Yes England! Where is England’s independence movement?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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