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Opinion

Yes England! Where is England’s independence movement?

10 Dec 2023 8 minute read
England’s flag

Stephen Price

For as long as I can remember, I’ve taken issue with having to tick the ‘British’ box when filling out forms for the simple fact that I’m not.

I’m Welsh. Regardless of our history with the other members of these Isles (most notably the one next door, let’s face it), to me the whole idea of being a non-entity of amalgamated countries whose position on the world stage dwarfs and denies that of my own just doesn’t sit well and never will.

It doesn’t define me, and it doesn’t define my ancestors before me.

The growth of independence movements in Wales and Scotland, from the fringes to the mainstream, has been thrilling to watch. In Wales’ case, an awakening confidence in our culture, country and identity, and a defiance that was once only the domain of the few is now the norm.

We want a piece of the same pie other countries across the world have, and to no longer be lost in the red white and blue of a flag that doesn’t represent us.

Young Welsh folk most likely haven’t heard the word ‘principality’ uttered in relation to Wales, let alone felt the desire to ask anyone referring to us as one to step outside.

Sludge

In my time spent chatting to people online in my younger years (I can still hear the screech of the modem in the back of my brain), I lost count of the number of people who didn’t know Wales existed even, and coming from countries who refer to Britain and England interchangeably you can’t blame them. We’re all lost in a sludge of Britishness, but in that loss too, are the English.

Interestingly, the 2021 census found that a tiny 15.3% of people living in England consider themselves “English”, a marked decrease from 60.4% back in 2011. And why might that be? Shame? Acknowledgment of mixed heritage? Lack of cohesion within? Contentment with the status quo?

Whatever the case, I still have trouble understanding what it means to be British. I don’t even like the word unless it’s got the word ‘ancient’ in front of it. How can someone from the Shetland Isles, Caernarfon and Milton Keynes say they are one and the same? Pass.

British

It’s the English who are most happy referring to themselves as British, with some 56.8% declaring themselves thus in the latest census. Sometimes when speaking to English friends, particularly millennials, they’ll often excuse their Englishness and throw in how a grandparent was from Wales or Ireland so they’re not *really* English as that would be a bad thing. I once read a comment from someone who intended to move to Wales that stressed that they are ‘not the colonist type’. Of course not.

With disquiet among the ancient Britons (ahem), you’d think that perhaps an English independence movement might also begin to take root, but I was surprised how little work has been done, or is wanted to be done, on this.

Back in 2020, a YouGov survey found that 35% of English people questioned supported independence  and those in favour tend to be on the right of the spectrum in contrast to Welsh and Scottish independence advocates who tend to be more left leaning.

Outside of this ineffectual exercise, however, there is no one credible or kind movement, there are no thriving social media accounts save perhaps for those of the English Democrats (who used to canvas my small village that was historically in Brecknockshire advocating for Monmouthshire to be annexed by England – I notice they didn’t canvas in Newport or Abertillery that were actually in old Monmouthshire though, perhaps I should get them a map…), there’s little to no press, and there are, importantly, no persistent advocates with any reach or influence. For a country of 56 million people, that’s quite telling.

Voiceless

With the Scottish and Welsh governments advocating for the best deals for their people, many in England feel as though their voices aren’t being heard in the same way ours are. For too long, we in Wales felt voiceless, with Westminster representing everyone and no one at the same time, and without an English only parliament at present it’s easy to make a case for one.

An article on Yes Cymru’s website from January 2023 put it perfectly, ‘The Union was forged to exploit and now should be consigned to history. Let England be a positive and proactive part of this change. In partnership rather than in union, Wales, Scotland and England can forge a new path for a modern, innovative, international Britain. Punching above its collective weight globally by being distinct and separate whilst geographically entwined and bound by centuries of shared history and culture’.

Cymru is confident about what we have to offer the world. Take a holiday here and most hotels will have a poster or two boasting about our wildlife, walks and history. Guide books. Welsh art and local produce. Why is England so lacking in confidence?

Their national parks and wildlife rival ours easily. England’s art and culture are world-leading, they dwarf ours – why don’t they wish to claim them? Is there perhaps more confidence in the smaller country because it’s easier to focus attention on what’s good here but England is perhaps more disconnected and perhaps oversaturated.

Success story

When we in Wales have a success story, when we produce a star on the world stage, we all own it. When Ren recently got to number one in the album charts, we all felt the win. When Luke Evans made it in America, we all felt his joy. We’re still feeling it. We’re still celebrating Richard Burton’s legacy after all. Kylie’s mum is Welsh, you say? We’ll take that. Larger countries don’t need to do that, their successes are perhaps taken for granted and expected.

English independence would allow for a rewriting of its rich and exciting history. The extraordinary legacy of art and literature that England has given to the world, the innovative musical acts that have dominated and influenced the world, the very language that is used as the global language. England has an enviable position, and independence would allow it to fully take that crown.

And then there’s the old excuse we’re given for our own independence movement’s certain failure. Apparently we can’t afford it. Of course, we can. Iceland’s doing fine, Malta’s doing fine, I could go on. It’s both amusing and insulting to our intelligence when politicians argue against our independence because we couldn’t afford it. Such altruism.

Unhappy partners with joint bank accounts are a recipe for disaster in people, let alone countries. If us Celts are such takers then cutting ties is going to mean more money to spend on the NHS and suchlike. I would suggest plastering that idea on buses might be best avoided though.

Far right

The elephant in the room with regard to English independence is, of course, the English far right’s adoption of the English flag, and with it an unnecessary and unwarranted associated shame. The England of Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Monty Python, Radiohead, Kate Bush, Ken Loach, of Saxon art right through to Constable, Turner and Millais, that’s all overlooked when the term Englishness is discussed in a nationalist context.

A history rich with innovation and excellence in all spheres. I’d be claiming it if it were mine.

Welsh and Scottish Nationalism, that’s good nationalism. English nationalism is bad nationalism – equated with the far right and football hooligans because of the vacuum they’ve been able to step into and occupy. Surprisingly, to counter that, Britishness has been adopted as the neutral ground for the English when it is Britain that has the colonial legacy that could be resigned to the history books through English independence.

Uncoupled

Wales is England’s first colony and is expected to be its last. Wouldn’t it be wonderful, instead, if England, with head held high ‘consciously uncoupled’ from all of its discontented partners now and forged a new, equal partnership, with past conflicts laid to rest?

The goal of English rulers past was never a collection of happy self-ruling neighbouring countries co-existing side-by-side. We were all to be annexed under the flag of St George and so the project has already effectively failed unless, of course, that flag was simply given a rebrand. Grey-ish borders and inconsistent powers across the nations won’t wash any longer.

Independence offers England a new beginning. A reset. A revitalised and no-longer overlooked country whose people deserve to take pride in who they are, just as we do.


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Annibendod
Annibendod
2 months ago

The UK is England’s “inner empire” (see the history books). In this sense, “Britishness” is an attempt at cultural and lingustic homogenisation (of the anglo-British sort) of the whole of the isles in order to entrench the English ruling class’ political hegemony of Britain. Any socialist who supports the UK State should be aware that what they are supporting is in fact the Tory hegemony over Britain. Despite this, I feel no discomfort in the label “British” insofar as we Cymry have been Britons long before the Saxons reached these shores and made Britain their home. I am a believer… Read more »

Peter Cuthbert
Peter Cuthbert
2 months ago
Reply to  Annibendod

Might just be worth pointing out that English independence is more likely to come in the form of regional independence, For example [https://yorkshirebylines.co.uk/opinion/time-to-de-colonise-yorkshire/]. Certainly when I dabbled in politics in the North West of England the idea of a ‘one nation England’ was about as popular as the view here in Cymru that Wales is England on Sea. It was felt that ‘We Northerners’ were so different from that lot down around the M25. Remember too that Cornwall has a stong independence movement. If the new Government in Westminster has any sense it will push for more devolution, especially of… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

English Federalism is a perfectly sensible constitutional proposition. I must add though, that I never thought of Cornwall as a part of England. Perhaps, ultimately, what England needs independence from is its own parasitic ruling class. I would love to see England shake off its Monarchy and Tory establishment … join the modern world.

Bethan
Bethan
2 months ago
Reply to  Peter Cuthbert

I’m not surprised. If I was a Northern English person I would be champing at the bit to detach from Westminster… or ask to extend Scotland’s border if I wanted to be really cheeky. I feel for them truly. At least the Celtic nations can seek comfort in our own identities even if we have been beaten down and suppressed over the ages. NE has had the same deal but it’s their own government telling them they’re worthless and don’t deserve anything. No debate. No counter argument. What do you do with that gaslighting when it’s coming from within? Who… Read more »

Steve A Duggan
Steve A Duggan
2 months ago

I suspect England will eventually become independent but not because it chose to but because Wales and Scotland have left the Union.

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
2 months ago

They’d never survive!

Jason Bowen
Jason Bowen
2 months ago

Keep Cornwall/Kernow out of it 😉

Richard E
Richard E
2 months ago

England 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 is a concept which was held down by the ruling classes except in times of War . The lure of Empire across the globe 🌍 and “ regionalism” needed to be balanced. Young folk who see the 🏴󠁧󠁢󠁥󠁮󠁧󠁿 think of football hooliganism or far right parties so move away into other identities- yes via a Welsh Nian or Irish ☘️ mother or Jamaican 🇯🇲 dad . The 🇬🇧 is a catch all for many. In Northumberland or Yorkshire or even our own Celtic Cornwall local identity is manifest by flags on car stickers or public buildings. Cities like… Read more »

Bethan
Bethan
2 months ago

Did anyone watch Grayson Perry’s Full English on All4? He basically toured the country to find out English people’s ideas of what being English is. I thought it was commendable. A little kooky, but a noble effort to contribute to the much needed dialogue in that country, and it was a reminder that there are English people out there who just want a decent, modest, honest, hassle free existence. It’s easy to forget that with their considerable national history. They have quite the portfolio. It’s a history a select few would be proud of and unfortunately for them it’s these… Read more »

Doctor Trousers
2 months ago

There’s an old cliché that Scottish sports teams are british when they’re winning, and Scottish when they’re losing. I imagine similar is said about Welsh sport. The thing is, whilst England may be quick enough to lay claim to its sporting victories, when it comes to every other kind of achievement, England does the same thing to itself. All the very best things about England get attributed to britishness, and bundled up in union jackassery. It’s only ever England when it’s losing. It’s no wonder that England lacks any positive sense of self-identity, it won’t allow itself one. Shakespeare, Mary… Read more »

Rob
Rob
2 months ago

Quote: “There’s an old cliché that Scottish sports teams are british when they’re winning, and Scottish when they’re losing.
I imagine similar is said about Welsh sport”

When England got knocked out by Iceland, and Wales went on to beat Belgium to reach the semi finals in Euro 2016, the pundits bragged Wales as ‘the best of British’. As though as if it was a victory for the whole of the UK and not just for Wales.

David
David
2 months ago

“With the Scottish and Welsh governments advocating for the best deals for their people, many in England feel as though their voices aren’t being heard in the same way ours are” That made me laugh. The notion that Welsh gov are out there getting the best deals for their people is pie in the sky stuff. The visible lack of cooperation by the devolved governments with Westminster is embarrassing and equally their lack of proactivity/stubbornness in taking steps to improve it. This is a failure of devolved governments just as much, if not more than Westminster. Welsh labour will get… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
2 months ago
Reply to  David

Indeed. Latest polls suggest 30% in favour of abolishing the Senedd so having a failing Labour Welsh Government isn’t doing us many favours at all.

Mawkernewek
2 months ago
Reply to  David

When exactly has Westminster cooperated with the devolved governments as equals rather than as subordinates, a county council with a few extra bells and whistles ?

Rob
Rob
2 months ago

Its funny how we in Wales and the Scots get accused of being anti-English simply because we will fight for our individual identities or because we won’t support their national football or rugby teams yet anti-English rhetoric actually comes from the English themselves. If someone proudly calls themselves English, and flies the Cross of St George from his bedroom window they risk being labelled as a ‘far right fascist’ by certain factions of the left. And the right are just as bad, a few years ago a Labour MP tabled a motion to recognise a distinct English National Anthem which… Read more »

Annibendod
Annibendod
2 months ago
Reply to  Rob

There is a deep contradiction at the heart of English Unionism. There are the Conservatives, for whom the UK is symbolic of what they believe was their glorious empire, the pinnacle of civilisation on Earth. Progressives claim it as a great internationalist, anti-nationalist project. One is laughably deluded, the other horribly cynical. It is the political expression of capital and power over these isles and one that imposes a confected Anglo-British nationalism as if it were some noble cause. To me, it is the economic, political and cultural suppression of the non-Anglo British peoples of these isles. And it should… Read more »

Riki
Riki
2 months ago

I’ve never understood the hatred towards the term British from people in Wales. It shows a severe lack of not only historical awareness but cultural awareness about Wales. The name itself comes from The people of Wales and the island itself is taken from the Cymric Prydain. Britain or Britannia being a latinised form of this word. What they should be against is how the term has been co-opted and used interchangeably for the people of England only. That is what you should call out!

Simon Hobson
Simon Hobson
2 months ago

What an excellent piece of writing. I thoughtful and progressive approach to a matter which everyone on the British Isles will soon have to come to terms with.

Linda Jones
Linda Jones
2 months ago

England rules the UK, we get the government they want. No need for independence, it would impoverish them

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