Wednesday, 18 January 2012


Coming into work yesterday morning I was gnashing my teeth at 'commentator' Neal Ascherson who called for the English to discover their nationalism and sense of identity. Oh dear, Neal, that's just what we don't need.

England is a settled country which is at ease with itself. It is big, diverse and, over many centuries, it has absorbed different cultures into its social make up, generally successfully, whatever some critics might say. The last thing we need is a homogeneous sense of identity. We need a shared pride in all the good things in England, not to mention a shared sense of anger at the things which do not work for us. Like devolution.

What we absolutely, categorically do not need is a sense of nationalism. Nationalism is divisive, aggressive and negative. It is a hatred of the 'other' and a statement of identity in response to the perception of a threat from that nebulous 'other'. [Philosophy lovers: this is Ernest Gellner's version of nationalism, which I subscribe to. Argue if you will but that would be tedious.]

What England needs - and has in buckets full in my experience - is patriotism, a sense of pride in itself and, crucially, a sense if its place in the union and the wider world. We have an infuriating football team, some of the world's finest athletes, THE world city - London - a landscape of sumptuous diversity, from the wealds of Kent to the mountains of the Lake District, history to gasp at, seaside to revel in, the best theatre in the get the picture.

And of course we have the Olympics, which we won against the French. I say that because it matters. We have a rivalry with the French which extends to most levels - just look at the Prime Minister's disastrous recent foray into Europe. Our rivalry is intense and it can sometimes be personal, as it was at the European summit but to this humble blogger [that is an oxymoron, isn't it...] it is entirely acceptable and productive. We compete with the French but we also work closely with them and share much, such as energy and military intelligence, tactics and materiel. Over recent years I have visited France for family holidays and had a wonderful time. The French are almost all warm and welcoming to visitors and there is much to love about their country but that doesn't mean we can't both enjoy a productive rivalry. Both sides enjoy it and it is creative.

Identity does not need narrow SNP nationalism and the bizarre notion that standing alone on a smaller piece of rock is somehow going to enhance one’s nation. It simply needs the self-confident recognition of what the country and its people are. That doesn't take governments or borders, it just takes people. Scotland seems to do fine on its self-identity without the need for the impoverishment of its own government. If I were Scottish - and yes, like most people at the moment I can claim some heritage in that direction - I would be asking Pandora Salmond just what he hopes to achieve from his petty flag-waving apart from that.

We will all be diminished if the union breaks up but if it does I expect England to get along just fine without the pettiness of nationalism. We don't need it - and neither does Scotland. The union works. Let’s hope that nationalists like Pandora Salmond and Neal Ascherson eventually give up and scurry off to shout at passers-by, leaving the rest of us alone to get along with life and a celebration of who we are, not a hatred of others.

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