Books: Wales, Scotland and the English Identity Crisis

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), August 31, 2002 | Go to article overview

Books: Wales, Scotland and the English Identity Crisis


Byline: meic stephens

WHAT makes the English English? Long the dominant partner in the United Kingdom, the English are worried about their national identity. They are suffering a crisis about what makes them English, rather than British, and desperately seeking sanswers.

The Empire has disappeared, Britain's role as a world power has diminished, integration into the European Union seems ever more likely, the Scots and Welsh have their own administrative arrangements, and the English are left to redefine themselves as a people.

The problem is what's left of Englishness? John Major's talk about cricket, warm beer, green suburbs, dog lovers and old maids bicycling to Communion, seems wholly nostalgic now.

The fact is the English feel themselves a people only at times of royal pomp, armed conflict or the football field. Yet still the English are a great people - especially at home, rarely abroad. If only they could decide what makes them English, without reference to the Queen, the Army, the Old School tie, the Falklands, Maggie Thatcher, the Bulldog Breed and Land of Hope and Glory.

In his book, Patriots (Macmillan, pounds 25), the young English historian Richard Weight tries to examine the respective roles of the English, Scots and Welsh in the making of Britain since World War II. The story begins just after the Battle of Britain in 1940 and ends with a discussion of immigration and the race issue today. This is a social, cultural, political andeconomic history of the UK with special reference to Scotland and Wales. …

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