Naked Politics Blogger
The call for a second Scottish Referendum, unsurprising in light of the Brexit result being so unfavourable to the majority (62%) of Scots, has thrown questions of national identity back into the air (1). I have many Scottish friends and many, many Welsh friends (apparently they like universities in the Midlands. Who knew?) who will proudly stand up and call themselves so, in the pub, in the gym, anywhere someone will listen. Yet if you stand on a table and call yourself English, you are unlikely to get the same reaction.
British Future, an independent, non-partisan ThinkTank, produced a report in 2012 entitled Pride not prejudice across the nations of Britain. In this report they found that the Flag of St. George incited feelings of pride in only 61% of poll-takers compared to 84% and 86% of Scottish and Welsh pride respectively in their own flags. So why do so many English not wish to identify themselves as so? What are the reasons I hesitate to identify as English as well as British and should I feel like that? Is it okay to be English? In the current climate, I would argue that it seems like the answer is no, but more than that, perhaps we should disassociate from nationality altogether.
There are a number of reasons we may suggest that it is unfavourable to be English, the most explicit being the xenophobic or outright racist implications that come with it, both in the past and currently. From the ThinkTank poll, it showed that 24% of English people asked directly related the flag to racism, compared to 7% of Welsh asked the same question. The most obvious reason would be British Imperialism. Once, when Britannia Ruled the Waves, we conquered approximately a quarter of the worlds population at its height in 1921. Violence and oppression were institutionalised to maintain colonial control. In 1947, Cyril Radcliffe drew, over lunch, the border between India and Pakistan. This action uprooted 10 million people, killed over a million and is still a big part of life in these two nations with border skirmishes constantly. Many may ask should we still punish the ‘English’ for actions committed in their name hundreds of years ago, however, clearly the implications are still felt today and are often ignored by Westminster unwilling to clean up their ‘messes’. Further associations with the term English include the ‘English Defence League’, famous for their discriminatory and volatile rallies and the ‘English Democrats’, cynical about Westminster power and even more sceptical about immigration. Put this alongside a minority of English sports hooligans travelling the world, giving ‘The English’ a bad name, most recently at the FIFA World Cup in 2016 and you have the recipe for saying it is not okay to be English.
So maybe its all very well to say that “To a sizeable proportion of the population, flaunting the flag sometimes seems territorial and exclusive, perhaps even intimidating,” which is what Owen Jones wrote in the Guardian in 2014, in contrast to Eric Pickle’s view that “We should have pride in flying the cross of St George flag”. But perhaps we should think further than that. This is not to say the English have done no good, have nothing to be proud of or should have their identity dictated by the actions of a minority, something incredibly important when you consider Muslims efforts to disassociate themselves from Radical Islamic violence. No, this debate is part of a larger issue of nationalism in general. In light of the Scottish considering their identity once more, humanity considering its role on the world, we should remember that nations are constructions. The world was not created in neat divisions; France, Spain, Namibia. No, those countries and borders were fashioned arbitrarily.
Maybe it isn’t okay to call yourself English because that is by definition an exclusionary category, by the same principle, it wouldn’t be okay to be Scottish or Welsh. To resolve some of the many problems facing humanity today (for example mass displacement of peoples) working together is a necessity, so identifying in an exclusionary way seems counter productive. Being British is clearly more inclusionary, more acceptable but not ideal; while in the light of Brexit, considering yourself ‘European’ is not okay. Perhaps the answer is that we are all humans, we are part of one race, one humanity and nationality in general is dangerous. Nationalistic rhetoric has long been the tool of populist leaders, exemplified in Trump’s campaign slogan Make America Great Again’. So personally I would not currently say I am proud to be English, but not just for reasons of imperialism or a lack of patriotism. We should consider the wider implications of nationalism in general and perhaps use the chance of a second Scottish Referendum to raise awareness of the dangers of national identity.