One of the more striking statistics in yesterday’s Policy Exchange report on multi-ethnic Britain is the revelation that only 25 per cent of white Britons identify as British. This low figure may reflect people not wishing to fill out two boxes (that’s what Alex Massie says, anyway), but it certainly follows a noticeable trend of recent years – the decline of British identity in England. In contrast 64 per cent of white Britons in this report called themselves ‘English only’.
With the arrival of post-war migrants a great deal of effort was made to make the British identity less racial, more welcoming, and rightly so. But one of the unintended, although not very surprising, consequences of this is that white Britons have sought out an identity for themselves (understandably, as ‘white’ isn’t a particularly nice way of describing oneself, loaded as it is with baggage, and anyway I’m more the colour of a sunburned pig). Once you turn a national identity from something defined by ancestry (even if it was an understated familial category into which people could be adopted) into a proposition nation, then that identity is going to weaken somewhat. That’s not necessarily a terrible thing for people’s everyday lives, if identity isn’t important to them; but if only a quarter of the country’s largest ethnic group identify with that country, then that country’s got a problem.
Identifying as English rather than British is probably a good indicator of hostility or scepticism to multiculturalism, so that nowadays Britishness is largely confined to minorities and wealthy London liberals (I wouldn’t be surprised if, despite their name, a large number of Ukip supporters favour English independence).
And as well as watering down the sense of Britishness among the majority south of the border, multiculturalism has also weakened the Union because England and Scotland have had very, very different post-war experiences.