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Monday, 15 August 2011

The view from the other side of St George's Channel.

Scots and Welsh quick to distance themselves from England's shame

An unexpected outcome of the riots which took place in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, Huddersfield, Nottingham, Leicester, Gloucester and the Medway last week was the revival of the concept of "England".

When some commentators referred to the "riots which broke out in Britain", the Scots and the Welsh were very quick to point out: "No, not Britain. England."

Quite so. There were no such disturbances in Scotland or Wales. Britain consists of England, Scotland and Wales.

There were no such disturbances in Northern Ireland (much less the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands): the United Kingdom comprises Great Britain, Northern Ireland and the other islands under the writ of the crown.

All the trouble happened in England. The riotous week is now referred to as "the burning of England", or "land of loot and burning".

In London, some commentators took to referring to the rioters as "Englishmen". One commentator, advocating tough policing, said that in Northern Ireland the police were known to use robust methods of crowd control. "If we don't mollycoddle Irishmen, why should we mollycoddle Englishmen?"

It is interesting that it has taken this distressing and sometimes shameful series of events to restore the concept of "England" -- a concept that had been buried, for many decades now, under the wider description of "Britain" or "The UK".

It's funny, because until The Troubles in Northern Ireland during the 1970s and 80s, Irish nationalists traditionally spoke about "England" as the hereditary oppressor -- rather than Britain. All Michael Collins's writings about the national struggle refer to "England". So do all Patrick Pearse's. So do Yeats's -- in his celebrated and rousing poem, 'Easter 1916', he wrote that line, "For England may keep faith/After all that's been done and said".

But from the 1970s, and perhaps even before, England became "the Brits". As Welsh and Scottish regiments were very much part of the Crown forces, perhaps that was accurate.

Yet it was all linked to a wider agenda in which "England" had been subsumed into "Britain" and "the United Kingdom". Partly this arose because Scots who were nationalists -- but also, paradoxically, unionists -- wanted to be included in "Britain", but did not want to be included in "England" (as the French would refer to the British in general as "Les Anglais").

Meanwhile, airport schedules referred to the whole realm as the "United Kingdom". Scroll down the booking system of an airline for "country of origin" and the United Kingdom pops up just before the United States, (and just after the United Arab Emirates).

Thus "the UK" came into common parlance, and hardly anyone spoke about "England" any more, except in the context of tourism. Even then, it was minimalist. Crossing into Wales, there are huge signs, in Welsh and English, telling travellers they are welcome to Wales ('CROESO I CYMRU'); cross back the other way, and there is just a little apologetic signpost somewhere along the road bearing the information that you are now in Shropshire.

England, having been the dominant nation in what was once the four nations in the Union of Great Britain and Ireland, in recent years became the most invisible one. Especially as the Scots and the Welsh followed the examples of Irish nationalists and affirmed their identity. But you can never suppress what is inherent in any culture, and "England" began to reassert herself in a number of ways.

First came the cross of St George, often hoisted at football matches. A perfectly nice group representing English Heritage emerged and then a rather nasty one called the English Defence League followed.

As Scotland got its own parliament, there were English protests about "the West Lothian question": it was unfair that Scottish Members of Parliament could vote on English matters at Westminster, while English MPs could not vote on Scottish matters in Edinburgh.

And then came the riots which, the Celtic nations were insistently pointing out, were confined to England -- which indeed they were.

There are social problems in England which are different from those in Scotland and Wales. Scotland has a better education system (although a more serious national problem with alcohol, and with sectarianism too); Welsh society is more family-based and with greater community cohesion based on language and religious ties, and it has not had to absorb so many migrants.

So England has re-emerged as a separate concept. It's just rather sad that it has taken this week of civil disorder -- and loss of life -- to make that point.

Britain, and the United Kingdom, are political, or passport, definitions. England, Scotland and Wales are cultural and even national distinctions, and it is right that they should be seen separately. Poetry and rhetoric, too, have always favoured cultural identity, rather than political entities: Browning didn't write, "Oh, to be in Britain, now that April's there" and Nelson didn't say, "Britain expects that every man this day will do his duty".

And there is one consolation for the men and women of the English nation this week: the triumphal performance of "England" in its cricket game against India.

Mary Kenny - Irish Independent


  1. This is the attitude of the non English Regions.

    "Just keep sending us the subsidy, other than that stay out of 'our affairs' we don't want to know you!.

    PS: We'll still be electing 'UK' MP's to vote on English only legislation and affairs, often ensuring things get passed in England! - Mugs!".

  2. Were the outer Nationals of the UK ever beaten down so thoroughly as the good old English trooper? I think amnesia is still endemic in the real politic of cultural thought in that the English elite 'colonial' types may well have prospered- but the taxes were ripped, as of now, from the patient English and they saved the rest- in many ways.

  3. England is no longer England - plain and simple and it will do no good to become narrow minded and blame "the Scots". What exactly does England now produce that subsidises the Scots? What does England export that keeps us Scots resting on our laurels. Your streets are awash with guns and drugs, yardies and an assortment of races.

    Thanks to Glasgow City Council (Catholic/Irish run) we imported from England 3,000 asylum seekers overnight and Glasgow City Council pocketed a tidy sum and now our streets have more niggers and assorted eastern european trash. Fortunately there are enough white people left up here but in another 5 years there won't be and then the white man - whether it be English/Scots/Welsh will be gone. Only Northern Ireland (East Belfast) will be safe because they will not stand for immigration to the extent England and Scotland have.

    My solution - every white person leaves England, comes to Scotland and enjoys the perks. Then we group together and fight to reclaim England. Sounds far fetched - but voting BNP or English Democrats will not work.

  4. What an extraordinarily ignorant comment from the anonymous Scotsman. You sound like one of those horrible Rangers fans that the club are constantly trying to shake off.

    Anyway, I agree the English identity is becoming somewhat more pronounced these days. But England is a big place and there are significant regional variations, leading to more local than national pride.

    For example, Yorkshireman are often extremely proud of being from Yorkshire, or being Northern. But not that bothered beyond that. So whether it's England, Britain or the UK, they really don't care. And this (apart from particular unworkable or undesirable policies, IMHO) is where the English Democrat agenda falls down...

  5. Alex has a good point. As well as the English Parliament we must have an assembly for the North and the Midlands, and an assembly for the South Country (south of the Wash)

  6. What does our Scottish critic suggest is the reason for impending EDs failure?
    Alex- why not join the debate on policy,where you may disagree?