Part 1: Towards a healthy English national identity …

(… 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 –  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, 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.


3 thoughts on “Part 1: Towards a healthy English national identity …

  1. Any antipathy the Scots feel toward the English is that which is generated by those in the media who seemingly are unaware of the arrogance they display by their Anglo centric language. English commentators on any subject will refer to the superiority of the English exponent or subject. EG Man United the best team in the world; Wayne Rooney best footballer in the world; London the most beautiful city in the world; English athletes competing in the Commonwealth games are only warming up for Rio. Incidentally it has been commented on that despite the commonwealth games being in Scotland almost without exception all the commentators have been English. Damned foriegners coming here and stealing our jobs! ( joke) but all of this bias is presented by a media controlled by an establishment who are happy to sow divisions that’s how you rule an empire

  2. Yours is a common complaint from Scots and I am sure it’s true. But I have to make an effort to notice and care about the problem – it’s a sign that I am English. Something obviously has to change for Scots to have TV that reflects your own perspectives. I don’t like the friction that the current system produces between us.

  3. The truth is that secretly we in Scotland actually quite LIKE the English. But what we can’t stand is English chauvinism. Not patriotism. But chauvinism. There’s a difference. But when you are not actually sniping at us for our supposed inferiority, or reminding us how wee and pathetic and third rate we are compared to you, we actually quite like you. I mean, as in preferring you to the Germans. Or the French. Or even the cheery Italians (always a laugh!) However, the English are used to being the bosses in the UK, and they inherit a good deal of that ruling class mentality towards us as being supine and supposedly at their service and convenience, and this can come out quite unexpectedly from the sweetest of people. Basically, there’s no respect for Scotland there in the English cultural psyche. They’ve never been taught that they should respect us, and that likewise we should all respect each other. Weird, because since the 1980s multiculturalism has come in, and the English are being taught now that they should respect and be sensitive to the new arrivals in these shores, whilst older identities that make up these islands get treated with thinly veiled contempt.

    For instance, many years ago I was having a discussion with the sister of an English friend of mine about the nuclear industry, which we were both concerned about. Then suddenly Jenny comes out with, (forgetting I’m Scottish) ‘I mean, I don’t understand why they can’t just put it (nuclear crap) in a remote Scottish island somewhere.’ And I had to interject: ‘Excuse me? A remote Scottish island? How would you like it if we did that to you? Suppose England was ruled from Edinburgh, and we were thinking, yeah, what to do with the nuclear crap… I know! Let’s stick it on a remote English island somewhere like the Isle of Wight or the Scillies…. that’ll be far enough away from us’.

    Now I liked Jenny a lot, she was not in herself an arrogant person. It was just the prejudices she was raised with coming out in an automatic, unthinking way. She was lovely, but she’d been indoctrinated.

    A Hungarian friend, and fellow student, was telling me about some social theory she had learned whilst in Hungary about the identities of submerged peoples, like the Roma. She said that when you are part of a majority culture, you’re automatically more confident, whereas when you are part of a minority culture, your confidence tends to be eroded. She said they called it ‘confident majoritarianism’.

    I was telling this to an older friend (and esteemed scholar) and suggested that maybe this was where our Scottish hang-ups with the English stemmed from.

    And quick as a flash, he rejoined, ‘Confident majoritarianism, eh? I’ve always called it ‘effortless supremacy’ myself’.

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