England, what are you doing?

Where are the English? It’s a question I increasingly find myself asking as the referendum gets closer. I know where the Scotland-based English are – the ones I know anyway – they’re largely on the side of Scottish Independence, curiously in greater proportions than my Scotland-born friends. The simply hilarious UKIP/BNP English, they’re on the Telegraph commenting

good riddance, don’t want my taxes paying for deep-fried heroin and Mars bars LOL #EUFASCISM”.

My family (we’re all English) are largely in the “Scottish Independence, so that might happen? Really?” camp. Many of my friends from the North East of England, where I lived until I was 19, are always begging to be allowed to come along. And the Westminster English, they’re all like “but do you really want to be a dirty foreigner?” Fine, but where are the English? Where are they in the debate? Are they really thinking this through?

To anyone English, living in England, stumbling over this article by complete accident like you might any other obscure provincial dispute, it is going to affect you, you know? It will not only mean that you risk finding an itinerant nuclear weapon rocking up uninvited in your local marina, it will mean who you are is going to change. Profoundly. Lets be clear, whisky will be no longer be a local product down at Oddbins, but one of those crusty three-holidays-gone bottles, like schnapps, limoncello or unicum. The middle-classes will wring their hands over the tragic fate of the curly kail harvesters overseas. Soor plooms will be banned by the EU, as their importation is a threat to the soft fleshy mouths of bairns. Tizer and Rubicon (also Scottish. I know!) will be reformulated for the local British market, and you’ll have to pop over the border to get the real stuff, like Americans do for Mexican Coca-Cola. It’ll be like… crossing a Rubicon.

Overseas British Territories – they’re never going to stop

You might think I’m kidding, exaggerating, but think about it: with Scotland gone what is there left? The Welsh have a language and no great love for Britain; Northern Ireland is clearly somewhere on the ‘colonial possession’ scale; the Caymans, Gibraltar, Mann, Jersey, Guernesey are all financial instruments that have somehow managed to manifest themselves in reality, like that bit in the Sorcerers Apprentice. Without Scotland, what are you English? Well let me tell you. You’re British. When it comes to it, at the point that Scotland leaves, Britishness = Englishness. There’s no firewall, no bumper, no gap. I think this is what the English Left, the trade unionists, the thinkers and the commentators are coming to realise. They’re simply terrified, not of losing Britain, but of having to find out and fight for what being English is. The founding antagonism, the mixing of the two nations which built the British Empire – of which today’s Britain is the husk – will have changed fundamentally. The English think they’re Einstein when they opine “nationalism is an infantile disease”, or that there’s a risk of “splitting the working class”. Well we’ve heard the arguments, and its not the Scots’ fault you’re afeart of taking the blame on your own. They’re well on their way to setting it to rest.

So sorry to break it to you (and here I’m especially thinking of the left-wingers who are against Scottish independence) but it will happen. Even if the vote is a firmish ‘No’, it will happen. If its a sloppy ‘No’, then jings, crivvens, help ma boab. The Scottish identity isn’t going back into the “Britain” box again after all this, and the English identity is going to have to reject or come to terms with Britishness. I think you should be getting prepared to settle some scores. It’ll be like turning on the lights after a party to realise the floor is covered in the remnants of “Keep Calm…” T-shirts, genocide, roast beef, oppression, wee Butcher’s aprons, destroyed communities, Bulldog crap and mass-unemployment.

Yeah – we’re not getting into that again

I am English, but I hope to die Scottish. Or Anglo-Scots. If someone gets me a bench in a park it could say “Reluctantly born in Britain, died Scottish.” I don’t much care about what it says on the passport after independence, but the longer I’ve lived in Scotland the less I can see a difference between Englishness and Britishness. You do know what you look like down there? What they’re making you into? I am not ashamed of my English identity quite yet, but I am terrified about what it is being turned into by demagogues and shysters. Just as I am not ashamed of being white – but I am ashamed that my whiteness is a key part of racial profiling, that it makes me invisible. The problem is structural, and half the house is subsiding. The English on the television, you know what they look like? They look like bosses, and they’ve got the whips out. You do know they’re privatising blood now? And social services for children? I mean even Karl Marx had to grudgingly note that there were efforts by Tories back in the eighteen-sixties “to prevent the coining of children’s blood into capital”. I mean, come on.

You expect Scotland to maintain that system? Someone else has to help prop up the bloody flag, the wars, the weapons, the bouncing royal brat? We should stick at it because you’re terrified of carrying the weight alone?

I’m not ashamed of being English, but I am ashamed of being British. I’d discard it totally if it wasn’t the best term going for the collection of peoples on these islands. Despite that, I believe that there is a potential idea of Britishness that needs to win out, one which is the obverse of that which we have at the moment. One that celebrates the endless struggles against colonialism, against unearned privilege, against racism, against endless competition: the struggles we won, and all the struggles we lost. I get it, the Clyde the Mersey and Tyne should stick together, but there were a thousand Scots in London in 2010 protesting tuition fees they weren’t even at risk of paying. They were some of the first kicking down the doors of the Conservatives’ head office. If you set up a rammy, Scots will still turn up to have a go.

I grew up with Swan Hunter’s in the news just as Scots did with the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders. I learned at primary school about the Jarrow March. But the Jarrow march is not what being ‘British’ means today. He who pays the piper calls the tune. While there is a possibility and a hope that the British identity can be reclaimed, that some of it can be recuperated and reformulated, its not going to happen within the United Kingdom.

Even if it were possible, there’s still a few red lines – the flag is just a rag and its awful dirty, Kate and Wills and the rest have to go, however much tourist revenue they bring in. The coat of arms – gone. Eton – gone. Oxbridge – gone. Lords – gone. The City – gone. Turn them into social housing or museums if you must. The structures – and the identity – of power need to be completely dismantled. I don’t hold out much hope though, they have grown up over hundreds of years to reward privilege and punish dissent, to allow mediocrity and self-service to rise to the top, and to twist every attempt from below to achieve equality. The ‘United Kingdom’ has got to go, and its not going to collapse on its own. Why aren’t the English dancing in the streets at the prospect of Scotland picking up a brick? It all looks dispiritingly like you’re telling us that it’ll will be aright after some imminent global political reconfiguration. What can you see from down there that we can’t? In the meantime, we’re not waiting.

Scotland is already ahead: building a new identity is already under way and has been for decades. It will have a lot to inherit, and a lot to argue over. Its not a Scottishness of tartan, haggis and wizarding pubescents, though it has enough confidence to smile at the thought. I chose to move to Scotland at the age of nineteen largely on the back of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark and Barr Cola. The Scottish identity is a place where the struggles which should be part of Britishness are alive in a way they rarely are in England. At the very least in Scotland they are visible. People regularly defend a fizzy drink from slander. Alex Salmond photobombs Tories. A major think-tank named after a communist is releasing papers debating the applicability of the Venezuelan model to Scotland, and the SNP are debating their ‘Common Weal’ concept at their conference. The water’s warm! Come on in!

It’s too late

Visit Scotland. The debate up here is quickly becoming a bizzaro-world bare-knuckle fight over who is the best social democrat – while the debate in the rest of the UK increasingly becomes over who can be the most effective gravedigger of the welfare state. Fighting over who gets to be the inheritor of Blair’s Labour is like arguing over who your old aunt promised the gollywogs to. Where is the idea of England that can resist the demonization of workers, minorities, the disabled? What alternative is there to Farage? Miliband? Personally if I have to try to become more ‘Scottish’ in order to learn how to build the best England that is possible, then so be it.

The rest of the English need to work this out for themselves. Appealing to the past isn’t going to work – the past is on the way out.

Thomas Coles
National Collective


There are 18 comments

  1. Howard Price

    Great piece; another pro-independence Anglo Scot here!

    Thing is, as an outsider looking in, It’s as clear as day why Scotland *needs* independence. Politically the divide grows almost by the day.Once the union is dissolved the relationships between England & Scotland will vastly improve.

    How do i know this? Ireland & England. More at ease with each other now than pretty much ever before.. A perfect example of how autonomy and sovereignty nullifies historical grievances between the countries of the British Isles.

  2. Toque

    I’m an Englishman who used to live in Scotland and voted SNP. In regard to independence, what’s good for Scotland is good for England.

    I’m fairly ambivalent about complete independence – if there can be such a thing between such close neighbours – but certainly as much independence for England and Scotland would only improve relations, and probably make being British a more positive experience. At present Westminster and Britain just seems to hold back the aspirations of the Scots and English.

    London seems to be the last bastion of Anglo-Britishness. The rest of the country tends to distinguish between their English and British identity to a far greater degree than was previously the case. In this respect devolution to Scotland and Wales has been a great positive for England – though I think the cultural shift to English identity was well underway before devolution.

    We’re trying to work it out for ourselves: http://englishcommonwealth.org/

  3. cornubian

    Cornwall forgotten again! I can’t speak for the rest of what the author considers England but in Cornwall we are moving. I’ll just draw your attention to the Cornish Constitutional Convention and the petition of 50,000 signatures collected calling for a Cornish Assembly. Couple that if you like with the PLASC survey in Cornish schools that showed 47% of kids preferred Cornish as their national identity over English or British.

    Cornish Constitutional Convention http://www.cornishassembly.org/

    Mebyon Kernow https://www.mebyonkernow.org/

    1. tadramgo

      Sorry for omitting Cornwall. In a longer draft of this piece there was an extended look at things like the North Eastern regional assembly, the collapse and destruction of local politics, the GLC vs. the GLA etc.

      A constitutional convention is necessary for all areas of the current UK – its practically impossible within the structures of the UK.

      Tom Coles

      1. cornubian

        I’m not surprised by the omission. The full weight of the anglo-british educational system has been used to promote the simplified 4 ‘home nations’ model for the UK effectively excluding any other traditional national identity that might exist. That you overlook Cornwall is no more surprising than any other British subject not knowing about the Cornish question. What is surprising however is that, despite the hostility of the anglo-british establishment, despite the cultivated ignorance of the majority of Scots, English, Irish and Welsh, a flickering flame of Cornish national conciousness still exists.

  4. D.I. MacDonald

    Pro-independence Gael here, currently spending half the year (studying) in England. English politics is toxic. I live in Oxford and it literally took a few weeks here to turn my previously wish-washy SNP leanings into fully fledged radical independence support. Too many wannabe Camerons and Milibands swanning around who have never been north of Birmingham and yet will be ruling us in 20 years time if we don’t get independence. In England, the Tories are mainstream, UKIP a reasonable alternative, the Left’s views of Scottish Independence are indistinguishable from Farage’s. The first question I am asked by every vaguely politically aware English perosn I meet is how will I vote. When I say yes, they look at me like I murdered a baby. Then I ask – how would you feel if you were ruled by an SNP government in Edinburgh for whom you never voted? Would you not want some kind of English independence? I love this article because it really speaks to my experience of engaging with young English people on the question of reform of the UK.

    1. tadramgo

      Thanks D.I. Its written from a similar set of experiences which you’ve described here. Perhaps worth an article of your own?

      I find it frustrating. Newcastle and the North East isn’t like this, they have many of the same values and experiences as Scotland (especially the central belt), but there is often a deep-flowing conservatism when it comes to hope for change.

      I’m always aware that if it wasn’t for the opportunity of independence at this stage, Scottish politics wouldn’t have grown to be as critically engaged as it is.

      Tom Coles

      1. D.I. MacDonald

        Rereading my comment, I want to
        add a bit of nuance. I agree with you that a large proportion of the English population does share
        the same progressive values as Scots, and I don’t want to seem like I’m
        over-generalizing from my limited experience of a certain subset of English
        people (white, middle class, often privately educated, south easterners and
        Londoners) to the population as a whole. Most English people aren’t overprivileged bankers living in Hampshire, and these people deserve better than the destructive austerity they’ve suffered under for the past 3 years. However, I resent the accusation that left wing commentators make that this means Scottish independence is
        somehow selfish or uncompassionate, that Scots have a duty to help their comrades in Newcastle and Liverpool and London. Perhaps we are just escaping a sinking ship but then what else can we do? Devolution was offered to the North East too, and was roundly rejected after all.

        re article, I’m not sure if I could add much more to an article about English views, not sure if we even want to here more as its such a depressing topic. I would rather hear about what the Welsh or the Catalans think of us!

      2. Derick Tulloch

        That puts me in mind of something my boss (from Cumbria) said when we were discussing the political difference between Scotland and the North of England. “The working class Tory is alive and well in the North of England, but not to the same degree in Scotland.” Now why is that?

  5. th43

    “…there were a thousand Scots in London in 2010 protesting tuition fees they weren’t even at risk of paying”

    You do realise that the ONLY reason England has tuition fees is because unaccountable Scots MPs (along with Welsh and NI) swung the vote, don’t you?

    The WLQ is one reason why Scottish independence is more popular in England, than it is in Scotland.

    1. tadramgo

      Scottish MPs in the Labour party? Yes, I did know that: the report was commissioned under the Tories, implemented by Blair’s Labour, as it so often came to pass.

      The WLQ (West Lothian Question) arises out of the fudge (there are so many in the British constitution) that is the Scottish Parliament. It needs to be resolved, hopefully by England finding a way to become independent of Britain, as I advocate in this piece.

      What is your point?

      Tom Coles

      1. th43

        That’s right. Some 46 Scots MPs (all Labour) voted for an education tax on English kids, whilst opposing the same measures at home. If they’d minded their own business, the bill would have been defeated 311 to 270.

        My point is twofold.

        1. This partially explains why Scottish independence is favoured by the majority in England

        2. It somewhat tempers your claim that “If you set up a rammy, Scots will still turn up to have a go…”. Their elected representatives were quite happy to sell us down the river, without a barely audible ‘peep’ from anyone north of the border. The exception was the SNP, but they only managed to return six MPs out of sixty-odd Scots’ seats.
        Anyway, all the best for 2014!

        1. rod mac

          It really is unfair to term Labour MPs as Scottish ,they may have been born there ,however these parasites are the most British of the British.
          They care no more for the English than they care for their own countrymen.
          They voted for themselves on tuition fees, Labour ALWAYS put Labour before everything else.
          FFS Gordon Brown in USA referred to himself as coming from Northern Britain..
          The SNP MPS never vote on English only matters they should be your barometer, not trough dwelling Labourites.
          SLAB has abandoned everyone ,except themselves.

          1. th43

            I agree rod mac. The SNP are comitted to not voting on English only matters whilst the SLABs do whatever the whip tells them.

            The problem is that there are only 6 SNP MPs but 41 SLAB, 11 SLD MPs and the lonely tory boy. That’s our democratic deficit

  6. Kane Balintore

    Totally agree the racists will no longer be able to blame their failings on the English. Because we’re all so very progressive and international the SNP will hand all power to the EU and the Scottish parliament will be made irrelevant. Maybe with Scotland’s big voice in Europe they might give back Scotland’s fishing industry and revert their plans to divide up every industry to select EU competitors. It’s all gonna be great!

  7. Neil Watkinson

    Someone needs to speak for the majority of English people who are very fond of our Scottish brothers and who will be greatly saddened if they choose to opt out of one of the most creative and productive alliances in the history of mankind.

    However, It’s purely down to the Scots to chose and we know that Scottish passion and pride could lead to a ‘Yes’ vote… irrespective of the strengths of the economic case. If so, then so be it… but I liken this to when your best friend is planning to join the army. You know that he could come to some harm and that you will miss him when he goes… but you also know that if he has to do it then he has to do it.

    Please Scotland… don’t do it… most English people I know see the Scots as our brothers and friends and I don’t want to lose that.

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