THE British identity is in steep decline south of the border with the number of people who would describe themselves as English over British soaring, a poll has revealed.
The study found that the number of people in England who would now describe themselves as English rather than British rose to 63 per cent, as opposed to 41 per cent in 2008.
The YouGov poll also discovered that just 20 per cent of the UK population preferred a British identity to any other, down from 42 per cent three years ago.
The poll, taken last month, appears to show that English nationalism is on the rise at the same time as Scottish nationalism is the predominant force in politics north of the border.
It prompted warnings of a shift that could threaten the Union.
The findings were last night seized on by campaigners for a separate English Parliament as further evidence that there was now a major social shift developing across the country.
And John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said that a weakening of “Britishness” in England could have massive repercussions for the future of the Union.
He said: “Adherence to a common sense of ‘Britishness’ is often thought to be a vital part of the emotional glue that helps keep the Union together. That glue has long since lost much of its strength in Scotland. If it has now been eroded in England too, the long term prospects for the Union would seem rather bleak indeed.”
The SNP said that the figures showed there was a desire for a new “equal relationship” between Scotland and England, with the nations standing on their own.
The figures in the new YouGov poll on English and British identity are a marked change on previous polling undertaken in recent years.
Of 1,700 adults around Britain, 2 per cent said they were “mainly” European, 19 per cent said British, 1 per cent said Irish, 5 per cent Welsh, 8 per cent Scottish and 63 per cent said English. In 2008, asked which best described how people felt about themselves, 42 per cent said British, 1 per cent said Irish, 4 per cent Welsh, 8 per cent Scottish and 41 per cent said English.
The new poll, published in this month’s Prospect magazine, was carried out as part of a wider study on British attitudes to Europe.
It was claimed last night that the increase in ‘Englishness has been fuelled in part by resentment about perceived Scottish “freebies”, especially concerning university tuition fees, soon to rise to £9,000 a year south of the border.
Calls for an English “parliament” are growing. Labour MP Frank Field has now laid down a parliamentary motion calling for the pros and cons of such a devolved chamber to be examined.
Meanwhile, the UKIP party confirmed last night that it now supported the creation of an English parliament, becoming the first party to do so officially.
Eddie Bone of the Campaign for an English Parliament said: “People may not understand the Barnett Formula (which provides the block funding grant to Scotland), but they understand the issue of prescription charges, elderly care, NHS cuts and particularly tuition fees. There is a real feeling among young people in England now that they are being treated very badly. ”
He added: “What is coming out is that more and more people identify themselves as English and that they are subsidising the rest of the UK.”
SNP Ministers have pointed out that Scotland generates more tax revenues than its per capita share in an attempt to scotch the “subsidy myth”. But recent polls have shown a growing discontent in England about Scotland’s share of public spending.
Field added last night: “I was against devolution but once it went through, it seems to me the issue is unfinished. And the people being under-represented are the English, simply because they are the biggest group. I would have thought the next stage is for an English parliament, with a Federal parliament for the UK which undertakes collective action.”
Paul Nuttall MEP, deputy leader of UKIP, said: “We believe the current situation is unfair to the English. There is a clear democratic deficit. If we continue down this road the Union will splinter and we believe that to preserve the Union we need to move to a federal system. The English want equality and we believe that comes in the guise of a parliament.”
A spokesman for the UK Government declined to comment on the polling figures.
Angus Robertson, the SNP’s referendum campaign director, said last night: “We share with the likes of Frank Field the desire for a new relationship of equality between the different nations, and believe that with independence we will build a stronger friendship with all parts of the UK.”