Hey everyone Whilst watching a recent episode of loose women
I was intrigued to hear a discussion on what it meant to be British. The reason for the discussion was because the British Social Attitudes Survey claimed there was a decline in people who said that British was their primary identification.
This decline has been an ongoing factor in Scotland for a number of decades and has played a significant part in the rise of a distinct Scottish identity. Some would say it has been responsible for the rise in Scottish Nationalism and whilst it has certainly played a role in its development I would be reluctant to say it is the only factor at play as there are and have been other forces which have helped its political development. I cite for example the decline of the UK as an international power. This can be illustrated the fact far from being an important actor on the global stage the UK is now seen to be a junior partner in the European Union behind France and Germany. It can also be said that the discovery of North Sea Oil and the development of a unique Scottish cultural identity have also played their part in this decline, but now what used to be a decline which was the preserve of the Celtic fringes, that’s the rather patronising term the Westminster elites use for anything which isn’t Anglo-Centric appears to have hit the home counties.
During the discussion it was Jamelia who said kicked things off by saying that she didn’t feel particularly British due to the way Britain sells itself. The pop star, one of two on yesterday’s panel the other being Mylene Klass said that the problem is all about how Britain sells itself to the world.
Jamelia went on to validate her point by saying that to her Britain is all about William and Kate, David Cameron, The Queen, and Corgis and working class people are never going to be part of that Britain. I have to say I agree with her 100 percent. This picture is of a land is of hope and glory and a green and pleasant land only for those who can afford it and it very much excludes those who can’t. To me this Britain is a Britain of wealth and riches, it is a Britain taken from the pomposity and privilege our rulers learn on the playing fields of Eton. Indeed Jamelia said that If she had choose a cultural identity she would choose Jamaican as that was where she felt most included and had a greater sense of fitting in.
Of course when Janet Street-Porter is on any loose women panel and this topic comes up you can be guaranteed that will put up a staunch defence of Britishness and yesterday was no exception. I have to say however that though Janet talks a good game I’m not sure she knows the difference between Britishness and Englishness, as just as in previous conversations on this topic, she has tended to talk about England rather than Britain thus giving me the impression that she takes little if any notice of Scotland, Wales, or the six counties of Ulster. I support this claim by stating that she referred to the queen as the queen of England. Now pardon me for interfering but I have some advice for Janet and she would be well to listen to the point I raise. I say to her, if you truly believed in Britain and are as proud to be British as you say you are then you would value the fact that the queen is the monarch of our all four nations within it and not the exclusive property of one.
Janet also made another telling remark which shows me that doesn’t quite get the idea that Britain and England are not interchangeable terms and to believe that they are is a gross insult to the other three nations in the UK. This highly articulate and intelligent woman said that when she tells people she is from England when she should have said Britain. This to me very clearly a lack of cultural awareness or indeed cultural sensitivity especially at a time when one of the member states of the United Kingdom has a referendum to decide whether or not it wishes to remain a part of that United Kingdom.
It was Mylene Klass however who said that for the British public to be proud be British then the British government have to lead. Mylene who revealed that she was the child of a dad from Austria and a mum from Philippines said that it was ridiculous that you could book a driving lesson in 73 languages and that people who live in the UK should have to learn English just as her mum and dad had to do on their arrivals.
This attitude whilst to a certain degree understandable raises a few concerns amongst those of us like myself who are culturally liberal on such issues as we are descended from groups whose ancestors did not have English as their first language. Indeed on arriving in the central belt my maternal ancestors who came from the Western Isles of Scotland could not speak a single word of English and my granny often reminded me of this fact so that I would not judge harshly people who were according to some not the same as us.
This was I have to say good teaching from a woman who fought against prejudice all of her life. However I was recently told by someone who is and I will phrase this as kindly as I can considerably less educated than I am and shows an astonishing degree of cultural ignorance that this was not possible as people in Glasgow don’t speak Gaelic and never have. This is nonsense and I let the person concerned know in no uncertain terms that she needed to know more of Glasgow’s history than she does and avoid making sweeping and ridiculous generations.
Getting back to Mylene Klass she then made a point which I don’t think would gone too well with the staunchest supporters of Britishness in both Scotland and the six counties of Ulster. Her argument that ‘we’ are in danger of being over sensitive to other cultures and abandoning traditional celebrations such as Christmas and Easter. She then went on to state that Britain is a Christian Catholic country. Personally I don’t think that the last part of that statement will go down too well with the Loyal Orange Order who in both Scotland and Ulster are the largest core group of supporters Britain actually has.
These people do not feel pride in the idea of an inclusive Britain the very idea of it terrifies them. This organisation supports the union not for equality and fairness but for so called religious reasons which have nothing to do with faith or christianity.
Maybe it is because nobody actually knows what Britishness is why it feels so weak as a national identity. I have never believed in what I consider to be a make believe nation founded by the rich for the rich. It has served them well but it has served no one else. I mean what it actually achieved in its not so not glorious history. It had an empire. Big deal so did Egypt, Rome, China, Persia, (now Iran) Turkey, Austria-Hungary, Greece Spain, France, Russia, the Soviet Union and many other nations. Empires come and go throughout history and they have one thing in common they do not serve the poor.
It has a monarchy. Yes but it is not the only country to have this form of head of state. Norway Sweden Denmark Belgium The Netherlands and Spain also have a sovereign. Bizarrely however, the British monarchy is the only one that America sees fit to turn in to a panto and refers to as quaint. In plain language, this really means America thinks we are stupid for holding on to this system and I happen to agree with them.
The next fairytale is the we defeated Napoleon and won two world wars by sticking together. This is a load of arrogant tosh. It is no more than a myth to say that Britain managed these victories on our own but then as you may have noticed the British establishment are rather good at presenting fairytales as fact.
History however tells us a rather different story from Westminster’s and that is because historians tend to rely on something our unionists tend to neglect it’s called Evidence. Whilst no one can deny that Britain played a prominent role in these conflicts and was certainly a significant player in these victories it was not the only one and to deny the sacrifices made by those from other countries is to disrespect every member of the armed services whose ever fallen in battle.
Some people will say we are a fair nation and have achieved much in the name of equality. Yes we may have passed many equality laws in recent years, however this ignores the fact that we came late to the party on votes for women in which we lagged behind countries such as Finland, France, and New Zealand. We were also late in delivering full equality to our LGBT community and disabled people, so Britain may not be quite be the beacon of fairness which some of its supporters would like to think. This is hardly surprising however when you think that the social stratification of the country ensures that Britannia will always be ruled by those educated at private schools where people learn more about social etiquette than they do about economics or equality. Therefore the land of fairness equality and opportunity argument is a myth which does not stand up to closer scrutiny.
There is another school of thought which is even more deluded, namely that to be British you have to hate foreigners and regard them with suspicion. This is not something I agree but it is out there and we can’t deny it exists. The popularity of UKIP in certain parts of England did not happen by accident. This right wing xenophobia has always been an unfortunate hangover from colonial days and stubbornly refuses to go away. The notion of nation means different things to different people and UKIP’s idea of nation is white anglo-saxon and Anglican with no place for anyone who doesn’t fit the desired national image.
Contrast this if you will with my notion of nation as inclusive all embracing and open. A diverse society which does need to tell itself it is multi-cultural because it’s acceptance of all who make the choice to live in it will speak louder than any words. This is my vision for the country I want to live in but that country is not Britain that country is Scotland.
I have never felt Britain was my country probably due to the images of Britishness I was presented with as a teenager. I did not see Britain as all embracing society which was willing to accept diversity and no amount of TV shows with Britain in the title or memories of the London Olympics could ever change my view. The images of Britishness I grew up with were exclusive rather than inclusive. Union flags were associated with Rangers Football club, The Loyal Orange Order and the far right of the political spectrum who thrived on racism. Not for nothing did my dad and my maternal grandmother a far greater radical than her socially and culturally conservative daughter refer to
this symbol of British identity as the Butcher’s Apron.
The Union flag was not a feel good flag of which people could be proud of but rather a nasty banner which in my eyes was tainted with hate. I found it hard to accept that a football club could openly operate a sectarian signing policy without even being questioned and that a bunch of anti-catholic bigots were allowed to march on the streets of my city and poison the air with their bile ridden tunes every july and the stain the summer skies with their vitriolic viciousness.
I found this particularly difficult to deal with as I come from an inter faith marriage. This means I benefited from understanding and valuing two differing traditions, dad was catholic and mum was kirk that’s Church of Scotland for those who may not know. To be fair neither really bothered too much with the faith they had been baptised in though mum’s prejudices tended to come out during the marching season when she expressed pro orange and pro unionist sentiments even if she didn’t give a damn about either for the rest of the year. My dad who was far more politically astute than my mum was a left wing republican socialist who voted SNP to gain independence and kick the union the bigots who supported it where it hurt.
Though brought up in the kirk which I attend far more regularly than any of my unionist relatives I am very much a daddy’s girl in the sense that whilst I may have got mum’s religion I got my football team the glorious Glasgow Celtic his politics SNP and his culture Irish-Scots. It is for those reasons and too many others to list that I had an interest in this debate and why when it comes to national identity a badge of Britishness can never be my choice
Love And Best Wishes