The English nationalist elephant in the room

We need to talk about English nationalism. Those of us who support Scottish independence are usually wary about anything that could be perceived as “England blaming”. We get hammered so constantly and repeatedly in the media and by opponents of independence as English haters, even though many of us have English family, even though many of us are English ourselves, that we’ve developed an aversion to mentioning anything that might be spun as yet another example of the supposed anti-English racism which the media would have many believe is the only driving force for Scottish independence.

This isn’t about blaming ordinary English people for Scotland’s ills. The problems of Scotland and this country’s role in a British state that is an expression of English nationalism are due to the complicity of generations of Scottish people. Independence is above all the acknowledgement that Scotland must be responsible for its own problems and must find its own solutions to them.

But as long as we remain a part of the UK we do need to talk about England’s problem with its own nationalism. England is the largest and the most dominant nation in this farce of a pretendy union in which Scotland is currently enmeshed. The UK is an expression of English nationalism dressed up as Britishness. It’s English nationalism which has driven and defined Brexit, and it’s English nationalism which is taking Scotland off the Brexit cliff. The UK, for all that we are constantly told it is a union of partner nations, has no mechanisms, no constitutional provisions, no legal safeguards, to protect Scotland from the malign effects of rampant English nationalism. In Scotland we are hostages to English nationalists.

There is much that is good and great about England. There are many things to admire and cherish. It’s a country with a long and respected tradition of radical politics, of liberal values, of toleration and acceptance of difference. And it shouldn’t need to be said that not all English people are consumed by the xenophobia and little Englandism that defines the hard Brexit pursued by this Conservative government.

England is deeply divided on the question of Brexit, and its divisions are profound, bitter, and all-consuming. Even if by some miracle Brexit can be avoided, or the softest possible Brexit agreed, the issue will still continue to divide and define the shape of English politics for decades to come. And that’s the point, because Scotland may be divided on many things, above all the issue of independence, but Scotland is not divided by Brexit like England is. Scotland does have a significant minority which supports Brexit, but unlike in England it is a minority. It is a minority of a similar size to opponents of the EU found in other EU member states where there is no question of leaving the EU and where leaving the EU does not figure in mainstream political discussion. Yet Scotland is now being dragged out of the EU. It’s being dragged out because of English nationalism.

Brexit is happening because English nationalism has never reconciled itself to a position of equality with other nations. England has always been something apart. English nationalism glories in the myth of an island nation, even though these islands are shared with nations other than England. Even though Ireland is an independent sovereign state, English nationalists are still incredulous that Ireland seeks to work in its own best interests and doesn’t surrender to what’s best for their narrow vision of England.

In the dreamscape of the right wing English nationalists who have seized control of the British government, their country is special and not to be subject to the rules that other lesser nations must obey. Yet for the foreseeable future Scotland’s politics and Scotland’s economic prospects will be defined and determined – and more seriously damaged and destroyed – by an English nationalist debate that tells Scotland that it must sacrifice its links to other countries in order to remain subordinate within the UK.

English nationalism is the elephant in the room for opponents of Scottish independence within Scotland. They have no idea how Scotland can be protected from it. Despite Brexit, many of them still refuse to acknowledge that Scotland needs to be protected from it or that it even exists. Even those for whom it does appear on the edges of their conscious awareness, they have no answers to it.

What mechanisms can, realistically, be introduced into the British state in order to ensure that the UK really is a union in fact and not in name? The truth is that there are none, because any such mechanisms would imply a limit being placed upon the English nationalism which has always been the unspoken dominant and defining force within the UK. British nationalism is merely English nationalism with Celtic cheerleaders. British nationalism is English nationalism with a pipe band. British nationalism is the avatar of English nationalism that tells itself that it’s not nationalist at all. It is fundamentally and at its core a species of denial of reality. No wonder that Brexit has proven to be such a mess, when British nationalism is itself an exercise in self-delusion.

Any constitutional mechanisms which would transform the UK into a real union of nations would require the assent of English nationalists and a majority within England. We’ve already seen the constant appearances and disappearances of the federalism fairy ineffectually waving a magic wand which has as much effect as a souvenir bought in a Harry Potter theme park. British nationalists in Scotland propose federalism, but it’s not going to happen because that means placing limits on the absolute power enjoyed by a Prime Minister with a majority in the Commons.

It’s better if you are an opponent of Scottish independence to pretend that there is no issue, that it doesn’t exist, and to concentrate instead on the legal issues faced by a former First Minister, or whatever SNPbad story is the headline du jour. The constant SNPbaddery that defines the British nationalist press in Scotland is a symptom of the powerlessness of British nationalists in Scotland to have any influence over the British state.

As we approach another vote on the issue of Scottish independence, the issue of English nationalism and protecting Scotland from it is a question that we cannot allow opponents of independence to get away with. It is incumbent upon those who want Scotland to remain a part of the UK to demonstrate a clear and realistic plan for ensuring that Scotland’s voice will be heard, that Scotland will not be ignored and sidelined as it has been sidelined during the Brexit negotiations, and that there are constitutional measures in place within the UK to ensure that the four different nations of this so-called union have equal representation and influence at the topmost levels of the British state. Because if they cannot, or will not, do that, then there is nothing in the UK to distinguish it from an expression of English nationalism. That’s the lesson of Brexit.

This may be the perfect union of the Scottish Conservatives, a Scotland that is a prisoner of English nationalists like Jacob Rees Mogg, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson. Well it’s very far from perfect for those of us who see the English nationalist elephant in the room. Scotland either becomes independent, or we remain trapped as cheerleaders for an English nationalism wrapped in a union fleg, feeding its delusion that it’s not nationalist at all.

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44 comments on “The English nationalist elephant in the room

  1. grumpydubai says:

    Good point WGD – that we ask the BritNats how they intend to push for an equal union (I nearly wrote more equal Union and realised how silly that was) unblighted by English Nats

  2. Craig Fraser says:

    The issue as so eloquently put is the UK. It was is and always will be. Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland need to go their separate ways and forge their own trade deals and friends for the benefit of their residents for the social inclusion of all irrespective of creed, colour, religion or sexual orientation.

  3. Douglas says:

    Thanks Paul,

    I grew up in England and there is much to admire but a great deal of confusion regarding identity.

    England is a construct that is fragile and itself fractures easily into Northerners/Southerners/Cornish/Yorkshire/Lancashire/London/Home counties/Geordie/Scouser… etc ad infinitum. The glue has been the British project and Empire. Without it things are a bit psychologically lost and (ironically) lacking in confidence. The louder the proclamation of superiority, the more the underlying insecurity is revealed. You can see this in the disappearance from TV of the self confident taking the p*** out of themselves (Python, Peter Cook &Dudley Moore). Dad’s army was an affectionate taking the Micky but is now a glorious template. They no longer have the confidence to be self deprecating.

    This lost feeling is dangerous because it is such a fertile ground for xenophobia. The lack of a confidence leads to aggression and exclusion of others. English or British Nationalism is in a very dark place. The spectre of fascism is too easily raised but I think it is something that is a realistic worry now.

    I do hope that England re-discovers itself in a gentle and co-operative way -for Scotland’s sake and Europe’s sake.

    • MBC says:

      That is so true. England has no real identity of the commons. English identity as far as it has been articulated, is elitist and imperial. Yet as you say, there is an England of the commons. It has never been in the saddle or expressed its voice.

  4. […] Wee Ginger Dug The English nationalist elephant in the room We need to talk about English nationalism. Those of us who support Scottish […]

  5. Again you nail it, Paul.

    The frenzy of Brit Nationalism grows apace as we approach Cliff Edge Day.

    Our broadcasters and Dead Tree Scrolls no longer give a voice to Remainers, and certainly not to us Sweaties.

    The ProudScotsBut who deny that Scotland is a nation in its own right, and that England and Wales voting to Leave the EU while we vote to remain, shatters the Union between Scotland Wales N Ireland and England are actively working against the well being and safety of their fellow Scots. There’s a word for that..

    13 Blue Tories voted against our Government being involved in Trade Talks in defiance of the wishes of the Scottish citizens who elected them to office.

    They are quite happy for English MPs to dictate to Remain Scotland our future in the EU.

    In my eyes, they, and our Brit Nat media are the enemies of the Scottish People.

    The putrid foul oil slick that is the Red and Yellow ProudScotsBut Tories are as bad.

    They are actively bowing down before their English Masters, and to hell with their fellow Scots and our wishes.
    The money’s feckin; brilliant!

    It is reported by the UK Retail Consortium that No Deal would immediately lead to food shortages, empty shelves, and Black Market level price hikes.
    Obviously this wee snippet is released today as part of May’s Project Fear My Deal ‘cos No Deal is unthinkable.
    Perhaps that’s why Tesco is sacking 9,000 staff, and closing down fresh meat and fish counters, and closing their in-house bakeries.
    There won’t be any produce to lay out on the marble slabs.
    This from the Hutton Institute:-

    “Scotland is currently a net importer of certain products – mainly fruit, vegetables and cereals-based products – but a (highly successful) net exporter of other food and drink products including beef and whisky. So at present, Scotland is not 100% food self-sufficient, but, because it specialises in the export of products which have high value and are in demand elsewhere, this helps us to import products which other countries can more easily or efficiently produce. For example, it would be very costly to try to grow our own bananas! An increase in the local production of certain products that we currently import (and could technically produce) may help better protect food manufacturers and consumers from volatile global markets: however becoming more insular and failing to exploit our comparative advantage could be counterproductive. It could also harm those countries supplying imports, countries which may be far more dependent on agriculture as a source of income and employment and far more food insecure than is the case in Scotland.”
    We are a net eexporter and can feed ourselves.
    When England finds itself short of food, will they merely plunder Scotland’s rich resources? Is this the ‘pooling and sharing’ that Mags Curran banged on about in 2014?
    Will the Army march North to ‘requisition’ Scottish fish beef wheat oats milk and bridies?

    • benmadigan says:

      spoke to a Dubliner last week “Ireland is full of food, We have no problems in feeding our population”

      I imagine the same holds for Scotland.
      OK maybe there would be a shortage of fancy bits and pieces
      But there is more than enough milk, cheese, dairy products, beef, lamb, chicken, bacon and sausages, eggs, fish and vegetables like carrots,parsnips, onions, potatoes, cabbage etc plus fruit like apples and pears, strawberries and raspberries, black and red currants and so on to provide a well- balanced diet for everyone in the country.

      With regards to UK federalism – that was always a non-runner even before Scotland voted NO

  6. Corbyn’s Commies and his arch nemeses the Red Tories in his midst are ‘abstaining’ again, this time on the Immigration Bill.
    I await Richard Leonard resigning immediately.
    Won’t hold my breath.
    Scotland needs incomers to survive.
    What is the point of the Red Tories in Scotland if they let this abdication of duty to Scotland pass without protest?
    Will Leonard still be moaning about pigeon shit this Thursday?
    There is no Labour party now.
    Hopefully Scots will send them to political hell next time.
    They’ve just handed Immigration policy to the most right wing xenophobic government I the last 300 years.
    Well fucking done.
    Resign, Leonard !

  7. Whenever I hear or read a point that might help me to persuade a soft no voter, I make an attributed note of it. You never fail to provide me with a wide choice Paul. More power to you.

  8. Macart says:

    Great post Paul and well said.

    On the point of how any future betterthigither campaign frame their view of being betterthigither in betterthigitherland?

    Those promoting continued political union will have their hands full next time out right enough. Given that not only did they manage to successfully avoid keeping a single pledge or assurance made during last indyref. The UK going forward bill of goods they sold folk doesn’t bear much resemblance to the beastie we’re seeing today. And of course, they did indulge themselves, (along with most of their chooms in Westminster parliament), in a bit of a punishment exercise toward Scotland’s population. Particularly those of an independent outlook. Gracious in victory they weren’t.

    They’ve put people in harms way. Empowered their government of choice to run amok with the UK’s legislative process, making life a misery for massive swathes of the populations of these islands. Their complicity has green lit Westminster’s endangerment of international peace treaties, trash their own devolution settlement, and threaten long standing and hard won, working and civil liberties.

    Soooo, reasons for believing a word they say at second time of asking are……what precisely?

  9. Luigi says:

    Hard-hitting post addressing a few uncomfortable truths. During the next indy campaign (which will be short but ferocious IMO), we have to call the British/English nationalists out. No more addressing them as “proud scots” or “unionists”. These terms are far too respectful and provide a comfort blanket under which they can hide. No, we need to refer to them for what they are: “British Nationalists” and I hope the YES/SNP spokespeople start to use this instead of calling them “unionists”. The union is dead, so why provide them with this veneer of respectablity and reasonableness.

    I would love to hear SNP politicians refer to the tory parties as “British nationalist” parties and mention the end of the union and the problem of English nationalism (Brexit is an English Nationalist phenomenon – this should be hammered home repeatedly in Scotland until every man woman and dog has heard it at least once).

    Will the British nationalists howl? Will the MSM fakenews reporters challenge furiously each time they hear “British nationalist” or “English nationalist”? Of course they will, but this provides the opportunity to remind people that the union is over – not respect for Scotland the “equal partner”. So in a way it’s the perfect way to bait the MSM and set the agenda, so what’s not to like?

    We should not be afraid of offending British nationalists or being ridiculed by the MSM. If they respond as expected, it allows us to set the agenda. Time to be bold and ruffle a few feathers. 🙂

  10. Macart says:

    Jings! You go for a kip and you wake up to rumours of a Labour abstention on immigration policy and news the UK’s biggest food retailers have sent an open letter warning of food stock insecurity in event of a no deal Brexit.

    Comes to something when you daren’t go for a nap just in case there’s a zombiepocalypse. 😯

  11. jean campbell says:

    hard truths ion this excellent piece. Needs to be widely discussed

  12. Andy in Germany says:

    This is something I saw when I was growing up in England, and it is one reason I left, disgusted by the jingoism and nationalism that claimed England was somehow special, and other nations were defined by the English. I remember arriving in Germany and the surprise of being in a country that didn’t need to say it was ‘better’ than its neighbours to have a distinct identity and accepted a foreigner like me as an equal.
    I think that’s why Scotland is so attractive: the nationalism doesn’t require England and other nations to be inferior: it just wants to find a new future for Scotland as an equal among friends and allies.
    So if anyone knows of a vacancy for an adult educator or woodwork teacher in Scotland, let me know…

  13. Marconatrix says:

    This may give some insight into the English mentality, a sort of phantom limb of imperialism :

  14. chicmac says:

    Your best article ever Paul. It is clear now you fully understand but with an ability to articulate it in a way I never could.

  15. ScotsCanuck says:

    A1 Paul

  16. robert harrison says:

    That’s not the England I was forced to grow up in English supremists where the norm down there during the 90s the Conservatives left England in a mess labour did nothing major to clean it up in there 13 years in power and the English went about like they might as well been on drugs as the devastating effects and neglectful actions of London was clear as day and all they did was actually like nothing was wrong and cared only about fitba and there soaps then when labour did the open borders policy in the early 2000s that’s when the supremist mindset started getting worse as UKIP and the media was fanning the flames of the English right wing and there xenophobic retorts then the cons played the English for fools in 2010 with the lies they changed and imposed austerity once in power then the English was mouthing they’d get rid of the cons frist chance they get and we all know how the 2015 general election turned out the majority of England voters never voted in that election giving the Conservatives are majority this is why I never trust englanders because for all there words they never back it up come the moment of truth and don’t get me started on there bastard arrogance that they should never be held to account because England can never do no wrong bollocks.

  17. Macart says:

    FFS Labour!


    • Puzzled Puss says:

      The Temperance party – total abstainers!

    • There was a gilt edged opportunity to defeat the Government, and Corbyn knew that.
      Hence the initial abstention gambit.
      English Labour, narrow English jobs for English workers nationalism, not Socialist Internationalism.
      They are pandering to the Little England gammon faced racist xenophobes.
      Saving their jobs rather than serving their country, England.
      How did the Scots Red Tories vote? Anybody know?
      They are finished in Scotland now.

  18. Robert Peffers says:

    Och! Paul. I was with you 100% until the very end of your otherwise great article. Then you spoiled it by dragging in the wee Red Herring of the four counties in the union. There are four countries within the union but the union is a bipartite union of kingdoms.

    No countries signed it as a country. There remains on the Treaty of Union but two signatories and both, by simply being signatories, are equally sovereign kingdoms.

    The moment that individual countries, that are or are not parts of the Kingdom of England, are brought into the argument the case is destroyed. The Union is, and as Long as it calls itself the United Kingdom, is a bipartite union of kingdoms.

    Thing is, the instant it brings individual countries of the Kingdom of England as any kinds of equal, or unequal partners, in the United Kingdom the Treaty of Union is no longer in existence. For that concept has become a union of countries and that is not a bipartite United Kingdom.

    In essence there cannot be a devolved union of countries, (equal or otherwise), that co-exists as a union of kingdoms and the United Kingdom is, according to its written constitution, (a.k.a. The Treaty of Union), a United Kingdom – not a federation of four countries or more correctly, a set-up of the country of England with three unequally devolved dominion countries. (and that not taking into account that Scotland is not just another part of the kingdom of England but a fully equally sovereign partner kingdom in the bipartite United Kingdom.

  19. susan says:

    Yet another great post Paul. Why can England only assert its existence by denigrating others?

  20. Col says:

    The celtic nations live under an elected English dictatorship as things stand and with devolution just about to disappear English nationalists (Scot/Brits included) will be in charge once again. Scary stuff, we need to start explaining to everyone what is coming our way and changing minds now. We need to do it before it’s too late.

  21. Daisy Walker says:

    Awfully well put Paul, as usual. Much appreciated.

    What a lot of ground has been covered since 2014. There are trueisms and memes, and ‘that’s just how it is..isms’ now that just don’t hold any water today, even for the non political, even for our former no voters.

    I had a conversation with a man from N Yorkshire in 2013, and it was a conversation, he was genuinely interested in IndyRef1… from an English point of view.

    He said then, ‘I’ve never thought of myself as English, I’ve always referred to myself as British’. And at the time, while I registered the rankle in myself, I could not explain just why it felt so wrong.

    Now of course, when I have this conversation with some of my English colleagues, it is so much simpler. I simply say, particularly in relation to Brexit, ‘its English Nationalism, pure and simple, and every other part of the UK is expected to sacrifice itself for the greater good of England, this time round, wrapping it up in a Union Jack and stamping the word British on it simply won’t fool anyone – that games done’. It is a bitter truth for them to take, but they don’t have an answer.

    Likewise, I would love a pithy response for the ‘ Scotland trades 4 x as much with rUK than with EU’. I now say, that given the dodgy accounting with all whisky exports leaving from English ports and being put through the London books, and the same with the oil, how is England going to pay for any of Scotlands goods, when we’re the only bit of the Uk currently bringing in any money.’ (its not very eloquent, but its a start).

    Thanks again for all your hard work. peace and love to all.

  22. Toque says:

    “Scotland that is a prisoner of English nationalists like Jacob Rees Mogg, Theresa May, and Boris Johnson”

    At least two of those mentioned are fundamentally opposed to England having its own first minister, parliament and government, so I wouldn’t call them ‘English nationalists’. Anglo-British nationalists maybe.

    The problem, as I see it, is a *lack* of English nationalism and English institutions through which the English can articulate our sense of nationhood. As things stand England is conflated with Britain resulting in an Anglo-British nationalism, which in turn results in Englishness manifesting itself as a defence of UK/Westminster sovereignty and a Westminster parliament that isn’t working for either England or Scotland.

    I can see how it’s attractive for Scots to portray this as English nationalism. Nothing like a bit of ‘Othering’ for whipping up the crowds but it sometimes pays to be a little more circumspect. Maybe the problem is a British nationalism that depends on a denial of English nationalism and the political expression of England as its own nation.

    • weegingerdug says:

      It’s scarcely the fault of Scotland that England is conflated with Britain.

      • Toque says:

        Of course not. But the situation is rather more complex than just blaming ‘English nationalism’ would suggest, even if that does play well to the crowd.

        It will be interesting to see how it plays out. ‘English nationalists’ (or more correctly English self-identifiers – who feel a stronger bond to both England and Britain – who voted for Brexit) seem to have become the bogeymen. And not only for Scottish nationalists but for Welsh nats (despite Wales voting Leave), the Irish (see Fintan O’Toole) and British self-identifiers (see academia, media, political class).

        54% of those who did not vote in the 2015 General Election voted in the EU Referendum, and of those new voters 60% voted Leave. This suggests something of a protest vote, the disenfranchised turning out (for the first referendum of any consequence for most English people). I suspect that if we’d had an English parliament elected under PR Brexit wouldn’t have happened.

        None of this is Scotland’s fault but, as you didn’t vote for independence, it is your problem. As is the Anglo-centric British nationalism that maintains the Union.

  23. English nationalists want an independent England (and consequently independence all round).

    British nationalists want England to remain a non nation subsumed within the bollocks UK. See the difference? These are polar opposite and mutually exclusive political positions.

    English nationalism is the antithesis of & antidote to big Britisher nationalism.

    • weegingerdug says:

      Yeah but that sort of English nationalism has less electoral support than the Greens.

      And that’s your problem right there.

      • That’s the only sort of English nationalism. What you have been describing above is British nationalism. The idea that Moggy is an English nationalist is laughable. English self determination is the last thing he wants. Big Britisher through and through.

        And don’t be so sure about the levels of support.

        We don’t have it sorted and don’t have a political party – but lots of people support an English parliament and although the question is only very rarely asked by the MSM there’s considerable support for English independence.

  24. Pricey says:

    If England had its own parliament & First Minister same as Scotland, I don’t think English nationalists would be confused with British nationalists. The British nationalists have prevented England from having it’s own separate identity, they despise England with a passion. Give England a referendum like the other 3 countries on a devolved Parliament & lets take it from there.

  25. Andy Anderson says:

    This article from the Guardian states Plan C which is a joke and has already been rejected by the EU. This is what our rubbish PM is going to discuss with the EU ASAP. They have learned nothing.

  26. Independent England says:

    I do find this article a little well naive I suppose is the word. 85% of the population of the Disunited Kingdom live in England. Of course England will dominat given the opportunity. Would it be right for 15% to dominate 85%? As for why the English voted for Brexit. It’s because England and Britain have been conflated for so long. We have no English Government. We are ruled by committed Unionists like Theresa May and potentially Jeremy Corbyn. We are to be subsumed into this grand European state as a bunch of regions not a nation. When we English were finally given a referendum we said stop. Enough. We want our nation back from the British.

  27. Daisy Walker says:

    English people hide behind the term British. They use it to dilute their sins, whether it be English driven sins of empire or football hoolaganism, and to appropriate the positive achievements of the other countries in the UK (and formally the other countries of the Empire).

    It is an extremely effective and disingenuous construct and it has served them well. After all it sounds so egalitarian doesn’t it.

    I’m quite sure most of the time, most of the people, are not even aware they are doing it.

    But for others, they most certainly are aware of this use, and they don’t like it being called out for what it is.

    One thing without doubt, is the bulk of the English sitting MP’s at WM fully expect Scotland to be sacrificed at the alter of English wants… for the greater good of England… sorry Britain.

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