national identity

Are we applying tougher criteria for what it means to be British? Data released on Tuesday by the British Social Attitudes Survey and NatCen suggest this is the case. It points to an increase in the number of people saying that others must speak English to be considered truly British. An article on the BSAS in the Times says that attitudes show a “hardening towards multiculturalism”. The BBC’s interpretation is similar. But before we decry the rise of little Englandism, let’s look closely at the data. This is particularly important given the ongoing, heated debate on “Britishness”.  Read more

“Devolution will be and is the salvation of the UK”, Tony Blair said in 1999. Fifteen years later, as Scotland prepares to vote in the referendum on its independence, some might say devolution will be turn out to be Britain’s downfall. But that is not stopping politicians from giving the former prime minister’s gambit another try.

On Monday, the Conservatives became the third of the three main Westminster parties to publish proposals for powers that could be devolved to Scotland in the case of a No vote on September 18. In part this is belated realpolitik. Further devolution, rather than independence or the status quo, is not on the ballot paper. In hindsight, Prime Minister David Cameron may come to see that decision as myopic. It is an option that remains popular with Scottish voters, as politicians from both sides know.

The prime minister’s short-termism notwithstanding, the Conservative offer should be seen as part of a response to longer-term trends. Centrifugal forces are undermining British cohesion. Scotland is the most obvious manifestation of this trend but it is also apparent in Wales, Northern Ireland, and don’t forget, England. Read more

As well as revealing how British pluralism is more popular among minorities, Tuesday’s Policy Exchange report into diversity in the UK includes data on educational performance across different ethnic groups. Two trends stand out.

First, the poor average performance of white Britons. Second, the success of Indians.


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What do the data below tell us about Britain?

The table is taken from A Portrait of Modern Britain, a report published on Tuesday by Policy Exchange, a think tank. It presents the answers of respondents from the six biggest ethnic groups in the UK to the question how would they describe their national identity given the following options: English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, British and Other (respondents were asked to identify what they meant by Other.)

The data, taken from the 2011 census, suggest that only about 14 per cent of whites report a “British only” identity. Respondents were allowed to list more than one identity but the figure only rises to a quarter when a dual British identity is included. Sixty-four per cent, however, say that they have an English-only identity. Read more