Saturday 5 September 2020

Why isn't there an English National Party?


Whenever I come across an English person wishing Scotland would just go away and become independent, I respond with something along the lines that if he is an English nationalist why doesn’t he support the ENP. This usually gets a contrite response that he is just annoyed with Sturgeon and doesn’t at all want to see Britain break up. I then point out that wishing Scotland would just go helps the SNP and we need the support of English people in order to keep Britain united. But when I point out that the person might consider joining the ENP I am left to wonder why there isn’t an English National Party.

Scotland is of course the most nationalist part of Britain. In Wales some people vote for Plaid Cymru and rather fewer support Welsh independence, but no one expects Wales to become independent anytime soon if ever. In Northern Ireland a significant proportion of the population support Irish nationalism, i.e. they wish to leave the UK and join another state. Those people who wish to remain British are no more nationalists than French people who wish to remain French. Wishing to maintain the territorial integrity of your nation state cannot coherently be described as nationalism otherwise we would have to describe the people in virtually every nation state as nationalists and that would make the word “nationalist” meaningless.

But why is there no equivalent of the SNP in England? The main reason I think is that English nationalism doesn’t really exist. I have never met an English person who wants England to become independent from the other parts of the UK. It is an idea that is so rarely expressed that it is hard to take seriously. But why should it be that a proportion of the electorate in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland wish to leave the UK, but almost no one in England does?

There is a strange phenomenon in the UK. There is almost no hatred in England for people from Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. But the reverse does not apply. Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish people will rarely if ever encounter hostility if they live in England. But English people frequently come across hostility when they live in other parts of Britain. It is this hostility that forms the soil in which nationalism can grow.

Is the lack of English nationalism due to English people feeling British rather than English? It may be for this reason that English people think of everyone else from the UK as their countrymen, while some Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish see English people as foreigners. The British identity is weak in the UK. There is no European country that I can think of where the national identity is so weak that it is frequently usurped by a sub national identity. This is the fundamental reason why there are secession movements in three parts of the UK. But why not the fourth?

Some people may suggest that parties such as UKIP or the Brexit Party were expressions of English nationalism. But this is undermined by the very names of these parties. UKIP wanted the UK to be “independent” from the EU. But there was always a contradiction with UKIP anyway. The UK already was independent. If it had not been independent, it could not have chosen on its own volition to leave the EU.

The Brexit Party too wanted Britain to leave the EU. At no point was there a desire for England to leave the EU, not least because England was never a member of the EU.

Far right extremist parties are of course not expressions of English nationalism, because they get few votes and fewer seats and even they as far as I am aware do not want English independence.

Some people may suggest that English nationalism is expressed in hostility to foreigners. But while some English people may wish to limit immigration as do many people in other countries, this is rarely expressed in personal animosity towards them. People from all countries and races live and work together in places like London. They make friends with each other and marry each other far more than anywhere else I can think of in the world and certainly more than in Scotland. Yet almost universally white Scottish nationalists point at Londoners and dare to call them racist.

Even at the height of the Troubles there was no attempt to prevent Irish people living in England. No one has ever put White Settler placards on telegraph poles to discourage Scots from moving to England. No one has burned a single cottage owned by a Welsh person in the Lake District.

In Scotland on the other hand Irish Catholics are routinely abused because of their Irishness and Catholicism, while Scottish and Northern Irish Protestants get abused in return. Nothing like this exists in England.

Is the lack of nationalism in England a reflection of its size and population? Is it like in North America where Canadians are obsessed about being not American, while Americans barely notice Canada? But if that is the case then England’s small neighbours ought to be careful what we wish for.

Irish, Welsh and Scottish nationalism feels that it can get away with hostility to England. It can blame the English for everything that ever happened historically, while not being blamed in return. But what if English patience ran out? I see this occasionally. I see it beginning to run out. What if English people stood on the border telling Scots to keep out? What if English people were as hostile to Scots as many Scots are to English people? What would be the long-term result of this hostility whether or not the various independence movements in Britain succeeded?

If Scotland became independent, we would still have England as our neighbour and the English economy, population and influence would still be much greater than ours. Imagine if English nationalists were hostile to Scottish interests and did all they could to thwart Scottish aims. The biggest danger to Scotland is not so much the SNP as the ENP. If there were an English National Party with the same attitude to Scotland as the SNP has to UK at present, then Scotland would suffer a geopolitical setback of huge historical significance. It would take us back those rather unpleasant times before our royal families joined together when England was our greatest enemy, but England was much larger. We lost more battles than we won back then, and we were one of the poorer parts of Europe. Imagine if the English sang about Flodden instead of being unaware that it even happened. Imagine if they revelled in their hatred of all things Scottish to exactly the extent than Scots do in reverse.

The danger of Scottish nationalism is that it succeeds too well, and it turns an English people who have largely forgotten their Englishness into a people who no longer wish to cooperate with Scotland and the Scots. The loss of their friendliness, their tolerance and their willingness to treat us as family is far greater than any other loss than independence might bring. The greatest danger of Scottish independence is that it resurrects the English nationalism that used to send Scots homeward to think again.