Monday, September 30, 2013

Easton sees no Scottishness

There's a really, really odd article on the BBC website by Mark Easton that attempts to portray the census results on national identity as some sort of good news story for Britishness.  I hesitate to call it a propaganda piece, but it has to be said that Easton has in the past made no secret of the fact that he considers himself to be British rather than English or Scottish, and he's not exactly shy in this article of praising his own preferred identity to the skies -

"Britishness is attractive to those with a mixed cultural heritage. It has always been an accommodating label, tolerant of complexity and difference."

Any actual evidence to support that rather grandiose claim? Er, nope. The man's entitled to his personal opinion, but whether he's entitled to shove that opinion down the throats of others on a website that is legally bound to be politically neutral is another matter. And Easton gets well and truly into the realms of fantasy when he tries to discern some statistical proof that "attractive, accommodating, tolerant" Britishness is on the march in census results that are, frankly, nothing short of catastrophic for his worldview. 62% of Scottish residents reported that they are Scottish only, 60% of English residents reported that they are English only, and 58% of Welsh residents reported they are Welsh only. Easton acknowledges that this is the first time that the national identity question has been posed and that it is therefore impossible to make direct comparisons with the past - and yet still feels free to jump to the heroic conclusion that the dismally low adherence to a British identity is probably higher than it would have been in previous decades. Oh, and he expects it to get "higher still" (ahem).

"It may be that our increasingly mobile and cosmopolitan society sees the British identity become more popular than it has been in its 300-year history."

WHAT???? Here's a small suggestion, Mark - take a look at some footage of England football fans waving the flag of the whole UK to celebrate their national team becoming world champions in 1966, then look at the sea of St George's Crosses that have dominated England matches since 1996, and then try telling me that we're on the brink of some kind of renaissance of British national identity.

Much of the article clings to the not terribly impressive statistic that young people in England are fractionally more likely to consider themselves British than their elders - while hastily glossing over the fact that the polar opposite is true in Wales, and that the equivalent statistical comparison isn't even available for Scotland and Northern Ireland. Easton seemingly doesn't think this detracts from his argument much. Tell me, Mark - if three of the four component parts of Britishness don't really count for much in your mind, is this identity really what it's billed to be? Or does it just amount to a fluffier version of Englishness?

For my part, I wholeheartedly consider myself British, but I most certainly didn't tick that box as one of my national identities on the census form - because authentic Britishness (as opposed to Greater Englishness) isn't a national identity at all, it's a multi-national identity.

* * *

This tweet from Better Together made me laugh -

"If you're at #cpc13 [Conservative Party Conference] drop by stall 26 and find out about how you can help keep Scotland a strong & secure part of the UK #indyref"

I wonder if the advice at that stall includes the words "defect" and "disband"? You may as well be brutally honest with them, guys...

16 comments:

  1. I think he must live in some parallel universe.

    "...It [Britishness] has always been an accommodating label, tolerant of complexity and difference."

    Maybe as in British jobs for British workers?

    As for my own identity, despite having lived for quite a while in England and for a short while France, I consider myself to be Scottish.

    I have a European passport which makes some demand on the opening page about Her Britannic Majesty's principal secretary of state for foreign and commonwealth affairs demanding that I be allowed to pass without let or hindrance, so that's a nice mixture.

    I pay my taxes to London and owe allegiance to Edinburgh.

    It's a strange mix, and I accept it. I am, I suppose, British. I was born in the British Isles as were my parents.

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  2. The UK is simply a shorthand for Greater (that is larger) England. We know that London believes that all that happened in 1707 was that Scotland was abolished and it's territory and people incorporated into a continuing English state. Moreover this is not a new view; until the Irish started causing trouble in the mid 19th century Westminster's legal personality was the 'Parliament of England'.

    I suggest that those, like yourself James, who are active in the political debate are (perhaps ironically) much more aware of, and comfortable with the 'British' elements of their identity. You are, no doubt, also more acutely sensitive to the likely barrage of criticism that would follow any less than strictly politically correct statements.

    No Scot can deny the British element to his/her identity, but I suggest that for more of us than the political cognoscenti would wish to admit, our Britishness is no more than the result and reflection of our cultural assimilation to English views and values.

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  3. Hi there,

    Might I suggest that being identified as "Scottish" generally implies an inclusiveness, toleration and benign good-naturedness, one or two football clubs' supporters excepted. While "Englishness" which 95% of those south of the border previously considered interchangeable with "Britishness" is now primarily associated with agressiveness, intolerance, extreme right-wing political views and downright racism.

    I would propose that those in England choosing only "British" as their identity are most likely to find parallel viewpoints with those Scots identifying as "Scottish" only as their's. Those identifying as "English/British" parallel with "Scottish/British" i.e. possibly a bit older and tending towards a right-wing/Tory viewpoint, and those identifying as "English" only, being younger, anti-Europe, UKIP/NF/BNP'ers

    Not a shred of evidence to back these opinions up, of course. But then neither did the esteemed Mr Easton for his. Except that I can point to there being three extreme right-wing nationalist parties in England compared to only one in Scotland, that is the Scottish Tory Party.

    Regards,

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  4. In reply to the previous comment, ever tried being English in Scotland? Also, in terms of immigration into the United Kingdom, Scotland proportionally has taken a fraction of England's intake and should actually have parity before its residents start banging on about how benign and tolerant they are. England is the largest and by far the most cosmopolitan of all the UK nations and the majority of us welcome that fact. And I still hear Scots banging on about "Celts". Pure romantic twaddle of course. But seems to have racist undertones to me. "People that live in glass houses..." some Scots should try remembering that old saying! And as for Right Wing Parties... take a look at New Labour! Discriminating against every living soul in England with devolution (ever heard of the West Lothian Question?) and marketising health and care services here to such a degree that Thatcher started to seem caring! That, believe me, is NOT something I say lightly!

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  5. Just to add, James, that Easton actually gets to make the same point in a short film for the BBC Editors programme - I assume it will be on the IPlayer.

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  6. "In reply to the previous comment, ever tried being English in Scotland?"
    Yup, I've lived here for 25 years, and in my experience I have never met any overt anti-Englishness. As a matter of fact I consider myself a Scottish national and will be voting YES to rid myself of the bigoted, divisive politics south of the border.

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  7. Easton published a book called Britain etc, it was an a-z of what makes Britain erm Britain.

    I bought it thinking it would be interesting to get a different view. I would say now, I couldn't quite finish it, it should have been called England etc.

    The thing is, it painted a nice picture, idyllic hamlets, cricket on village greens, etc and on and on - but none of it (as far as I got into it anyway) had anything to do with anything beyond England's own attractively picturesque borders.

    So, he's either an oddly misguided Britophile or an English person who just doesn't understand the idea of Britain being made up of separate nations as opposed to being one homogeneous blob in the rough form of England.

    I don't find that offensive mind, its just the way it is. We didn't get taught much Scottish history at school and neither did they - why would they?

    You only know what you know.

    I've had this discussion loads of time with English pals - I mention two words: Scottish Independence. They know what those words mean individually but have no idea what they mean when put together, not because they don't understand the concept of Independence but because they don't understand the concept of Scotland being a different country in the first place.

    Its a bit weird to hear but there it is.

    Sorry, rambled on a bit there.

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  8. @Rab o' Ruglen, might I suggest you're talking absolute bollocks.
    Are you suggesting that the 73% of people who identify themselves to be English are ”associated with aggressiveness, intolerance, extreme right-wing political views and downright racism”?

    The only association with England/Englishness and racism/xenophobia are those invented by opponents to an English identity.

    Look at the ethnic makeup of the English football/rugby/cricket teams. We're far more inclusive than any other nation from the UK and yet we get this kind of ignorant twaddle thrown up as fact.

    @smerral ” I've lived here for 25 years, and in my experience I have never met any overt anti-Englishness...”

    You have come across anti-Englishness then? Just not “overt” anti-Englishness

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  9. Hi there,

    Ref Anonymous 1st Oct 9.57PM. All I can reply is that English Nationalist parties are associated in my mind with some extremely nasty types of people. View any newsreel footage of NF, BNP, EDL etc. rallies to see what I mean. The popularity of UKIP is based on "England first" superior, anti-European sentiment. These sort of people and attitudes if, unfortunately, not totally lacking in the Scottish Nationalist movement are at least in a very, very tiny minority and are shunned and despised by the majority.

    How many arrests were made at the "Fill the Hill" march in Edinburgh earlier in the month? - Zero. It was a family day out.

    I notice on my visits south of the border that it is common for groups of drunken louts to be seen standing outside pubs drinking and causing a ruckus. Almost inevitably there is a St George's cross flag slung from an upper window, under which they are standing. That sort of behaviour, whether you like it or not, is part of English Nationalism, and seems to me to be present in inordinately greater measure than in its Scottish counterpart.

    Where we do have a problem with violence in Scotland, it is often associated with Rangers and Celtic or the Orange Order, two of which organisations are inextricably intertwined with British Nationalism.

    Regards,

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  10. TH42 : I actually don't doubt that Englishness is maturing fast as an identity - it's accepting of diversity now in a way that it simply wasn't 30 or 40 years ago. But I'm not remotely impressed by the idea (which has now been rehearsed twice on this thread) that the ethnic mix of either England itself or of the English football team means that England is somehow more tolerant than Scotland. To state the bleedin' obvious, Scotland does not have its own distinct immigration policy, although we're certainly keen to put that right. By the way, remember the time a London civil servant blocked a student visa for someone wanting to learn English in Scotland, on the grounds that the person hadn't adequately explained why they wanted to go to an obscure part of the UK where the locals talk funny?

    Anon : "And as for Right Wing Parties... take a look at New Labour!"

    Quite. That's what Labour felt it had to become to win in Middle England.

    "Just to add, James, that Easton actually gets to make the same point in a short film for the BBC Editors programme - I assume it will be on the IPlayer."

    What's so ironic about that is the Editors is billed as a programme where tough and awkward questions get asked - but Easton is doing the opposite. The obvious uncomfortable question that he should be asking himself is why his own preferred national identity is on its knees in the census findings, but instead he's telling himself "it's OK, it's fine, it's not really true".

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  11. @Rab o' Ruglen ”English Nationalist parties are associated in my mind with some extremely nasty types of people. View any newsreel footage of NF, BNP, EDL etc. rallies to see what I mean.”

    So long as you realise that it is only in your mind and not in reality, there’s no harm done.

    As for the “English” national parties you mention, the first two are British and the latter is a throw off from the BNP (just like the SDL)... please try to understand the difference between England and Britain.

    Finally, I won’t comment on the other stuff you made up, except to say you wouldn’t have said the things you've said, if you were in any way well travelled. The scenes you describe are often depicted like this on the telly and that’s obviously the source of your information.

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  12. @James Kelly; Can you actually cite evidence about the UK Border Guard? I’m not saying it didn’t happen, it would just carry more weight if there was an independent source.

    As for English nationalism 30 or 40 years ago... it didn’t exist in any meaningful way. Hell, I was British 15 years ago and I only began to identify with Englishness after devolution saw a tertiary education tax and privatisation of the NHS forced upon us, against the wishes of the people and after a majority of their representatives votes against both.

    Look at the flags at Wembley when we won the world cup in 1966 and those when we won the other world cup in 2003. I’m obviously not alone in this opinion and the last census showed I’m in a majority of 70-odd percent (and that included Wales for some reason).

    As for us being more inclusive; well the English are often mocked for their rich ethnic diversity as was reflected in the programmes such as “Mongrel Nation” and “100% English?”. We can’t be “mongrels” and exclusive!

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  13. "As for English nationalism 30 or 40 years ago... it didn’t exist in any meaningful way."

    People certainly called themselves English 30 or 40 years ago, and what they often meant by that was "white". Englishness has matured as an identity in the sense that it's now about nation not ethnicity. Black players were certainly not accepted by a great many England supporters, even just a few decades ago.

    "As for the “English” national parties you mention, the first two are British"

    Oh come now. Next you'll be telling us that the Tory party and UKIP are "British".

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  14. Oh, and on the incident about the student visa, it was well-documented at the time - John Swinney took it up with Jack McConnell at First Minister's Questions (and to his credit, McConnell was appalled). The next time I have eight hours to spare, I'll try to track down a report about it.

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  15. Hi there,

    Really TH43, "you wouldn't have said the things you've said if you were in any way well travelled. The scenes you describe are often depicted like this on telly and that's obviously the source of your information.". Talk about playing the man rather than the ball.

    I've travelled extensively over the years, completing a round-the-world-trip not long after the turn of the millennium. I also travel frequently to the west-midlands and the north of England and I have often seen the afore-mentioned drunken louts cavorting under their St. George's flags outside pubs of an evening Such behaviour would never be tolerated by the police here in Strathclyde. That is why it makes such an impression on me every time I see it.

    You are right, of course, about only having seen the BNP etc. marches on TV. I would not wish to be within a hundred miles of any of those if I could avoid it, as would most people.

    So come of your high horse. English nationalism has some very nasty elements about it, and to refuse to recognise that fact will not make them go away.

    Regards,

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