing to integrate”.

    Diversity is seen as a threat, something that cannot be tolerated. The common humanity of the Merchant of Venice boasted by Shakespeare is lost in Modern England during this and many other Winter’s of Discontent. With Brexit Great Expectations seem to lead to a Dickensian Bleak House. The cautious tolerance of Yousef N’Dior’s Seven Seconds have given way to the sort of cynicism of Radiohead’s Burn the Witch.

    If England means Farage, Gove and Nuttall and of Britain First, I want nothing to do with that England based on an Afrikaner mentality, in the same way I would want nothing to do with the Ireland of the IRA or the Northern Ireland based on big house Unionism. This Afrikaner mentality is a highly funded political action group, they don’t like poor people they don’t like other cultures. Ireland knows what it’s like to abandon liberal democracy, but such a concept seems under threat by plastic patriots in England.

    This is not the type of England that will be tolerant to someone from a poor background, to someone from a Northern Ireland/Irish background, to someone who doesn’t drink the Kool-Aid of Daily Express-Breitbart hysteria.

    When they tell me about Bulgarians and Romanians refusing to integrate, I think of the Bulgarian and Romanian lecturers who taught me higher levels of calculus. When they tell me of Muslims trying to indoctrinate people out of the British way of life, I think of the Muslims who taught me Computer programming and the industrial skills that maintain it.

    The England that the Leave side want is not a rich, tolerant and respectful nation, but a condescending exceptionalist imperial one in denial of its European and multinational networks. It denies that ordinary English people were building lives for themselves with the EU four freedoms.

    It denies the humanism of Shakesphere, the modesty of Newton, the pragmatism of Wellington or the realism of Churchill. It is being driven by people who want to build Jerusalem on its green and pleasant land and then frack it.

    I’m not anti-English, which is why I don’t want that nation or my own region to suffer the sort of plastic Englishness and plastic Britishness being offered by Farage, Gove, and certain other jingoists.

    I wouldn’t wish it on any European nation, any other nation in the Globe.

  • Fear Éireannach

    We all have friends in England. I also have many friends in Germany, Italy, the USA etc, but draw no political conclusions about being ruled from these places form that. Some Irish used to blow up Birmingham, but these did not enjoy the support of the Irish people generally. Some British people rampaged shooting people through the streets of Derry, a place whose inhabitants applauded Arlene Foster this week. The British people through their government rewarded these people with promotions. British terror in Ireland has always largely been with the support of the government, and as it supposed to be a famous democracy this means it had the full support of its people, The British people supported their political leaders recently voted against respecting the Good Friday Agreement, reneging on one of the few things they have done in Ireland that reflects any credit on them. Their conduct has often been disgusting and they have no shame or reflection on this whatsoever.

  • Kevin Breslin

    If I recall correctly Northern Ireland voted No to AV. I recall my disappointment with the half-hearted effort here. I think only Scotland voted Yes, maybe some places in England too.

    Perhaps the only issue that I would actively agree with UKIP upon. Only the PUP among NI unionist parties seems to want PR reform.

    It could be the best thing or the worst thing for unionism if they have a willingness to adapt their covenant to a broader electorate.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Some of the syntax in this lost me a tad Kevin. But on your point re. Farage, Nuttall etc. Nuttall lost the Stoke by-election. Farage has not been able to be elected an MP. And now Douglas Carswell has resigned as a UKIP MP (which is good because he’s a classical liberal). This means UKIP has no MPs. So it hardly makes UKIP representative of England or Englishness.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Westminster is largely undemocratic, it doesn’t reflect Britain, or its English MPs England either, since they are just a bunch of constituency chieftains under a vote splitting first past the post system that ensures Conservative or Labour elites are the main options open to England, and it’s becoming the case of nationalism vs unionism outside of it.

    My republicanism isn’t Hibernocentric, my objections to gerrymandering extend to a system that undermines the mandate of people in England who’s policies I wouldn’t touch with a barge pole like UKIP. I’d want the British to have proper democracy reflecting its population similar to any other European Republic, or rather a crowned republic like Denmark or the Netherlands.

    Westminster is gerrymandered that one group of elites have the reins of power, and usually it’s the Conservatives. The U.K. needs constitutional reform to deal with its own self made democratic deficit and its own lack of transparency as well as realising every EU decision the UK made has the fingerprints of Parliament on it. It’s inevitable that the likes of UKIP and the DUP and further back Sinn Féin emerge in such circumstances where power is designed only to be decided by the few.

    The DUP can at least be held account for their irresponsible rhetoric, UKIP do not outside of the European Parliament.

    Attacking the EU won’t fill the esoteric void the English feel, that requires greater homegrown civic democracy. Northern Ireland would not have any political movement without it.

  • John Collins

    In fairness Jeff your contention is a tad disingenuous. They have no MPs, but how many MEPs have they?

  • John Collins

    They overtaxed Ireland by about 400 million pounds in their last forty years in charge of the island according to some sources. Robert Ambrose HR MP for West Mayo, claimed in his ‘Plea for Industrial Regeneration of Ireland’ (1909) that from about 1850 to 1907 the GB Exchequer had taken four pounds out of the island of Ireland for every one pound they put back into it. Lord Dunraven the head of the Southern Unionists wrote a pamphlet, which was in broad agreement with what his fellow Limerick Ambrose had wrote.
    Neither of these men wanted separation from the Union, but they rightly feared revolution if GB did not act on their concerns.i

  • John Collins

    Funny how the ROI is the second most popular port of call for GB emigrants in Europe, after Spain. Works both ways and btw they, like those from other nations, are very welcome here.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    I voted for Brexit – like millions of others – but have never supported UKIP.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    I think it says a lot about the sophistication of the UK electorate that it elects UKIP to the parliament it most despises but wouldn’t elect it to Westminster. UKIP, like the DUP, Sinn Fein and SNP, is a single issue pressure group, not a political party.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    There’s a lot of esoterica in that head of yours Kevin.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    We all choose the things we like or loathe in every nation. I love the Mournes but I don’t much love the DUP or Sinn Fein or the Alliance Party or UKIP. But I do love living in the world’s greatest liberal democracy.

  • Jeffrey Peel

    Quite the opposite. The SNP is waning. Welsh nationalism is near dead. Unionism in Northern Ireland is in crisis but will ultimately be replaced with a pro-unionism that’s placed in the context of the UK outside of the EU. Sinn Fein’s vote will wane too. In fact Northern Ireland’s relationship with GB will grow ever stronger. Our fast growing trade with Britain is now four times greater than our trade with the Irish Republic – that momentum will continue.

  • Kevin Breslin

    When did you move to Switzerland?

  • Kevin Breslin

    I think you are living in your head, Plaid Cymru is the second biggest party in Wales, SNP are holding their own and doing it strongly, and did you see the last Northern Ireland election? I know you adamantly support Brexit, but at some point you have to give up in denying reality. People are rejecting a unionism based on fantasy romanticism and want hard working honest local people to be honest with them about the not so pleasant things in life. Unionism is not based on partnership as it once was but fascist diktats that detaches ordinary people from the Unionist elites.

    The numbers are there.

    In terms of trade, I think I detect a sign that your desire for British protectionism outweighs any desire for libertarian free trade. No global villages where the people choose their supply chain and meet their customer’s demands.

    No diversification where people can explore European markets or other markets as easy as they could the UK one, or at least nearly as easy.

    Funny how you seem to hope Brexit steers markets to the GB, and show no hope of the reverse. What about our European supply lines, are you sure we can get the British good we once had if we add trade resistance to buying European components. Instaneous self-sufficiency was also part of the Brexiteer denial of reality.

    I of course have my own desires to shrink the state of the U.K., namely to get Northern Ireland out of a state that isn’t being run by grounded individuals.

    At the end of the day Northern Ireland needs to export and import beyond GB if it’s going to stop being the poorest region in the UK, and well WTO terms and long winded trade deals and not going to make NI’s efforts any bit easier.

    Nostalgia for Empire or Cosmopolitan London will do nothing for the coal face of society here.

  • Kevin Breslin

    When did you move to Switzerland Jeff? 😉

  • Jeffrey Peel

    I have great respect for Switzerland. Visit often. But not exactly Great.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Hardly esoteric to call Westminster gerrymandered to be unreflective of the population. If you want to see what the “world’s greatest liberal democracy” would look like if it did reflect the “will of the people” and not the established elites.

    What comes below makes interesting reading.

    It’s very clear to me the real esoterica is why are the British population not aware of such a democratic deficit closer to home if they want to “take back control”.

    Big House UK Conservatism will not get away with trying to replicate what Big House Unionism tried to do.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Fantastic liberal democracy they have there, compared with Westminster anyway. In a Westminster election, around 40-60% of voters are really wasting their vote.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Pretty much a case of you like the land but you don’t like the people. Keep telling yourself that the union is getting stronger if the main focus for you is trying to reappropriate a geophysical entity like a range of hills. As you may well know this land and these hills separated from the island of Britain back when beetles began to walk the earth.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    And you are confusing wishful thinking with reality, Jolly. It is not a silly point at all. We are fed up to the teeth with Scottish sportsmen and women being “English” when they are winning, but “Scottish” if they happen to lose. This is of course trivial, but it is symptomatic of a much larger sense of English Nationalist entitlement on the part of the English part of the UK, well exemplified by the tone of the comments made by you here. But by all means keep making them, as it adds to the impetus for independence..

  • Scots Anorak

    The Scottish Labour Party was doomed from the time its representatives made the cardinal error of sharing platforms with Conservatives during the independence referendum. It needed no help from David Cameron on that count.

    Personally, I rather think that Ulster Unionism (i.e. British nationalism in Northern Ireland) has converged with British nationalism in Great Britain. On the ground NI Unionism has become much more socially liberal, even if some of its elected politicians have not yet cottoned on to that obvious fact.

    In Scotland there has been some NI-style consolidation into two blocs, with the SNP on one side lined up against a reinvigorated Tory Party as the standard-bearers of Unionism. Some Scottish Unionists have even attempted to ape Ulster Unionists and use support for Gaelic as a wedge issue, albeit without much success, and those in Scottish Labour who previously argued for the supposed efficiency benefits of nationalisation and centralisation have been left standing, post-New Labour, for what Gerry Hassan has called an intrinsic support for the Union (i.e. an affiliation that was previously pragmatic but is now inherited). West of Scotland Catholics, who once supported Labour and were nervous about Scottish sectarianism being unleashed by independence, are now often to be found among Indy’s most vocal supporters. Loyalists, on the other hand, rioted in George Square on the night of the referendum; up to then many Scots had considered their concerns to be relevant to Ireland but not Scotland.

    Meanwhile, England seems to have been crushed by the burden of its own history, including what Ian Jack, in a very interesting Guardian article, has called the “cult of the second world war”. Flag-waving militarism and morbidity. Sound familiar?

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    It is not “anti-English. There is a website called “English Scots for Yes”. It is anti-Westminster and anti English Nationalism-at-the-expense-of other-nationalisms. Try to see yourselves as others see you. For example, do you think that the English regime in Kenya was highly regarded by the native population?

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    The SNP – “more Scots against them than for them” That’ll explain why they have 50 odd MP’s and the tories, Libs and Labour have one each, presumably. As we say here, yer heid’s nippin, pal.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    It’s hard to see for you because you benefit from that. It is much easier to see from Scotland or NI because we don’t see ourselves as English, and we are not in fact English. We don’t have any history which involves being ruled by Henry VIII, or Elizabeth Tudor, or being on the active side of invading Ireland or Scotland with a view to subjugating them, etc. etc. Can you get your blinkers off and try to see that other countries have a different history and culture which they do not wish to replace with your favoured one (which you favour simply through an accident of birth)?

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    As long as it stays in England, yes.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    An imperialist speaks!

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    If you think that the country that fomented a parcel of lies so that it could curry favour with the US by helping to invade Iraq, or forcibly sold opium to the chinese, or destroyed the Indian cotton industry to enable it’s own, or partitioned the Middle East in such a way that we are all still feeling the consequences, is the world’s greatest liberal democracy, then you are probably beyond all reasoned argument.

  • BonaparteOCoonassa

    And that tory blindness is one of the best arguments, and best weapons, that the SNP have. Long may it continue.

  • John Devane

    Too true. The armchair anti English nonsense you read on here is just chip on the shoulder stuff often reciprocated in England

  • John Devane

    How many have direct Irish family connections?

  • John Devane

    Yet you happily want to be part of the EU political project. The UK government is not reneging on the GFA. It just suits your pro EU narrative to say so

  • John Devane

    Too true yet the facts that support Brexit are too much for extremist Europhile federalists. The EU is on a one way trajectory called political union. It has already imposed its failed political currency union on most of its members. It has no answer for controlliing mass migration. It is undemocratic by nature and its future unsustainable.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Tells a lot bout your own personal sophistry, you ignore that 12.5% of the UK electorate voted UKIP and would have 82 seats if the UK was a normal democracy.

    And the Conservatives are seeming like a nihilistic single issue party these days … don’t even know what Brexit means but they are all over the place to defend it because cheap political capital from bunting.

  • Kevin Breslin

    Actually not even Scotland voted Yes to AV and for understandable reasons NI topped the pro-AV regions (still voting No to it) mainly because of Westminster being turned into two party tribal headcounts between lead themmuns vs. lead ussuns, which also explains the reverse.

  • Sam Carruthers

    Posting as a Unionist and a Londoner the Union is definitely too London centric. It pisses me off. The House of Commons is too small to even house our MP’s and devolved parliaments our ruining our Union. Either extend Westminister or build a new HP on the Isles of Man which is equidistant for ALL UK MP’s. Northern Ireland especially needs to be put at the forefront of our Union instead of being treated as a problem. The same goes with certain parts of Scotland.

  • Tochais Siorai

    The Isle of Man isn’t in the UK.

  • Sam Carruthers

    I believe in a United British Isles that includes the Isle of Man. The Isle of Man is at the centre of our Isles and equidistant to all our people. It has spoken both q and p Celtic in its time with Gaelic and Brythonic inhabitants that now have English as their main unifying language.

  • Sam Carruthers

    I’m quite aware. However, the UK parliament will be moving when works are undertaken to restore it which will take a while. Discussions are taking place as to where parliament will be based. I propose the Isle of Man. And instead of it coming back to Westminster should stay there. I believe it would do better for harmony between the people of our Isles.