2007 - 2022

One Nationism Unleashed


The Queen of England

Our Kingdom recently published an article by David Rickard on English politics and identity. It’s an extraordinary piece (‘We can’t resist privatisation until we restore the national’)

We are the nation referenced in the very name of the National Health Service. And the nation in this instance, as in so many of the other examples, is England.

The palpable sense of entitlement is almost as overwhelming as is the bad maths, as is the narcissist history.

What we are seeing is political-cultural role reversal in which English political voices replace the shrill chippy Scots of yesteryear with a grievance culture all of their own. In the circus of One Nationalism with Ed Miliband in the top hat and Nigel on the unicycle it was always pretty clear who’s nation was being espoused. But compare this spasm with the confident work of Yes, the National Collective or the Commonweal:

Privatising English services involves privatising, and by that very token abolishing, England itself as a public, as a commons and as a civic nation. A precondition of that English asset stripping has been to exile England from the public square: suppressing any national English voice or consciousness, and even banishing from public discourse any concept of England’s ownership of the services that are being taken from it.

Welcome to a world of delusion. But if David Rickard is so concerned about the asset-stripping of English culture and identity and the trauma of privatisation, there is of course something he could do about it, unlike people living in Scotland: he and his fellow Englishmen could vote for something different. That’s the difference, and all else is a paranoid dream. The extent to which there’s a conscious disavowal of agency is striking, but it shouldn’t go unchallenged. This is a hubris born from supremacy and now faced with the discomfort of change. But the state power, cultural hegemony and in-built parliamentary authority that England has over Britain is unquestionable.

Comments (15)

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  1. Dave Coull says:

    I have often heard it said that English Nationalists ought to be the natural allies of Scottish supporters of independence. Unfortunately, this is often very far from the case. English Nationalists often have the very sense of superiority and entitlement, together with the denigration of other nationalities (and not only the Scots!) that made Maggie Thatcher so unpopular north of the border. Of course we do have our allies in England. But they are more likely to be found amongst internationalists than amongst the ranks of English Nationalists.

  2. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    Not so sure I got the meaning although it seems like “you reap what you sow” and its not so good for Westminster for changes must come,and I am certain it is Scotland that will be the catalyst.

  3. Rather unfair to lump all English nationalists, or indeed all English people, together. Some of us dislike perpetual two-party rule and the Westminster system every bit as much as you do. Just because we make up a larger percentage of the UK population than Scotland it doesn’t make us anymore powerful as individuals.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      True, I think the cultural impact of ‘Ukania’ disempowers us all based on myths of unity and an enforced sense of oneness, but the idea that England doesn’t have cultural dominance within that framework is undermined by daily reality across broadcasting, commercial business, language, the arts and media representation. Englands ability to (and recent history of) shaping Westminster is both inevitable and well recorded.

    2. Dave Coull says:

      “Rather unfair to lump all English Nationalists, or indeed all English people, together” – that is a somewhat dishonest complaint since it lumps together two extremely different things! I’m not sure if this was a response to Mike Small or to my own comment. Since both my daughter and my son have occasionally had problems because of their English accents (they were born and grew up there), and since I have protested strongly when encountering such anti-Englishness, I would be the very last person to “lump all English people together”, and I don’t think Mike did so either. Also, I was very careful in what I wrote to say that you “often” find English Nationalists displaying somewhat unpleasant attitudes. That is, indeed, my own experience, that they do tend to have somewhat unpleasant attitudes. Of course it’s possible there might be some English Nationalists, who I haven’t encountered, who do not display such attitudes, that is why I used the word “often”, and not “always”. Nevertheless, I see no reason to change my conclusion: our allies in England are more likely to be found amongst the ranks of internationalists than amongst the ranks of English Nationalists.

      1. Hi Dave,

        My comment was in reply to Mike’s article, not your comment.

        There are some unpleasant attitudes displayed by English nationalists but it’s worth bearing in mind that English nationalism (and English identity) is a complex thing. Prof Chris Brant breaks down English identity into four groups (Anglo-British England, Little England, English England and Cosmopolitan England) in his paper ‘These Englands’ – it’s worth a read. I find that a large proportion of those displaying unpleasant attitudes (certainly the sense of superiority and entitlement that you refer to) are associated with those most strongly aligned to the Anglo-British England construct of English identity. I include the EDL and BNP in that, who both tend to be Unionist, strongly support the Monarchy and the British armed forces, are equally comfortable with the English or British flag, etc. There’s a large proportion of the English population still with an imperialist/Empire mindset. Their nationalism tends to be ethnic and supportive of Westminster sovereignty, rather than civic and supportive of popular sovereignty. The UK state and its promotion of Britishness, for me, is an obstacle to achieving a more civic and inclusive Englishness, a Little Englishness, if you will.

        “I thought about patriotism. I wished I had been born early enough to have been called a Little Englander. It was a term of sneering abuse, but I should be delighted to accept it as a description of myself. That little sounds the right note of affection. It is little England I love. And I considered how much I disliked Big Englanders, whom I saw as red-faced, staring, loud-voiced fellows, wanting to go and boss everybody about all over the world, and being surprised and pained and saying ‘Bad show!’ if some blighters refused to fag for them. They are patriots to a man. I wish their patriotism began at home.”

        — J.B. Priestley
        English Journey, 1934

        1. bellacaledonia says:

          Thanks Toques, that’s really interesting, I’ll look out for the Chris Brant paper

  4. barakabe says:

    I definitely think there’s a deference at the heart of the collective British psyche, but conspicuously marked in the English mindset more so- a sort of back country acquiescence to the big Lord on the hill that taints the mind with a special brand of rustic naivety, even in the most urban of us all. Its no accident that the ‘static’ dynamics that govern our lands has never evolved since the feudal imposition of the Norman Conquests. It is that willed callowness, ( very much for us Scots, exacerbated by the hyper-compliance of Presbyterianism) that we are beginning to energetically outgrow; yet in the Little Englanders of the Home Counties is manifested as a type of arcadian jingoism. But I do think this exists in Scotland to a lesser degree, as our collective identity matures beyond the worn out cultural stereotypes of Rule Britannia Imperialism- the English haven’t matured enough in their identity and so see our Independence debate through the clouded spectrum of their own imperial benightedness: they see it, to paraphrase Richard Adlington, like cocks crowing on its own dunghill and are blind to its lively sense of collective responsibility.
    Recently I attended a wedding in the Yorkshire Dales there was a queue at a pub to see a waterfall. In order to see the waterfall you had to pass through the pub and pay a small fee to the landlord. The Scots in our party wouldn’t pay, refusing in disgust and marched off back to their hotels; the English payed and looked around bewildered at a peculiar bunch of Jocks as though they found such behaviour incomprehensible.
    I hope this doesn’t make me sound anti-English. I just think in general the seams of deference that run through the English psyche makes them less prone to mistrust or to question things and may be a reason for a great deal of political illiteracy down south- I always think the most noticeable sign of a people becoming politically illiterate is an unconscious mass movement of a country to the right ( lets face, what do the Right know about politics?).
    I only hope an Independent Scotland will wake the English Left up and give the English working class an alternative narrative to the UKIP fables about the alien menace- after all it was the deindustrialization of Thatcherism that dismantled that anti-establishment mythos: and it ain’t hard to see when we watch the Jeremy Kyle generation what the social consequences have been for a proletariat robbed of the class consciousness of their founding meta-narratives.

  5. You completely misread and decontextualise the article. Perhaps you just misunderstand it.

    For example, the point about the NHS, with which you lead, is that what is referred to as “the NHS” (by false implication, the British one) by Anglo-British media is in fact only the English NHS, as media discussions about the “the NHS” are almost always limited to the English organisation or structure known as “the NHS”. You twist this into quite the opposite of the intended meaning, as if what I was trying to say is that the British NHS is really just English. The point is there is no British NHS any more – or rather, there’s a Scottish NHS, a Welsh NHS, a Northern Irish NHS and “the NHS” (the English one, run by Westminster, but whose Englishness – England-specificity – is denied).

    Your linkage of the position taken in the article to ‘One Nationalism’ – and your further irrational assimilation of that to the Anglo-British nationalism of UKIP – is absolutely laughable. Labour’s ‘One Nation’ concept and UKIP’s Anglo-British defence of the UK as a would-be nation partake of the very denial of England as a nation in its own right that my article in Our Kingdom takes issue with.

    Get over it, Mike! This is not an article about Scotland nor the UK. It’s about England, and the privatisation of English services and assets that the people of England did NOT vote for at the last election undertaken by a UK government that denies to England any civic or political expression of its own identity. The way your own “extraordinary” diatribe comes across is to create the impression that you’d be quite happy for England to go on being denied its own national democracy, because you fundamentally distrust England as a nation.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      David your response just appears as a sort of cultural sophistry – I absolutely support any country’s right to self-determination.

      It is difficult to affect sympathy and solidarity for a nation that creates the ‘surround sound’ of most of our cultural experiences, our media and our news channels, hosts the City of London, the monarchy, all the major institutions of State and has such a deep-seated sense of it’s own supremacy as it doesn’t really care what it calls these various bodies. English? British? Who cares? For most of you they are one and the same thing as ca be witnessed routinely by commentators effortlessly and ignorantly switching between them.

      No doubt this will send you apoplectic but these are some simple facts.

      But you are right about one thing – I fundamentally distrust England as a political nation because I have experienced it’s politics for the last 45 years and it has wrecked havoc on my country and devastated large sections of our society.

  6. David says:

    No, I’m not apoplectic. I can see where you’re coming from. I think, however, that you need to think through the subjectivity and agency in your discourse on the matter. By which I mean you need to work out the logic of putting ‘England’ in as the subject of sentences such as “[England] hosts the City of London, the monarchy, all the major institutions of state”, or “it doesn’t really care what it calls these various bodies”. Who or what are we calling ‘England’ here, and what agency are we imputing to it? You’re lumping together all sorts of disparate entities and pouring them all into a single ‘England’ that you reserve the right to effectively blame for all Scotland’s woes. And really, it’s the UK state and political settlement that’s mainly responsible for that, not what you call ‘England’.

    The real England – the people of England – are arguably now getting just as raw a deal out of the UK as Scotland has done historically. And that involves denying to England her democratic and cultural rights as a nation, just as it has done for Scotland. And that’s the situation the original article was addressing.

    I’m sorry you distrust England as a nation. That’s understandable in historical perspective. But perhaps you could come to regard her as a people, and differentiate that England from the England of the UK establishment.

    1. John Jamieson says:

      David, I read your article in Our Kingdom and I reached exactly the same conclusion as Mike. The reason for the assymetrical devolution settlement that denied England its own national parliament was simply that there was no demand from the people of England for an English parliament. Scottish devolution was meant to suppress not support the demand from Scotland for greater autonomy.

      There was no conspiracy to deny the people of England a voice and I do not recall any demand being expressed at the time (late 1990s) for England to have an equivalent body to the reconstituted Scottish Parliament. I assume most English people thought that a separate English parliament would simply be another expensive talking shop.

      The Scottish Health Service was not granted autonomy at the time of devolution. It has, since its inception in 1948, been separate from the English Health Service. However, the legislation enabling the introduction of NHS trusts and the internal market to the Scottish Health Service in the early 1990s, a precursor of the privatisation programme currently being imposed on the English NHS was voted through the Westminster Parliament by a majority of English Tory MPs. Please keep this in mind when you make reference to the WLQ. The people of Scotland were powerless in the face of an overwhelming English majority to prevent this expensive paperchase being imposed on its national health service.

      However, two wrongs do not make a right and, as the constitutional settlement stands, it is simply wrong for MPs from non-English constituencies to participate in and vote on legislation specific to England. It is my understanding that Plaid Cymru and SNP MPs do not vote on English-only legislation.

      I too despair when I hear broadcasters speak of “The NHS” when they mean only the English NHS but, unlike you, I attribute this error to simple ignorance and a degree of laziness on the part of the metropolitan media. From our perspective it is not so much that “British” institutions are so eager to appear British and suppress Englishness than that “English” is the default setting and it is we in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland who are on the outside, looking in. It has been noticeable recently that BBC announcers have started to refer to the NHS in England and perhaps this is a step in the right direction. However, given the separate origins of the two national health services it would be more appropriate for them to use the term “English NHS”.

      1. MrTrengove says:

        It’s not the same thing but there has been a consistent voice calling for greater autonomy and devolution in what is now still considered by many people as part of England (not me), and that is Cornwall. 50,000 signatures in 2001 being the biggest grass root expression in Britain at that time, and of course immediately dismissed by the colonial government in Westminster. Perhaps you were aware of this? in fact Cornish identities and political movements towards greater autonomy have always batted back down with as great a force, if not greater than the other celtic nations. Anyway i thought that this needed to be mentioned because all too often Cornwall is sidelined and forgotten, even by the other celtic nations, but especially the English who mostly only see Cornwall as another county of England populated by English people. In fact even the most liberal minded English people can have a bad reaction to any expression of Cornish nationalism and identity expression, it seems to touch a nerve that is still very raw, and of course it makes the BNP types foam and growl with utter hatred and rabid anger. Perhaps there is a deep rooted fear that perhaps one day even what is now taken for granted as within England will re-assert it’s given right to be recognised as not such, and i think we will need the changes that Scottish indendence will bring to Britain to aid us on that route.

  7. Just quickly, but from my view point it’s interesting in Ian Morris’s book: “Why The West Rules For Now” he comments that civilisations over the course of time are influenced by a process called the discovery of advantages of backwardness. When people adapt techniques (or in this case political arrangements: prospect of written constitution, revised electoral system) that worked in an advanced core to operate in less well developed periphery, the changes they introduce sometimes make those techniques work so well that the periphery becomes the new core in its own right, or in this case peripheries become new cores in their own right. For this theory to hold you would have to agree with certain assumptions to begin with. In my mind these would principally be that Scotland and NI represent periphery regions of the core, that being Westminster at the centre of the political arrangements we argue are being adapted. Additionally, that these regions are “backward” in relation to the core, this I would argue relates to the financial settlements extended from the core to the regions and I believe in the fact that funds flow to the core and less is refunded outwards from the core. When this process is allowed to run full circle you have a healthy, natural process of civil evolution. Where you pervert or subvert this process you will inevitably have an unhealthy, unnatural outcome that will invariably lead to a prolonging of civil difficulties. The Unionists and in that sense I mean all political parties unnaturally aligned to prevent the natural order of evolution of democracy within these islands, I believe, in attempting to subvert this process these Unionist politicians will ultimately fail to subvert the natural order. I think people will vote the other way. This may require prolonged political difficulties but eventually a set of policies will arise that the majority can once again elect and in doing so hopefully elect a government that gains their trust. In this process I believe the wants and desires of each political region (England & Wales, Scotland, NI) will be satisfied. References to Little England and variations on that are unfortunately accurate and reflect a need that some political party must address in order to resolve the civil issues. I for one cannot fathom why the UK Labour Party cannot put aside the “Union” and the commercial or legal entity that is their party machine and simply stick to their principles of social inclusion. An Independent Scotland is right up their street. Unfortunately they seem not to realise the opportunity staring them in the face. Imagine a Scotland with a Labour Government, true to its principals. Imagine that same party then extending is policies and putting them to an English electorate and saying, look what we achieve in Scotland, vote for us; we are true leaders in democracy and for the people. Then take that sense of truth, honesty, integrity and apply it at a European level and promise voters what they want, here’s the kicker: actually deliver it. Maybe for the Labour Party that is asking too much.

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