66% of us feel a strong connection to Britain but we feel a greater sense of belonging to our home nations. In England, surprisingly perhaps, 62% of ethnic minorities (including 69% of Asians) feel strongly English, which leads the authors to muse that Englishness is now considered a civic rather than an ethnically defined identity. The poll suggests that there is little conflict between English and British identities, with respondents who feel that they belong to Britain and to their local areas demonstrating a strong sense of English identity too. A strong sense of English identity fell to 27% among those who claimed to have no strong sense of being British. This mutually reinforcing link between English and British identity was reflected in the data from the North East of England where a whopping 40% of people claimed to have no strong sense of belonging to England:
Only 49% of people in the north east feel strongly British, much lower than the 67% who feel strongly British across England as a whole. While 62% of Welsh people and 60% of Scots feel strongly British, with 37% and 40% disagreeing.
Despite its low affinity with England the North East was the area that demonstrated the greatest support for the establishment of an English parliament (58%), which is perhaps a reflection of concerns over the Barnett Formula or simply due to a greater awareness of devolution to Scotland.
Across Great Britain (not the UK, Northern Ireland was not included in this poll) 51% of people support the establishment of an English parliament, rising to 52% in England alone. There is little support for the Status Quo (though it is noticeable that Scotland, which has the greatest degree of autonomy, is more supportive of the Status Quo than the rest of Great Britain) and even less for ending devolution by abolishing the national parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Opponents of an English parliament will doubtless argue that whilst it may be true that polls such as this show demonstrable support for the establishment of an English parliament it is not a salient or high priority issue, as demonstrated by the lack of signatures for that cause on the Government's petition site. Nevertheless, given that the three main parties, and until recently UKIP, have been fiercely opposed to an English parliament, it will concern the British political classes that they are out of step with public opinion and there remains the potential in England for an assertive English nationalism during their battle with the Scottish nationalists.
The spirit of British fraternity that is evident in support for an English parliament is also evident when it comes to Scottish independence. Opposition to Scotland leaving the Union is similar in all three home nations, with - the authors say - the main difference being a lower proportion of don’t knows in Scotland. Though the headline for nat-bashers like Alan Cochrane must surely read 'Scots are more supportive of Scotland remaining a part of the UK than either the English or the Welsh'.
Support for Scottish independence was highest in the South West of England, where 34% would like Scotland to become independent compared with 40% who would like Scotland to remain a part of the UK.
This is painful to watch.
The report "A Place for Pride" can be read here, but to be honest I really wouldn't bother.
From a nationalist perspective all you really need to know is this:
A lack of sensitivity to the nuances of the post-devolution UK state is apparent throughout the report. A survey poll on British institutions and cultural icons asked respondents to agree with statements such as ‘I am proud of David Beckham as a symbol of Britain’. The former captain of the English football team is an unlikely candidate to induce pride across the whole of the UK. Similarly, the idea that Shakespeare and the singing of ‘Jerusalem’ are primarily aspects of British rather than English pride is myopic at best. Whilst the authors misguidedly claim Scottish citizens are less adept at combining their Scottish identity with their British identity, they readily conflate Englishness and Britishness without acknowledging its implications.
The presence of competing Scottish, Welsh and English national identities also raise conceptual and rhetorical challenges in articulating an organic patriotic Britishness. The solution is revealingly retrogressive; each are described as ‘sub-patriotisms’ that are ‘politically regional identities’. The casual dismissal of Scottish, Welsh and English nationhood and citizenship is couched in the language of the past but has no place in a modern multi-national state such as the UK.
The latest British Social Attitudes survey had only forty-eight per cent of people living in England saying that ‘British’ was the best or only way of describing their identity. This was down from sixty-three per cent in 1992. It begs the question as to whether the state is trying to shore up for political reasons a declining sense of identity through the classroom. And whether the teaching of English, Welsh and Scottish identity in the devolved components of the UK might be more effective?
Sadly for us English, we don't have our own devolved government, and so will probably find that our young people are indoctrinated by Michael Gove's Britishness propaganda classes. Fortunately Gove has absolutely no say in the national curriculum in Wales or in his native Scotland, so his attempts to bolster Britishness in England will probably only serve to exacerbate the perceived distinctiveness of Scotland and Wales in all three countries that make up Great Britain.
As the British Social Attitudes survey shows, political attempts to portray England as indistinct from Britain, whilst allowing for Scottish and Welsh distinctiveness - and trumpeting that distinctiveness, appear to be floundering on the rocks of public opinion.
Wales United: Partnership for Progress by Peter Hain and Rhodri Morgan (September 2007)
Devolution in Wales has been an unquestionable success. Whatever the fears that voters had in Wales at the time of the referendum ten years ago, our economy has been transformed, with employment at record levels. Education standards have risen while crime levels have fallen, Wales is a more self-confident and outward looking nation, and power rests more firmly in the hands of the people.
We have proved our critics wrong. Devolution opponents in the 1997 referendum cried that devolution would lead to the break-up of Britain, but instead the settlement has modernised the constitution to make it fit for the 21st century. The over-centralised nature of government in the 1980s and 1990s has been replaced by a system that reflects the diverse nature of the constituent nations of the United Kingdom, with models of devolution that represent the specific needs and aspirations of the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish people.
Ten years on since the referendum in Wales, we can rightly celebrate both the successes of devolution and the economic, social, cultural and political ties that bind together the countries of the UK – which are stronger than ever before. But we also need to champion, defend and reassert the principle on which Labour’s vision for devolution rests: that, while respecting the different nations and identities within the United Kingdom, we must preserve the advantages enjoyed from being united. Labour supports devolution within the Union, cherishing and strengthening both the diversity found within the nations and regions of the UK and our shared values and interests.
This message is now more pertinent than ever. The Tories’ renewed commitment to ‘English votes for English laws’ threatens the unity and equality of the House of Commons – and therefore of the United Kingdom itself – while Plaid Cymru’s new role in the Welsh Assembly Government has not at all dented their separatist aspirations.
Labour is unashamedly a party both of devolution and of partnership. The path we offer is one which builds on the early success of devolution and aims to go on creating a new Welsh self-confidence and modern identity by deepening the devolution settlements. We have delivered devolution and devolution has delivered for Wales. The Tories’ plans would serve as direct encouragement for those who want to see the United Kingdom broken up into its separate parts. That is why they must be rejected emphatically.
We are crystal clear that devolution within the Union is the only serious answer to effective and successful self-governance for Wales. We now need actively to communicate the reciprocal, two-way nature of Wales’ role in the Union – how we benefit and how we contribute. That Welsh identity is flourishing as never before in a United Kingdom based on shared values of equal opportunities, toleration and social justice. That the historic bonds between the countries of the UK are deepening to an extent that makes separation irrelevant to the daily lives of thousands of Welsh residents.
This argument has been made powerfully for Scotland by Gordon Brown and Douglas Alexander and we believe that the same principles apply to Wales.
The devolution settlements are among our Labour Government’s proudest achievements, and go to the heart of what Labour should always aim to achieve: putting power back into the hands of those it serves. By devolving power we shape democratic institutions around the values of the electorate, and by giving people a greater say over the decisions that affect their lives we strengthen representative democracy.
And for Welsh Labour the devolution settlement carries forward a tradition begun by those that created our party.
Keir Hardie, a founder of our party a hundred years ago, our first Welsh Labour MP, our first leader, and a passionate supporter of devolution – or “home rule all round” to use the language of the era – was a Scot who first represented the East London seat of West Ham South before becoming MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Aberdare in Wales at the time the Labour Party was founded. He embodied the Welsh labour movement’s British dimension from its earliest days, and the values Keir Hardie and his fellow Labour pioneers held dear remain so for Welsh Labour today.
Half a century after Keir Hardie’s death, it was Labour that first created the Cabinet post of Secretary of State for Wales in 1964 and established the Welsh Office as a separate Department of State. It was Labour that was elected in 1997 on a manifesto commitment to give the people of Wales an opportunity to vote for a new democratic Assembly. It was Labour that led the Yes campaign to victory in the 1997 referendum. It was Labour that legislated for a Welsh Assembly to be established in 1999. And it was Labour that steered the 2006 Government of Wales Act onto the statute book, giving the Assembly enhanced legislative powers and settling the constitutional argument in Wales for a generation or more by putting into place a process for attaining primary powers.
And so, as Britain’s leading pro-devolution and pro-Union Party, it can only be Labour who makes the case that, alongside a national minimum wage, record levels of employment and record economic growth and prosperity, the devolution settlements must be considered our finest achievements.
Partnership for Prosperity
As citizens of the United Kingdom we enjoy great prosperity thanks to the historic economic partnerships between the UK’s constituent nations; partnerships which helped to turn us into a world power. The economic integration of the United Kingdom has been and will continue to be central to the economic growth of both the individual nations and the UK as a whole.
The contribution of Wales to the industrial revolution, for example, was enormous. Two hundred and more years ago, it was Merthyr Tydfil where the most productive ironworks in the world were found, and the where the world’s first railway steam locomotive was developed. A century ago, Cardiff was the world’s largest coal-exporting port, handling the production from the massive South Wales coalfields, and the city where the world price of coal was set.
Today, Wales’ economy is making great strides and recent economic growth and development has been dramatic. With 72.3 per cent of the population employed, there are approximately 146,000 more jobs in Wales now in 2007 than there were in 1999 - a faster growth-rate than the UK average and above any one of the nine regions of England. Coming from a period during the 1980s when the aftermath of the pit and steel closures left the Welsh economy reeling and many believed that neither Wales nor Britain would ever see anything approaching full employment again, the last decade has seen a remarkably well-sustained turnaround.
There remains a long way to go to put right the social damage inflicted by the mass unemployment era of the 1980s – numbers of incapacity benefit claimant households are disproportionately high in Wales, for example – but progress has been admirable. Labour’s unsurpassed record of macroeconomic stability, with the longest run of continuous noninflationary economic growth since records began, record inward investment, low interest rates and low inflation, has resulted in Gross Domestic Product increasing to £41 billion in 2005 – compared to £28 billion in the last year of Tory government – while the proportion of Welsh families in ‘workless households’ has fallen to a record low.
Including the block grant from UK Treasury Welsh public spending amounts to almost £1,000 per head (or 14 per cent) higher than in England, which reflects our historically-high levels of ill-health and economic deprivation, in part a function of our industrial legacy. With our Labour Government, the budget of the National Assembly has doubled over the past eight years, from £7 billion to £14 billion. And as a result of the decisions made by the Welsh Labour-led Assembly Government, we now have 500 extra doctors, 8,000 extra nurses, 1,700 extra teachers and 5,700 new teaching assistants in Wales, as well as record investment in school buildings and new hospitals to raise the standards of public service delivery across Wales.
The close economic relationship between Wales and Britain is due to our Governments’ shared social and economic objectives: to reactivate the labour market, reduce social and economic deprivation, combat social exclusion, strengthen social cohesion and to reduce poverty, in particular child poverty. Partnership between the UK Government and the Assembly Government is essential to delivering the policy answers to meet these objectives. Wales benefits from playing a part in UK Government programmes to combat unemployment, child poverty and pensioner poverty - the New Deal, child tax credits and the statutory national minimum wage have had a huge impact on Wales and have raised the standard of living for thousands of low-paid Welsh workers and residents.
The New Deal has helped over 46,000 unemployed young people in Wales back to work, as well as thousands of older long-term unemployed people and lone parents. The programme was financed by a British-wide levy on the windfall profits of the privatised British utilities, and is continuing to develop through a combination of British-wide incentives and opportunities linked to Wales-specific and local initiatives. This reciprocal relationship is at the heart of our Union’s strength.
A further illustration of the advantages for Wales of inter-linking Labour governments in both Westminster and Cardiff can be seen in the UK Miners’ Compensation Scheme for emphysema and Vibration White Finger, which has paid out well over £600 million in compensation to ex-miners or their dependants in Wales. Another would be the pension credit; Wales has a higher than average number of pensioner households and the pension credit benefits over 160,000.
Wales plays its full part in UK-wide, British policies, because co-ordinated action between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government is the only way of meeting some of our more ambitious targets. We have set, for example, the goal to eradicate child poverty in the UK by 2020. Already, 50,000 children in Wales have been helped out of poverty, and it is only through schemes led by administrations both in Wales and at Westminster – whether free school breakfasts, or increases in child benefit – that we will be able to build on this.
In many instances Wales is better placed to meet its social and economic demands and objectives acting within the collective Union. To take a recent example, the extra one-penny increase in National Insurance introduced by Gordon Brown in 2003 to provide further funds for the NHS has been delivering hundreds of millions of pounds of extra public investment for Wales each year. Through National Insurance we each contribute to a system of social protection against sickness, incapacity and bereavement for any insured family or citizen in every part of the UK. This is only made possible by sharing risks across a UK population of 60 million and is a far more effective way of combating poverty and securing social justice than sharing risks among just three million people in Wales. It is perhaps no coincidence that it was a Welshman, Jim Griffiths, who laid the foundations for our modern system with the National Insurance Act of 1948. Drawing on his experiences of the deprivation suffered by South Wales miners and their families in the 1930s, he noted that “a unified and comprehensive scheme covering the whole nation” would be most effective at tackling the poverty he had witnessed. The same remains true today.
Such a unified approach was apparent in the effective negotiations by the UK Labour Government in Europe that brought Objective One funding for the two-thirds of Wales that lies in West Wales and the Valleys. This has been and continues to be of huge significance in helping the large swathes of Wales for so long behind in economic prosperity to catch up with the more prosperous areas of East Wales, the UK and the European average. Funding in the 2000-2007 period was £1.3 billion, with total project value well over £3 billion, boosting investment and job creation.
This hugely beneficial deal for West Wales and the Valleys was first made at the EU Summit meeting in early 2000 and then repeated in December 2005. Had the UK failed to find an agreement here the West Wales and the Valleys region would have missed out drastically. There may be no more crucial an illustration of how an effective partnership between the Labour Government in Westminster and the Labour administration in Wales can and will deliver for Wales and the less well-off two-thirds of Wales in particular.
Economic development in Wales will further progress by Labour continuing to implement a dispersal policy for civil service jobs out of London and the South East of England to Wales, with the assistance of the Assembly Government in co-ordinating the process.
Following the precedents set by the Labour Government in the 1964-1970 era, when Jim Callaghan determined to relocate the Royal Mint to Llantrisant, and Barbara Castle set up the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre in Swansea, the relocation of the headquarters of the Office of National Statistics from Central London to Newport, the Shared Service Centres of the Department for Transport in Swansea and of the Prison Service to Newport have brought thousands more jobs to Wales. The Lyons Review will lead to further public sector jobs being relocated in Wales as a direct consequence of Government policy to spread such employment from the South East of England across the United Kingdom.
The Government’s recent announcement of its largest ever investment in Wales, the £16 billion Defence Training Academy at St Athan, is perhaps the best example of this. This is a 25-year contract with the Metrix consortium and when completed late in the next decade will bring 5,000 jobs to South Wales, with great benefits to the local and regional economy. The Westminster Government and the Assembly Government are working jointly to make this project succeed; the Ministry of Defence is the customer who is in the process of awarding the contract to the Metrix consortium and the Assembly Government is the landowner and the key partner in the scheme.
Projects based on UK partnership of this nature and scale are central to Wales’ economic development and highlight how Wales’ economy is playing an increasingly important role in that of the UK as a whole. Airbus’s plant at Broughton in Flintshire, for example, is at one and the same time Wales’ and the UK’s largest factory. The plant draws its huge workforce from a staggeringly wide catchment area from Colwyn Bay to Manchester - of the 6,000 employees in Broughton, 62% live in Wales and 38% in England. It is the jewel in the crown of the Flintshire economy, the Welsh economy, is highly important to the UK as a technological base, and is critical to the European economy, reinforcing the economic reality that the Welsh economy is part of a wider British and international economy.
Wales’ economy is increasingly global by nature - in 2006-07 Wales attracted projects from overseas that will create nearly 3,400 jobs, although it remains firmly inter-linked with the UK – over 3,100 jobs will be created in the same period by investment projects from within the UK. Wales’ largest trading partner has long been England, and we should all be clear that Wales’ economic future lies within the UK. Wales now hosts world-class high technology business operations like GE Healthcare, General Dynamics, Logica CMG and EADS, developing intellectual property in Wales to make Wales fully engaged in the knowledge economy. The foundation of this success is the stable macro-economic climate resulting from decisions made by the UK Government since 1997. Independence to the Bank of England and maintaining fiscal discipline have given rise to 10 years of continued economic growth, providing the right climate for sustained investment in technology and machinery as well as in skills and people.
If Wales is to have a truly international role, competing with the likes of China and India in a globalised economy, we must do so together, through partnership between the UK Government and the Welsh Assembly Government, as we have been doing successfully up to now. As demonstrated, Wales derives significant advantages from being part of a Member State which plays a full and positive role in the European Union and international economic community. Wales was in at the beginning of globalisation and as this process deepens and intensifies Wales should have full confidence in its ability to compete in the globalised 21st century economy.
A recent survey found that Swansea University has attracted more public and private sector funding for collaborative research with industry than any other university in the UK, forging links with companies such as IBM and Motorola. It is as a member of a collective union of nations that Wales is progressing fast and is best placed to gain the world class investment so vital for future prosperity and success, and so necessary to address the challenges of the 21st century. Through this partnership Wales is progressively developing expertise in research and development, and in high-tech manufacturing such as biotechnology and aerospace, contributing increasingly to the overall success of the UK economy.
The Welsh higher education sector will have a vital role to play in developing our knowledge economy in this new global environment. Recent figures show that in 2005-06 nearly 29,000 students came from other parts of the UK to study in Wales, and that nearly 21,000 Welsh students sought university education in other parts of the UK in the same period. Such crossborder exchange of information, skills and experience irrevocably deepens cultural, economic and social ties throughout the UK. Current and future generations will live in greater prosperity thanks to Wales’ role in the UK, and will have their formative years shaped by the opportunities provided by the Union, rendering separatists’ arguments increasingly eccentric and disconnected from the realities of people’s daily lives and experiences.
Welshness and Britishness – A Sharing of Values
Partnership within the United Kingdom is far more than an economic arrangement; it rests on the shared values of social justice and equality.
The sharing of these values throughout the UK means that today personal and family ties are stronger than ever before. In the decade to 2003, for example, 85 per cent of people migrating into Wales were from the rest of the UK, and over the same period 87 per cent of those migrating out of Wales went to another part of the UK. Around 600,000 people born in England are now living in Wales – more than one in five of the entire Welsh population – and there are almost the same number of people born in Wales living in England.
Wales’ history of migration, coupled with our strong trade union tradition, demonstrate the roots of the common identity and solidarity which run through the United Kingdom. Welsh trade unionists joined their fellow union members in England and Scotland to fight for rights at the workplace, realising workers needed decent pay and conditions whichever side of Offa’s Dyke they resided. Through cross border solidarity and, over the past ten years, partnership with our UK Labour Government, Welsh workers have secured major improvements in employment rights; entitlements which apply right across Britain and are therefore more entrenched as a result.
Key to modern Welsh political identity is that the indissolubility of these links within the labour movement, in business and in the labour market, lies comfortably alongside a deepening recognition of the value of a Welsh political institution, the Assembly, elected by and democratically accountable to the people of Wales.
Today, a common British identity is very much a reality, and is expressed by institutions such as the NHS, and the BBC. These show us what we have achieved together, how deeply Britishness is ingrained in our shared values, and how Wales has helped define a modern British identity.
The NHS embodies the essential values of solidarity, care and community, expressing a progressive sense of Britishness probably better than any other institution. The NHS came out of Wales, defined by Welsh experience of ill health for the many under private care. Its architect, a Welshman Nye Bevan, as a UK Cabinet Minister drew on his experiences growing up in Tredegar to establish arguably Britain’s most progressive institution; one which remains a model for the world.
The BBC embodies the values of inclusion and fairness, with Welsh produced success stories like the BBC’s Doctor Who and Torchwood showing not just what Wales is contributing to Britain but how Britishness contributes to Welsh success and helps elevate that success globally. This would not have happened without a deliberate decision of the BBC to outsource these programme productions to Wales, with Welsh multimedia talent benefiting UK television, and the BBC’s UK and global reach benefiting Welsh talent. Again this highlights the reciprocal benefits to both Wales and the UK that result from the shared values that lie at the heart of Britishness and Welshness.
The BBC also provides output for S4C, the Welsh-language public broadcaster. Both the Welsh language and the Welsh economy have benefited from the work of S4C, which is supported through an annual grant from the UK Government. S4C broadcasts a majority of Welsh language programmes, but also Channel 4 content which is shown across the UK.
The Wales of today is a Wales which, far from shrinking into isolation, is stronger because it is partly British, European and internationalist too. For example, whilst people in Wales are passionate about our rugby and football teams, they have found no contradiction in travelling the world to support the British and Irish Lions to cheer all their players, not just Welsh internationals like Scott Gibbs, Martyn Williams and Gareth Thomas. They have stood in the heat of the Australian summer or the damp of an English summer, with Welsh flags and cheered the “England” cricket team, not just Simon Jones. They urged on every member of the European Ryder Cup golf team, captained by Welshman Ian Woosnam, to their magnificent victory over the United States in 2006. And a recent survey has shown that support for the 2012 London Olympics is higher in Wales than in any other part of Britain.
The cultural boundaries between England and Wales have long been porous. People watch the same television programmes, read the same books, watch the same films, read the same national newspapers, all the time remaining loyal to the cultures of their home nations and towns. There is in many ways a strengthening common culture in which British and Welsh identities are shared and cross over on a daily basis.
The vast majority of people in Wales feel part of their local community, and they feel Welsh, British and increasingly European too. Loyalty to one should not mean denial of the other.
Comparing Scotland’s relationship to the rest of the UK ‘south of the border’ and Wales’ relationship with the rest of the UK is instructive, partially because the equivalent phrase of ‘east of the border’ is virtually unknown in Wales. That is not to say that there is no such thing as clear Welsh identity – there obviously is. It is just different. Modern Wales combines a deep respect for its ancient language, literature, eisteddfodic traditions and heritage, with strong pride in its early industrialisation and absorption of globalised trade and cultures.
What makes the Welsh national identity special is its diversity. For example, the degree of integration of the eastern half of Wales with adjoining regions of England is very high indeed, especially North East Wales with North West England, where the Airbus plant is a notable example of practical day-to-day integration of the labour market. Conversely it is arguable that, linguistically and culturally at the very least, the western half of Wales is more distinct from the homogeneity of Britishness than most other parts of the UK. The Welsh identity spans both of those widely differing degrees of integration, and this divide leads to distinct political identities between the east-facing and the west-facing halves of Wales, as was very evident during the devolution referendum 10 years ago.
But when Wales enjoys success – for example beating another nation at rugby or football – we all share in the sense of exhilaration. There is nothing wrong in celebrating national achievement, a common national culture and a sense of national pride and identity. There is nothing intrinsically wrong in identifying with your common culture of nationhood. We should all be proud to be Welsh - and proud to be Welsh patriots. Our Welshness is self confident and secure.
Patriotism is a noble value. But true patriots are also internationalists because they respect others’ patriotism too. And whereas patriotism cannot be confused with jingoism and national chauvinism, separatism can. Whilst we welcome and encourage the increasing sense of Welsh identity in the post-devolution climate, our new sense of Welsh citizenship is not based upon a sense of inferiority or superiority but upon the inclusive, egalitarian principles that define twenty-first century multiracial, multi-cultural Britain.
These principles that define Britishness have always been a hallmark of Welsh society. Wales has one of the UK’s oldest multi-ethnic communities in Cardiff, where Somali, Yemeni, Chinese and Indian seamen were drawn from the mid 19th century onwards to work in the thriving docks or as merchant seamen.
So let us celebrate our cultural differences and the fact that modern Wales is made up of so many different cultural strands that together richly enhance the life of the community. But let us never fall into the trap of claiming superiority over others, based on where you live or where you are born, what language you speak, what if any faith you hold, what your skin colour or sexuality is, or whether you have a disability. Socialists have a progressive vision based on our common humanity as citizens of the world which defines us; separatists a regressive and reactionary vision of nationality.
The essence of a progressive Union is a democratic, devolved framework in which we can express our diversity, take decisions for ourselves, and at the same time work together for the common good, recognising we are stronger together within the UK than isolated and alone.
A Political Union
Labour delivered devolution to Scotland and Wales in settlements designed to reflect the individual and specific circumstances of each country, implemented in 1999 after successful 1997 referenda. As a result of the devolved administrations’ increased political freedom to innovate we have since seen political cultures and identities flourish and in turn renew political integration across the UK, which had been severely jeopardised by the centralised English dominance of Tory government in the 1980s and 1990s. The truth is that our political union is stronger than ever before, and today no-one – not even erstwhile Tory opponents of devolution – credibly suggests that we should go back on these historic settlements.
The devolved administrations’ freedom over policy has seen the emergence of distinct cross-border policy differences coupled with more active UK-wide exchanges of ideas. Policy ideas that arise in constituent UK nations are now often borrowed and developed elsewhere - if Bill Clinton’s America had ‘fifty living laboratories’ the UK, perhaps, now has four. This process enables different administrations to learn from each others’ experiences to the ultimate benefit of individual UK countries, at the same time as strengthening the sense of political partnership across the UK. The Labour-led Welsh Assembly Government pioneered, for example, the creation of a Children’s Commissioner and free bus travel for the over 60s which were soon copied in England, whilst Wales has learnt from experience in England of how to reduce waiting-times for hospital treatment. This flow of political innovation across the UK has also led to new channels of political interaction and dialogue opening up, like the regular Finance Ministers Quadrilateral Meetings, and we must continue to strengthen the links between MPs, AMs, MSPs and MEPs.
Wales’ diverse, modern culture impels us to look outward and play our part on the international stage. Wales has a strong internationalist tradition, influenced by the outlook of the labour and trade union movement. In the 1930s, poor mining communities across Wales raised huge sums of money to support the Republican cause in the Spanish Civil War, and volunteers from the Welsh Labour movement fought with distinction against Franco’s fascism. In the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s Welsh activists were prominent in the fight against the apartheid regime in South Africa. The best way to further our desire to see justice and human rights upheld across the globe is as a partner to the UK on the international stage. It is as the UK Labour Government that we have more than doubled Britain’s overseas aid and led the international drive for debt relief and trade justice.
Today the UK sits on the UN Security Council, the top tables of the European Union, Nato, the World Bank and the Commonwealth. Wales alone would be without such influence. This point was aptly illustrated recently when the Foreign Office Minister and MP for Pontypridd, Kim Howells, chaired a meeting of the UN Security Council to discuss the Middle East peace process. He was supported by Sir Emyr Jones Parry, then the UK’s Ambassador to the UN. Both men were brought up in the same South Wales valley, both are fiercely Welsh yet equally internationalist.
Devolution within the Union has allowed Welsh Assembly Members to utilise the levers in place to exercise their political will and design Welsh specific policy, alongside Welsh MPs shaping policy around Welsh interests in Westminster. It is critical that hand-in-hand with increasing the legislative scope and freedom of the National Assembly of Wales we weaken in no way at all the key linkages between Wales and the UK Government at Westminster.
Wales’ representation in Cabinet by the Secretary of State for Wales ensures that Welsh interests are fully taken into account in Government. 40 Welsh MPs give Wales a strong voice in Parliament. Responsibility for Home Affairs and the Justice system resides with Parliament and is not devolved in Wales unlike the Scottish model. There is no case at all for reducing the total number of Welsh MPs.
Strong representation for Wales at Westminster is vital to safeguarding and promoting the interests of the people of Wales, in particular in relation to the legislative programme and the Welsh budget. Calls to reduce Welsh representation in Parliament would jeopardise Welsh influence over key decisions over finance, defence, energy, foreign policy, pensions and welfare so vital to Welsh citizens.
Welsh political influence and representation has come under assault from another and constitutionally even more dangerous direction, with David Cameron the latest Tory leader to advocate dividing up MPs’ voting rights according to the territorial impact of legislation. Essentially Cameron wants to place a limit on Welsh and Scottish MPs’ voting rights with his badly judged and opportunistic proposal to introduce so-called “English votes for English laws”. His blatant opportunism is underlined by his refusal to place Northern Ireland MPs under the same strictures, possibly because the majority of them are unionists and have historically sided with the Tories. It is up to us to take this argument head-on. ‘English votes’ is a deceptively seductive idea for many, and in a recent poll for Newsnight 61 per cent of English voters questioned said they were in favour of establishing an English Parliament’. In a campaign initiated and led by Jack Straw, Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, our Government plans to expose the myths surrounding this proposal and underline its potentially disastrous impact on our Union.
The Tories’ idea is neither new nor innovative, and whenever explored in depth has without exception been declared complex to the point of being completely impractical. It was first introduced in the Government of Ireland Bill in 1893, and it was Gladstone who remarked that devising an ‘in and out’ solution for MPs “passes the wit of man”. The 1973 Royal Commission on the Constitution declared the idea “unworkable”, but, despite this, a commitment to ‘English votes’ formed part of William Hague’s 2001 manifesto, which remained official party policy under Michael Howard, and is now being pursued by David Cameron.
This may be more to do with Tory marginalisation in Scotland and Wales than any high-minded sense of English parliamentary nicety, but it has very serious implications for the future constitutional stability of the Union.
Because we stand as both a party and a government for the Union, Labour must remain unreservedly committed to a United Kingdom Parliament: the UK is a single state and its Parliament must remain sovereign on all matters, representative of the nation as a whole.
It can only be so if each MP is equal, whether from Wales, Scotland or England. If at any point Welsh or Scottish MPs became second class within Parliament, Wales and Scotland would become second class nations within the Union; a virtual incitement to separatism.
There is a clear assumption by Conservatives that legislation can be simply carved up into purely English, Welsh or Scottish categories. In an interview for the Western Mail in July 2007 David Cameron said: “I don’t think it is complicated... it’s relatively straightforward to look at a piece of legislation and ask if it only affects English constituencies, or which bits of it only affect English constituencies.”
This highlights once again David Cameron’s reliance on unplanned statements of intent and the disregard for detail that questions his fitness for government. Proper examination of the practicalities of allocating voting rights on specific areas within a Bill to the MPs whose constituencies are affected reveals hugely problematic and complex technical issues and significant unanswered questions.
The Education and Inspections Act 2006, for example, shows how flawed Cameron’s judgement is, and his casual disregard for the disruptive damage to the parliamentary process.
The Act contains 116 Sections that are England-only, 57 that apply to England and Wales, 6 that are Wales-only, and 10 that are UK-wide. How, then, would the Public Bill Committee process work, when specific clauses of a Bill are considered in detail? On average 18 members sit on a Bill Committee, their numbers broadly reflecting the party composition of the House. How would the Cameron proposal reflect the territorial impact of this Bill? Would there be separate Committees for the separate Sections of the Bill – in this case four separate Committees to look at different Sections?
In the case of England-only clauses, would the Committee reflect the party balance amongst England MPs only? And would Report stage – where the House considers fresh amendments – be confined to only those MPs whose constituencies were affected by the Section under discussion at any one time?
To carve up the Committee process in this way would be hideously complicated to the point of generating parliamentary gridlock. Although there may be practical ways to overcome this, such as changing drafting practice to more strictly define territorial coverage, this would likely result in more bills, more time and resources, more votes in an already packed parliamentary schedule and less time for proper legislative scrutiny on the floor of the House.
Dividing legislation in this way is virtually impossible to do in the case of the Welsh devolution settlement. The Government of Wales Act 2006 retained powers to pass primary legislation for Wales in both devolved and reserved areas at Westminster, and in general England and Wales have a common statute book which means that often legislation designed to apply exclusively to Wales commonly also extends to England. The result of this intricate cross-over is that you often have elements within a single Section of a bill which relate to one country but not another. In this case, who would be eligible to debate the subsections? Do you create separate Committees to debate subsections of a bill, of which there can be hundreds?
Shaping the process of parliamentary debate and scrutiny according to the territorial extent of legislation results in what has been described as “legislative hokey-cokey”. We prefer John Major’s assessment of it as causing “constitutional chaos”.
But this just scratches the surface of the troublesome issues posed. For example, there are numerous cases where Welsh MPs representing constituencies close to the border will have constituents using public services in England. NHS foundation trusts based in England, for example, already provide health care to Welsh citizens living in border areas. Would the Welsh MPs whose constituents were users of this service be able to participate in deciding over this policy area? Could Welsh MPs whose constituents are affected continue to table Early Day Motions or ask Questions; the Cameron logic suggests not, in which case those constituents would be disenfranchised. What about the position in reverse where Welsh provided public services are used by English residents?
The duty that would be placed on the Speaker to identify whether or not a Bill can be considered national, or who would appropriately vote on it and who not, would inevitably weaken the independence of the role and risk the politicisation of the Office.
Furthermore, if the principle underpinning ‘English votes’ is that only the MPs representative of constituencies directly affected by proposed legislation should be entitled to vote, would we suggest that in future only London MPs should participate in votes such as that on the Greater London Authority Act 1999? Surely MPs from the rest of the UK have a right to determine what powers are ceded to London? And at what point does all this stop?
Presumably in a completely balkanised Parliament. Advocates of ‘English votes’ have not thought through the detail or consequences of their dogma.
They have also overlooked the system of funding for the devolved administrations, which again highlights fundamental flaws in their arguments.
Due to the Barnett formula, which allocates devolved administrations a proportion of planned UK Government spending according to population size, any legislation that impacts on the expenditure of UK Government Departments in England proportionately impacts also on expenditure available to the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish administrations. In essence this means that virtually all legislation passed in Parliament must be considered UK wide. Even if a policy applies, for example, only to schools or hospitals based in England – seemingly making it a piece of ‘England-only’ legislation – there will be a cross-border impacts on funding and taxation.
Good examples are the bills on foundation hospitals in 2002-03 and higher education in 2003-04, both of which have been used by the Tories as examples of English and Welsh-only legislation that Scottish MPs should be excluded from voting upon. Both, however, had funding implications for Scotland, making them UK-wide, and it was right, therefore, that they were treated as such, with all MPs in the national Parliament in Westminster given the opportunity to vote.
‘English votes for English laws’ would fundamentally reform how our parliamentary democracy functions and would have potentially fatal implications for the Union of the United Kingdom. English MPs would be elevated in status and power compared with their Scots or Welsh counterparts. To introduce a system that gave Members varying functions and limitations would be to fundamentally undermine the principle of equality that should run through Parliament.
The result would be Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish legislatures, an English Parliament, and essentially an overarching federal parliament in charge of national issues such as defence and the economy. What would happen when a government had a parliamentary majority including Scotland and Wales but not in England? A UK Government which could not carry English legislation could not effectively govern since without a majority in the House Prime Ministers may well be forced into unstable, minority coalitions dependent on where their majority was held. This would profoundly alter the whole basis of our constitution, potentially sidelining Welsh and Scots from being able to influence the composition of the Government whilst at the same time leaving what would be tantamount to an ‘English Government’ without a majority across the whole House.
Representing about 85 per cent of the population the resultant ‘English Parliament’ would not just be numerically dominant as English MPs have obviously always been, but all-powerful. Our Parliament would no longer be truly ‘national’, but fractured and forced to follow where the newly created English Parliament led. Instead of a partnership between nations of the Union, there would be a two-tier parliamentary system which would irreparably damage the unity of the United Kingdom. Playing to the populist gallery of English nationalism opens up a constitutional Pandora’s Box.
What future would people from the Celtic nations see in the United Kingdom if they were barred from full citizenship? Denying the people of Wales full representation in Parliament would hardly be helpful or healthy for the future of the United Kingdom and would prove a constitutional disaster.
Revealingly, when the Ulster Unionist parties supported the Conservatives in 1964-1967 in opposing the nationalisation of the steel industry, although the measure would not affect Northern Ireland, there were no protests. The then Shadow Attorney General, Peter Thorneycroft, said of an ‘in and out’ solution: “every Member of the House of Commons is equal with every other Member of the House of Commons, and that all of us will speak on all subjects”. Conservative outrage at the current constitutional set-up can perhaps best be understood as a partisan response to their limited appeal to the electors of Scotland and Wales.
Our Union is strongest when based on devolution and decentralisation, with policies to bring decision-making close to people in England too, and not just Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Gordon Brown has launched a wide-ranging programme of constitutional reform to reinvigorate our representative democracy. This includes, critically, creating Ministers and Committees of MPs for the English regions, and initiating a national debate on developing a British statement of values in modernising our constitution.
Labour’s commitment to regional government across England must be part of our answer to the ‘West Lothian Question’. Most English regions are larger than Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and indeed deserve more powers than the government offered in the North East referendum in 2004.
It was apparent then that the strongest negative was the cost of more politicians in a regional structure that had insufficient powers – nothing like London’s, still less Wales’ and certainly not Scotland’s. Without a structure of universal unitary local government, like in Wales, it was also hard to dispute the charge of adding an ‘extra layer of bureaucracy’. Labour needs to remain committed to English regional government with more resources and powers, though it would be sensible for this to evolve organically and not necessarily either uniformly or on the same boundaries.
Decision-making on issues such as skills, transport, planning and housing can be decentralised to regions and local authorities, which need to adopt flexible, innovative and incremental approaches to strengthening democratic accountability.
The devolution discussion currently revolves around power between the nations of the United Kingdom. By giving executive roles to Regional Ministers, increasing the responsibilities of Regional Development Agencies and by setting up fully functional Regional Select Committees to oversee their work, we can bring together local and national government to form a sub-national tier of devolved governance which will give English voters a stronger voice in Parliament. This is the alternative to the Tory proposal to balkanising Parliament, and the next natural reform in Labour’s programme of devolving power.
Devolution has delivered for Wales and United Kingdom. Our constitutional reforms have given newly formed national governments the freedom to tailor political solutions around the needs of their electorates while enhancing the bonds at the heart of UK partnership.
Economically Wales is flourishing, with the Assembly administration working closely with the UK Government to make the economic decisions to realise their social objectives and attracting record investment, ever-developing Wales’ role as a true partner in the international economic community. Socially, the values of solidarity and equality which underpin the pride felt in both our patriotism and our partnership are as strong as ever. And politically, the Assembly’s freedom over policy development contributes to a more diverse and innovative but equally intertwined United Kingdom.
There can be no compromise with those who propose to turn this process backwards or threaten the deepening of these ties. Our task now is to face up to the challenge of the 21st century, not to revisit the old arguments of past centuries. The challenges of climate change, of international terrorism, of poverty across Britain and abroad, require a full Welsh contribution working across different tiers of government. That will involve ever closer co-operation.
We need to concentrate on delivering the people’s priorities; increasing employment, improving our health and education services, and tackling crime.
Whatever other political parties may offer as solutions, we are clear that Wales gets the best of both worlds from devolution. Wales – as a partner in Britain – is economically fit, culturally vibrant and politically confident, increasingly global and must now be looking outwards towards the future.
The past ten years has been a period of unprecedented success, not least the huge constitutional changes in the United Kingdom, of which devolution for Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London are among the main advances.
The United Kingdom constitution is based on shared values of tolerance and democracy, community and solidarity, of equality and diversity. Within the framework of devolution and decentralisation, we can self-govern yet work together for a common purpose – a Wales United to ensure advancement for all based on those shared values.
Tonight I want to celebrate Britishness. As Foreign Secretary I see every day the importance of our relations with foreign countries to the strength of our economy, to the security of our nation, to the safety of our people against organised crime, even to the health of our environment. A globalised world demands more foreign contacts than even Britain has experienced in the past.
I also know that we are likely to make our way more successfully in the world if we are secure in our British identity, and confident about its future. That security and confidence is important for the inner strength it gives us in our conduct of business with others. I want to argue the case why we can be confident about the strength and the future of British identity.
Sadly, it has become fashionable for some to argue that British identity is under siege, perhaps even in a state of terminal decline. The threat is said to come in three forms.
First, the arrival of immigrants who, allegedly, do not share our cultural values and who fail to support the England cricket team. Few dare to state this case explicitly, but it is the unmistakable subliminal message.
Second, our continued membership of the European Union, which is said to be absorbing member states into ‘a country called Europe’.
Third, the devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which is seen as a step to the break-up of the UK.
This evening, I want to set out the reasons for being optimistic about the future of Britain and Britishness. Indeed, I want to go further and argue that in each of the areas where the pessimists identify a threat, we should instead see developments that will strengthen and renew British identity.
The first element in the debate about the future of Britishness is the changing ethnic composition of the British people themselves. The British are not a race, but a gathering of countless different races and communities, the vast majority of which were not indigenous to these islands.
In the pre-industrial era, when transport and communications were often easier by sea than by land, Britain was unusually open to external influence; first through foreign invasion, then, after Britain achieved naval supremacy, through commerce and imperial expansion. It is not their purity that makes the British unique, but the sheer pluralism of their ancestry.
London was first established as the capital of a Celtic Britain by Romans from Italy. They were in turn driven out by Saxons and Angles from Germany. The great cathedrals of this land were built mostly by Norman Bishops, but the religion practised in them was secured by the succession of a Dutch Prince. Outside our Parliament, Richard the Lionheart proudly sits astride his steed. A symbol of British courage and defiance. Yet he spoke French much of his life and depended on the Jewish community of England to put up the ransom that freed him from prison.
The idea that Britain was a ‘pure’ Anglo-Saxon society before the arrival of communities from the Caribbean, Asia and Africa is fantasy. But if this view of British identity is false to our past, it is false to our future too. The global era has produced population movements of a breadth and richness without parallel in history.
Today’s London is a perfect hub of the globe. It is home to over 30 ethnic communities of at least 10,000 residents each. In this city tonight, over 300 languages will be spoken by families over their evening meal at home.
This pluralism is not a burden we must reluctantly accept. It is an immense asset that contributes to the cultural and economic vitality of our nation.
Legitimate immigration is the necessary and unavoidable result of economic success, which generates a demand for labour faster than can be met by the birth-rate of a modern developed country. Every country needs firm but fair immigration laws. There is no more evil business than trafficking in human beings and nothing corrodes social cohesion worse than a furtive underground of illegal migrants beyond legal protection against exploitation. But we must also create an open and inclusive society that welcomes incomers for their contribution to our growth and prosperity. Our measures to attract specialists in information technology is a good example.
Our cultural diversity is one of the reasons why Britain continues to be the preferred location for multinational companies setting up in Europe. The national airline of a major European country has recently relocated its booking operation to London precisely because of the linguistic variety of the staff whom it can recruit here.
And it isn't just our economy that has been enriched by the arrival of new communities. Our lifestyles and cultural horizons have also been broadened in the process. This point is perhaps more readily understood by young Britons, who are more open to new influences and more likely to have been educated in a multi-ethnic environment. But it reaches into every aspect of our national life.
Chicken Tikka Massala is now a true British national dish, not only because it is the most popular, but because it is a perfect illustration of the way Britain absorbs and adapts external influences. Chicken Tikka is an Indian dish. The Massala sauce was added to satisfy the desire of British people to have their meat served in gravy.
Coming to terms with multiculturalism as a positive force for our economy and society will have significant implications for our understanding of Britishness.
The modern notion of national identity cannot be based on race and ethnicity, but must be based on shared ideals and aspirations. Some of the most successful countries in the modern world, such as the United States and Canada, are immigrant societies. Their experience shows how cultural diversity, allied to a shared concept of equal citizenship, can be a source of enormous strength. We should draw inspiration from their experience.
Britishness and European integration
To deny that Britain is European is to deny both our geography and our history. Our culture, our security, and our prosperity, are inseparable from the continent of Europe.
Underlying the anti-European case is the belief that there is an alternative future available to Britain. It used to be argued that the European Union is not Europe and that Britain could exist perfectly comfortably as one of a number of European countries maintaining a loose association with Brussels. But with the majority of non-EU states now clamouring for full membership, the changing geopolitics of Europe have consigned that argument to the past.
Some anti-Europeans now argue that Britain's destiny lies outside Europe, as part of ‘the English-speaking world’ and a member of NAFTA.
Yet Britain trades three times more with the rest of the EU than we do with NAFTA. The reason why over four thousand US companies have located here is because they want to export to Europe. If they only wanted to sell to NAFTA, they would have stayed at home.
Europe is where our domestic quality of life is most directly at stake, whether the issue is environmental standards, the fight against organised crime, policy on asylum or stability on the continent.
But it is not simply a question of economic and political realism that ties Britain to Europe, compelling as those arguments are. Britain is also a European country in the more profound sense of sharing European assumptions about how society should be organised. The last international survey of social attitudes put Britain squarely within the European mainstream on our approach to social justice and public services, such as health.
There are strong ties of kinship between Britain and North America. These are an immense asset to us in the modern world. The US and the UK are each other’s closest allies. But our value as an ally to our friends in Washington is in direct proportion to our influence with our partners in Europe.
I do not accept that to acknowledge our European identity diminishes our Britishness. Nor do I accept that membership of the European Union is a threat to our national identity.
None of our European partners, with their own proud national traditions, seem afflicted by this self-doubt and insecurity. The idea that the French, the Germans or the Spanish are attempting to erase their national identities by constructing a ‘country called Europe’ is the mother of all Euromyths. On the contrary, our partners see their membership of a successful European Union as underwriting, not undermining, their assertion of national identity.
For France, Germany and Italy, the European Community was central to the renewal of their nations and the regeneration of their economies in the post-War period. To Spain, Portugal and Greece, joining the European Community was an affirmation of their freedom from fascism and a guarantee of a democratic future. To Austria and Finland, joining the European Community was a celebration of the end of the Cold War, which enabled them to make a free choice in their national orientation.
The same is true of the dozen new candidates for membership from the former communist bloc. All of them aspire to membership of the European Union because it will be an affirmation of their regained independence. None of them see it as a threat to their national identity.
Ireland joined at the same time as Britain. Its period of membership has transformed Ireland into a country with a dynamic economy and a cosmopolitan society. The result has been a new assertiveness of national identity, and confidence in their culture. We can see that for ourselves in Britain through the new affection for Irish music and dance, and the attachment to Irish pubs.
Britain has everything to gain from being a leading partner in a strong Europe. All we have to lose is the timidity which prevents us from embracing our European destiny and from recognising that it is a source of confidence in our nation’s future.
In the aftermath of Nice, it is clearer than ever that a strong Europe requires strong nations. With the accession of up to twelve new member states, the European Union is set to become even more diverse. In the next Inter-Governmental Conference, the challenge is to find the right balance between European and national decision-making and to enhance the EU's legitimacy by harnessing the democratic traditions of its member states.
This is a debate that Britain can play a pivotal role in shaping. But we can only do so if we reject insular nationalism and the politics of fear by engaging fully and confidently in Europe.
Britishness and devolution
The last of the three perceived threats to Britishness is the new flexibility in our modern constitution.
The devolution of power to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will stand the test of time as one of this Government’s most radical and significant achievements. The creation of a Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly allows both nations to choose the policies that are right for them through their own democratic structures. In Northern Ireland, devolution was needed for a different reason - to enable the communities of a divided society to share power and to work together to build a common future. In all three cases, I am convinced that our reforms were essential.
Let us put to bed the scare stories about devolution leading to the ‘Death of Britain’. Devolution has been a success for Scotland and for Wales, but it has also been a success for Britain. The votes for devolution in the referendums were not votes for separation. They were votes to remain in the United Kingdom with a new constitutional settlement. By recognising the United Kingdom’s diversity, devolution has guaranteed its future. It is striking that today opinion polls in Scotland show that support for separation from the rest of Britain is lower than at the time of the referendum four years ago.
Centuries of living together and working together have created enduring bonds between each of the constituent nations that make up Britain. Our future together in a single state is all the more secure if we each respect the distinctive identity that makes some of us Scottish and others Welsh or English. That mutual respect strengthens our common identity as British.
Our peoples already practise this ‘subsidiarity of identity’ in their expressions of sporting loyalty. They watch Scotland, England, Wales or Northern Ireland at football. They cheer for the British team in the Olympics. And they support Europe at golf in the Ryder Cup. In context, each is a valid expression of our identity.
We should not fear the consequences of applying this principle in political life. In Scotland, the legal and educational systems are important expressions of Scottishness. At a British level, there is a strong attachment to institutions such as the National Health Service, the BBC and the armed forces. In Europe, we work with fourteen other nations to build the Single Market and to use our joint strength in trade negotiations. Action at one level does not invalidate our commitment to work at the other levels. On the contrary, they reinforce each other.
I get impatient when I see opinion polls that ask respondents whether they feel more Scottish or English than British, or more British than European, as if these choices were mutually exclusive. Identity is not a finite substance to be shared out between competing loyalties. It embraces numerous dimensions, each of which serves to amplify and reinforce the others.
In our thousand years of history, the homogeneity of British identity that some people assume to be the norm was confined to a relatively brief period. It lasted from the Victorian era of imperial expansion to the aftermath of the Second World War and depended on the unifying force of those two extraordinary experiences. The diversity of modern Britain expressed through devolution and multiculturalism is more consistent with the historical experience of our islands.
Far from making Britishness redundant, it makes the need for a shared framework of values and institutions all the more relevant. To act as a unifying force, that framework must be one that reflects the realities of contemporary Britain.
It is natural for every nation to be proud of its identity. We should be proud to be British. But we should be proud of the real Britain of the modern age.
Proud that the strength of the British character reflects the influences of the many different communities who have made their home here over the centuries. Proud that openness, mutual respect and generosity of spirit are essential British values.
We should be proud that those British values have made Britain a successful multi-ethnic society. We should welcome that pluralism as a unique asset for Britain in a modern world where our prosperity, our security and our influence depend on the health of our relations with other peoples around the globe.
Tolerance is important, but it is not enough. We should celebrate the enormous contribution of the many communities in Britain to strengthening our economy, to supporting our public services, and to enriching our culture and cuisine. And we should recognise that its diversity is part of the reason why Britain is a great place to live.
Speech by Robin Cook, the foreign secretary, to the Social Market Foundation in London; 19 April, 2001. Dubbed the 'chicken tikka masala speech'.
By 2050 England will have recreated itself: visionary, multi-ethnic, free. Is this farewell to the bulldog breed?
By David Starkey
QUESTIONS, once upon a time, were things that happened to people in faraway countries of which we knew little. There was the Eastern question, the Balkan question, the Palestinian question, the Indian question and, always and most intractably, the Irish question. What there was not, of course, was the English question. Instead, it was our job as a Power to solve other people's questions (though the Irish, famously and ungratefully, changed their question whenever the English answered it).
But suddenly, at the end of the 20th century, the English have realised, to their surprise, that there is an English question too - within Britain, within Europe, as we ask ourselves: "What sort of nation are we? Are we a nation at all?"
The politicians have already come up with their own attempts at national rebranding. John Major offered cricket and warm beer, Tony Blair cool Britannia and William Hague the British way. None remotely works.
If we continue to get the answers wrong, our future is grim. We will sink beneath the waves we once ruled and become either a pseudo-independent Ruritanian statelet or a sulkily resentful province of the Euro Empire.
On the other hand, if we get them right, the sky's the limit. England could become a new, bigger, more successful Hong Kong, and English could become the global language.
Napoleon sneered that England was a nation of shopkeepers. Two hundred years later, as his vision of a united Europe is achieved, we should go a stage further down our own path. England should become an international marketplace in which people, ideas, wealth and trade all move freely - without taxes, tariffs, censorship or immigration controls. The result would be a nation unlike any other that the world has seen. In some essential way, it would still be England.
Fantastic? Not really. For it's all there in our history. Everybody knows that England was the first nation to industrialise. We were also the first to experience the pangs of de-industrialisation, and the first to develop a flourishing post-industrial economy. The history of English nationalism follows a broadly similar path.
For we were there first as well. As early, for instance, as the reign of Henry VIII (1509-1547) England had acquired the whole apparatus of cultural nationalism - something that took the Germans another 250 years to assemble.
There was a national historic myth, a state-sponsored canon of English literature and a determined attempt to push the claims of English itself to be a great European language, despite the fact that it was spoken by only 3m natives and by scarcely anybody else.
One thing even Henry VIII lacked, however, was a national dress. But there were attempts to remedy this in the 18th century by making Van Dyck dress the English national costume.
Happily, in view of its satins and lace, the attempt failed. Indeed, what we can call the classic period of English nationalism proved short-lived. The driving force of royal autocracy was defeated in the civil wars of the 17th century - wars that also led to the absorption of England into the new political unit of Great Britain.
At first, there was an attempt at forging a single national identity for Britain and the Britons. But the attempt foundered quickly. Instead, Britain half-reverted into its constituent elements, which developed two distinct identities.
The Celtic-fringe nations of Scotland, Wales and Ireland took on board the whole panoply of cultural nationalism. In Scotland, it was loyalist and done under royal patronage. George IV, his kilt riding up over his flesh-coloured tights, presided over Sir Walter Scott's tartan pageant in 1821, while Victoria built Balmoral and cosied up to John Brown. In Ireland, the Gaelic revival fed directly into anti-British nationalism.
The English took a different route. Instead of cultural icons, they revered their political institutions, such as parliament and common law. And they thought them the best in the world. In so far as they had national symbols, they were the crown and the Church of England, with its Shinto-like worship of the royal family.
We come now to our immediate millennial crisis. For the English, it is a crisis of de-nationalisation. The decline of Britain abroad and the loss of confidence in our political institutions at home has robbed us of our sense of identity. Nor is there much else we can fall back on - thanks, ironically, to our earlier success. Everybody speaks English and everybody wears the business suit, derived from the Victorian frock coat. Without a dress and language we can call our own, we stand inarticulate and naked among nations - as you will find out if you ask an Englishman to define his Englishness.
For the Celtic fringe, on the other hand, the end of the millennium has been a time of national revival. As their sense of nationhood is cultural, Britain's political decline has left them untouched. Indeed, it has been an opportunity to extort yet more goodies from the weakened Westminster parliament.
But the dividing of the ways is coming. The two great political questions of the moment are devolution at home and relations with the European Union abroad. For, in both cases, the interests and attitudes of England and of the Celtic fringe diverge radically. For the Scots and the Welsh, devolution is an unadulteratedly good thing. For the English, devolution is a disaster, offering only a choice of evils between dismemberment into the so-called English regions or colonial subordination to the governors of Scotland's new Labour.
Over Europe, the faultlines are similar. The European Union will require a merging of political identities. For most European countries this is more or less acceptable, as their principal sense of nationhood is a question of culture and language. If you speak French you are French; if German, you are German; and if Welsh, increasingly, you are Welsh. Language is less important in Scotland. But the folklorique aspects of Scottish nationalism are also what the Eurocrats, like Hollywood, flatter and indulge.
For the Celts, therefore, Europe is not a threat but an opportunity. The English are different. Our sense of Englishness is primarily political, not cultural. Take that away and you take away everything. This is why Europe is a uniquely explosive issue in England. And it will blow up, I imagine, with the fireworks over the dome on New Year's Eve 1999. Thereafter, change will come almost as quickly as the first hangover. First, Britain, swayed by England, votes against the euro; then Scotland and perhaps Wales break with England and plunge fully into the European Union. The breach with Scotland will be the moment of truth. England will be alone. And it must re-invent itself - but how?
There are two choices. The first is nationalism; the second is what I have called post-nationalism. The nationalist route would involve a crash course of indoctrination in national symbols: flags of St George at every corner, Land of Hope and Glory on everyone's lips. It is a step into the past; it would also probably fail. For the new nationalisms of Europe and the Celtic fringe are underpinned by racism and substantial middle-class support. Both are missing in England, where the flag of St George is sported only by taxis and the white-van-driving classes. Nevertheless, in its present mood, I fear that the Tory party will plunge, Gadarene-like, for this obvious but losing option.
On the other hand, it is just possible that new Labour, if Philip Gould's claims about its commitment to permanent revolution are right, will opt for post-nationalism. For post-nationalism represents a real third way. It takes a commitment to political and economic liberalism from England's past. It combines them with the tolerance and the ability to accommodate racial minorities from our present. And from the best of past and present it would forge a future to be proud of: free, free-trading and prosperous. London would become the world city; Ireland, with the divisive symbols of Britishness finally laid to rest, a valued ally, and England would cease to see its future in terms of throwing in its lot with something bigger; ie America and Europe.
For one thing surely is clear. The new millennium will indeed be a new age. It will not be the costly, lumbering mammoths of existing states and corporations that will flourish, but smaller, fleeter-footed creatures. The new post-national England could be one of the first of this new species. Let us hope so.
David Starkey is an historian, broadcaster and fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge.
The live online debate with David Starkey was held on Sunday, February 21, 1999.
Here is a transcript of that debate, based upon the article above.
Online Debate Transcript
HOST: This is the second chat in the series and it is our pleasure to welcome Dr David Starkey. David Starkey is a historian, broadcaster and fellow of Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge
Tom1: Why is it that "the British way", "cool Britannia" or John Major's "cricket and beer" will not work?
DAVID STARKEY: No. Once upon a time England had things like a dress and a language that were quite specific. But then they become part of world culture (English national dress is the business suit!). In other words, we lost our uniqueness because of our success and the fact that other people copied us so much.
HOST: Email Question: Are we a nation at all?
DAVID STARKEY: We are a post-nation. Just as we were first into industrialization and first out of it, so we were first into blood-and-soil nationalism in the 15th and 16th centuries and first out of it in the late 20th.
HOST: Email Question: How would England benefit from devolution?
DAVID STARKEY: I see traditional nationalism as backward (Kurds and Kosovo). Scotland and Wales seem to be opting for this sort of closed society. So the sooner they go the better. Scotland and Wales are also wedded to big-spending, old-style state socialism. We need to get rid of that too.
LizA: Your post-nationalist England would surely still need shared "myths and symbols" (to quote Anthony D. Smith), which of their nature are rooted in the past, so how do you reconcile this vision with Smith's theory of "ethnie" as a major element of national identity?
DAVID STARKEY: I think Smith is dealing with old-style nationalism. English (and American) sense of identity is different. It relates more to institutions and economic well-being and success. It's not about romantic failure like the Celts'!
Beetle: How much influence would a de-unified England have on a global scale?
DAVID STARKEY: Influence in the future will depend on cultural and economic success - not simple size. I think we could do very well.
Suilin: What sort of role do you see the royal family taking in the "post-national England"?
DAVID STARKEY: Probably not much - though in a funny way Prince Charles is beginning to look like a prophet (but prophets, remember, are without honour in their own country!)
amimjf: Hello,.. do you think that society moves in anything other than an ever broadening circle,... won't new things start to represent being English/British, as the old ones disappear..?,
DAVID STARKEY: No. I think something fundamental has happened. The old symbols are dead and there's no sign of any new ones. And I challenge anybody to name them.
Ken: I'm not sure how to reconcile D.Starkey's view of an England smaller "fleeter footed" outside the E.C. when nearby countries (Scotland, Wales) are in the E.C. What does this do to our relationships there?
DAVID STARKEY: By the way, unfortunately for both New Labour and Old Tory, English and British are not the same! If Scotland and Wales remain in Euroland when England has left it that will be their problem not ours as jobs and money flow to the freer markets of England.
LizA: Surely even a post-nationalist England will need an identity, which I cannot identify from your article...
DAVID STARKEY: What is American identity? There's no single answer. Post nationalism is like post modernism. It's fluid and changing and flexible. Fixed identities belong to a dead world.
Paul: Do you think that it would be possible in the near future to directly wire computers into the brain, replacing the need for conventional monitors keyboards etc?
DAVID STARKEY: Quite simply, nations are a human invention. that means they are a creation of time. So they have a beginning, a middle and an end. I know nothing about computers. But those who do seem to think that direct interfaces with the human brain /senses are possible.
stoof: Do you think that the UK can ever become a match for USA in terms of weaponry?
DAVID STARKEY: English defence/aerospace industry is already the biggest after the US. We seem to have both the military experience and the engineering/technological imagination to come up with matching products.
Alex: I agree that England has problem. Our malaise is our continual search for something new. The youth of the country is restless, searching abroad on their years off in the east for originality. At least we have our eyes open. Is this not the symbol of a new Englishness?
DAVID STARKEY: I don't think that England has a problem. The people with problems are the Scots and the Kurds who are going straight back to the nineteenth century if not to the middle ages with their simple, aggressive ideas of fixed, separate identities. We are the future!
Ken: If we are looking for a redefining of "England" is it worth remembering that things are defined not only by how we see ourselves but by what we view ourselves in "opposition" to?
Tom1: Is it not time though that we left behind this ethnocentric attitude that we are the leaders of the world (empire builders if you will) and accept the principle that we are just another country in the wings of the world stage?
DAVID STARKEY: I'm not in the least ethnocentric (I don't believe in an English race). But we are not marginal. Because of English and the importance of economics and modern science, which are Anglo-American inventions, we remain a highly significant player. And that's fact, not nostalgia.
Animjf: The old symbols will take time to fade away ,.. (the stiff upper lip won't go overnight,.. with Viagra and all..!),.. I think England is still distinctive for its amateurisum,.. and reluctance to change,.. but when it does change it will do so very quickly,... I think we will become one of the most opposed of societies with dramatic technological progress and monolithic institutions co
DAVID STARKEY: I absolutely agree about the dramatic suddenness of change in England (look at the 1960s). But our rigid institutions are collapsing. Perhaps it's good-riddance, though they have served us very well (contrast British 20th century political history with almost every other country!)
Marco: How long have you been in England?
DAVID STARKEY: I was born here in 1945 and my father's family at least has been in the north-west of England since the fourteenth century.
Phil: Imagine, if you will, the Fourth Way: that England becomes the 51st State of America. Imagine the prosperity, the influence and the pivotal position England would enjoy. Could this be the Future?
DAVID STARKEY: I don't want to be the 51st state any more than I want to be a province of Euroland. Big warships belong to the Sixties. In the world of the Internet being small and fast is more important than sheer size.
Kismet: You say, that when the 'divisive symbols of Britishness' are eradicated from Ireland the Irish will become a 'valued ally'. Presumably you are referring to the inevitable breakdown of the Union? What role will the Irish have?
DAVID STARKEY: I do think that the Union is finished. I also think that Ireland is an intensely free-market capitalism that will increasingly find Euroland restrictive and England (free market too I hope) an attractive partner. Something similar could happen with Spain.
Tom1: How do you think that the historians of the future will judge the 90s? As a static period of superficial change, or revolutionary post-modern era?
DAVID STARKEY: I think that the post-80s are revolutionary. We have replaced a world of shortage (on which all our existing systems of morality and economics are based) with one of excess. You can already feel the difference in the air!
Beetle: What current developments give you the most optimism about England's future?
DAVID STARKEY: The speed of change, oddly enough. Somethings worry me though, like the tendency to privilege every minority. We don't want Commissions for this and that fostering division and special rights. Instead, we need simple, general and discrimination laws that are enforced in the ordinary courts of law. That's the proper English, law-based way.
LizA: If nationalism is dead, why is there such a furore over the euro/political union with Europe?
DAVID STARKEY: Europe does things differently. It's attitudes to law, the public interest, the role of bureaucracies and parliaments are different. And it risks challenging the enormous gains we have made since Thatcher, at such cost and sacrifice.
HOST: Email Question: With such a multi-ethnic society, how would it be possible to create an English identity without being racist?
DAVID STARKEY: Recreating a traditional English nationalism would be racist (look at the fate of the English in Scotland). I¹m calling for a post-nationalism in which a particular kind of multi-culturalism becomes central to our identity.
Ken: The major problem with the old definition of English is that it left out all the black and asian citizens. Your definition would help to lay down the foundation for a society with a clearer view of itself and where it's going.
DAVID STARKEY: I agree. And the difficulty for the Scots and Welsh with their old-style nationalism is going to be to incorporate such racial differences: a black in a kilt? Do you see it?
HOST: Email asked: How will it be possible to generate interest and enthusiasm in a new identity?
DAVID STARKEY: A post-national identity would be the spring-board for very rapid economic growth. And that's sexy.
Alex: There are a lot of speculations about revolutionary change into the next millennium, I suppose in part sparked off by the level of technology we have reached, but don't you think perhaps it may all be hype? No doubt people at the end of the last millennia foretold all sorts of great happenings - perhaps we are all just victims of new-millennia stress?
DAVID STARKEY: People in 1899 indeed thought that they were on the edge of a new world: replacing production with distribution was how the future archbishop of Canterbury put it. And he and they were right. I think we are on the threshold of even greater change. We know this to be the case anyway because the 20th century really ended in 1989. The Millennium just makes it official.
LizA: If I recall your discussions on the Moral Maze the other day, you weren't at all optmistic about the creation of a multicultural identity in Britain...
HHawk: I have a Libertarian outlook, and firmly and eagerly buy into that a free market England, out of the EU, could take on the world, on every level, but I'm interested in the structural changes that would be needed to get from A to B.
DAVID STARKEY: I don't think that we need to do much that's new. Instead we must avoid reimposing old restrictions, whether from Europe or internally.
HOST: David thank you for joining us this afternoon
DAVID STARKEY: I very much enjoyed the afternoon.
There's an interesting piece in today's Scotsman from David Torrence:
The political scientist Michael Billig identified a phenomenon he called "banal nationalism", where nationhood is so deeply and subconsciously taken for granted that it does not require coherent articulation. But the same critique can be applied to the contrary constitutional position. Indeed, it is "banal unionism" which now pervades British political discourse, from Gordon Brown's woolly push for "Britishness", to David Cameron's bland assurances that he is Prime Minister "of the whole United Kingdom".
This is surely inadequate, and simply betrays the incoherence of Mr Cameron's constitutional narrative, or indeed the lack of any narrative at all. Despite a degree of legwork in opposition he has, in common with most UK governments, adopted a suck-it-and-see approach in office. So now the coalition takes one position on Wales (parity with Scotland), another on Northern Ireland (a consultation on corporation tax), and yet another for Scotland (some new powers). Such inconsistency allows Alex Salmond to challenge and exploit, not least over corporation tax. But if Mr Cameron is serious about campaigning "to keep our United Kingdom together with every single fibre I have", as he said in the wake of the election, then he and others need to start thinking holistically, strategically and, in the short term, tactically. The response from the Scotland Office over last week demonstrates that none of these things is presently the case.
If I was being unfair I would point out that David Torrence himself is guilty of non-holistic thinking because he fails to mention England in his list of inconsistencies. The real glaring constitutional inconsistency is the status (or non-status) of England in our multi-national union. If Cameron wants to take on Salmond he needs to articulate a new understanding of Britishness that allows the different nations of Britain to sit comfortably in Union.
To address the lack of holistic thinking, David Torrence suggests a UK-wide constitutional convention. This is something that I would support, but not if it is simply a means for Westminster to silence "what Iain McLean called the "two mad men in the attic", the West Lothian Question and the Barnett Formula." The people of England must be consulted over their answer to the wider English Question, we should not be denied what was offered to Scotland, namely a national parliament and government that is accountable solely to us and governs in our name.
Gordon Brown is poised to lead the fight to stop Scotland breaking away from England after allies of Ed Miliband urged him to head a campaign against Scotland’s First Minister Alex Salmond.
Anyone have a feeling of déjà vu?
Brown and Tony Blair are faced with the very real danger of the 291-year-old Union between England and Scotland being dismembered. The Scottish Question remains unanswered and the forces of the Union are having to rethink, regroup and prepare to strike back. It has been a faltering response so far. Brown, deputed by Blair to sort it out, has been in the vanguard, struggling to come up with a coherent strategy…[…]… In the Treasury, and in Labour's Scottish headquarters in Glasgow, Delta House, the party's brightest have been struggling with ways of making the image of Britain more attractive for Scots. 'Cool Britannia had no resonance for most people,' said one of those formulating the new image of Britain. 'They all felt it was something happening somewhere else which they had no part in.' Many Scots never regarded themselves as British anyway. That view of identity has increased with each generation: Scots now present themselves as both Scottish and European, but not British. Why should they remain part of the United Kingdom any longer? Brown and his colleagues have been working on an answer.
What a difference twelve years makes. Not.
The Campaign for an English Parliament Facebook page recently asked its members how the Royal Wedding made them feel.
It's interesting to note that even among a group with an English nationalist bent, the Royal Wedding made 27% proud to be British and 20% proud to be both 'British and English'. And 35% just felt proud to be English on this most British of days. But although there was no shortage of red, white and blue on display, just how much of a celebration of Britishness was it? Not much according to Bill Jamieson:
Some are hailing it as a celebration of Britishness. I am not convinced it was so. This was, at the heart, a very English wedding: English in its service, with the Archbishop of Canterbury looking ever more like an old tufted rug savaged by cats; English in its music; English in its evocation of that Tudor, medieval past; and English in that pronounced, southern English way, distinct from the north and west of that country - and certainly distinct from Scotland.
That this was not an occasion of state, requiring attention to the sensibilities of all nations and regions, but a wedding of two people brought up in the Home Counties, allowed the Englishness of the abbey's history to flow through untrammelled. "Britishness", its definition now stretched like the skin of a balloon to all four corners of the board to cover all political sensibilities (at the risk of none) is something else, an artifice, as this was certainly not.
For Allison Pearson, and I suspect for many others, the wedding was "a cavalcade of English life". Of the 5,500 street parties across the UK, just 35 were reported to be in Scotland, most of which were in Edinburgh (often disparagingly referred to as 'England-burgh' on account of its large English population). There were wedding-day protests in Scotland, as there were in England, but whereas the English dissenters were mostly republicans or anarchists, the Scottish dissenters were republicans, anarchists, sectarians and anti-British separatists.
So are there lessons that English nationalists can take from the Royal Wedding? I think there are.
'Britishness', insofar as support for the monarchy can be regarded as support for Britain, appears to be strong, especially in England. The English are not the Scots, and therefore it is not necessarily desirable to try and emulate Scottish nationalism. For the vast majority of English people it is possible to be English AND British, and most people in England have dual English and British identity, some rarely bothering to differentiate between the two. Unlike the Scots, who, if they feel British, feel Scottish and British, many English people feel Anglo-British rather than English and British - that is to say that their English and British national identities are conflated or coterminous. The contradictions between Scottish identity and British identity are more obvious than those between English identity and British identity. English nationalists should not try to belittle British identity because it alienates many English people whose English id might otherwise be in favour of a referendum on an English parliament. Neither should English nationalists make people choose between their English and British identity.
For me English nationalism is about popular sovereignty, it's about saying that "we are a nation" and "we have the right to decide how we are governed". It's not necessarily about separatism, breaking up Britain, and depriving people who feel British of their British government and State - though of course it could be about those things. If the Royal Wedding teaches us anything, it's possibly that the Royal Family is a greater focus for Britishness than the British Government. Alex Salmond, canny man that he is, recognises this, which is why he appeals to the residual Britishness of Scots by calling for a 'social union' between England and Scotland rather than a 'political union':
"If you have a monarch, a common head of state of independent countries, it underlines and stresses the social union between the two, as being appropriate for both Scotland and England."
There are numerous cavets that I could add to prevent a cavalcade of indignant comments, but the main one is this: The Royal Wedding was an expression of 'Greater England' rather than 'Little England' - and Greater England appeals to the nostalgic, Little England to the present.
David Cameron's latest swipe at multiculturalism is to be welcomed, just as long as it is a swipe at state, doctrinal, multiculturalism and not an attack on freedom and individualism. However, it does raise some interesting questions. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is, as its name suggests, an intrinsically multi-national and multi-cultural state, and so far David Cameron has failed to understand this, as Andy Mycock points out:
Though Cameron claims the Conservatives are not about to enter a ‘my flag is bigger than yours’ contest, he follows a long tradition of party leaders who believe they are the natural patriotic party of the Union. However, it is clear that he is hindered by an enduring Anglo-Britishness which fails to acknowledge the complexity of debates across the UK concerning identity and citizenship. While Cameron derides Brown, it is striking how similar their constructions of Britishness are. Cameron draws on a narrative that is almost identical in its emphasis on British values, institutions and history.
David Cameron believes that one of the criteria upon which we should judge the liberalism of an organisation is "Do they believe in democracy and the right of people to elect their own government?". But don't expect Cameron and the the British government to look at themselves and extend the principle of self-government to the people of England, because Cameron is only interested in strengthening British identity. If you happen to live in the self-governing parts of Britain (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) there's little need to listen to, or care about, what Cameron has to say on the subject of British identity, you probably won't be affected by it.