“Are you English? We hate the English.” I was six years old and just starting my new school in Scotland, having moved up from Yorkshire due to my dad’s work. Up until that point I had no concept of England or Englishness. I knew I was from Britain because all the railways and gas and steel were British. Even my toy cars were “made in Great Britain”. I had no idea of Britain’s colonial past and no clue as to why the Scots would hate the English. Yet here I was, being told that the English were hated because of stuff that happened hundreds of years ago; stuff that I knew nothing about nor had any control over.
England has an image problem. The Irish, Welsh and Scots (and let’s not forget the citizens of all those overseas colonies that were once part of the British Empire) all see England as conquerors, as subjugators. The UK is not a union of equals, it is the English empire. This may not be the whole truth, but it is the perception. The Irish were so aggrieved by their treatment by the English that they resorted to armed insurrection to be free of English rule. While it is too late to save the union with Ireland, the union with Scotland still hangs on, but only by a thread. Brexit has again brought up the spectre of Scottish independence. Scotland sees itself being “dragged out of the EU against its will” by an England apparently populated by racist football hooligans.
It was pointed out by someone on the telly (can’t remember who or when) that in the famous (or infamous) 1966 world cup final, you would have thought that Britain had won. There were plenty of union flags on display, but not so many St. George’s crosses. Up until relatively recently the English merely saw themselves as “British”. Indeed, for foreigners, England and Britain are one and the same (much to the annoyance of the Scots and Welsh). There has never been a demand for English independence because England were the conquerors, the senior partners in the UK. Even in the devolution of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, this was England granting “home rule” to the Celtic nations. The very thought of English devolution never crossed the government’s mind.
Is it time for England to assert its own identity, separate from “Britain”? If England is to lose its image as bullying conquerors, perhaps England itself should be devolved. If England had the same level of representation as the other UK nations, if the UK was a truly federal country like Germany or the United States, then England might finally be seen as an equal partner in the UK. It’s time for all parties and politicians to embrace federalism as a way to keep the UK from tearing itself apart.
David Willey was born in 1981 in Wakefield, Yorkshire and moved to Scotland in 1987. He studied Engineering at the University of Liverpool from 1999 to 2002, and spent the years from 2004 to 2014 in the Merchant Navy. He now lives in Bellshill and works in a factory making roofing tiles. www.steamboatwilley.blogspot.com