Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Rishi Sunak is absolutely right: British nationalism is simply Greater England nationalism by another name, and the census results bear that out

Issue a gentle reminder that Scotland exists and London politicians will look at you in total bafflement as if you're speaking a foreign language.  And if you need any evidence of that, check out the extraordinary exchange between Joanna Cherry and Rishi Sunak in a Commons committee.  Mr Sunak responds to Ms Cherry in a perfectly good-natured manner, but repeatedly fails to grasp the elementary point she's making - that you can't call something a "British Baccalaureate" when Scotland and England have always had entirely separate education systems.  To add insult to injury, the committee chairman appears to cut Ms Cherry off by saying "she has made her point" - well, personally I'd have said her point would only have been made when Mr Sunak showed the slightest glimmer of actually understanding it.

Some of Mr Sunak's replies were truly baffling, but he's been interpreted in some quarters as meaning that the use of "British" should be considered innocent in this case because it's a word that is routinely used in England as shorthand for "English".  And if that is what he meant, let's be fair - there is fresh statistical evidence to demonstrate that he is quite right.  Here is what the 2021 census found were the top national identities in England and Wales - 

British only: 54.8%

English only: 14.9%

Which is quite a turnaround from the previous census only a decade earlier, which showed - 

English only: 57.7%

British only: 19.1%

This apparently total transformation over ten years in how the people of England see themselves is plainly not credible.  If there had been substantial movement from "English only" to "both English and British", that might have been a tad more believable, but you don't go from one exclusive identity to another exclusive identity in such a short space of time - unless of course the original identity was extremely shallow in the first place.  But nobody who has just watched the bizarre spectacle of the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show could ever accuse our friends down south of having a shallow national identity.

And sure enough, even the Office for National Statistics felt they had no option but to sheepishly admit when they published the results that the trend was not real, but was instead an artefact of methodological change in the census.  In 2011, the English-only option had been presented first, and in 2021 the British-only option had been presented first.  That seemingly minor change was enough to produce a 43 percentage point drop in the number of people calling themselves English.  There are very few examples in polling where the sequence in which possible responses are presented to respondents has such a dramatic effect, and frankly the only logical conclusion to be drawn is that people in England think the words 'English' and 'British' mean literally the same thing - and therefore they simply chose the first version that they saw of that same thing.

I don't think I ever caused more outrage among the Tories on Political Betting (better known as Stormfront Lite) than when I described the UK as "Greater England".  There is no English empire!, they said.  England didn't absorb Scotland!, they said.  Britain is a genuine and voluntary union state of equals!, they said.  In which case they'll have to explain why their own countrymen and countrywomen plainly see Britain as nothing more than England in expanded form.  I really struggle to think of a better way of characterising that state of affairs than "Greater England".

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  1. The interesting thing is, the English were happy (not so long ago) to refer to Scotland as 'North Britain' but never once referred to England as 'South Britain'.

  2. It has been apparent to me for my entire life that to the English, 'British' and 'English' are interchangeable words. Speak to pretty much any English person for more than five minutes and this will be apparent. It is, quite simply, an imperial mindset. Most think that Scotland was conquered and assimilated into Britain/England.