The Strengths and Weaknesses of English Nationalism
For many years, English Nationalism has sat in the shadows, but its impact is now beginning to take shape.
31st March 2021 15:30 BST
English Nationalism seems to carry far more negative connotations than its counterparts in Scotland and Wales. But why? The promotion of English culture and history should not be looked upon with shame. Englishmen should be allowed to be proud of their country in the same way Britons are. An idea dating back to the Anglo-Saxons shouldn’t be such a negative one. At first glance, it seems that English nationalism has had a rather sudden peak in support, but the reasons are more deeply rooted than they appear to be.
There is no doubt that Brexit has led to a rise in English nationalism, for better or for worse. When 52% percent of the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, there was a reason this split the country. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, and in a higher majority than England and Wales voted to leave. But the large English population left them hopeless. With no support from their highland brothers, the south banded together. The Brexit campaign was already very patriotic, coming under the belief that we could make better laws than the EU could, and with Scotland seeming to disagree with that, it felt wrong to many strong Brexiteers to fly the Union Jack.
So, the cross of St George was hoisted up instead, and the Englishmen that decided the vote took the credit for it too. They have since banded together under Johnson’s calls to Get Brexit Done, and have celebrated once again when the deal was struck at the end on 2020. A movement started, backed and finished by the English was celebrated by the English, and whatever your views on Brexit, there can be no complaints about this.
But English Nationalism didn’t start there. It is with the rise of nationalism elsewhere in the UK that it began to grow. Devolution began in the 90’s with the Blair government, where he promised Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland their own assemblies, three out of four of the countries in the UK. Since then, devolved powers have only grown. Many governments thought that giving them more power would end their quarrels, but it seems that the taste for power has left them wanting more. But where did this leave England?
It was in 1977 that the so-called West Lothian question was first asked. Named after the constituency of the MP who asked it, Tom Dalyell, the question refers to the imbalance of voting rights in the UK. After devolution, English MPs could not vote on bills that only affected the devolved powers, but Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish MPs could vote on laws that effected only England. This was, in essence, the birth of modern English nationalism. A call for equality among the countries of the UK. This question was answered with English votes for English laws, a system where if a bill was England-specific, the English MPs would have a separate vote on the bill.
But there was still unrest. During the Scottish Independence Referendum in 2014, it wasn’t just Scottish nationalism that rose. Whilst the vast majority of non-Scottish Britons wanted the Scots to remain in the union, some wanted the opposite. Questions asking if we needed Scotland at all and claims that they were holding back British and English development were rife. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish nationalism were all catalysts in a growing movement in the South.
But why is nationalism frowned upon in England? Books such as ‘How Britain Ends: English Nationalism and the Rebirth of Four Nations’ by Gavin Esler seem to blame English Nationalism more than any other, and yet it is the Scots holding and calling for referenda to leave the UK, not the English. How are they ending Britain?
The reason for this is that all other nationalist parties are left wing, but in England they are on the right. The SNP, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein are all on the left, but England First, English Democrats, The English National Party and of course UKIP (despite being the United Kingdom Independence Party they are often associated with English Nationalism) are all right wing. The truth is, when fighting for more local representation, flying the banner of Liberalism makes it seem far less destructive, even if the end goal is similar. English Nationalism isn’t destroying out nation, but it's conflict with the rest of the UK is.