Independence for Scotland would help England by ending the bogus concept of a new Britishness, writes George Kerevan
Nations disappear almost as frequently as they are born, especially in Europe. Where is mighty Prussia now, for instance? Should we vote No in next year’s independence referendum it will mean the eclipse of another, once-proud European nation. I don’t mean Scotland – I mean England.
England – the proud, libertarian, plebeian England of common sense and common law – is dying. Down south, Englishness is being replaced with a new-fangled national identity called British. Not the old Britishness either (annoyingly), which we used as a synonym for Englishness, nor as a simple statement of common citizenship in the UK, which it means for most Scots. But rather Britishness as a bland, adman’s construct used to provide a veneer of national identity to camouflage London’s emergence as a global city state that dominates the rest of Britain.
If Scotland votes No, the London metropolitan elite who govern us will view it as a victory for this new, rancid definition of Britishness. True, there are positive elements in this New Britishness. It is multicultural and inclusive of ethnic minorities. It is pro-European. It is superficially liberal in its social values. It is a collective identity that comes easily to minorities: just 8 per cent of ethnic Bangladeshis in England identify themselves as English, which they associate with Empire.
But the construct of a New Britishness as a personal identity also signifies the globalist agenda of the London city state. Implicit in the new “liberal” Britishness are values that promote the free market, low taxation and deregulation. The New Britishness favours immigration because London needs cheap labour and Russian billionaires. As a result, those saying they feel “more British than English” are from the wealthier income groups concentrated in London. But in poorer parts of the Thames Estuary, the Midlands and northern cities, Englishness remains the default identity.
In fact, the London metropolitan elite – City bankers, international oligarchs, media darlings, and Westminster politicians – has come to despise expressions of traditional Englishness. These they view as parochial, racist and isolationist – hardly the values you need to be a city-state that seeks to dominate the global economy. Plus the very English notion of fairness precludes obscene City bonuses and MP’s perks.
The elastic nature of the New Britishness allows a space for the truculent Celtic fringes – useful as a skilled labour pool. The London elite is not intrinsically hostile to Scottish independence, though keeping Scotland in the UK helps justify the seat at the top table of the UN and EU. But it has no room for expressions of traditional uppity Englishness. Especially as the white English working-class is anti-Europe, which conflicts with London’s globalist agenda. The metropolitan establishment is overwhelmingly hostile to Englishness, which remains a plebeian and populist threat to its economic plans in Europe. Don’t be fooled by David Cameron’s (modest) tack to the Right and offer of a binding “in-out” referendum on EU membership. That is designed to head off the rise of Ukip, the political expression of Middle England’s hatred of the metropolitan elite. Once Ukip is defenestrated, it will be business as usual.
A No to independence will only tempt the London elite into thinking the New Britishness has triumphed as an ideology, so they can afford to ignore calls from Middle England for political representation, including a devolved English parliament. Yet support for English national identity is on the rise. And a thwarted Englishness could turn toxic.
I warn those of you tempted by the Better Together slogan: British “togetherness” is already dead. The 2011 Census included an intra-British identity question for the first time. Some 60 per cent of people in England gave their national identity as English, compared with 19 per cent who gave it as British only. Polling by the IPPR think-tank shows that identification with English identity is growing. The highest support lies in the North-east of England, where more than 80 per cent of people say their Englishness comes first. No wonder last week’s pro-Labour New Statesman magazine had a front cover which read: “Can Miliband speak for England?”
One possibility is that an English backlash against the London elite takes Britain out of the EU and sees Westminster dominated by anti-Cameron Tories in actual or tacit alliance with Ukip. Don’t imagine that the Barnett Formula (which guarantees Scotland its pro rata share of Westminster public spending increases) would survive. Would you want to be in a UK run by the likes of Nigel Farage?
Of course, a No vote will not extinguish Scottish national identity, which is based on unique institutions, a separate culture, and different community values from the rest of the UK. Nor will a No vote halt the inevitable break-up of a British state no longer fit for purpose – as proved by every poll expressing voter-alienation from Westminster’s political class. Even if we say Nae this time, Holyrood still gets control of income tax after 2016 – which must presage eventual control over welfare spending and our economy.
Paradoxically, the sad thing about a No vote next year is that it will marginalise England more than Scotland, as it will make the London elite and its servile media even more arrogant. First result: expect zillions to be spent on London’s new airport and on the new High Speed Rail link to make Birmingham into a London suburb. Second result: a political backlash in the North and in the Midlands. I have a tremendous affection for the English. They were the first to reject slavery as an institution. It will be a tragedy if England turns bellicose and xenophobic because it is denied a voice by the London elite.
Here’s a thought: an independent Scotland would be good for England. It would kill the bogus concept of a New Britishness stone dead. Instead, England would have to come to terms with itself, embracing the good and excoriating the bad.