(… and how to be better neighbours with Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland)
This is the first in a series of articles published on my other blog – englishnationalconversation.wordpress.com. Have a look if you like!
This is Part 1 of a 5 part series on issues connected with the British and English national identities, with special reference to the Scottish independence referendum. I’ve put them all online at the same time on englishnationalconversation.wordpress.com, so you can read them at your leisure!
A good place to start talking about national identity is one’s own personal identity story. So in this article, I’d like to share my own.
Part 2 is an exploration of what I call the national “bile” of English people, vis-a-vis the Scots.
Part 3 is a rough historical sweep over the circumstances of the formation of the UK, and how they have helped to shape our modern national identities.
Part 4 is where the rubber hits the road with some thoughts on the emotional attachments that the English have towards being British.
Part 5 proposes an English national “conversation” about identity issues, particularly in the light of the Scottish referendum. I finish by outlining some potential benefits from such a conversation.
My identity story
I’m fascinated by the concept of identity. I was adopted as a baby in London by Glaswegian parents. My blood is a mixture of English, Scottish and Irish. I was raised a Catholic in London and the Home Counties. I have moved around England a lot and in my early 20s, I lived for several years in Glasgow. I have addressed some of my own identity issues in psychotherapy. Figuring out who I am and where I belong has been a lifelong process.
I grew up with mixed feelings about Scottishness. My father was a post-war Scot who gave me the impression that Scottishness was a superior form of Britishness. He was middle-class and totally lacked the kind of inferiority complex about being Scottish which I later came across among working-class Glaswegians in the mid-1990s. My father would call me a “higorant Sassenach” as a joke but I was sensitive and it bred a reaction in me. I even developed a slight complex about being English. I supported Rangers instead of his team – Celtic – which he took well enough.
My father is long dead and times have changed. There seem to be few Scots around now who have held on to a similar perspective to his. He grew up learning British colonial history. He lived through the Second World War as a teenager and did his National Service afterwards. Of course, he later moved to London. I never heard him utter a bad word about the English or England. But Scottish independence was just never an issue for him.
As a result of my background, I grew up feeling acutely English but also British. Being British was a convenient label to describe my ethnic and family mixture. But when meeting English people with more stable attachments to their English families and communities, I could tell I had missed out on something.
The Scottish independence debate has re-ignited my interest in understanding issues to do with personal and national identity. I can’t claim any academic expertise in the matter but in this series, I’d like to share some thoughts in subsequent articles about the English and British national identities.
In Part 2, I’ll examine what I call the differing national “bile” of the English and the Scottish, as a way to express our national distinctiveness.