Thursday, January 24, 2008

"See me, hear me, but still you try to box me in"*

The latest British Survey and Attitudes Poll, published yesterday, reveals a disturbing 5% rise (since 2001) in the number of people who would describe themselves as "very or a little prejudiced" against people of other races.

The SNP, who somehow managed to grab hold of the report three days before anyone else, were naturally more interested in emphasising the perceived decrease in British "national identity".

The relevant data:

3% of Scots describe themselves as 'only' or 'mainly' British, however curiously 5 times that figure (14%) chose British as their "preferred" identity. The Rangers fans must have been down the pub that night when the researchers called round with their clipboards.

13% of those born and living in England considered themselves to be 'only' or 'mainly" British. Three times that figure, when asked to choose one national identity, described themselves as British. 15% apparently considered themselves neither British or English. Interestingly enough, the percentage preferring an English parliament, according to this survey anyway, remains at below a third of the sample; a very similar percentage actually, according to recent surveys, to those Scots preferring the independence option.

If someone asked me if I were *only* British, I (and I guess the vast majority of Ulster Unionists) would have to honestly reply "no". Our national identity is a mosaac, with varying proportions of Britishness, "Ulster"(can't think of a better adjective), Irishness and European in the mix. In contrast, the SNP's, the other Celtic and English nationalists' belief that national identity in these isles is a zero-sum game where you can only have one or the other, is a very narrow one - one that doesn't rest at all comfortably with the reality with of the modern multi-ethnic and cultural United Kingdom.

Chekov in this post about the poet Michael Longley touched on this mixed national identity thing yesterday. Longley's views expressed in the interview corresponded very closely with those of another Irish/Ulster/British/European poet, John Hewitt, expressed in his letter to Lord Montague:
I always maintained that our loyalties had an order to Ulster, to Ireland, to the British Archipelago, to Europe; and that anyone who skipped a step or missed a link falsified the total. The Unionists missed out Ireland: the Northern Nationalists (The Green Tories) couldn't see the Ulster under their feet; the Republicans missed out both Ulster and the Archipelago; and none gave any heed to Europe at all.

Substitute Yorkshire or The Highlands for Ulster, England or Scotland for Ireland and it's still as relevant today in a UK context as it was for Northern Ireland when Hewitt first wrote it over 40 years ago.

* A line from Asian Dub Foundation's "Box"

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