England is a land of opportunity with a history forever inter-twining with the people of other lands. The Roman, Viking and Norman invasions have historically contributed to the mix of people that are proud to refer to themselves as English today. More than ever, England is welcoming people whose ancestral heritage stretches all over the planet and it is a source of pride to me that so many from so far away would wish to live in our land.
No national borders are set in stone but nationhood comes easier to those who live on an Island. We should therefore embrace our fellow islanders. Englishmen are not in competition with Scotsmen, Welshmen or Irishmen – we are all from the same stock, just as we are from the same stock as those in Europe and the rest of the world. England has a distinct identity thanks to its history 800-year history as a nation with its own parliament but this should not signal the end of our journey.
England is as artificial a creation as any nation can be. The Anglo Saxon tribes were fiercely separate from one another and if it wasn’t for the Romans, the English boundary-lines may never have been drawn as they are today. We would do badly to forget this. Wales and Scotland grew as separate nations because they were not colonised by foreign invaders. England, before most, knew what it was like to accept foreign cultures and peoples. It was this that helped us to grow together as a nation. When other European nations were mercilessly persecuting Jews in the 11th century, it was to England that they fled, under the protection of our first Norman king William the Conqueror. From that moment to this, England has been a shelter for those in need – a place of refuge in a land where needless persecution is anathema to its people.
But now England no longer exists alone – we have become part of something greater. England can pride itself as being at the heart of the United Kingdom, a union in which our total strength is much greater than the sum of the parts. It is no secret that men stand stronger together. We should not lament the loss of England as a distinct political entity because we are creating something much better. It may be tempting to think that the addition of new cultures can weaken our own but we must always remember that our culture was given to us and not formed by us. We are at our best when we think for ourselves and the variety of cultural norms in England constantly prompts us to re-evaluate our own ideas.
Having discussed what England is I would like to end with what England isn’t. England is not centred around ethnicity or race – it is centred around identity. Resentment of our friends to the North and West is becoming more common because they have devolved politics and we do not. It is pertinent to remind those who might tend to denigrate our fellow Brits that the old English Parliament in Westminster cannot helpfully serve those who live so far away. The alternative seats of power in Cardiff, Belfast and Edinburgh are not there to promote provincial nationalism at the expense of subsuming Englishness into Britishness. It is simply an attempt to bring politics closer to these people. We English (in the South at least) are lucky to have Westminster so near and we cannot know what it feels like to be ruled from a Parliament so far away from your home.
Finally, questions over English identity must never be allowed to spill over into questions of race. The English are not a race. We are as artificially thrown together as any nation. Our strength is that we can still forge a great society without the need for ethnic bonds. We are freed from primal politics and instead can look forward to rational politics. Some on the fringe may argue that Englishness means being of some particular racial background – this I wholly reject. We English are a people but not a race. We are inclusive to anyone who agrees with our basic values.
The great symbol of England that remains is our football team and I am a passionate fan. I expect I will still feel the desire to weep when England are knocked out of the 2060 World Cup Finals. I’m sure that then, as now, I will be cheering on a team with a variety of ethnic backgrounds – all proudly English. England is a land of inclusion, a land comfortable with the idea of mixing various cultures, a land with pride in humanity and not pre-occupied with racial origins.
Simon Maine is a student of politics and philosophy at St. Anne’s College, Oxford University.