“In their different ways, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have an ambivalent relationship with Britain and Britishness. In each of the smaller territories, the prospect of being swept away by a tide of Englishness masquerading as Britishness concentrates minds.” Alex Massie in “The Times’ today.
Spot on ! I know what being Scottish is (I lived in Scotland for many years). But English can only be defined as British without the Celtic bits. “British” as meaningful disappeared with the Empire. The Celts, especially the Scots, were drivers of imperial ambition. But the “British” role post Empire has indeed been a masquerade.
I went to the 1966 World Cup at a time when we were (just) clutching on to the spoils of Empire, or a few of them. In the crowd the flag of St George was absent. The flag everywhere was the Union Jack. To be English and British was in every respect the same thing. Even the symbols.
The Scots and Welsh have always their own thing and St Andrew and St David have had a prominence St George was denied. The only glue holding Britain together was imperial glue.
Devolution has formalised the distancing that was already underway. Increasingly Britain as nominally constructed has no meaning. It is an anachronism. The U.K. Government’s attempts to hold the United Kingdom together are laughable. It’s already fallen apart.
The cliché of a post Brexit “Little England” is true despite its ubiquitous use. Geographically and economically England is far from “little” – it is indeed, as Alex Massie says, by far the dominant territory in the U.K. But emotionally the littleness of England is everywhere. The xenophobia, the arrogance , the pomposity, the vulgarity and the ignorance of the English is to see all around us.
Post the break up of the United Kingdom the English can put the delusion of Britishness behind us and like the Scots and the Welsh be “a nation again” . If this is approached with humility ( a big “if”) and if we find a way to re-embrace our Europeanness ( an even bigger “if”) the future should be bright.
Four united nations in these islands is in prospect and historically and culturally logical, and certainly achievable. We will have to find a way to describe the islands though as “British” as a concept withers on the vine.