Friday 23 October 2020

English nationalism is fake, dishonest and unhelpful


The latest manifestation of “English nationalism” in Toby Young’s recent essay is the epitome of English nationalism. Mr Young by the end claims to hope that the UK remains together. English nationalism is so fake that even English nationalists don’t believe in it.

I don’t think I’ve ever met or indeed come across a serious thinker who genuinely wanted English independence. England on its own is such an odd shape and there is no obvious reason to put a border here or there. There isn’t even really an English identity that that can be distinguished from a British identity. Everything that is typically English is also typically British, except perhaps Morris dancing.

It may be for that reason that the English have been so blissfully unaware of nationalism. English people are the only ones who wear a rugby shirt with quadrants depicting all the other teams. They support all of them equally and above all support playing the game cheering on a good try or a good hit for six no matter who makes it.

Perhaps fair play and a love of losing is the defining English characteristic, playing far after all generally guarantees defeat if your opponent is willing to do anything and everything to win.

I thought that the declinism and defeatism that gripped Britain from 1945 to 1979 and had its final hurrah with Remain had been buried by Boris last year, but no.

All it takes is a for Mark Drakeford and Nicola Sturgeon to be annoying and Brexiteers like Mr Young are willing to give up on Britain and we can presume on Brexit.

If Brexit led to the breakup of the United Kingdom would it be a success or a failure? If England ended up being neither in the EU’s Single Market nor the UK’s Internal market would that benefit England? You can take splendid isolation too far old chap.

Toby Young like a number of other pretendy English nationalists doesn’t want English independence, not least because the breakup of Britain would leave them without an identity. If Britain were partitioned so would the sense of self that most English people feel. The English identity has so merged with Britain, that the loss of the Union Jack would be the equivalent of an American losing the Stars and Stripes. The English identity covers the whole of the UK in a way that the Scottish identity never did. This is why the breakup of Britain would hurt you more than you like to think. Perhaps it is for this reason that you lash out in your impotence to stop it like a toddler having a tantrum over something it can neither influence nor reach.

Mr Young thinks of England as a sugar daddy feeding the poor in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, but he forgets that it isn’t England that pays anyone. England has not really existed since 1707 or perhaps 1282 when it merged with Wales. That makes England something similar to Wessex or Mercia or indeed Dál Riata, Pictland or Scotland.

Mr Young thinks that Boris Johnson rules England and that England has to be responsible financially because it lacks a sugar daddy. But Mr Young has forgotten the B part of Brexit. Boris doesn’t run England. He runs Britain. England doesn’t subsidise anyone, for the same reason that Wessex doesn’t. The UK Treasury subsidises everyone in Britain according to their need and because this is what is involved in living in a currency union that works and also in a single nation state that actually exists.

But who actually subsides whom in Britain? According to the politically impartial Office for National Statistics, London, The South East and the East of England are the only regions of the United Kingdom that made a surplus in 2019. The UK as a whole makes a loss. Every other region of Britain including six other English regions plus Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland made a loss. This means that more English people make a loss than the whole populations of Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland put together.

Mr Young has not minded subsidising his lower income neighbours, but those neighbours are just as likely to be other English people than anyone else. What’s more it may well be that it is Mr Young himself who is being subsidised.

The vast majority of British taxpayers take out more from the pot than we put in. Governments have been raising the tax threshold and public spending and the size of the state has grown so large that only very high earners actually contribute more in taxation more than they take out.

I understand that Mr Young lost a few jobs recently so it may be that he too doesn’t quite reach the level of contributing more than he pays in. But it wouldn’t do to be patronising about it, because that would be rude.

British debt has passed the two trillion-pound mark, but we are still allowed to borrow at very low rates. What allows us to do this? It is simply that Britain is a country that has existed for hundreds of years and we have a record of paying our debt back.

If Britain broke up into four parts, it might equally break up into more. Who is to say that London and the South East would want to subsidise the North? Or indeed that Aberdeenshire would want to subsidise the Central Belt.  But however many bits we break up into the two trillion will have to be paid for by someone. Perhaps we could play pass the parcel.

Would the markets have quite as much confidence in the ability of England to pay back its debts? Would the world respect England’s armed forces? Would England have the same standing in international bodies like the United Nations? Would it indeed be a member of the Security Council? Would Burgundy if France split up?

The idea that England would be better off financially if it could only get rid of the tiresome Scots is short sighted. Britain’s prosperity is built on the confidence of the markets and a reputation for stability. If you think this would survive the loss of Scotland and with it the loss of the United Kingdom, you have an odd understanding of stability.

Scotland and England are like too feuding prisoners joined together by handcuffs. We require the cooperation of each other even to walk forward. We might insult each other and resent the handcuffs from time to time, but we cannot do without each other.

Scotland is making a loss and to attempt to walk away after the worst financial crisis in centuries is foolhardy in the extreme to the point that it is hard to believe that some people are thinking seriously of doing so. They simply cannot possibly understand the figures or what separation would mean. Do you really want to be poorer?

But the UK too is making a loss. Most of England is making a similar loss to Scotland. Sensible English people will not fling insults at the Scots and the Welsh, not least because it undermines the unity that we all need to overcome this crisis together.

There are a few Scots like me trying to make the case for Britain. We need as much help from friends and allies as we can get. Mr Young had some fun with his essay. He got to show how angry he was with Nicola Sturgeon. But his words helped the SNP. They delight in English people saying good riddance Scotland.

If you really want to get you own back on the SNP help us defeat them by showing that British unity is stronger than Scottish separatism.