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Being Welsh ‘more likely to stir the blood than being British’, says BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr

23 Mar 2021 4 minute read
Andrew Marr, (By

Being Welsh is “more likely to stir the blood than being British”, according to BBC broadcaster Andrew Marr.

The journalist made the comments in a column for Prospect Magazine about the possible breakup of the UK.

He suggested that there is “concern” in London that the “separatist view” is getting “stronger” and that “Britishness has receded”.

Marr also claimed that “politics of England are the under-discussed aspect of the Union’s future” and pointed to polling conducted by Professor Richard Wyn Jones of Cardiff University’s Wales Governance Centre and Professor Ailsa Henderson of the University of Edinburgh, on Englishness.

According to Professor Henderson, the polling suggests that there is anxiety and jealousy about devolution in England, and that it is “linked” to “hostility” towards the EU.

Andrew Marr said: “With the end of Empire and the fading of uniting wartime memory, Britishness has receded as something felt in the pulse, a hot, urgent value, and retreated into official abstraction.

“This is, clearly, hard for politicians to reverse. Pollsters confirm what everyday conversations suggest: being Scottish, Welsh, or even English is more likely to stir the blood than being British.

“If the immediate problem for London is the headline drift in Scotland in favour of independence, the deeper concern is that the separatist view gets stronger, startlingly so, among the energised young, and it’s been hard to find an emotional counterargument.

“Among the very youngest voters, pro-independence opinion is nearly 75 per cent. Across all ages, 20 of the last 20 polls have shown convincing majorities for it. Nothing is inevitable. But folks, that’s a big wave building out there.”

‘English nationalism’ 

He added: “Lacking a movement to rival those of Scotland or Wales, English nationalism lay uneasily half-buried.

“The poetry of GK Chesterton, the rhetoric of Enoch Powell and, on the left, figures as various as Orwell (old maids bicycling in the mist) and Tony Benn (the Diggers, the Levellers, Speaker Lenthall), had insisted on distinctly English traditions, even as they were boxed-in by British institutions.

“These instincts never quite vanished. At the peak of Britain’s imperial grandeur, and red-white-and-blue self-congratulation, in 1910, PH Ditchfield wrote a passionate book called Vanishing England.

“It pointedly quoted French writers on the coastal erosion of the white cliffs, one of whom likened the country to ‘a piece of sugar in water.’

“For a very long time, then, the retreat of Englishness was a cultural, almost private, grief. But Scottish and Welsh devolution, which made the subsidies transparent, dug it up again.

“The politics of England are the under-discussed aspect of the Union’s future. Ailsa Henderson and Richard Wyn Jones have been conducting a major polling-based study of Englishness, which finds Britishness is waning in England too.

“Henderson says this is ‘related to a sense of dislocation and alienation in England that we simply do not see in Scotland and Wales.’

“In England, anxiety (and jealousy) about Scottish devolution as well as hostility to the EU are linked. In short, they conclude, particularly when it comes to money, “the electorate in England tends to feel that it is unfairly treated.”

“The sentiment behind Scottish independence has always been about more than the allocation of resources.

“Nation states were a product of the early modern age, and Scotland (unlike Wales) had several hundred years of national development, with its own religious, legal and educational establishment, as well as parliament and monarchy.

“It was as much a nation as England. And after the 1707 union, the two countries ran broadly in parallel for a long time. Shared endeavours trumped national distinctiveness.

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