• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

Just how British are the English?

In my last blog, I asserted that the main emotion felt by the English about our independence debate is indifference.

Ignore the politicos and celebs. When it comes to the woman and man on the street down here, a majority may prefer Scotland to stay in the UK but they don't feel strongly about it. If we vote 'Yes', they'll shrug a shoulder.

Not so much 'love bombs' from England then as 'good luck bombs'.

The basis of my opinion? I've lived among the English for over thirty years. A limited basis, you say. You may be right. After all, the likes of Cameron, Osborne, Miliband and Balls have lived in England all their lives and what do they know about matters Scottish?

Nevertheless, I maintain that the English have more important things to worry about than the Scottish referendum. What's best for England, for one. When it comes to national identity and national interest, the country that is foremost in the minds, hearts and souls of the English is….England.

However, according to the 2012 British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, 44 per cent of English respondents chose to define themselves as "Equally English/British". Eight per cent said they were "More British than English" whilst 10 per cent called themselves "British, not English". A solid 62 per cent feeling "Britishy" doesn't seem to support my thesis.

But it depends on how you ask the question, doesn't it? The trouble with "more than this" or "equal to that" questions about national identity is that the average English person assumes "British" means the same thing as "English."

The national identity questions in the 2011 Census were more clear-cut. It found that 72 per cent of 'white' English were more likely to call themselves "English" than "British". Only 14 per cent of white English described themselves as "exclusively British" compared to 38 per cent of ethnic minorities in England.

When the BSA survey offered a strict either/or choice between "English" and "British", only 43 per cent of English respondents defined themselves as British, down from 63 per cent in 1992. Forced to make a choice, people down here call themselves "English", not "British". Scottish and Welsh devolution, it would seem, has only bolstered this English identity.

So what, you might ask? Why shouldn't the people of England feel themselves to be, first and foremost, "English"? Of course, they should. After all, they have a remarkable history, a vibrant culture and many very admirable traits.

The problem is the deep-rooted identification down here of "English" with "British". It's an everyday frustration for Scots living in England, from conversations on the street to listening to that supposed upholder of impartiality and high standards, the BBC.

As an example, take the most important symbol of the UK. Has anyone ever heard an English person (or indeed any foreigner) call our monarch anything other than "the Queen of England"?

Make no mistake, when the English look at the Union Jack, when they cheer on Team GB, when they read history books about that old worldwide empire and the defeat of the Germans in two Worlds Wars and when they hear the national anthem, their hearts swell with pride, tears fill their eyes and they think, "My country, my homeland……England."

So far, so harmless, you might think. The only trouble is the English tend to assume that what's good for them is good for the rest of the UK. After all, there are ten of them for every Scot. If 10 per cent of the benefits of North Sea oil have come Scotland's way, the average English person would think that's more than fair.

I've never found the English to be anti-Scottish. We have our uses but, really, they don't think about us all that much. As I suggested above, the English have more important things on their minds - like the future of their country, their England/Britain.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

216956