The debate over Scottish independence has sparked a backlash in England, where ordinary people believe their voice and rights are being ignored.
In a survey for the Institute for Public Policy Research released in January, just under half of English respondents reported identifying more deeply as English than British, and said they had grown weary of a devolution of power to Scotland that has made governing Britain more difficult.
As Scotland contemplates a referendum on independence – Scottish leader Alex Salmond today announced plans for a vote in fall 2014 – that growing disillusionment, and the intensifying interest in a distinct English identity, could have long-term implications for the strength of the British union.
Report coauthor Professor Richard Wyn Jones said he was surprised by the politicization of Englishness in the findings. “I’ve noticed a more English identity among a section of English people in recent years – England football shirts, flags on cars, and body tattoos,” he says. “But it was the political dimension which was surprising. More people believe the current political situation is unsustainable and they want better recognition of England within the UK.”
The report, “The Dog That Finally Barked,” also found that 45 percent think Scotland gets “more than its fair share of public spending”; 79 percent think Scottish members of Parliament should not vote on English matters in the British Parliament; only 22 percent say Scots should vote for total independence.
Driving home the political shift, an ICM poll for The Telegraph newspaper in early January revealed that more people in England (43 percent) wanted Scottish independence than those north of the border (40 percent). Those polled also wanted a specific role and recognition of England within the United Kingdom – something that could raise the issue of a separate English Parliament.
Vernon Bogdanor, professor emeritus at Oxford University, is not surprised by rising English anger. “This has been building for some time and it’s not just the ‘chattering classes.’ People are fed up that Scotland gets a higher budget [allocation] and can offer free university tuition and health prescriptions,” because of subsidies. “They feel that the Scottish tail is wagging the English dog.”
One party hoping to exploit the disillusionment is the decade-old English Democrats. “We’ve known for a long while that English people want to be called English rather than British,” said chairman Robin Tilbrook. “We also know that they want to be heard within the UK and want the same rights in a sovereign England as the same people in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland.”