The Dutch equivalent of the Guardian, NRC Handelsblad, Dutch national newspaper, has published an analysis of the disintegration of the UK.
I think it is interesting so I am republishing it here.
I don't think that the author, Titia Ketelaar, is exactly on the money about England but at least she has thought about it unlike most of our British journalists!
And well done Eddie Bone of the CEP too!
Here is a translation of her article:-
How united are the British? In two weeks time the Scots will vote on independence. Meanwhile, the Northern Irish feel ignored, the English feel unheard, and even the Welsh want more autonomy. A journey through a country that finds itself in a state of existential confusion.
By Titia Ketelaar
,,I believe in the United Kingdom, head, heart and soul. We've achieved so much together, we can go on achieving great things together, so I hope that, when the time comes, Scots will vote to stay in our shared home.”
Those words were spoken by David Cameron, the British prime minister, when he was in Scotland. In two weeks time the Scots will have a referendum on whether they want to be independent.
But is there still a shared home? How united is the kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern-Ireland if one country in all earnestness debates independence? If the smallest country – Wales – asks openly for more autonomy? If some of those in the always troublesome Northern Ireland see this Scottish referendum as a new chance for a united Ireland? And if in England discontentment grows because the other three have their own parliaments and own budgets?
The Scots will, say the latest polls, vote in favour of the union with the others. But that won’t solve the existential confusion in which the United Kingdom finds itself. Because if the referendum debate in Scotland has shown anything, it is how much friction is emerging between the four countries that form one kingdom.
The United Kingdom was never a marriage between equals, socially nor economically. Wales was incorporated, Ireland occupied. Only England and Scotland were from 1707, equal partners. The result is a country that is neither a Unitarian state nor a federation. It has one monarch, two state religions, two official languages, three legal systems, four educational and health services. In its current form it is not even that old: it has existed since the Republic of Ireland became independent in the 1920s.
Travelling through all four countries, looking for what unites the British, it is striking how great the differences are. Of course: everywhere you’ll find a Marks & Spencer’s, a Costa Coffee, Boots, WH Smith. Millions watch Great British Bake Off and Eastenders, the nation’s favourite dish is chicken tikka massala. At a village fair in the middle of nowhere in Dorset, you can find Irish dancers, in the streets of Cardiff an English bagpipe player, in Scotland an English afternoon tea, in Northern-Ireland Scottish bagpipe players.
But it is surprising that Scotland, Wales and Northern-Ireland have not become more English. They are other countries, with a different sort of humour, different expectations, different politics.
There are no ethic contrasts, but the political ones are increasing. Fifteen years ago, ‘London’, the centre of power, transferred some competences to new parliaments in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. That so-called devolution has, without a doubt, enlarged the feeling of ‘otherness’. The countries are now responsible, for instance, for the NHS, the National Health Service. And it was precisely the right to free health care that bonded the British.
Moreover, they hardly know each other. ,,Try to find English news when you’re up in Scotland”, Fraser Nelson, editor of the English Conservative magazine The Spectator, himself a Scot, once said. In the Welsh’ Western Mail British (read: English) news can be found on page 8. Under the header ‘world news’.
Even the BBC News is no common denominator. ,,It doesn’t chime with my expectations. English education is as relevant to me as a story about Dutch education.”
,,There is no longer any emotional investment”, pointed out Jim Gallagher at the lecture earlier this year at the London School of Economics. He was the senior civil servant responsible for devolution: ,,I have to pinch myself. It is actually possible that the United Kingdom ceases to be.”
The Scots feel different
Devolution was the answer to the growth of Scottishness. The feeling of Britishness has diluted ever since the last common enemy was vanquished in the Second World War. In the last census more British called themselves Scottish (62 percent), English (60 percent), Welsh (58 percent) or Northern Irish (29 percent) than ever before.
But identity is only indirectly the reason for the current existential confusion. The Scots haven’t become more Scottish in the fifteen years since their own parliament was created. ,,This referendum is not about Scottishness, this is about sovereignty”, says Angus Robertson, the SNP party leader in the House of Commons. ,,A lot of ‘no’ voters feel as Scottish as ‘yes’ voters.”
That is true in Ceres, a village in Fife. It is the weekend after the anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn (1314), the last battle the Scots conquered the English, when traditionally Ceres holds its Highland Games. Seven hundred years ago, the men came back from combat, and showed their might on Bow Butt, the green in the centre of the village.
It’s hard to find anything more Scottish. Broad-shouldered men in kilts throw cabers, sheaf and stones. Bagpipe players from around the country are competing against each other, and little girls, with legs that seem to have been made from elastic, are dancing to the music.
On the edge of Bow Butts, and in the only pub the village has, an equal amount of nationalists and unionists can be found. Huw Bell, the Conservative candidate for the House of Commons says: ,,I feel British with shades of Scottishness.” John Mitchell, whose family has ,,as long as we can remember” lived in the grey house next to the green, says that independence is ,,ridiculous.” But bagpipe player Greg calls himself ,,a card carrying Yes-voter”. And PE-teacher Richard Gallagher says he is ,,a flag waving Braveheart”.
The difference is how they feel about ‘London’. Similarly, the referendum debate has divided all Scots in those who believe Scotland is better off with the English, and those who believe Scotland doesn’t need the English. Bell point to the advantages of a large union: ,,Together we are stronger in a globalised world.” Gallagher says: ,,If you see the poverty in this area, you can’t tell me the union works.”
A lot of Scots reason in the same way. They feel that London imposes measures: from Thatcher’s poll tax, to the closure of docks and steel factories, the privatization cult of New Labour, and the bedroom tax brought on by the current government. That sentiment is even stronger when the United Kingdom is governed by the Conservatives, like now, who represent only one Scottish constituency in the House of Commons.
,,Labour hoped devolution would kill nationalism – even the SNP thought that”, says former civil servant Jim Gallagher. ,,We were building on the fact that there already were separate institutions.”
But devolution increased the feeling of otherness. The Scottish government makes different choices in those areas it has powers – education, health care, transport, agriculture. It means the Scots have free higher education, free medication, free elderly care. The English don’t.
To add to that: the British government is cutting exactly that what binds the British: welfare. It is one of the reasons the Better Off Together campaigners, who have to prevent the Scottish voting for independence, is struggling to convey the message of one nation that shares the good and the bad.
And if anything has been achieved these last months, it is that the Scots have again realised how different they are. ,,This debate has done something to this country that I don’t fully understand yet, but feel. We have gone through an existential self-examination about who we are and how we want to be governed. Even if the answer to the question whether we want to be independent will be ‘no’, the union will feel less unconditional.”
Wales wants to be autonomous
In Wales they also say that less and less speaks for the union. Not that the Welsh want to be independent – only 10 percent is in favour. On its own, Wales couldn’t make it: there is no oil or gas in the ground, the coal mines have long shut or are no longer cost-effective, and the economy is based around the public sector, hard hit by austerity measures. And whereas Scotland has its own legislative system, Wales had not.
But even here, differences are growing. Especially in those areas the Welsh Assembly, Wales’ parliament, has a mandate. ,,Wales distinguishes itself by doing nothing”, says Lee Waters, director of the think-tank Institute for Welsh Affairs: ,,England is leaving us: the Conservatives in England are letting go of the welfare state, Wales isn’t. England chooses different final exams, Wales doesn’t. The same is happening with the NHS.” In England health care is increasingly privatised.
He sees another crisis on the horizon: Brexit. Some English want the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. But Wales, as a poor region, is dependent on European subsidies.
At first devolution had little appeal for the Welsh. It was forced upon them when the Scots got a parliament. In Scotland civil society, unions and churches where at the forefront of self-determination, in Wales only half of the population went out to vote. For the Welsh the United Kingdom had in some way been the saviour of Welshness. The inclusiveness of Britishness meant that Welshness was never swamped. A Welshman could be Welsh and British at the same time.
It is early August when Wales celebrates its Welshness. In Llanelli the annual Eisteddfod takes place, an enormous cultural festival. Since 1167 it keeps Welshness (or Cymreictod) alive: the Gorsedd, the circle of bards and druids chooses the best poet, musician, actor and dancer of the year. During an impressive ceremony, those who’ve devoted themselves to Wales, are included in the Gorsedd, this year for instance Stephen Jones, captain of the rugby team.
Everyone at Eisteddfod speaks Welsh: from the six-year old girl who concurs that tikka cyw iâr is indeed chicken tikka masala, to the elderly gentleman who jovially shouts: Hei, hei, ble’r aeth yr haul? (where did the sun go to). In Wales, like in the rest of the UK, the weather is a conversation starter.
The language distinguishes the Welsh. But it isn’t what makes a Welshman Welsh, says Leanne Wood. She doesn’t speak the language. It isn’t what you expect from the party leader of the nationalist Plaid Cymru, that fights for independence. ,,I am learning”, she says. ,,But my nine year old daughter has already caught up with me.”
Like Scottishness, Welshness had become a political identity. Public ownership of public services is important to the Welsh, ,,whether that is the best option or not, it is felt as a shared part of who we are.”
It makes Wales more left-wing than the rest of the country. The most powerful Labour politician in the UK is not party leader Ed Miliband, but Carwyn Jones, the Welsh prime minister. The last time the Conservatives had a majority of votes in Wales, was in 1859, some years before suffrage was introduced. And if the Conservatives are in power in Westminster – like today – it increases the Welsh’s bitterness.
By now a majority of Welsh thinks decisions about Wales should be made in Cardiff. Three quarters of them want more power in those areas the British parliament is now responsible for, like policing and energy policy. That demand will only grow if Scotland votes ‘yes’ to independence, or – as the polls are predicting – Scotland gets more devolved powers when it votes ‘no’.
,,The Welsh don’t want independence, they want to be independent”, is the subtle distinction Roger Scully, professor of political science at Cardiff University, makes. In English it is a difference of two letters.
Devolution created Northern Irishness
If there is one country where the United Kingdom is not in danger, it is remarkably enough Northern Ireland. Devolution has created a parliament here as well, and although the coalition between unionists and republicans is fragile, polls suggest that the majority of Northern Irish are satisfied with the British welfare state and economy. Almost 60 percent – more that there are unionists – hold a British passport (19 percent an Irish one).
And devolution has had another unforeseen consequence: the 2011 census showed for the first time that 29 percent of the people called themselves Northern Irish, not British or Irish. Especially among university educated.
,,It is a cultural identity, a way to say ‘I don’t hate the other, the status quo is acceptable”, explains political commentator Alex Kane, former spokesman of the moderate pro-union Ulster Unionist Party. When asked for five examples of what defines Northern Irishness, like kilts do Scottishness, and the language does the Welsh, he pauses. A couple of hours later he sends a text message: ,,My girlfriend can’t come up with anything either.” A week later: ,,I’ve asked several friends. We can’t think of anything.”
The question of identity remains a loaded one. Only a foreigner can – dares – to ask it. Among each other the Northern Irish guess: ,,There is always this instinctive urge to place someone: you ask for a surname, a school, listen how someone pronounces the h. If it is haitch, it’s catholic, aitch is protestant.”
Kane says: ,,We are mixing. But there are still conversations you don’t have at work, or if you don’t know someone well.”
It doesn’t all mean that those who feel distinctively British, are happy with their fellow countrymen on the British Isle. ,,They forget about us”, says factory worker Darren McPhillips. He points to Team GB, the name during the Olympics. ,,Where were we?” The country is indeed officially called: the United Kingdom of Great-Britain and Northern Ireland. ,,We all carry the same passport”, complains former police officer John McDowell. And real estate agent Graham Barton observes: ,,The only other ones that call themselves British are immigrants. The rest of the union sees us the same context.”
Columnist Kane agrees: ,,I have never heard a prime minister passionately defend Northern Ireland the way David Cameron did Scotland. The average Brit sees us as ‘those dangerous idiots across the Irish Sea.”
The politics of Northern Ireland are partially to blame. Whereas the secretary for Scotland, and his colleague for Wales represent their countries at cabinet, the secretary for Northern Ireland is a referee between nationalists and unionists.
Belfast is keeping a close eye on the Scottish referendum. David Trimble, former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party, has already warned that the question of Ireland should be reunited will ,, from a non-issue become an important issue” if Scotland votes ‘yes’. For Sinn Féin’s Gerry Adams, who seeks a united Ireland, this episode signals a chance. He said that the unity of the kingdom ,,was hanging by a thread”.
Even the English grumble
But the elephant in the room is England. The English have never held a debate about identity, representation or sovereignty. ,,They don’t know what they want”, says a Scottish journalist. ,,The move to a slower beat than we do”, says a colleague in Wales.
It doesn’t mean the English are happy with the union. Immigration, the idea of being swallowed by Europe, and devolution has increased a feeling of Englishness. Forty percent call themselves English first, then British. It’s twice the proportion seen in 2007.
The English also feel discriminated against: 45 percent think devolution has created unevenness; there is no longer a sense of fair play. Because, why do Scottish students get free education, while those in Wales and Northern Ireland pay a third of the 9.000 ponds an English student pays in college fees? Why is there no secretary for England? Why do the English have to appeal to the British parliament in Westminster, and has the country that 85 percent of Brits call home no self-representation?
Nurse Eddie Bone has been campaigning for the latter for years. Somewhere in the middle of England – York for example – an English parliament should be established that, like the other three, will be responsible for education, health care and agriculture. ,,England was always indifferent. No longer”, he says. But it seems too soon for an ‘English revolution’. Not a lot of ordinary Englishmen know about the Campaign for an English Parliament, and politicians don’t take it very seriously.
To Bone’s frustration. ,,Who will represent England when we negotiate with Scotland?” Even if there would be representation, what do the English want? What is the common goal? The biggest problem is that Englishness is growing, but no one can define it.
It is difficult to find anything more English than Piddlehinton, hidden deep in the Dorset countryside: thatched cottages with climbing roses, a meandering stream, a school where Thomas Hardy’s sister taught, and a church from 1295. The village appeared in the Domesday Book of 1068.
In the garden of the Old Rectory a village fair is being held. The vicar greats his visitors: farmers in their wellies, children with blushing apple cheeks, young mothers in flowery dresses. The villagers sell home-made jams and cake, enter competitions for the biggest marrow. It feels like an episode of Midsomer Murders - without the murders. Fairs like this are held all over southern England. The announcements are pricked in the grass verges of roundabouts. But to the question if this is Englishness, people just don’t know an answer. Nor to the question if there should be an English parliament.
Equally hesitant are the people at Kirkgate Market, the largest covered market in England, in Leeds, a multicultural town in the north. This is where Michael Marks in 1884 started his penny bazaar, which has grown to the archetypical English Marks & Spencer. The stand is situated between a haberdashery, a fishmonger selling cockles in vinegar, a Persian with baklava, and an Asian greengrocer.
Very few immigrants call themselves English. Especially those generations that came from the British colonies, say they are British. Added to that, the most important symbol of Englishness – the St George’s flag – was used by football hooligans and the extreme right National Front and English Defence League. English nationalism leaves for some a bitter aftertaste.
Even those who now say they are exclusively English (and are partly anti-immigrant, anti-Europe, and might vote UKIP) don’t know what they want. Sunder Katwala, director of the thinktank British Future, says: ,,They expect politicians to come up with an answer.” The middle group, those who feel both British and English, has ,,soft grievances” and looks for ,,something cultural, not so much political”. ,,But no one knows what the forum is.”
That is the reason, says Katwala, that it is a mistake David Cameron is not talking about Englishness. ,,The idea is that the Scots might be offended, but they won’t.” He says: ,,Cameron should’ve appointed a secretary for England last year. At this moment England needs an institutional voice.”
Luckily the English have one big advantage. They are in the majority. No one can force them to do something, which the other way round is possible. The English could take the UK out of the EU, even though the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish are against. Just because they have more seats in the House of Commons.
Even if the Scots vote against independence, it is hardly likely the UK can go on the way it has for the past 92 years. The Scottish will, like the Welsh, keep thinking that they are governed by politicians in London with whom they are not on the same wavelength. The Northern Irish feel ignored, the English not heard.
In 2008, then prime minister Gordon Brown feared the ,,balkanisation” of the UK. He felt after devolution the country needed nation building, and wanted a Museum of Britishness, or at least a Day of Britishness.
It didn’t strike a chord, because no one really knew what Britishness was. Maybe only Danny Boyle, with his opening ceremony at the Olympics of 2012, succeeded in showing what British unity meant: Queen Elizabeth, James Bond, green pastures and the Industrial Revolution, self-mockery and especially no over the top patriotism.
If fifteen years of devolution have shown anything, it is that separate identities can exist next to the British one. The first is a day to day identity, the second a civic one. The Welsh cheer on the Welsh rugby team, the Scots the Scottish. But on Remembrance Day, they feel British.
But the feeling that the Union is no longer working needs to be addressed. Westminster is slowly acknowledging that; all party leaders have made big promises in the last months. Among those is the promise that Scotland will get more devolved powers.
More is however needed, thinks Carwyn Jones, the Welsh prime minister. In a speech in Dublin, last year, he said: ,,We need to debate the constitution of this country.” He suggested reform of the House of Lords, so that the seats would be equally distributed among the four countries. The House of Commons would reflect the population, the House of Lord would the geography, like the American system. Others suggest more devolved tax powers, or federalisation, with more power to English regions and maybe London.
The United Kingdom is united by assent. The challenge is to find reasons for all four countries to stay, and that are fair to all four – even to the largest one.
If nothing happens, the fault lines that are now visible will become larger. Next year there are elections, and the Conservatives could again, without getting a majority of votes in Scotland and Wales, win. In 2017 – if David Cameron remains the prime minister - the real test case will follow: a referendum on membership of the European Union. The English could then – without agreement from the other three – take the UK out of Europe. And that, the Union won’t survive.
Here is a link to the original article >>> http://www.nrc.nl/handelsblad/van/2014/augustus/30/onverenigd-koninkrijk-1413044