ENGLAND Awakes! The dog has finally barked, we're told, the elephant has stirred – chose your metaphor. The English Question, rather than the Scottish one, is now the issue du jour in metropolitan thinking circles. England is on the march.

Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former chief of staff, tells the Daily Telegraph that the Scottish Question won't go away “until the English one is answered”. It is “How Britain Ends” according to the former Newsnight presenter, Gavin Esler, in a new book of that name which claims “the UK cannot survive the rebirth of English nationalism”.

The former Telegraph editor, Sir Max Hastings, says: so what? Let the “land of haggis and bagpipes” depart. “Given that the English have most of the people and the wealth” he wrote this week in a provocative Bloomberg article, “there is no logical reason why a future England should cut any slighter figure on the world”.

We have heard sentiments like that before, of course. But this is not just the fulmination of revanchist Tory backbenchers sounding off about the “jocks”. There does seem to be a genuine revival, or perhaps a rehabilitation, of English national identity.

A new book, Englishness, to be published next month by Professor Ailsa Henderson of Edinburgh Uuniversity, an authority on regions and nations, will argue that English nationalism is now becoming the driving force in UK politics. This isn't the old, sentimental British nationalism of Dunkirk Spirit and the Union Flag, but a consciously political nationalism, based on a growing sense of English exceptionalism. The genie is finally out of the bottle.

So what should Scots think about this, and what specifically should Scottish nationalists think about English nationalism? In a sense it is a vindication of the SNP's unstated policy, which has been to discreetly exacerbate friction between Scotland and the rest of the UK the better to ensure its disintegration. Brexit, spending and immigration are all boundary issues. Nicola Sturgeon's ruminations on closing the border with England during lockdown is partly about preventing the spread of new variants of Covid-19, but it is also to emphasise that a national border exists.

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So on the face of it, the SNP should be cheering the revival of its English nationalist doppelgänger. What could be better than a mass movement of populists waving the Cross of Saint George and demanding to get shot of Scotland once and for all? Except, this is not quite what is happening.

For the SNP, English nationalism is always bad in the same way that Scottish nationalism is always good. Ours is about being kind and progressive, theirs is about football hooliganism and racism. This demonisation of English nationalism has certainly worked in the past, but it might be that a thinking man's nationalism is breaking through the image of boot boys and belligerence.

At any rate, Nick Timothy and Gavin Esler, neither of them ethnic nationalists, are agreed that English nationalism cannot and should not be ignored. They are both calling for a new constitutional settlement which would recognise legitimate demands for English self-government, for English home rule. This would include an English parliament.

We have not heard this before because English intellectuals in the past have disliked English nationalism almost as much as Ms Sturgeon does. The only nationalism they recognised was the passive/inclusive British patriotism of George Orwell's wartime propaganda. Now, perhaps political English nationalism is being brought in from the cold where it co-existed with the BNP and English Defence League.

Gavin Esler

Gavin Esler

Timothy and Esler come from very different political backgrounds. Timothy is a Tory Brexiter, Esler a liberal-left Remainer. They disagree on just about everything except the English Question. The new constitutional settlement Timothy envisages is very radical indeed and avoids the diversion of unwanted English regionalism.

“That which needs to be done together would be reserved for the federal government and parliament,” he writes. “Everything else, including the ability to determine almost all taxes, would be left to the four national governments and parliaments.” Esler agrees that “building on our existing quasi-federal structure is the obvious way to proceed”. Elements he envisages involve a Senate, PR and an England-only parliament.

This is not a million miles from what was proposed by the 2013 Independence White Paper, drafted largely by Ms Sturgeon. That was not a blueprint for separatism as claimed by Better Together, but a form of federalism or confederalism which kept Scotland closely tied to a new, reformed United Kingdom. It involved a common currency, borderless trade, common regulatory standards, and retention of key UK institutions like the Crown, BBC and defence (minus Trident). It was independence in the UK.

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Esler draws the comparison with the Yes campaign explicitly. He laments the failure of the UK parties to realise back in 2014 that they were rejecting a viable route to precisely what they wanted to retain: a United Kingdom. Instead, we had the nonsense of George Osborne saying Scots would not be allowed to use the pound, Ed Balls saying Labour would erect border posts, and the attempt by Better Together supporters to portray the Yes campaign as some kind of Caledonian National Front.

Of course, the 2014 offer is more difficult now with Britain out of the EU. A hard border seems pretty much inevitable after Scottish independence, and that is something hard-line nationalists will have to accept. But this doesn't mean that Ms Sturgeon should ignore the call for a new constitutional settlement here and now. What is there to lose? It could lead to a United Kingdom as a union of essentially free states working together only where necessary. No one in their right minds wants a hard border in the UK.

Mind you, it's a tall order. I'm not sure English voters are really prepared for a federal government and years of constitutional wrangling. But if this is driven by a Leave-style popular movement for an English parliament, rather than just by politicians trying to buy off Scots with phoney federalism, it could work. Ms Sturgeon should welcome this new English nationalism with open arms. It could be that England is now her best ally in breaking up Britain.

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