May we have an early debate on who speaks for England and who should make decisions for England in an increasingly devolved United Kingdom?
I understand my right hon. Friend’s concern. We announced on Tuesday the establishment of the West Lothian commission, which will look at a range of options. For example, with issues that affect only England and Wales, one option would be that only English and Welsh MPs voted on such matters. In my view, that would be an appropriate rebalancing of the constitution to take account of the fact that in Scotland they have their own Parliament in which issues are resolved on which English MPs cannot vote. It seems somewhat perverse that Scottish MPs can vote on those very same issues when they apply only to England.
Do you see what George Young has done there? John Redwood has asked him a specific question, but instead of providing a straight Yes or No answer he obfuscates, avoids the question and moves on.
The West Lothian Commission is not about answering the question of who speaks for England. The West Lothian Commission is a collection of technocrats tasked with investigating changes to Parliamentary procedure in regard to MPs' voting privileges. It is not within its remit to recommend a Secretary of State for England, an English parliament elected on a mandate from the people of England, an English government, a First Minister for England or anything or anyone who might conceivably be understood to speak for England. It is not about finding a voice for England (though it would at least be a form of recognition of England).
The previous Government seemed to be of the belief that the UK Government spoke for England. George Howarth, a Government minister back in 1998 stated that "The Government as a whole speak for England".
That statement was met with an incredulous one word reply from Eric Forth: "Really?". Not an unreasonable response given that the Government of the time was top heavy with Scottish MPs.
Clearly the Government as a whole does not speak for England, and nor can it speak for England, but it is interesting to note that The Memorandum of Understanding does categorically state that individual UK Ministers do represent the interests of England:
This Memorandum sets out the understanding of, on the one hand, the United Kingdom Government, and on the other, the Scottish Ministers, the Welsh Ministers, and the Northern Ireland Executive Committee (“the devolved administrations”) of the principles that will underlie relations between them. The UK Government represents the UK interest in matters which are not devolved in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. Policy responsibility for these non-devolved areas is within the exclusive responsibility of the relevant UK Ministers and Departments. It is recognised by these Ministers and Departments that, within the UK Government, the Secretaries of State for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are responsible for ensuring that the interests of those parts of the UK in non-devolved matters are properly represented and considered. Other UK Ministers and their departments represent the interests of England in all matters.
In other words, in the absence of devolution to England, and in the absence of a Secretary of State for England, it is up to individual Government ministers and their departments to 'speak for England'. In reality some of them can't even bring themselves to say the word England, let alone speak for it; and none of them even know what the interests of England are because the Government as a whole dare not ask us.
Redwood's question to Young follows from his blog article on Scottish and English Nationalism in which he says that David Cameron 'can take comfort from the fact that he can deny the English a vote on the Scottish question'. In my opinion the English should have no say at all in the Scottish question because that it is a matter for the Scottish people. However, if the Scottish people choose Independence or Devolution-Max, David Cameron will find himself unable to 'deny the English' any longer.
Redwood goes on to speculate upon what it is that English nationalists want:
The dream ticket for a modern English nationalist is a decision by Scotland to leave the UK, followed by the ending of membership of the EU because the member, the UK, no longer exists.
That may be true of English nationalists within the Conservative Party, but they are not what I would call modern English nationalists. I am an English nationalist because I believe that the nation (in this case the people of England) is entitled to its own state, and is entitled - is sovereign - to determine the basis of its government. Implicit in this is the understanding that ultimately it is the nation - the people - that are sovereign, not the state. And whilst I may find Scottish independence and an exit from the EU a democratic improvement on where we are now, that scenario is by no means a dream ticket. Do we want an English parliament on the basis that the other nations of the UK have all buggered off leaving the British parliament as an English parliament, full of the same cretins who previously took comfort in denying the English, but who now call themselves English? No, I want an English parliament to come about as a result of a popular vote in England, an affirmation of nationhood, democracy and popular sovereignty.
My dream ticket is for the people of England to demand their say and for the Government to listen to them. I don't think it's an unreasonable request. If that ever happens then I will feel that I have won, even if the people don't vote for an English parliament of some sort. If the British State were to submit itself to the judgement of the people of England we will have entered a new era, a post imperial era in which all the people of Britain, not just the Scots, are entitled, but not obliged, to be independent or in a Union of their choosing.
Who speaks for England? The people of England speak for England, but we have not spoken, yet.
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.
I thought that Alex Salmond's victory speech was very good, it showed humility and avoided triumphalism, by which method he managed to make Cameron's Unionist grandstanding seem rather shallow:
I believe the SNP won this election because Scotland wants to travel in hope and to aim high. Scotland has chosen to believe in itself and our shared capacity to build a fair society. The nation can be better, it wants to be better, and I will do all I can as First Minister to make it better. We have given ourselves the permission to be bold and we will govern fairly and wisely, with an eye to the future but a heart to forgive. - Alex Salmond's victory speech
Which stands in contrast to the bullish Bullingdon Boy.
“I know you [Mr Salmond] think a Conservative government at Westminster will ignore what Scotland wants and needs and that you will use such claims to promote your separatist agenda.
"Well, think again. We've got the vision. We've got the ideas And we've got the ambition. And to the people of Scotland, I make this guarantee. Whatever the outcome in Scotland of the next General Election, a Conservative Government will govern the whole of the United Kingdom, including Scotland, with respect. Whoever is Scotland's First Minister, I would be a Prime Minister who acts on the voice of the Scottish people, and will work tirelessly for consent and consensus so we strengthen the Union....We can be the force that delivers on progressive ideals. - David Cameron's Stronger Together, Weaker Apart speech to the Scottish Conservative Party
David Cameron is now being urged to live up to his pledge to 'act on the voice of the Scottish people' by ignoring the wishes of the SNP Government that the people elected in order to stage an immediate referendum on independence, with government ministers hinting that the timing of the referendum may be taken out of the Scottish Government's hands despite Salmond's insistence that David Cameron promised not to interfere on the vote.
To complicate matters further, Prof Hazell of the Constitution Unit has reiterated his view that Scottish independence requires two referendums:
The final step is the second referendum, asking the people of Scotland if they want independence on the terms which have been negotiated. The first referendum, if passed, would give the Scottish government authority to demand independence, and compel the UK government to enter into negotiations. The SNP have said a second referendum would not be necessary.
Negotiations between the Scottish Government and the UK Government (acting on behalf of England) on how to end the Treaty of Union between England and Scotland, and how to divide the spoils (and debts) of Union, would no doubt raise a few English eyebrows. Given that David Cameron has ruled himself out of being PM of England with the words "I don't want to be prime minister of England", we in England can only hope that there is someone in office who does want that role come the negotiations. Heaven forbid that we have some Unionist buffoon dishing out sweeties in return for Scottish concessions.
In Our Kingdom's excellent Scottish Spring series, Gerry Hassan said that a referendum on Scottish independence 'will have many unintended consequences'. One consequence will be the rise of English nationalism, and for a political strategist like Alex Salmond that prospect should be an intended consequence because it is likely to be the biggest prize. The very nature of the United Kingdom will be irrevocably changed by a Scottish referendum because the English will become intensely aware of the multi-national-ism of Britain and their own Englishness. Scales will fall from English eyes. The old anglo-centric, Anglo-British, post-imperial imperialist idea of the British state, which sees England as the centre and Scotland as a satellite rather than a partner, will be shaken to its core. And I think that a new English understanding of Britain as a multinational, consensual, union of partner nations, will emerge. This is what is needed if the nations of Britain are ever to sit comfortably and flourish in union; the monotheistic British nationalism of the political establishment in England must be replaced with a unionism based on pragmatism and mutual respect.
I agree with Brian Barder that the adoption of federalism by one of the Unionist parties would change the context of the debate.
The mere adoption by a major political party of federalism as a long-term aim for the whole of the United Kingdom would transform forever the whole context in which a Scottish independence referendum would be held. What alternative is there, other than the disintegration of our country?
But I think, and hope, that the Scottish referendum and the step-change in attitudes that follow will be the catalyst for the adoption of a federal model: the referendum itself, rather than the result, being the event that opens the way for constitutional reform.
Whatever the outcome, I'm fairly confident that we will never again see an incumbent of Number Ten saying that he doesn't want to be prime minister of England and referring to English nationalists as "sour little Englanders". Bring it on.
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.
The English Defence League? The BNP? The National Front?
Nope. The ugly side of English nationalism, according to yesterday's Financial Times, is (drum roll, please)....
... the ugly side of English nationalism that results in general insurance companies - often those founded in London - charging homeowners in the Scottish Highlands more for boiler and burst pipe cover.
Watch out Lloyds of London, the UAF is on its way.
If you deny a nation democracy and subject it to uncontrolled mass immigration it leads to a rise in nationalism.
That's the shock findings of Searchlight's poll trailed in the Observer:
Huge numbers of Britons would support an anti-immigration English nationalist party if it was not associated with violence and fascist imagery, according to the largest survey into identity and extremism conducted in the UK.
A Populus poll found that 48% of the population would consider supporting a new anti-immigration party committed to challenging Islamist extremism, and would support policies to make it statutory for all public buildings to fly the flag of St George or the union flag.
Anti-racism campaigners said the findings suggested Britain's mainstream parties were losing touch with public opinion on issues of identity and race.
As O'Neill points out, that first sentence should probably read ""Huge numbers of English would support an anti-immigration English nationalist party". But as Searchlight's Executive Summary flits incomprehensibly between British and English with unerring ease, it's probably, for once, unfair to blame the Observer.
There is popular support for a sanitised, non-violent and non-racist English nationalist political party. Britain has not experienced the successful far right parties that have swept across much of Western Europe. Our report shows this is not because British people are more moderate but simply because these views have not found a political articulation.
Reading the Mail's take on the Searchlight report it would appear that calling yourself English rather than British marks you out as far-right. And conveniently the desire for an English parliament is lumped in with other similarly politically incorrect views.
Mr Cruddas, who fought a successful campaign against the BNP in his Dagenham and Rainham constituency in east London, told The Observer that the findings pointed to a ‘very real threat of a new potent political constituency built around an assertive English nationalism’.
The report identified a resurgence of English identity, with 39 per cent preferring to call themselves English rather than British. Just 5 per cent labelled themselves European.
In one of the most revealing questions, pollsters Populus asked people if they would back a party that ‘wants to defend the English, create an English parliament, control immigration and challenge Islamic extremism’.
The full report will be available here, I hope it makes more sense than the Executive Summary and trailed coverage.
The BBC updated their England 'country profile' webpage yesterday, I have highlighted in bold the addition they made:
According to the most recent census data, about 95% of the population of Scotland and Wales identify as White British, rising to 99% in Northern Ireland. The comparable figure for England is just under 85%. Therefore most of the British debate about ethnic diversity, immigration and national identity in fact applies to England.
This sensitive political question is further complicated by two factors.
First, British and English institutions and national identifiers such as flag, language, anthem and popular culture largely overlap. As a result, markers of specific English identity, such as the flag of St George, tend to be unofficial, while similar signs of Scottish and Welsh nationhood are sanctioned by the separate institutions of those countries.
Second, Scottish and Welsh nationalist movements have long been part of the political mainstream, and are seen as champions of legitimate historical national identities. English nationalism, on the other hand, is more often portrayed as a reaction to non-white immigration and the exclusive province of the neo-fascist right, despite the existence of a small constitutional nationalist movement that focuses on the English parliament issue.
This makes public discussion of English identity politics difficult, as politicians on the left and right have discovered, as accusations of racism and appeasement of minorities are exchanged.
The one area where English identity is able to develop without political controversy is the realm of culture, and sporting teams are often the most comfortable focus for national loyalty.
A cache of the old version is available here.
ON A WALL by a road running south from Aberystwyth, arguably the best known Welsh nationalist landmark can be found. In white on vivid red, the words ‘Cofiwch Dryweryn’ have remained on the side of an abandoned building for several decades.
Usually translated as ‘Remember Tryweryn’ (the ‘D’ is down to a mutation), but more accurately ‘You remember Tryweryn’, the graffiti – whose author remained a mystery until well-known Welsh writer Meic Stephens confessed his part in it a few years back – has been faithfully restored on a number of occasions. There is a current campaign to buy the land it is on, and there was outrage earlier this year when it was daubed over. A number of Plaid Cymru members who travelled to the party’s annual conference in Aberystwyth recently also made the pilgrimage to this spot, and proud pictures subsequently appeared on Facebook.
Tryweryn is the name of the valley near Bala flooded in the early 1960s to provide water for Liverpool. In the face of almost total opposition from Wales and its MPs, the Welsh-only-speaking community of Capel Celyn was nevertheless lost under the waves, its inhabitants – some of whom had never left the village – scattered by Compulsory Purchase Orders.
The Welsh have a special word for what happens to such people. Hiraeth doesn’t translate directly, but it is generally taken to mean an aching longing for the land. However, away from such personal heartbreak, the creation of Llyn Celyn reservoir – which led to an apology from Liverpool City Council in 2005 – provided a lightning rod for Plaid Cymru, a big surge in popularity as people left powerless by what was ultimately a senseless act of unhearing English authoritarianism flocked to its ranks. It led ultimately to the return to Parliament of the party’s first MP, Gwynfor Evans, in 1966 in Carmarthen – like Capel Celyn a part of the Bro, the Welsh-speaking heartland that stretches from Gwynedd in the north to Llanelli on the south coast.
The language, and the ongoing struggle to retain and propagate its use, remains central to Welsh nationalism. This became much more obvious even to this English born-and-raised Plaid member a couple of months ago when, as with the administrator of this site, my own found itself at daggers drawn with the English Democrats.
Believing it to be a nationalist movement with an approach similar to those found in Scotland, or perhaps Cornwall, myself and the other editors invited its leader, Robin Tilbrook, to contribute a piece. What followed was a poorly constructed rant against Plaid Cymru that tried and failed to call the party’s nationalist credentials into question. I kicked off what would be our most commented-upon piece by taking Tilbrook’s argument to task. I immediately found myself under attack by ED trolls. Much of it was personal, but some of it was quite funny, like the clown who argued that Wales was supported by England and paid not a single penny to the Exchequer, not in income tax, VAT or petrol duty.
But one of those funny comments, from Alan England, along with Tilbrook’s argument, also cut to the heart of what truly incensed me about the EDs. England pompously tried to lecture our readers, many of whom spoke their first words in Welsh, that Abergavenny meant “gateway to Wales” in Cymraeg. In fact, it actually means ‘mouth of the Fenni river’, and the gateway slogan found on signs entering that part of Wales, Monmouthshire, is just that – a marketing slogan.
It wasn’t even that the EDs are only a decade or so old while Plaid was formed in 1925 (and organised Welsh nationalism goes back to the 19th Century) that irked. Rather, it was the assumption that the English Democrats have developed a model of nationalism which it now expects all other self-determination movements across the British Isles to fall in step with.
It certainly took no account of the moments that have shaped Plaid. Since completing my journey to Plaid, coming initially as an economic nationalist, I have really begun to cherish the party’s rich history. The EDs, conversely, took no time to read up on Plaid, to discern what makes it tick, what it is looking for, what it believes is important to achieve, or preserve. Instead, it clicked its fingers and then accused Plaid Cymru of fighting shy of nationalism.
This isn’t the case. We just don’t want their nationalism. And, in failing to realise that we might have different ambitions - that Wales is a different country that has managed to maintain its language and culture while leaving cheek-by-jowl with a nation that has been one of the most powerful on earth for the best part of past 300 years – and that we should unquestioningly follow, the English Democrats demonstrate that theirs is not a nationalist movement. It is imperialist.
If Tryweryn is Welsh nationalism’s lament, there is the romance of Gwynfor’s hunger strike in 1980 (he is always Gwynfor, never Gwynfor Evans), after the Thatcher government attempted to renege on its electoral promise of a Welsh language television station. He won, and Wales got S4C. There are the high intellectual arguments of Saunders Lewis, whose Tynged yr Iaith (fate of the language) radio speech of 1962 led to the formation of Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, the Welsh language society which, with its Greenpeace-like use of non-violent direct action, has helped to slow the language’s decline. There is also the economist DJ Davies – my personal political hero – and, in recent times, Adam Price, the former Carmarthen East and Dinefwr MP.
But even if these events are the moments we remember, that form the basis of the songs of Dafydd Iwan, Plaid’s immediate past president, I believe that the events of the past four years, of Plaid participating in Welsh government, as the executive arm of the National Assembly, that will provide perhaps its greatest achievement – and I hope it will allow the party to ultimately become one of sole power here in Wales.
That so much has changed in that time was brought home to me recently when I was asked to provide my views on the coming political year to an audience of public affairs consultants. I found myself between two heavyweights – one of our foremost political academics and greatest authorities on Welsh nationalism, and one of Wales’ best-known journalists. Both of them confidently predicted that the Labour-Plaid coalition government in Cardiff Bay was about to fall because Labour was unable to deliver on a key promise of One Wales (the document that enables them to govern together) and deliver a referendum on further powers.
Chancing my arm, and hedging my bets by insisting I had never got a political prediction right, I argued against. Later that evening, I joined a group of Pleidwyr (party faithful) for dinner, including a couple of Welsh Assembly Government ministers. I related the event, and they promptly pooh-poohed it. We were right.
There was a simple reason for this. Plaid had grown up while in government. It knew how much it had to lose by walking out and slamming the door, and how it well might be able to persuade if it stayed. It understands power by increment.
Similarly, in the time that the party has sat in government, we have witnessed the ‘Plaidification’ of the other three main parties – and particularly in Labour since it lost power in Westminster in May, and rushes to recast itself as a bulwark against ConDem hegemony, taking on board policies which months ago its ministers, both in London and in the Bay had refused to countenance. Now those same ex-ministers have gone to fetch them from the long grass into which they themselves kicked them.
This was perceived as presenting a problem for Plaid, because, while it and Labour are the two biggest parties in Wales (Labour by some way, admittedly), they also fish in similar leftist policy waters and Plaid has demonstrated an abiding preponderance towards left wing politics in recent times – indeed, its model of governance is based upon ‘decentralised socialism’. The worry, said pundits, was that Plaid could be obscured by Labour. It didn’t help that Labour had taken to George Bush-like tactics, arguing that if Plaid wasn’t with it, it was with the Tories.
However, come this weekend – conference weekend – and John Dixon, the outgoing party chairman, had put a different view forward, arguing that Plaid was more than a party of only North Walian language supremacists and disillusioned former Labour-supporting, English monoglot speakers from what was once the great industrial Valleys of the south. He outlined three main strands of thought and, rather than an internal and impending dogfight to establish which school of thought came out on top, he could foresee an immediate future where these different approaches lived happily side-by-side and informed one another.
It set the tone for an incredibly upbeat weekend. There was some grumbling (predominantly from the media) that much of what was coming through was broad brushstrokes, approaches rather than policy. But, given the impending Comprehensive Spending Review and oft-stated budget intents of the Chancellor, it would be a brave fool indeed to announce anything costed at this stage. However, much of it served to confirm that, in the words of one of our newest members, former Labour Welsh Secretary Ron Davies, “devolution is a process, not an event”, while many of the private, off-camera discussions between members, many of them rank-and-filers like myself, were shot through with a more evidence-based rather than emotive approach to achieving independence.
And that is where Plaid finds itself today. In government, at perhaps the worst time possible since the Second World War, with an economy that is doing nothing at present other than going backwards, its lowest paid at the mercy of public sector cuts forced upon the country by the folly of a financial industry it hardly benefits from, its GVA and GDP below the UK average, its education standards slipping slightly, and its health service creaking more than its English counterpart.
Yet, in a strange way, this is a good time to be in politics, because there really are lots of good ideas in the air – not least the Holtham Commission’s report on reforming the Barnett formula and proposals for tax variation, and consequently grater fiscal responsibility. I think four years of government brings a different approach, something rarely appreciated by those in permanent opposition. It appears to have done Welsh nationalism a power of good.
So that’s Plaid today, perhaps 40 years ahead of English nationalism which, like those days of the Prince of Wales’ investiture in 1969, tends to focus on the affront caused by a cherished culture ignored, with campaigns for St George’s Day and so on. But it is important to remember that the circumstances that have given rise to English nationalism are going to be totally different to those that brought about the movement for Welsh self-determination, which is different from what happened in Scotland again. This Plaid and the SNP knows. We’ll work together, but there won’t be any lecturing one another on approach.
Welsh nationalists welcome a rise in English nationalism. I believe that more mature organisations than the English Democrats will emerge. Perhaps it will take a long time to achieve prominence; perhaps it may be one moment. Let us just hope it is not another Tryweryn. Remember that.
The latest attempt to form a unified English nationalist movement comes in the form of the English Unity Committee, which calls for the development of a united, moderate English party supportive of the following principles:
- Establishment of an English Parliament
- Exit England from the EU
- Use of referenda and more direct democracy
- Develop very strict immigration controls
- Ensure the English are treated as equal citizens within the UK
- Keep English tax revenue for English needs
- Re-build England's manufacturing base
- Bring our servicemen home from foreign wars without delay.
The original proposal to create a Unified English Nationalist Party came from Cllr Michael Johnson of the England First Party, who later became Michael Johnson of the Darwen Party, and then Michael Johnson of the English Democrats and English Nationalist Alliance. English nationalist unity has been the goal of the English Democrats' strategist Steve Uncles ever since, so no wonder it's never happened. However, it is not Steve Uncles or Michael Johnson behind the new English Unity Committee, so does it have a chance of succeeding where Uncles and Johnson have failed? I very much doubt it.
If I am correct, then the bloke driving this new initiative is even more right-wing than either Uncles or Johnson. How do I know this? I don't for sure, but the new English Unity Committee bears a striking resemblance to the 'English Guild' which tried and failed to get off the ground in 2006.
The English Guild is a completely independent organisation, run by a steering group of founder members.
Politically independent, the Guild supports & encourages associates to work towards English Identity & Independence.
English Guild associate membership is free.
This is because the group operates ONLY via the web & costs are minimal.
Any costs incurred would be asked to be paid by the membership in donations.
The English Guild is a non party political club &
operates around the following core principles:
WE BELIEVE IN –
English withdrawal from the European Union
Promotion & celebration of all English Heritage, Culture & Identity,
The Implementation of the White Dragon as a recognised English symbol
Promotion of both St George & St Edmund celebration dates as national holidays
Building a Classless Society
The Return of the Death Penalty for heinous crimes
Zero tolerance on Drugs & Crime
A National Pension Service, fit for our old to live comfortable lives
Promotion of Traditional Family Life
People in basic agreement are urged to join us.
English Guild Contact Information
Forum – www.englishunity.org.uk
Email - email@example.com
And the bloke behind the English Guild was also responsible for www.englishindependence.org.uk (which is the English Peoples Party, the Campaign for an Independent England or the English Independence Movement, depending on the day of the week).
Maybe someone will come along and disabuse me of the notion that the English Guild person is the same person that is behind the English Unity Committee, but given that the person behind the English Unity Committee wishes to remain anonymous - which doesn't bode well - I doubt it.
On English identity the English Unity Committee has this to offer us:
English Unity Committee Statement on the Meaning of Being English
- Acknowledge the existence of the indigenous English;
- Uphold the rights of the indigenous English under the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples;
- Recognise the existence of civic English;
- Uphold he primacy of
- The English language
- English law
- English culture and cultural heritage
- English traditions
- The rights of civic English to observe their cultural heritage, providing that does not conflict with 1,2,3,4 above
- The rights of those in permanent residence in England to observe their cultural heritage, providing that does not conflict with 1,2,3,4 and 5.1 above.
I am 'indigenous English', so I obviously have little problem recognising my own existence, but 'indigenous English' is an unusual term that few English people would be familiar with as a description of themselves (perhaps unfortunately). By 'indigenous English' I had assumed that they were using that phrase as a substitute for ethnic English - a more common term - but apparently not because the English Unity Committee appears to have three classes of English: Ethnic, Indigenous and Civic.
The EUC believe that once we all feel able to accept the existence of ethnic, indigenous and civic English, and that all are of equal value, then we will find unity and be able to move forward together.
So the ethnic English must presumably include people of English ethnicity who are not indigenous to England because of migration (let's offer up Jason Donovan as an example, given that he was recently on Who Do You Think You Are? tracing his English ancestry). Then there's the indigenous English, people like me who are ethnically English and indigenous. And then there are the 'civic English', by which I assume they mean people who are not ethnically English but are nevertheless English by national identification or simply resident in England, a group of people that could include my wife and various other non-ethnically-English notables such as David Cameron and Nick Clegg. Apparently (point 2) we need to 'recognise the existence of these civic English'. Eh? Don't we do so already, or have I missed something!
In point 1 they claim for the Indigenous English (Not Jason Donovan or the Civic English) the rights of Indigenous Peoples under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, a declaration designed to protect minority indigenous ethnic groups.
Bizarrely the UN do not have an official definition of Indigenous Peoples but the one that is most often cited is this definition by Jose R. Martinez Cobo, the Special Rapporteur of the Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities:
“Indigenous communities, peoples and nations are those which, having a historical continuity with pre-invasion and pre-colonial societies that developed on their territories, consider themselves distinct from other sectors of the societies now prevailing on those territories, or parts of them. They form at present non-dominant sectors of society and are determined to preserve, develop and transmit to future generations their ancestral territories, and their ethnic identity, as the basis of their continued existence as peoples, in accordance with their own cultural patterns, social institutions and legal system.
“This historical continuity may consist of the continuation, for an extended period reaching into the present of one or more of the following factors:
a)Occupation of ancestral lands, or at least of part of them;
b)Common ancestry with the original occupants of these lands;
c)Culture in general, or in specific manifestations (such as religion, living under a tribal system, membership of an indigenous community, dress, means of livelihood, lifestyle, etc.);
d)Language (whether used as the only language, as mother-tongue, as the habitual means of communication at home or in the family, or as the main, preferred, habitual, general or normal language);
e)Residence on certain parts of the country, or in certain regions of the world;
f)Other relevant factors.
“On an individual basis, an indigenous person is one who belongs to these indigenous populations through self-identification as indigenous (group consciousness) and is recognized and accepted by these populations as one of its members (acceptance by the group).
“This preserves for these communities the sovereign right and power to decide who belongs to them, without external interference!"
Is the England that the English Unity Committee inhabit the same England that I know; do we English require the same protections as Aboriginal Australians, Pygmies and Inuit? Do we really? We are talking about the same England, right? None of this is necessary because the indigenous English or ethnic English - of which I am one - predominate and can claim sovereignty any time we so wish; our only oppressors are ourselves.
Complete moonbattery if you ask me.
Over at Harry's Place Edmund Standing has collated some quotes from EDL members that shed some light on what motivates the EDL.
I recommend that you read that piece in conjunction with BritologyWatch's excellent ‘Racist’ English nationalism: an alibi for Britain’s anglophobia and Islamophobia.
It's all too easy for the commentariat to describe the EDL as 'English nationalists', and looking at the English Defence League, with their profusion of English flags, they could possibly be forgiven for using that label. But it's an incorrect label. It is labelling to compartmentalise and isolate. It's a label, as BritologyWatch argues, that is conveniently used to distance the views held by the EDL from those of mainstream British society. In this way English nationalism can be objectified as 'the other' in a simillar way to how the EDL objectify Islam as 'the other'. But the English Defence League are not really English nationalists (they're not advocates of popular sovereignty, and they're not demonstrating for an English parliament or English independence). No, they're actually very pro-British with a strong sense of Britishness. It will be an inconvenient truth for some but the EDL are as much a British disease as they are an English disease.