Saturday, 6 October 2012

Why Scottish unionists should be concerned about English nationalism

Whenever there is an article in the Daily Telegraph about Scottish politics and the independence referendum, the comment section is commonly dominated by Cybernats, who seem most concerned about insulting personally the author of the piece. There are usually few Scottish unionists commenting, no doubt because most Scots are too sensible to enjoy being insulted for expressing their opinions. There are usually still fewer obviously English people making comments, but occasionally this changes. Sometimes an article in the Telegraph goes mainstream and leaves its Scottish niche and then something quite interesting happens. When the English begin to comment on the independence referendum, the most popular posts are those which say good riddance to Scotland. 

Logically, if Scotland can have a referendum on independence, so can England, but what if England were to want Scottish independence more than the Scots do? What if they were so sick of the rise of Scottish nationalism, so sick of the unfair devolution settlement, that they decided to divorce us? Looking at the way the independence campaign in Scotland is going, and trying to avoid complacency as much as possible, it is looking ever more likely that Scots will never actually vote for independence. But Mr Salmond would achieve his dream equally well if England were to vote for independence, for it seems hardly likely that the rest of the UK minus England,  consisting of an unconnected Celtic fringe could possibly last. It is England that binds the union together. The English people traditionally identified themselves with Britain in a way that could only be matched in some parts of Ulster. But now this is beginning to change.

Of course, Mr Cameron has no intention of giving the English a referendum on independence, nor it would appear has he any intention of giving the UK a referendum on EU membership. The main reason that he won’t give such referendums is that he thinks he would have every chance of losing them. But eventually in a democracy there comes a politician who realises that there are votes in giving the people what they want. If English nationalism continues to rise, it will be addressed politically. 

Of course, this all must be put into perspective. At the moment, when push came to shove, it is likely that the English would still vote for the union. A few angry comments in the Telegraph, do not make an independence movement and no serious political party in England is proposing independence. But this is because, in my view, English nationalism is still just beginning.

My first real experience of England was during my studies in Cambridge, back before devolution. I never once came across anti Scottish sentiment. I used to do the Burns supper in Doric every year, dressed in a kilt, no one understanding a word I said and the English loved it. There were some jokes about my accent, which I had to considerably tone down, there was a lot of ignorance about Scotland, but there was huge amounts of goodwill towards Scotland. The English had a love of their country, which included a love of Scotland. The contrast with my own experience in Scotland was huge, where even unionists seemed barely able to utter a kind word about England and the English. To be honest, it made me a bit ashamed about some of the things my Scottish friends and I would sometimes say about England, how we were so ready to find insult when they described us as British, how we could be so chippy about some trivial misunderstanding of Scotland or Scottish history.

English nationalism did not exist until devolution, but since devolution and especially since the rise of Scottish nationalism, it has been growing. Devolution was completely unfair to England. It created division where it could have created unity. The reason for this is obvious. The devolution settlement should never have been applied only to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. It should have been applied across the whole country. The Scottish constitutional convention thought it was a matter only for Scots and the Labour government agreed and thought that it was a matter that could be determined by a referendum of the Scottish people alone. But devolution should never have been a matter only for Scots as it affected everyone who lives in the United Kingdom. Perhaps, this was not entirely clear at the time, but it is becoming ever clearer as devolution continues.

Suddenly the English looked north and saw that, although Scotland paid the same level of tax as England did, the Scottish people gained free this and free that, while the English did not. The English saw a Scottish chancellor and a Scottish Prime Minister ruling in Westminster, they saw Scottish MPs pushing through laws for England, while English MPs and even the government in Westminster had no say about such matters in the constituency of the Prime Minister. This led to ever increasing levels of English resentment and ever increasing levels of English nationalism.

What finally led to an explosion of anti-Scottishness was Alex Salmond continually proposing to have a referendum on independence and his achieving a majority in the Scottish parliament. Look at this from the point of view of England. Scotland and England have been in a marriage for over 300 years. Suddenly Scotland says it’s thinking about a divorce. How do most married couples react when one party says I want a divorce? If a husband comes to his wife and says I’m sick of this marriage, I could do better on my own, would you expect the wife to continue loving him? No, her reaction would be first hurt, then most likely an expression of good riddance. Eventually so much damage is done to the marriage that even if the husband were to say I’ve decided to stay, the wife would say, no, now I want the divorce. This is what has happened in England. The English were first hurt by Scots apparently petitioning for divorce by electing Alex Salmond. They looked on the whole process of the independence referendum as profoundly insulting, and they are beginning to think if that’s how they feel we’d be better off rid of them.

What can be done? Firstly, Scottish unionists have to emphasis to their English friends that Scottish nationalism is a minority movement. Then we have to overwhelmingly defeat the nationalists in the independence referendum, so that the issue is defeated once and for all. Next, we cannot keep adding to the unfairness of the devolution settlement by adding still further layers of unfairness, devo-plus and devo max. Rather, we must find a fair devolution settlement for the whole UK, perhaps by devolving real power to local councils across the UK. Finally, we must show England and the English that we care about the union, that we want to be in this marriage with them, that we each have our identities as Scots or English, Welsh or Northern Irish, but that we are all and above all, British.


  1. The claim that an "explosion of anti-Scottishness" has occurred in England is, I fear, is an explosion which has occurred only in the ardently Unionist brain of Effie Deans.

    As someone who lives and works in England, I can assure her readers, that no great shift in anti-Scottish (or for that matter pro-Scottish) sentiment has occurred in the years since the SNP was democratically elected to Government - by the people of Scotland, for the people of Scotland.

    What I do agree with is that English Nationalism exists. Of course it has always existed and Effie herself admits as much in her anecdote of Cambridge days where she had to "tone down" her accent and endure "jokes" and "ignorance about Scotland".

    Presumably, Effie reminisces that this was a mild bantering English nationalism from a people who had "a love of their country, which included a love of Scotland".

    I'm sure too that many Scots can remember the poet Rupert Brooke’s glorification of death in war through the belief "That there's some corner of a foreign field that is for ever England".

    Yes, there is no doubt that within the English psych, anywhere and anyone can belong to and remain forever England.

    That notion of the special and separate identity of the English may be considered harmless poetic nonsense, just as Effie's Cambridge reverie can, but today's English Nationalism is an extreme and twisted form of Brookes, it takes no prisoners, makes no jokes and extends no love to foreign fields.

    For the BNP and the English Defence League and their likes, those citizens who share their land, but not their (mythical) genetic antecedents, are a target of their loathing.

    They view ethnic minorities as subhumans to be expunged from England's corner of the globe.

    It is a nasty ethnically based elitism that has no comparison to the civic nationalism of Scotland.

    Even within the generally acceptable face of English political nationalism, as represented by UKIP, Effie Deans is wildly out of touch if she believes an innate sense equality in unity. If a vote was to be held on continued Union with Europe the English may not prove so accommodating to Effie's rose-tinted perspective.

    The Scottish National Party speaks to all inhabitants of Scotland in recognition of a future independent nation of equals. It is a democratic, non-violent nationalism that seeks to place its population alongside the other peoples of the planet and not above them. That is the absolute and explicit difference between the new civic nationalism of Scotland and the ugly face of xenophobia that has developed in England.

    So to the causes. Effie Deans is totally right to say that the devolution settlements of the last UK Labour Government did not go far enough. That is because UK Labour is not inherently a decentralising Party, in respect of the UK or itself.

    Yes, regionalism exists in England. The belief is growing among the regional populations of England that they don't get a fair deal from a centralised and politically remote Westminster Parliament. Doubtless that feeling will grow, especially with Scottish independence - and England will change as a consequence.

    These will be decisions for the people of England.

    The causes are not however, as Effie asserts, a result or reaction to growing confidence and desire for self-government among the people of Scotland.

    As far as Scotland is concerned, for the vast majority in England, little has changed since Effie's Cambridge days. Scotland remains a remote abstract concept. Scots in England will still "tone down" their accents and still put up with the "jokes" and "ignorance".

    What Effie misunderstood about her Cambridge days was that it is not that Scotland is loved it's that Scotland simply doesn't matter, and that, I suspect will forever be England's attitude.

    1. Your assertion that the BNP and EDL somehow reflects English nationalism is quite frankly disgusting. There are BNP supporters in Scotland as well remember - or are you so blinkered by the thought that the Scots are incapable of being racist?

      The BNP can't get a seat in England and pose no threat of seriously getting one.

      I've been subject to racism by Scottish Nationalists many times and I would say that the motivation of a lot of SNP supporters is pure hatred of the English.

    2. Erm... the blog is entitled "Why Scottish unionists should be concerned about English nationalism"

      Effie's blog is therefore about English Nationalism - as she puts it, in response to the election of the SNP Government and independence referendum.

      I merely make the distinction between the sort of "friendly banter" Effie recalls to the actual real face of English Nationalism as some communities in England now experience it.

      The BNP by the way has 2 elected members of the European Parliament. It has no foothold elsewhere in the UK. In England (and abroad, recently Norway), EDL supporters draped in the flag of St George are the face of England to many.

      UKIP, similarly, though in a different vein is most certainly a Party of England only and seeks to remove England from Union with its European neighbours.

      I'm certain their are racists in Scotland and they are to be challenged at every opportunity, but the blog was discussing that.

      How do you know you have suffered racism from "Scottish Nationalists" and what "racism" have you suffered, did you report it to the police?

  2. Spot on. As a Scots born and raised English person I now live in London. Your perception of how Scots were perceived by the English has always been mine. As a child all my English family loved coming to Scotland and loved Scottish things, I on the other hand as an English person living in Scotland, got constant abuse over my Englishness. This has not affected my love of Scotland and the Scots I hasten to add.
    It is of course a vocal minority of Scots who have this anti English view, but unfortunately over the past few years, that's all that English people hear. I know now that I hear many more people saying 'good riddance' because of this effect. In a recent poll I saw that as big a % of English wanted separation as Scots, around 30%.
    I agree with you that the only way to stop this is for Scots to categorically vote for the Union. I have a funny feeling that the silent majority will do just this and silence wee Eck.

    1. But Effie admits she suffered abuse in England. Her accent was a joke which she had to "tone down", her colleagues ignorant about Scotland.

      And yet England loves Scotland (which respectfully is a meaningless statement).

      I accept that a minority of Scots have a thuggish anti-English attitude which is to be deplored, but this is not to be confused with people in Scotland's desire for self-government.

      As Effies blog states "even unionists seemed barely able to utter a kind word about England and the English".

      Thankfully, the debate about Scotland's future will not centre on ethnicity. The SNP has, throughout its entire history, been a civic nationalist party promoting independence not because "Scots" are better, but because the people who live and work in Scotland (from wherever they originate) have a democratic right to govern their own affairs.

      You are right though, it will be the people(s) of Scotland who will make the decision at the independence referendum I just hope Unionists respect the decision in the same way nationalists have pledged to do.

    2. I was very impressed by your long initial comment, though naturally I did not agree with everything you said. Unfortunately there exists prejudice in both England and Scotland, most seriously directed against those from other ethnic groups.

      I had to tone down my accent because people genuinely struggled to understand me, but I wish that all English people in Scotland were treated as well as I was treated in England.

      I disagree with the SNP and dislike nationalism as an ideology, but it is to their credit that they define a Scot as someone who is living in Scotland.

      I think everyone accepts that if the majority of those living in Scotland want independence then Scotland should be free to set up a state. I hope this does not happen, but I would not wish to see the will of the majority thwarted.

      I think it would not be in the interest of Scotland if defeated unionists kept campaigning for the Union to be restored. But by the same token, if nationalists are defeated, I think they should give up, for the foreseeable future, their goal of independence.

    3. Thanks Philip. I agree that English nationalism is not represented by groups like the EDL or BNP. Many decent English people have seen the rise of nationalism in Scotland and responded in kind. This does not, of course, mean that such people are any more likely to be prejudiced than nationalists in Scotland.

      I'm opposed to all forms of nationalism and I also think that maintaining the union is in both England's and Scotland's interest. We can't help living on this relatively small island and if our country breaks up I suspect the divorce will be messy, painful and difficult for all of us.