Another interesting moment from the recent Billy Bragg interview was how, as a good Essex boy, he called England a blank sheet which was currently largely defined by Scotland.
England is of course home to more Scots than the populations of Scotland’s first and third cities combined.
Dissent, he suggested, is a thread which runs through English culture and is at least as important as aristocracy and empire. Examples are many and include not only the religious dissent of Wesley or the Quakers but also Magna Carta itself, the Chartists, the Tolpuddle Martyrs, Peterloo, the Suffragettes, the general strike and so on.
Suggesting that England is characterised by the actions of an Anglo Norman aristocracy, as most of the non-English tend to do, is really just narrating the history of the powerful. The history of the anti-authoritarian resistance is largely ignored by those trying to define the English.
Currently it rather suits Scotland to concentrate on the first rather than drawing attention to the last, because Scotland’s independence, can, like Brexit, be painted as simple and binary when, like Brexit, it is anything but. Brexiters painted the EU commisssion as doing to Britain things it did not like, when we were actually part of the very same decision making. It suits the SNP to paint the English in the same light as doing to them when it conveniently ignores that they too are part of the same decision making process – and indeed the current government has Scottish members and Scotland has actually elected six Conservative MPs.
Of course the Conservative and Unionist Party, by promoting Brexit in such a cavalier manner has gifted supplies of sure-fire ammunition to those seeking a simplistic breakup of the UK.
Because, like Brexit, the Yes or No answers are basically just so much simpler. Yet promises that depend on others, as the UK as a whole is gradually finding out and as its individual constituent countries (and notably Northern Ireland where Tories have surely promoted Sinn Féin ) are likley to find in due course, can never be delivered with certainty.
For nations, gradual change is invariably more life-enhancing than a clean break – for the sunlit uplands turn out to be rarely sunlit and sometimes not even uplands at all….