Nosemonkey's EUtopia

In search of a European identity

Nation states, regionalism and the EU

In the comments to my National identity vs European identity post, where I’ve been arguing that it’s perfectly possibly to have a sense of belonging to multiple different groups, and thus to have multiple different identities, commenter WG notes:

I don’t see the point in this multi-ID thing.

One other point. The break up of Britain may well be a result of belonging to the EU. Wales, Scotland, and yes, even places such as Cornwall, may well decide that they will be better off under the EU and free of England. Whether this was intentional or no people such as myself have resigned ourselves to the ‘regionalization’ of England and expect other regions to break away. There is a growing sense that we are returning to the Essex/Mercia/Northumberland scenario.

As a Devonian, a Dumonii, I am afraid that I and many friends will never submit to EU rule. You see what a can of worms we have opened here. We are back to fighting Imperial Rome.

I’d agree that the EU makes such things possible (regional development funds and the like being able to fill the cash gap previously provided by nation state apparatus), I don’t necessarily see this as entirely down to the EU.

The drift to localism

There has long been a strong (and notably growing over the last century or so) nationalist sentiment in both Wales and Scotland (not to mention Northern Ireland), and the United Kingdom was always a way for England to govern its provinces while making them feel less like second class citizens – the fact that the capital of the UK is London being a bit of a hint there.

Little wonder that, now that the previously much-needed military protection provided by the UK nation state machinery is no longer necessary for Wales and Scotland to live securely, and now that there is an additional layer of economic security above that of the UK being provided by the EU, that they are shifting towards greater independence.

This is not a phenomenon unique to the UK – witness the break-up of Yugoslavia, the division of Czechoslovakia, the ongoing troubles in Belgium, the revival of regionalist movements (in many cases, as with the Basques, more accurately described as nationalist – as many of these regions have long retained their sense of unique identity, culture, and in some cases language) in Spain and France and Italy, among others. It’s not even unique to Europe – witness the various nationalist movements that sprang up in the various European colonies during the mid-20th century. Indeed, as long ago as the 1950s Arnold Toynbee (among others) was identifying a new movement away from the old Great Powers and large nation states towards smaller national identities. As Toynbee notes in his A Study of History,

The cumulative effect of the two world wars has brought to the surface a tendency which had been at work for nearly half a century before 1914. In 1918 Austria-Hungary, one of the eight Great Powers which had been on the map in 1914, broke up. At the same date the break-up of the Ottoman Empire was completed. The Second World War was followed by the break-up of the British, French, and Dutch colonial Empires, and the number of Great Powers was reduced to two, while the number of juridicially sovereign independent states was increased, in the course of the next quarter of a century, to about 140.

The greater the number of nominally sovereign states, the smaller their average area, population, wealth and economic and military capacity are bound to be… the characteristic states of the new age are not units that can be thought of as being universes in themselves [unlike the former Great Powers, which were characterised by almost total self-sufficiency and independence of action]… Some states… are… confessing… that they cannot stand alone. The ‘developing’ countries are still seeking financial and technological aid from the ‘developed’ countries, and the states of Western Europe [this passage being written in the 1960s] – which, for four and a half centuries, ending in 1945, fought round after round of wars with each other to prevent any one of them from dominating the rest – are now trying to unite voluntarily, on a footing of equality with each other, in a European economic community.

These multiple tendencies can be summed up in a single formula: in the new age, the dominant not in the corporate consciousness of communities is a sense of being parts of some larger universe, whereas, in the age which is now over, the dominant note in their consciousness was an aspiration to be universes in themselves.

So, a trend can be identified throughout the 20th century towards smaller units with a broader, international outlook.

What is the best form of government?

Myself, I always reckon that the best form of government is that which is closest to the people – because that way it is far more likely to tally with what the people actually want.

Most nation states are the size and shape that they are purely thanks to accidents of history – even the island of Great Britain, while superficially a clearly-defined geographical entity, is made up of numerous different cultures, nationalities and peoples – some which have come voluntarily into the larger whole, others only thanks to military conquest; some have been parts of the wider unit for over a thousand years, others for far shorter a period of time. And, as I noted in that other post, some national identities can be very tough to shake – witness Cornwall, more than a thousand years after becoming part of England, or Wales after 700 years of unity with her larger neighbour, or Scotland, after just 300.

I see no practical reasons why London should govern Kent or Sussex, let alone Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland – the reason why the UK is ruled from London is entirely because, well, that’s the way it’s always been done. (Or, at least, that’s the way it’s been done since the middle ages, when most of the institutions of governance began to permanently locate there.)

National identities and the logic of the nation state

Will some people have a strong attachment to England or Britain? Well, of course – otherwise we wouldn’t have the English Democrat or British National parties. But based on a look at pretty much every national identity in existence, we can see that there is no reason whatsoever to suppose that these identities would necessarily be lost should England/Britain become part of a greater whole. In fact, if the 20th century has shown us anything, it is that being part of a larger whole can have precisely the opposite effect, and make these national identities even stronger. (And not just the 20th century. Wales has never existed as a united, sovereign state – prior to the English conquest it was characterised by its tribal nature; Welsh national identity only began to arise during the period of the English conquest and subsequent occupation.)

Does this mean that WG’s hint of the potential for armed resistance to the EU’s supposed attempts to impose itself on the peoples of Europe may come to pass? Well, possibly. But – as noted in that quote by Toynbee above – most states these days are too small to be fully sovereign, independent and self-sufficient. Not even Britain as a whole can exist without some dealings with its neighbours and the wider world – let alone such economically implausible units as Wales, Scotland or Cornwall.

Where the UK has been providing that extra layer of security for its various regions for the last 300 years, the appearance of the EU on the scene has given another option – Wales and Scotland can now dream of independence from rule by London by replacing the economic safety blanket of the United Kingdom with that of the European Union, and the military safety blanket of the British Armed Forces (arguably increasingly unnecessary for smaller European states since the end of the Cold War and the decline of wars between nations in Europe during the last 60 years) with that of NATO/the UN.

The flaws of nation-level governance

As I say, I see the best form of government as that which is closest to the people. The current British system’s primary concession to that idea is the retention of parliamentary constituencies, and the idea that Members of Parliament are supposed to represent their constituents in Westminster. But in practice, local voices and concerns are rarely heard in the House of Commons – the business of government is focussed at too broad a level to give due consideration to all the worries of all the various constituencies. The existence of County and Borough councils is one of the strongest indications of this inability of central government to give due consideration to local issues. The House of Commons is instead concerned with *national* issues, like infrastructure (Heathrow expansion, motorway building and the like), security and the economy.

Despite my attraction to localism, There are always going to be areas like these that are better ruled
from a higher level. But for me, the broader the area over which these areas are governed, the better – because no nation state (bar possibly Russia, perhaps America) is sizeable enough to be self-sufficient, and most of these issues are better dealt with on as broad a scale as possible. Take infrastructure – much more of a concern in mainland Europe, where ensuring that railways, roads and electricity networks link up effectively is essential, but also in the UK with concerns about flight paths, shipping routes and the like. Take the economy – the last year has been the ultimate proof that individual states are more or less powerless on their own. Take security – in an age of international terrorist attacks and rising levels of cross-border crime, co-operation between states is increasingly vital.

Where the EU fits in

This is a major part of the reason why I think the EU is a good idea – albeit an idea that has been poorly implemented and ill-thought-out. Especially since the introduction of the concept of subsidiarity, the guiding principle of the EU has – in theory, at least – been that issues should be dealt with at the most appropriate level, and that the most appropriate level should always be considered to be as close to the people as possible.

Hence the EU’s concept of regions – because the lower the level at which people are governed, the more appropriate the responses should (in theory) be. And bar some of the smaller EU member states like Luxembourg or Malta, few current European states are actually overly logical or efficient units, but instead are often sprawling entities with vast geographic and cultural differences within them, perceived as units only thanks to the accidents of history.

After all, we’re all trying to find the best possible system of government to make the greatest possible number of people happy and prosperous. If you were to look at the world entirely dispassionately and work out how best it could be run, there would be some elements that would be sensible to impose on a global level (much like the UN and World Trade Organisation – albeit in a different form to those deeply flawed institutions); but I doubt anyone working out a new global geopolitics would pick many of the existing nation states as sensible lower-level units of governance. (I also doubt anyone would pick Europe as a sensible unit of governance – but as we don’t have the option of an effective global structure at present, it’s about the largest we can currently hope for, and so will have to do.)

In short, I still have a strong sentimental attachment to the idea of Britain, and to the idea of England (I wouldn’t have spent so much of my life studying their histories if I didn’t) – but I don’t see any particularly convincing arguments to support their continued existence as practical units of governance, bar “they exist”.

And that argument, after all, applies equally well to the EU…


  1. I don’t know why, but people always assume that the smaller nations in the UK would want to leave England, but not the other way around.

    England would be far better off without Scotland, Wales & NI. Fact. And they can take their corrupt parasites with them.

  2. Hence my mentioning the English Democrats. The campaign for an English Parliament – effectively English devolution – is something that makes a good amount of sense since Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been granted their own assemblies.

    But I still don’t see any convincing reasons for England to be any better a unit of governance than the United Kingdom – both are too large and too diverse to be sufficiently responsive to the needs of the people who live within them.

  3. Nosemonkey I’m curious about some of your logic here. On the one hand, you say you believe in localism, but on the other, you say that certain issues are best handled a the highest possible level (geographically speaking).

    Isn’t the reality a lot more complex than that? Some aspects of government are always going to be best handled at local level, and some at global or international level. But there must be aspects that would be best managed at a level that corresponds roughly in size to modern-day countries.

    Take defence. Do you really see control over defence policy best being handed over to the UN or NATO, or alternatively left to local governments? I think that modern-day countries or nation-states will continue to fulfill some pretty fundamental governance needs for a very long time.

    I think that the challenge of our times is that in an increasingly globalised economy, with an increasingly precarious environment, and yet with the Internet enabling radically new forms of communication (blogs) and political (Iran elections) and economic (United Breaks Guitars) accountability, political leaders need to build appropriate institutions to address the needs of all most effectively. It’s an unprecedented challenge in terms of scale and complexity. And it’s also unprecedented in terms of risks to our security.

  4. Yes, I see some problems with your approach here. You approach the issue of national political units through one of logical objectivity. That is to say, you imply that political units should be created on the basis of how they govern and how effectively they govern. Indeed, you move very close to international functionalism, especially with your statements with regards to pushing defence and security up to the UN. However, apart from the fact that the UN is not in a position to be able to defend anything or anyone (and nor should it ever be in that position), this approach neglects the importance of the particular and specifically identity. People do not support their political communities because they necessarily think they are governed effectively, but rather because they think they share a common identity with others. If you take that away, or try to de-articulate it, you will be left with a disorderly and ungovernable rabble.

    I agree that it makes sense for different levels of government to assume different tasks (with the exception of the global level)—so I’m quite happy for the E.U., U.K. and England/Wales/Scotland/N.I., counties and local councils to assume different political roles—but I also see the importance of identity. It is vital that a people have a narrative about themselves, and that ultimately, they are prepared to surrender their lives for it.

  5. Insideur – I don’t think for a second that nation states will be disbanded. At least, not any time soon. After all, they exist, and the national machinery of government exists – it would be far too great an upheaval to dismantle that all in one go, or even to a coherent plan, and they can still provide a useful function even in a globalised world. If they do start to break up, I imagine it will be a far more organic, natural process, over the course of centuries.

    All I’m saying is that if you were starting from scratch and working out the best units by which to govern the world, few of the existing nation states would be obvious choices. Instead, you’d be more likely to go for far smaller units based on a far clearer sense of individual identity.

    An example of such thinking that springs to mind is Lawrence of Arabia’s proposal for the redivision of the Middle East following the First World War – a far more logical system than that which eventually emerged, being as it was concerned with careful considerations of the different tribes, races and cultures of the region – albeit with an added concern to preserve imperial interests. Still, perhaps if we’d opted for something a bit more like Lawrence’s suggestions rather than the artificial, straight-line divisions eventually imposed, then the Middle East wouldn’t be in the mess it is now…

  6. I really do not agree that identity is what makes government work. I do, however, think that what works is what is ultimately successful. History is littered with examples of states that failed despite strong identities.

    I am also not clear whether you really mean that one’s national identity is one that you should be prepared to die for, or whether you are referring to one’s identity more broadly.

  7. James – that’s precisely one of the things I’m arguing for. (It seems the suggestion that most nation states aren’t logical units may have obscured that fundamental point.)

    We have the United Kingdom, made up of Britain, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. There have been few sensible objections to Welsh/Scottish/Northern Irish devolution – because all of those make a certain amount of sense, being based as they are upon clear sub-UK national identities.

    But there are other strong sub-national identities as well – in England there’s Cornish; in France there’s Breton; in Spain there’s Breton and Catalonian and so on; in Belgium there’s Flemmish and Walloon; in Germany there’s Bavarian and Prussian and countless others; in Turkey there’s Kurdish – and there are huge numbers of other examples all over the shop (witness last year’s Georgia/Osettia conflict and the ongoing instability in the Caucasus, or the breaking off of Kosovo and Montenegro from Serbia), most of which are dismissed because these wannabe states often have unclear historic claims to independence, despite often having very clear and distinct senses of identity that are separate from their umbrella nation state.

    I’ve already stated that I don’t think you can really force a new identity upon people, and as such I see the continued bundling together of diverse peoples with diverse identities under the nation-state umbrella as being – in some cases (where people seem not to be that bothered by the additional nation-state identity layer) not overly wrong, in other cases little better than a form of colonialism.

    If a new European layer can supersede the national and allow these identity-based regions – if they so desire – to break away and make a go of it, then as I’m a localist at heart, that’s all good – it should help bring government closer to the people.

  8. By the way James if you re-read my comment you’ll see I fully agree with you about the UN and defence!

  9. Insideur – I’m not arguing that identity is important for government (though in my last comment it could sound like I am – this is getting complicated and I’m not explaining it very well, I fear…)

    I’m not even, actually, arguing that these identities have to be overly conscious or strongly-felt. When I say I’m in favour of localism/regionalism, it’s because I look at England and see huge differences between, say, the South East and North West – differences that are topological, economic, cultural and (in places, due to varying dialects) linguistic.

    To me, these sub-national regions are more obviously coherent in terms of character than England is as a whole – often at least as much as Scotland and Wales have coherently different characters/identities. As such, they strike me as more sensible units of governance than the one-size-fits-all approach of Westminster centralisation – because the closer the shared characteristics of an area, the more likely it is that you can come up with policies and plans that will work equally well throughout, and vice versa.

    I’ve never been a fan of one-size-fits-all approaches…

  10. sorry Nosemonkey – I was addressing my incomprehension to James Rogers! He was arguing that identity is important. I think you and I are almost exactly on the same page.

  11. Insideur: Which states failed despite a strong identity? Yes, I am saying that people must be willing to die for their highest identity, which for most people is today their national identity. I cannot see how society can function unless a person is willing to sacrifice his/her time and ultimately life, if required to do so.

    Nosemonkey: Good, I understand now. But my beef was indeed with your statement that nation states are not logical…I don’t think any type of identity can ever be logical; it’s produced through history and multiple contingencies (or determined by a complicated interplay of forces, depending on your preference).

    But I do disagree with your point about being able to force an identity on a people. Perhaps force is too strong; maybe ‘shaping’ is a more appropriate word. This is surely the only way identity is fostered. Think about the national education programmes implemented in Britain and France in the nineteenth century, or the railway and road programmes of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Think about the teaching of a common language (e.g. French and English being taught in schools eradicated local languages, pushed them to the margins of society, and crushed local dialects). Think also about national radio and television, and the enormous universalising impact they have had in their respective national audiences. Think too about the role of warfare, in bringing different socio-economic hierarchies together in a common endeavour, let alone the promises which had to be fulfilled after conflict (e.g. the ‘Homes for Heroes’ programme in 1919 and the NHS after 1945). All of these things have been utilised to create uniformity within a national community. They were certainly not thought up as part of some nation-producing masterplan, but many of their creators and supporters were aware of their possible impact.

    Today, a European identity is gradually being fostered through a similar enterprise, whether that be through the construction of inter-state pan-E.U. motorways (look at a road atlas and note how Central Europe is now being linked up to the German/Belgian/French/Dutch/Austrian ‘core’ autobahn and autoroute network. What impact will that have? Note also the educational programmes designed, in part, to foster a pan-European educated elite. Or the emergence of E.U. focussed blogs, such as yours and mine. Or the creation of E.U. oriented magazines and newspapers. Granted, it all takes a terribly long time to produce an impact, and opposing forces will work against it unrelentingly, but it will prevail in the end if enough people support it (or rather, convinced of the arguments).

  12. Hi,

    It’s very magnanimous of you to tell us English what is best for us, but I wonder if an such an erudite eminence as yourself would allow me to retain the ambition for an English parliament initially followed eventually by independent England.

  13. Erm… I’m also English, old boy. By all means have your ambition for an English parliament – as noted above, I believe there’s a case for it. I just don’t think that it’s an idea that yet has particularly strong or widespread support, nor is it an idea that would make any real sense were it not for existing Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish devolution.

  14. I agree with Nosemonkey. And I’m British too.

  15. • nosemonkey Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 3:57 pm
    “Erm… I’m also English, old boy. By all means have your ambition for an English parliament – as noted above, I believe there’s a case for it. I just don’t think that it’s an idea that yet has particularly strong or widespread support, nor is it an idea that would make any real sense were it not for existing Scottish/Welsh/Northern Irish devolution.”

    You don’t think it has particularly strong or widespread support! Where’s the evidence that supports your ‘don’t think’ opinion?

    Why not put the issue of an English parliament to bed by granting the English electorate a referendum in the same way that the Scots and Welsh had?

    Perhaps old boy, the English electorate’s opinion has no weight in comparison to yours, or that of the Scots and Welsh.

  16. Fred Blogz: Why do you want an English parliament? What is there to be proud of about being ‘English’? England ceased to be a country a long time ago and is not much more than a little rump off the coast of Europe.

  17. Fred – Proof of lack of support, eh? Proof that the electorate doesn’t care, eh? Done:

    The English Democrats Party achieved just 1.8% of the vote in the European elections earlier this summer – a 1.1 percentage points increase on 2004. Significant for the party, perhaps (and, to be fair, it compares favourably with the level of support for the Welsh and Scottish nationalist parties), but let’s be honest here – that’s hardly a ringing endorsement, is it?

    (The best the party’s ever achieved – as far as I can tell – was 3.4% in Greenwich and Woolwich in the 2005 general election – and that was pretty much entirely thanks to their candidate being D-list celebrity and Sun columnist Gary Bushell.)

    So, let’s turn this around – where’s your evidence to suggest that you have any significant support? I’m aware of a few opinion polls that – with leading questions and no alternative solutions to the West Lothian Question – have indicated support, but this has yet to show any sign of being translated into real-world pressure or support.

    As for a referendum, there was apparently 80% support for a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, and we didn’t get one – why should your minority interest campaign receive any different treatment? Remember the result of the North East regional assembly referendum?

  18. James Rogers Says:
    August 17th, 2009 at 5:07 pm
    Fred Blogz: Why do you want an English parliament? What is there to be proud of about being ‘English’? England ceased to be a country a long time ago and is not much more than a little rump off the coast of Europe.

    I find that post derogatory and insulting. Has anyone bothered to tell the English that their homeland has ceased to exist, or maybe you believe that the task is now complete and the majority of the English today have finally forgotten who they are.
    A nation is a family a community and regardless of who they are, all nations, have a right to a homeland and self determination. In other words a land where they can govern themselves in accordance with their own law and customs.

  19. You should not be insulted by the facts. England was dissolved in 1707 and incorporated with Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain. Then, with the Act of Union in 1801, the Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland were integrated into the United Kingdom. Save for a short time under Elizabeth I, England was never particularly important as a European power, let alone a world power. It was only with the creation of the uniform British state in 1707 that the nation became dominant. There is no such thing as English/Scottish/Welsh nationality, only British. Check your passport.

  20. James – as amusing as it may be, please don’t goad them – especially now that this post has been linked from one of their forums. We’ll end up being swamped in an off-topic sidetrack.

    These English Parliament lot can be rather fanatically keen – I’ve had run-ins with them before over the years, and they are rarely capable of accepting anything other than complete agreement with their views (which they – much like the anti-EU withdrawalist lot – are utterly convinced that everyone shares, despite all evidence to the contrary). Even conceding that they have a point about the lack of “fairness” in the current system usually isn’t enough for them – they won’t be happy until you agree with them *entirely*. And they never seem to get that it’s just as “unfair” for a Yorkshireman to have a say in the running of Hampshire as it is for a Scot to have a say in the running of England.

    So, English Parliament lot – this is not a discussion I’m interested in having, as I’ve had it numerous times before (mostly back five years or more when the CEP was first starting up) – it’s only tangentially relevant to the post, and barely very interesting any more. I admire your perseverance, but that’s about it.

    But I am also an Englishmen, please accept that, as an Englishmen, I have no interest in the formation of an English parliament. I have considered the idea at length and on numerous occasions, and firmly believe that such an entity would be just as flawed as the current system; you disagree – and we’re not going to convince each other. Can we leave it at that?


  21. You’re right, Nosemonkey. We should not give them the credibility they crave!

  22. JR, Venice, pre-partition Poland, tsarist Russia, Prussia, Burgundy, arguably Yugoslavia, Naples, pre-revolution Baltic states, the Confederate States of America, the Roman Empires (East and West)… Do I need to go on? Identity is not a sufficient guarantee of state success. Economic and security success are just as important.

    Your point about being willing to die for one’s highest identity is an interesting one that I’ll need to think about. Instinctively, I’d like to think that I’ll never have to die fir any of my identities, national or otherwise. And I don’t think that the hypothetical destruction of the UK would destroy my British identity. Being willing to die for the institutions that are associated with an identity is different.

  23. If opinion polls are not to be trusted, then the answer is simple, give the English electorate a proper constituted referendum on the subject. Because promises of other referenda have been reneged on is not a valid reason to further withhold democracy from the English.

    That’s the democratic way. Those who continue to deny the English democratic parity with the Scots and Welsh are quite simply anti-democratic. It’s nothing to do with any supposed demand for total agreement with any particular position.

    73.59% want an English parliament.

  24. Well, yes, I’m not going to argue that geopolitical and geoeconomic capacity also have a large say in national success. But that’s not really the same as ‘failure’; I don’t think a society fails because it is swept away by invading armies or if it joins into a different political union. So I still think my point holds. On the whole a strong identity is necessary for a political community to succeed; if it does not have a strong identity, it will fail—or it will be more likely to lose if it is challenged by a stronger power.

    No, nobody wants to die for their national community. But what would you do if confronted by a Napoleonic/Great War/World War II type scenario and Britain was faced by invasion with its back to the wall? What would I do? We don’t know, because we’ve not been forced to choose. I’d hope I’d make the right decision though, and help protect the nation which has given me so much from being swept away and tossed onto the heap of History.

  25. JR, in what sense has a state or political community swept away by invading armies not failed?

    And why do you say that it would be the right decision to fight for your country? Would it really always?

  26. Well, it may have failed. If one community is swept away by a far stronger one, it has not really failed, particularly if the leaders of the community did all they could to prevent themselves from being invaded. If however, there are two evenly matched communities, and one invades the other and succeeds, then the invaded community has failed. It depends on context.

    Again, regarding your second question, it depends on context. If Russia or some similarly repressive place suddenly threatened Britain with invasion, I’d hope I would be willing to do my bit to help defend our country. But if Britain were to go on a military conquest like the Nazis did, obviously, I’d be rather unhappy and would not want to be involved. This was not the scenario though. The scenario was being invaded. How can allowing an invasion to happen ever be the right thing to do, particularly when we have the power to prevent it?

  27. Fred Blogz – For the record, as elsewhere you’re accusing me of deleting your comment, it was being held in an automatic anti-spam moderation queue, thanks to containing more than one link. I’ve only just spotted it, and it is now up.

    There is no conspiracy, old boy. You are not being silenced. I just wish you’d keep quiet, is all. A nationwide referendum is a hugely costly affair, as is setting up a new national assembly. Until you can prove that there is significant, genuine, active support for either, I will remain convinced that both ideas are a massive waste of time and money.

    I tend to think similar things about the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly being wastes of time and money as well, for the record – though at least the Welsh/Scottish national sentiment is somewhat sated by their existence, and at least the populations of Wales and Scotland are small enough to make this a moderately sensible level for effective government.

    England, meanwhile, has a population of 49 million, many times that of Wales or Scotland, and despite what you may claim I see no indication of any real unifying sense of English identity, bar at the occasional sporting event. England is split between north and south, between the West Country and the Midlands, between Liverpool and Manchester, Newcastle and Sunderland, Norfolk and Suffolk. I’m from Sussex, and so have just about as little in common with a Geordie as I do with a Scot, an Irishman or a Canadian – so why should I be lumped in under one government with a Geordie any more than I should be with a Scot?

    If you can answer me that question – something no one from the English Parliament gang has ever managed – then you’ll be on topic. This is all primarily about senses of identity – only then about appropriate units of governance, once we have managed to ascertain where such identities exist.

    In short, I can tell you what I mean by having a sense of being British – but I have no idea what being English means, or how it’s different. I very much doubt that a Scot or Welshman would have the same problem – and that’s why I don’t begrudge Welsh/Scottish devolution.

    (And no, this doesn’t solve the unfairness of the current system – an unfairness that I’ve never denied and have frequently highlighted. But replacing the old, pre-devolution UK political system that allowed England disproportionate influence in the running of Scotland and Wales with a fully-devolved model with an English Parliament as part of the mix *still* doesn’t solve the problem of people from many miles away from each other with very different outlooks and opinions having a say in each others’ affairs. And that, at it’s most basic level, is what you pro-English Parliament lot are saying is wrong with the current system, surely?)

  28. NM I think many of the “English Parliament lot” feel that the existence of an “English nation” is the ultimate and irrefutable justification for English sovereignty. In other words, they believe that the nation, and nothing else (such as avoiding “people from many miles away from each other with very different outlooks and opinions having a say in each others’ affairs”), justifies the state.

    Of course I disagree, because the historical reality is that state elites beget nations as often as nations become states. And the arguments are fairly circular: The people are sovereign. Who are the people? We are. Who is we? We know who we are. But what if your nation-state were to provide you with bad government? Doesn’t matter – it’s our nation-state and therefore perfect for us.

  29. If you are so confident that England is no more, having been subsumed into Britain or the UK (to be up to-date) why is Scotland now called Scotland and why is Wales called Wales?
    Surely all the countries were united or none.
    To test your supposition, that there is no call for an English Parliament, let’s have a referendum, it was good enough for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
    The benefits of an English Parliament are self evident:
    Free university education.
    Free social care in old age.
    Free NHS prescriptions.
    Free hospital car parking.
    An English RSPCA, yes I know, I too would like to know how the Scottish RSPCA can include the R word.

  30. Patrick – Erm, you do realise that Her Majesty is also Queen of Scotland, don’t you? We’ve shared the same monarchy since 1603, I’d have thought you might have noticed.

    As for your assumptions about all these wonderful things that would suddenly become free, how do you know that political parties that have those policies would get elected in this wonderful new English Parliament?

    And finally, can we get the hell off this tedious sidetrack? It’s bad enough you all turning up in the comments, but now that Fred Blogz chap has starting to email me with conspiracy theories and false accusations about deleted comments (a good two and a half hours after I explained the delay), it’s getting even more boring than usual.

    So, how about I promise to put up a new post about an English Parliament tomorrow and we can have this discussion there? Will that satisfy you?

    Because all you’re doing at the moment is preventing the rest of us from discussing what this post is actually about and imposing your own opinions onto others – which a true Englishman would know is the height of rudeness.

  31. Nosemonkey, you seem to object to an English Parliament on the grounds of size and national homogeneity.

    These are common objections trotted out by certain politicians and media personalities, but you should consider the facts…

    1. Scotland is twice the size of Wales and four times the size of NI. The only consideration for devolution to date has been on national lines. If we are to have equality, then the same principles need to applied in order to complete the process

    2. England is by far the most homogenous nation in the UK: Politically, economically, historically and culturally.
    Compare industrial, modern south Wales to touristy north Wales. Edinburgh has more in common with London and Manchester than it does the Western Isles and the Highlands that are Celtic in language and culture.

    Scotland was always torn between the Catholic Highlands and the Protestant lowlands (Glasgow was the first British city to close its gates on Bonnie Prince Charlie). Apart from the civil war, which was more between Parliament and Crown, England has not seen such turmoil within itself.

    At least we speak the same language in England.

  32. I’m done here!

  33. Pingback: On an English Parliament | Nosemonkey’s EUtopia

  34. Nosemonkey,

    On this complex issue, you talk about localism, identity, best way to govern and mention Kent, Sussex, Yorkshire and Hampshire. You say there is no reason for these to be linked up for governance, but administered seperately under the umbrella of the EU. On another post you refer to the British dislike of her neighbours (which I dont fully agree with ).
    So it seems that the counties of England do feel kinship and can be ruled as one entity.
    Please also note that many of us against the EU also beleive in localism, plus we would like more democracy, accountability and openess in governance. I for one would have elected judiciary and police chiefs.

  35. The thing about national culture, identity and language is that in a lot of cases there’s nothing national about it. It’s just the language, culture and identity of a region ‘imposed’ (I prefer to call it indoctrinated) in the rest of the state. This is blatantly obvious in the Netherlands: there is no difference between the Dutch culture and that of ‘Holland’ yet the Dutch culture contradicts with that of ‘Limburg’ (Dutch culture is Calvinistic while Limburg is staunch Roman Catholic) How can a national culture contradict a regional culture? Isn’t the national culture suppose to overlap with every region of the state?

  36. Blaat,

    Why do people from the Netherlands tell me they are from the Netherlands ? Why dont they say they are from Holland, Friesland or Limburg ?

  37. Robin – when I say that there is a British/English animosity, please remember that I am a firm believer in multiple, overlapping identities. You can feel *more* Scottish than British, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t feel British as well. I also don’t deny for a second that there are certain traits that could be considered British/English – I’m just not sure (in some cases) that they are any stronger or more significant than other, more local identities.

    On your second point, the reason people from Friesland or Limburg would say that they are from the Netherlands is simply because “the Netherlands” is a well-known term for the broader area, whereas Friesland and Limburg are less known. I’ve met numerous Dutch people from Holland who say they are from Holland, however. But that’s partially because “Holland” and “the Netherlands” are often, albeit falsely, regarded as synonymous. (To be really pedantic, we should insist on calling the Netherlands “the Dutch Netherlands”, as much of what was once identified by the same name is now contained within the borders of Belgium.)

    By the same token, when I’m overseas and people ask me where I’m from, I usually answer “London” – because London is well-known enough for further geographical pinpointing to be unnecessary. Were I from Bracknell or Hull, I’d no doubt find myself being less specific, as they are significantly less well-known. When I used to live in Sussex, however, I’d normally answer “Sussex – on the south coast of England”. (Or, if I was being really specific, “a village at the foot of the South Downs, outside Eastbourne, on the Sussex coast in the south-east of England”…)

    None of these usages have anything to do with my own national/regional/local identity – it’s all about helping the person I’m talking to to get a better idea of where I live in terms that they are likely to understand. You’ll also notice that, frequently, if someone asks where you’re from and you simply answer “England”, they’ll follow up with “Oh, whereabouts?” – because saying you live within the borders of a particular nation state is only vaguely useful in finding out who you are and where you’re from.

  38. Nosemonkey,

    I`m trying to follow this. You accept there is a British and an English identity, but you dont think that Britain or England is the best way to govern this island or the English part of this island. You dont advocate the rule from the counties – which also have identities. You prefer the governance to be from a newly made identity under the tutelage of another newly made identity.Althouh the people can still feel attached to their old identities. Is that a fair summing up ?

    The second point -I will clarify. The conversations I had (subject in the above post) would be with Dutch people who were aware of my knowledge about their country.I think that other nationalities interest in the location of where you feel domiciled is usually limited to your country or state.(eg Peru and Texas ).

  39. Actually nosemonkey even the Dutch call Netherlands as Holland, that’s the nickname of the national football team. Imagine for a second there’s an UK national football team and during a match the UK fans will be shouting “go England, go!” a bit odd wouldn’t you say?

    That’s why I find Netherlands a blatant example where a regional culture, language going ‘national’.

    @Robin; because Holland, Limburg and Friesland aren’t states any more (well they’re still provinces, but the provinces don’t have any real power) they used to though be during the Dutch Republic, well except for Limburg which was part of Spanish/Austrian Netherlands.

    I’m not sure what your question (nor your clarification) has to do with my previous post though.

  40. And of course there are arguments that the Orkney Islands are not truly or legally Scots… along with a lot of the North Seas Oil. Interesting times!

  41. In the words of Switters: “Send in the clowns…”
    *cue “Entrance of the Gladiators”
    *drop curtain
    *fade to black.

  42. Pingback: EU regionalism on the decline? | Nosemonkey’s EUtopia

  43. I don’t see any convincing reasons for England to be any better a unit of governance than the United Kingdom – both are too large and too diverse to be sufficiently responsive to the needs of the people who live within them.

    Too large? Too diverse? What like EUROland you mean? Do you have a problem with EUROland being ‘too large’ and “too diverse” as well? I don’t think your argument is valid. I smell the stench of hypocrisy!