Friday, April 20, 2007

I'm not looking for a New England

"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,--
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."

These are the words that Shakespeare gives John of Gaunt to describe England.

Of course not strictly accurate, since England has always had to share the island with other lands and peoples. Yet now, 412 years after Richard II was first performed, the question of England is now recurring.

England seems to be nervous and defensive about changes in the British state. As Wales and especially Scotland, have asserted more individual identities, the English, who perhaps subsumed their national identity more completely in the idea of the United Kingdom, have felt more antagonistic to the idea of a multi-national United Kingdom.

Yet the UK has never been a nation state, but only a state of nations.

That there are now large and well organised groups in Scotland and wales that favour separation from England and the break-up of the United Kingdom has come as a shock to many people in England. That politicians, especially in the government seem to be disproportionately from Scotland has fueled a certain resentment.

On the eve of a weekend of St George's celebrations, the English too are celebrating their separate non-British identity. Many people, not just the English would say- "about time too".

After all at a time when the Scots may be about to vote in large numbers for a party that wishes to end the United Kingdom, the rediscovery of an English identity may seem overdue.

and yet...

Firstly I do not believe that in a referendum the Scots would vote for separation, even were the SNP be able to form an administration at Holyrood.

Secondly I am mindful of the example of Czechoslovakia.

In the end Czech right wingers grew angry with the Slovak populists and although there was no referendum, the single Czechoslovak state broke into two. It was a cosy conspiracy between Slovak Nationalists, who feared losing in a referendum on independence and Czech conservatives who could not form a national government in the face of Slovak recalcitrance.

Could it be that the now overwhelmingly southern English Conservatives might seek to drive Scotland out of the Union, an an unholy alliance with the SNP?

Those of us who believe in the idea of the United Kingdom and the concept of "Britishness" are nervous about the intentions of Salmond and Cameron- two politicians of dubious integrity and uncertain identity.


Anonymous said...

It is not about southern English Conservatives driving Scotland out of the union.It is the English Public that wants parity with in the union and also world status nation hood. On the 21st of January
the member for Birkenhead put forward Early Day Motion 670
with these words "That this House notes that those polls that have questioned the English
report a clear majority in favour of an English parliament; and further
notes that it is this issue, and not Scottish independence or even House of
Lords reform, that is the issue that voters now put at the top of their
priorities for constitutional reform".
19 MP's from across the parties have signed this motion.It is not enough.

Peter Mc said...

This came across as an issue in the 2005 election in a Yorkshire constituency: there is a very widespread concern about (shorthand)the English democratic deficit (/shorthand) and us having a very Scottish leader wasn't a source of joy either. The mainstream parties need to get a grip on this before others of less good will use it as a lever to gain support. Don't dismiss the strength of feeling on this, or the party will be making a grave mistake: there is a disaffected, growing group of English electors out here and they feel no one in the mainstream parties is talking for them on this issue.

Anonymous said...

Quite right Peter, I'd like to add that the Yorkshire Post and Western Daily Mail were the first News papers in England to take this issue on board.Prior to that we had to rely on the Scottish Press to find out what was going on in the minds of our politicians.
This link is 60 pages of letters to the press over recent times, there is many more that are not published on line but we know they exist.


Anonymous said...

An ICM poll commisioned by the Campaign English Parliament today

and proves that this is not a Southern preoccupation.

Anonymous said...

Cicero - you speak as the out of touch journo-westminstervillage-metropolitanelitist you probably are . Try not talking to your own little closed club and get out and talk to some actual English - any part of England . You are dead wrong if you think its just a southern English thing , a typical closed minded journo remark by the way .
The reference to the division of czeckoslovakia is useful but not really relevant .

Cicero said...

Firstly- of course I am in favour of English parity in the Union: I am a federalist. Whether that is an All-England or a regional or even much strong county-based local government is up to the English people to decide for themselves. My point is precisely that English resentment will only grow unless the current incomplete constitutional arrangement is restructured.

Love the idea that I am a Westminister village journalist- and I think this comment from Anon is just nonsense: either the Czech-Slovak situtation is useful and relevent or not, it can not be one and not the other.

My basic premise is that Scots do NOT want to break the Union, and that therefore the biggest threat to the Union comes from English nationalism.