The English are feeling more English and increasingly less British, report claims
Englishness emerging more clearly as a result of devolution elsewhere in UK, says report co-author
Fans waving a Union flag and the Scottish national flag cheer Andy Murray during this year’s Wimbledon tennis championships. Photograph: Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
For some, Wimbledon’s All-England Club is the quintessential, if hackneyed, expression of Englishness: strawberries and cream, sunny days (when they come); silver-haired, formal men in blazers.
With patriotic feelings on display, Sunday’s audience was twice the size of the one that watched 2011’s heart-stopping encounter between Serb Novak Djokovic and Spaniard Rafael Nadal.
Even inside Centre Court, however, identity was contested, as illustrated by the attempt by Scotland’s First Minister, Alex Salmond, to capitalise as he clumsily unfurled the Saltire moments after Murray’s triumph.
Today, identity is increasingly becoming an issue in Britain. The Scots are having an independence referendum next year, but the debate among the English is growing.
“Englishness is emerging more clearly as a result of devolution elsewhere in the UK,” says Welsh academic, Richard Wyn Jones, the co-author of England and its Two Unions, a report just published by the Institute of Public Policy Research.
Last year, in the institute’s The Dog That Finally Barked report, Wyn Jones and others argued the emergence of this identity could challenge the UK far more than anything happening on the Celtic fringe.
Then, the findings were questioned. However, the latest report has found that the numbers in England voluntarily describing themselves as British is the lowest of any survey since 1996.
More than a third, or 35 per cent, place their English identity before any sense of Britishness, while just one-in-10 claims “to be more British than English”.
“What has emerged is a different kind of Anglo-British identity in which the ‘Anglo’ component is increasingly considered the primary source of identity,” says the report.
The intensification of feelings about identity in England is being fuelled by a sense of grievance by, for example, a feeling that the Scots get more than their fair share of tax revenues.
Devolution has had its impact, too – not so much about the greater self-government enjoyed by the fringe, but rather the ability of the fringe’s MPs to vote “on English laws” in the House of Commons.
In 2000, just 18 per cent of those living in England “strongly agreed” that Scottish MPs, for instance, should not vote on English laws. Last year, that figure had jumped to 49 per cent.
These findings could prove particularly significant should Scotland stay in the UK after 2014, since all of the main parties have already agreed that Scotland will gain more self-government.
Most strikingly, the English no longer trust the British government “to work in the best long-term interests of England”.
In the past, such findings were dismissed as rogue polls: the witterings of disgruntled Tories in the shires; today, however, such feelings are “both broad and deep”, researchers say.
However, there are differences between individual strands, even if a sense of Englishness is stronger among all age groups, social classes and both genders, than is Britishness.
Englishness is stronger among: older age groups than it is with 18- to 24-year-olds; the less affluent and among men.
However, if the English agree that they are not happy with the status quo they are less agreed on potential solutions that could see their needs satisfied, in a way that would also safeguard the union.
For the outside world, the signals emanating from the English about their relationship with the European Union will be more important than any thoughts they have about their place in the UK.
Here, the report contains significant indicators: “Eurosceptism is an English phenomenon, not a British one. By a majority of eight-to-one, those who describe themselves as English would vote to get out,” says Wyn Jones.
Some English opinions about the EU are not echoed elsewhere: one-in-three of those describing themselves so believe the EU has more influence over their lives than national or local government.
“We don’t find figures remotely like that anywhere else in the EU. The closest is Brittany in France, with 9 per cent,” says Wyn Jones, adding that this group identifies the UK Independence Party as “best standing up” for England. The more English they feel, the more opposed to the EU they are.
Asked if the UK’s EU membership is a “good thing” or not, 43 per cent of respondents said “No”, while just 28 per cent were positive, but their opinions are even more stark about quitting the EU. For a start, 67 per cent want a referendum. Half say they would vote to withdraw while a third would opt to stay.