The Perils of Identity Mapping

Recently The Guardian decided to tackle what it called “the disunited kingdom”, with a series of articles and an opinion poll. This is probably long overdue, The Guardian is one of the few major UK papers that doesn’t bother with a Scottish edition – even Metro pretends to have one. It seems to have taken an independence referendum, to wake the paper up to the notion of devolution, let alone parties in Scotland and Wales. However, just as The Guardian thought that it had got a grip on the complex identity issues in the UK (and IOM), it’s been blindsided yet again.
It was The Guardian’s recent survey on British identity that the journalists scratching their heads. The paper asked a number of people around the UK if they felt more British or more English/Scottish/Welsh/Irish/Northern Irish. People also had the chance to respond “other”, if they felt none of these particularly applied to them. They produced a map, with coloured dots, to plot these responses. Predictably, Northern Ireland was a hodge podge, and people in Scotland and Wales felt more Scottish and Welsh than British. Responses from each of the countries were noted, and unusual phenomena also got a mention in sidebars.
England was noted as the last bastion – Britishness remained dominant, and in London, the strong showing of “other” was because it is “unsurprisingly a melting pot”.
However, the map has a good many surprises. Corby retains a strong Scottish identity, decades after Scots migrated there to work in steel plants. Shetland had a few “other”s, and the Guardian suggested this was because people there “could… view themselves as more Nordic than Scots”. But while the Guardian worked out what was going on in Shetland, it noted that Cornwall had “a strong showing for the others”, without actually broaching the subject of Cornish identity. But it has to be said, if the Guardian can’t keep a handle on what’s going on here or in Wales, what hope has it to understand somewhere like Cornwall?
This isn’t, of course, the first time that Bella Caledonia has stolen a lead on The Grauniad. There are a few examples of that, even if I don’t recall an article on Shetland here. Bella has tackled the Cornish question at least twice [here] and [here]. Apart from the “comment is free” section, which is not written by non-staff writers, The Guardian journalists, continue to largely ignore the Cornish issue. A Cornish blog has made great play of this, saying [Cornish Terrify Guardian] .The Cornish have an ongoing campaign to be recognised as a national minority.*
There are certain other anomalies, which are not noted at all. Should we take these seriously? There appear to be “other”s in Pembrokeshire, people who feel “Scottish” in Berwick upon Tweed, pockets of “Welsh” people in East Anglia and one or two others in the Isle of Man (some of these presumably Manx). Neither the Isle of Man, nor the Channel Islands, are in the UK, although for some reason, the IoM was included but Guernsey and Jersey weren’t.

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  1. bellacaledonia says:

    I dont think the ‘Scottish’ editions of most papers are such a great thing, the Guardian at least has a Scottish correspondent. They are normally a front page tag-on (The Times) or window dressing. The Independent seems to put a saltire in the top corner of the front page and little else. Most ‘UK’ papers just have no coverage of Scotland at all other than embedded repeat opinion (Alan Cochrane, Torygraph), or re-spun Jock-baiting bile (Daily Mail, Express etc).

  2. Ray Bell says:

    “I dont think the ‘Scottish’ editions of most papers are such a great thing” – Neither do I, but a significant proportion of folk in this country get their information from there, so they should at least have some Scottish coverage.

    I see these papers as a form of British “soft power” in Scotland, a kind of “landscaping” of public opinion.

    The Guardian especially pisses me off because it poses as having some kind of “right on” political stance. Sure, they were correct about Iraq and GWB, but they have serious blind spots about certain other issues. They don’t understand the UK outside England (what I talk about here), nor the English “regions”, and their coverage of issues like the summer riots, far right activities etc, all seem to come from a cosy middle class perspective. I also think they should take stick for confusing left radicalism with American “liberalism”.

    I agree with your comments on Scottish editions’ coverage… Metro reported English education reforms recently as if they applied to the entire UK. The BBC is trying to tidy up its act in that regard… but anyway. The worst examples of this phenomenon are British papers in the Irish republic, which are full of celebrity trash and English premiership soccer. Recolonisation maybe…

  3. Ard Righ says:

    If it has Scottish or Scotland in the title, it is colonial.

    .. and after the news, Reporting England.

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