A recent exchange I have had with several people over the question of various peoples seeking 'independence' got me thinking about the debate over Scottish independence and the ambitions of others for their 'nation' to achieve something similar, the argument always being to achieve 'national freedom' from an oppressor or a some federal arrangement that no longer suits those agitating for a break away.
It struck me that in all the debates on the subject of Scottish independence is the blanket complaint that the 'English' have deprived Scotland of its wealth, suppressed the people or ignored their wishes. Listen to a Welsh nationalist and you hear the same complaint, the 'English' are always the bad guys. But who exactly are 'The English?'
Some aspects of our history suggest that it is only really applicable to those who live in the Home Counties, and then not to everyone in them, but to the Norman and Anglo-Saxon overlord families. But you immediately run into a problem there, because even in the Home Counties it is difficult to find anyone who will immediately define himself or herself as 'English.' Again, the majority of those I have encountered who do, tend to be Public School/Oxbridge graduates from the wealthy landowning families. I've yet to encounter anyone from anywhere outside the Home Counties and that little select group who automatically identified themselves as 'English' and I'm pretty certain anyone born and raised anywhere north of the Humber on the East Coast or north or west of Oxfordshire would identify themselves as being 'men' of whatever County or Region they came from - but NOT as English.
So who are the 'English?' Is there, in point of fact such a people? Geographically of course, there is a country called 'England.' It took William the Conqueror (A Danish Frenchman) to carve out the boundaries of it and several hundred years of war to render it stable, but it is generally everything south of a line drawn between the head of Solway Firth and Berwick on Tweed, but excluding Wales, which lies roughly west of a line drawn along the county boundaries from the head waters of the Dee estuary to Chepstow on the Severn estuary. So one would think that everyone living in that geographic area would call themselves 'English.' Apparently not. It does sometimes appear that centuries (if not millennia) of migration, settlement, resettlement and two civil wars at least, have failed to break down some of the 'tribal' boundaries that made us an easy conquest for the Romans and later the Normans.
Certainly in the last century, particularly since WW2, there has also been a third player at work. The so-called 'Class War' has, if anything, deepened some of the divisions by setting one area and its populace against another. The classic is the north versus the south, which is, in reality, 'everyone else against the south-east.' Now, while that might be a very useful tool for the politicians who play the 'them an' us' game, it is severely damaging to any form of national identity. Perhaps there lies a part of the problem for the denizens of England. We are an easy target, because, as one author puts it, we are so busy fighting and squabbling amongst ourselves, we've failed to notice that for almost all of our history we've actually been at the mercy of 'foreign rulers.'
You could start with the Romans, then the Saxons, the Danes and then the Normans who seem to have done the best job of keeping control - though they did invite the Scottish King to take the thrown - but threw out his grandson when the fellow proved to arrogant and too stiff necked. Then they invited a Dutchman (although in reality he comes from a German Royal House) who happened to be married to a Stuart, passed the crown to another Stuart and finally reverted to a descendent of the Plantagenates who just happened to be related to the Stuarts. The truth is that since Cromwell the real power in the land has remained not with the Royal Houses (though James II tried to impose it), but with the landed gentry and the political class - and it has suited them to be called 'The English.' But are they?
The situation becomes even more complicated once you throw in the unrestricted immigration from all manner of places with no relationship to anything that we would regard as an 'English' or even a 'British' culture. Travel to Wales, Ireland or Scotland, one sees the Saltire, the Welsh dragon, the Irish Tricolour. In England one sees the flags of every nation under the sun, but when anyone does display the St George's Cross you are told to take it down in case it offends someone, or they assume you are a football hooligan, a member of the BNP or some other right wing extremist group. And don't ever think you can display the Union Flag ...
It seems to me that the English suffer from a lack of 'national' identity. Certainly in the last sixty years they have been told that to be proud of their 'English heritage and culture' is offensive, elitist, racist or an imposition on some 'minority.' The result is that 'The English' have become a vanishing breed in their own country. They are afraid to be identified as 'English' and grit their teeth and bear it when everyone else labels them as something nasty. They have been thrust aside under the drive to a 'Multi-Culty' society, driven it must be said, from London and its satellites, and told they must submit to the rights of every minority now living among them. They have become the whipping boys in their own country of every other nationality with an axe to grind, and now we have to ask the question: Why have they submitted themselves to it?
Once again, I have to ask: Who are 'The English?' Who is this nation of 'oppressors' who have exploited the Welsh, suppressed the Scots and apparently raped just about everyone else? According to the Scots we've stolen 'their' oil and gas, for the Welsh it was 'their' coal and so it goes on. Each 'nation' believes firmly that, had they had all of it, they would be the world super power United Kingdom was.
If you ask me the English are the victims of everyone else's propaganda, the convenient whipping boys for every agenda in the dis-United Kingdom. In the last two hundred years there have been as many Scottish Prime Ministers and Chancellors of the Exchequer as there have been English ones. When you add in the Welsh PMs and Ministers, the English have been outnumbered more often than not and, even now, Scottish MPs vote on matters that have no force in their own constituencies - thanks to a Scotsman who was Prime Minister and gave Scotland its own government in the face of advice that he would tear the constitution apart.
If anyone in the dis-United Kingdom has a gripe at the moment, it is the English. Assuming, of course, you can find them in their own country any longer ...