Alex Massie

What English backlash?

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My sense is that, like their Scottish counterparts, English nationalists are disproportionately vocal online. Certainly, anything one says about Scotland and the future of the United Kingdom seems to draw them out. But for all that we keep being prmised an English nationalist backlash against Scotland (and Wales!), stubbornly it never quite seems to come. At least that seems to be the case if the results from the latest British Social Attitudes Report are in any way accurate.

True 32% of people in England feel Scotland receives an unduly generous share of public spending (up from 22% in 2003) and 61% think Scottish MPs should not vote on English-only legislation. But that's not quite the same as thinknig everyone would be better off if the Union were ended: in 1999 21% of English people thought it would be better if Scotland were independent and this year that figure is just 19%. More signifianctly, perhaps, just 17% of English voters back an "English parliament".

The survey confirms what one has long suspected: most people in England give scarcely give Scotland a thought, let alone a second one. They're just not that into all this constitutional navel-gazing. 'Twas ever thus, in many ways and my guess is 'twill always be thus. The report adds that:

Although the introduction of devolution elsewhere in the UK in the late 1990s appears to have awakened a sense of ‘Englishness’ among some people, little has changed since then:


• Forced to choose, 47% of people in England say they are British while 39% say they are English. 

• While the proportion saying they are British is down by 11 percentage points on 1996 (58%) it is up

three points on 1999 (44%).

The English ‘backlash’ is limited partly because many people feel devolution has not made much difference to the way Britain is governed and partly because many still trust the UK government to look after England’s long-term interests.

Well, yeah. But why should people be "forced to choose" between being English and British? The whole point of Britishness is that one may be both, just as one may very easily be Scottish and British: there may be moments when one sentiment prevails over the other (and vice versa) but there's no necessary contradiction between the two.

And, indeed, even if Scotland were to become independent a sense of Britishness would endure (at least in cultural terms) just as, whether they choose to recognise it or not, the Irish remain, in some senses, British, no matter what international law and their own conception of themselves might lead them to believe.

[Hat-tip: Scottish Unionist]

Written byAlex Massie

Alex Massie is Scotland Editor of The Spectator. He also writes a column for The Times and is a regular contributor to the Scottish Daily Mail, The Scotsman and other publications.

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