Britain’s Identity Crisis

Reuters, December 12, 2007

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A poll in the Daily Telegraph newspaper showed that only 37% of English people would describe themselves as British if asked for their nationality abroad.

What’s more, 78% said England would be “better off” or “no different” without Scotland—the country to which it was joined by King James I in 1603 to create Great Britain.

Yet at the same time, nearly six out of 10 of the 869 surveyed said it would be a good idea to create a British football team—rather than having separate English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish ones.

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Since coming to power in June, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot, has worked hard to promote the idea of “Britishness”—the pooling of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales under one banner—in an attempt at inclusiveness.

Yet as much as he’s tried to talk it up, others have been pulling at the ties that bind the nations together.

Wales not represented on Union Jack

One of the more recent assaults was on the flag—usually dubbed the “Union Jack”—which combines the banners of England, Scotland and Ireland, but not Wales.

Piqued, a member of parliament from a Welsh constituency pointed out that it might be more inclusive if Wales had some representation—the Welsh dragon or leek emblem.

Yet legally Wales is a principality of England—Prince Charles, the son of the queen, is the Prince of Wales—and so does not get its own symbol in the Union flag. There may be a Welsh national parliament, but it has only limited autonomy.

The Scottish parliament, on the other hand, has grown increasingly self-confident since its founding in 1999 and now makes all sorts of decisions on national issues ranging from health care to education, although not taxation.

The ruling party is now the Scottish National Party, which has made independence from Britain one of its stated aims as it rides a wave of nationalist feeling.

Brown, Cameron promoting ‘Britishness’

That has raised the hackles of Brown, who while a proud Scotsman, is equally if not more proud to call himself British.

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“The problem is, the Scots are thinking of themselves more and more as Scots and you’re unlikely to see the Union flag anywhere in Scotland these days,” [said Graham Bartram, the chief vexilloligist—flag expert—at Britain’s Flag Institute].

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