Monday 21 July 2003

Identity politics

Many on the left think that Britain has become, or is becoming, the "51st state" of the USA. Although this piece in the Guardian doesn't quite go that far, it gets close:
Britain has by now lost its sovereignty to the United States and has become a client state. As Tony Blair flies in to Washington today to be patted on the head by the US Congress, this is the sad truth behind his visit.
What I want to focus on is not whether we should be part of the US but why there is an almost universal assumption that we would enter the union as one state.

I know the US fairly well. My wife is an American. I have travelled to the US on about a dozen occasions. As far as I can recall, I have visited 33 of the 50 states - far more than most Americans. I know, therefore, that there are many regional differences in the country and that these are far greater than most Britons understand. Nevertheless, I don't think that many people in the US are in any doubt that they are American nationals. The same does not apply in the United Kingdom.

South of the border, the terms "England" and "Britain" continue to be used interchangeably. I realise that there has been a growing awareness of a separate English identity over the past decade or so, initially on the sports field, and, increasingly, since Scottish and Welsh devolution. Nevertheless, I would contend that most English people, most of the time, think that they are part of a national group that has its own state and government, one that is located in Westminster. Scots do not think the same way.

The majority here wish to remain citizens of the UK. They have though, and are very aware of having, two quite distinct identities: Scottish and British. Most Scots are proud of both. They see the United Kingdom as a multi-national state. Confusingly, perhaps, America is a multi-state nation!

If we were to become part of the US - and I think it distinctly unlikely - it would need to be as four separate states. Does anyone seriously think that North and South Dakota are more "different" than Scotland and England?

Conjecture about our becoming the "51st state" may seem somewhat removed from reality. The use of this terminology, though, shows just how out-of-touch many English based commentators are about the actual political entity that they already inhabit. They are also the best recruiting agents for the various nationalist parties that wish to break up the United Kingdom.