England’s Identity Crisis

Home to 53 million people and covering five-eights of the island of Great Britain with Scotland to the north, Wales to the west and Northern Ireland westerly still, England is – in many ways – a forgotten land. The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has always been thought of as one nation. After all, Great Britain is the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ whilst Britannia ruled the waves. For centuries, England has been immersed into the umbrella term ‘Britain’, both domestically and internationally. The British Empire was the largest in the world and we tune into the British Broadcasting Service. Chances are when we refer to Britain, more often than not we’re referring to England, or events happening in England.

As minority partners in the union, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have always been treated with intrigue, lands still echoing with lost cultures and empires seemingly foreign to the English. By virtue of not being in England and therefore not being the majority, we have – rightfully – always endeavoured to protect the indigenous traditions and identities of our neighbours. Somewhere along that line, though, we forgot about England and the national identity of the lost 53 million. While Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland each have their own devolved assemblies and are afforded a say on English laws, when ‘English votes for English laws’ has never made it into government.

England is the largest part of the union, yet it has no special dispensations.

Around £1200 more is spent per head in Scotland than in England. Britain has always felt it necessary to appease its less populous members in order to prove that the arrangement of union benefits their distinct communities.

England, on the other, has lost its own national voice, instead becoming a manifestation of the entirety of Britain due to its size, and in doing so we have forfeited our credibility as a unique culture in need of protection.

In sport, when different parts of the union are competing with each other, English pride is shown. During football tournaments, St George’s flag is draped from windows and flung outside cars on motorways. Outside of these sporting events, though, the sight of an English flag immediately brings connotations of aggressive nationalism, largely fuelled by groups such as the English Defence League who have adopted the flag – and St George – as a hate symbol used to portray their anti-immigrant and anti-Islamic sentiments. As such that is how the rest of the world see the English flag. A representation of an intolerant society.

St George’s Day isn’t widely celebrated – aside from the aforementioned nationalists who use the flag as a symbol of hatred, rather than pride – and, unlike our neighbours,  there is no bank holiday for us to celebrate on. Perhaps if there was we could retake St George’s flag as a symbol of patriotism and identity, rather than risk being seen as an insular racist simply for flying one.

Perhaps another reason for a lack of British identity is that we place such an emphasis on protecting and promoting regional cultures within England, like that of Cornwall, who have been granted minority status by the European Union. Adopting an English national identity may well even be seen as blasé – or even disrespectful to the English regions – considering our size in proportion our neighbours. So, although England may not be seen by the rest of the world – or even ourselves – as quite as special or unique as the rest of the union, I reckon the English do indeed have a very strong national identity.

We’re British. Through and through. England has contributed enormously to the concept of Britishness, and it’s only fair to give Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales a separate identity to the rest of Britain, which – in number terms – unambiguously refers to England.