Tuesday 24 May 2022

Toxic English nationalism

 The National reports some interesting comments from Stephen Reicher regarding English nationalism.

I think there is little doubt there are toxic nationalisms in the UK, but it is more English nationalism than Scottish nationalism that is the problem. I think it is quite telling for instance, that in the campaigns during Covid you could use the notion of Scottishness, this is what Scots do, because it was inclusive. In England you couldn’t do that- because if you say this is Englishness and this is England – Englishness is seen as much more ethnic, so it would be quite an exclusive thing to do, it would be quite a problematic thing to do.
Actually, they could very easily have talked about England and Englishness in regard to the pandemic. For misguided reasons of unionist statecraft they chose to stand in front of British flags and to talk about Britain as they laid out England's pandemic restrictions and policy.

So confusing was the UK Government's conflation of England and the UK that it drew complaints from Welsh MPs who thought it undermined their own pandemic response and left people feeling 'angry, anxious and exasperated'. 

This England problem is actually caused by a *lack* of English nationalism, by a unionist political class at pains to promote British identity over English identity. In England, unionist, British politicians invoke Britain as the 'us' or the 'we'. It is Britain that is the national community, even when the policy area under discussion is England-only. England is not imagined as a political community, a social democracy, a demos or a nation unto itself. 

This doesn't happen by accident, it is the policy of unionist politicians and parties. Politically, English identity is negated or occluded by Britishness and only through sport and moments of political populism is England permitted its own discrete identity. While Scottish politicians will talk of making Scotland a fairer, more inclusive and prosperous country, English politicians will frame almost everything in the language of Britishness and the Union. Great Britain, Global Britain, New Britain, Britain Forward. England is left unmentioned and unimagined. 

The Establishment solution to the English problem (or question) is to paint English nationalism (and sometimes English identity) as something intrinsically reactionary, racist or violent. Something to be avoided because it is antagonistic to a more inclusive, civic Britishness, with the potential to undermine unionism and and our collective sense of Britishness. 

It's the wrong solution. Not least because the absence of a discrete English politics means that British politics must out of necessity include England-only policy, the inclusion of which makes British politics more Anglocentric. This Anglocentric British nationalism has the desired affect of denying England a voice but it also denies the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish equal ownership of Britishness. They see UK politicians standing in front of British flags talking about *our* schools and British housing when schools and housing are the responsibility of politicians that they elect to Holyrood or the Senedd.

The correct solution is to build an inclusive, civic English nationalism; to inculcate a sense of national community in England by talking about English policy as English, not British. This is something that has never been attempted by unionist parties who may occasionally think of themselves as representing the English electorate but who always represent the British nation rather than the English nation. 

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