British Future: State of the Nation(s) 2012

For those interested in the constitutional future of the United Kingdom, the Hopes and Fears State of the Nation 2012 report by British Future provides interesting reading.
Gareth Young
12 January 2012

For those of us interested in the constitutional future of the United Kingdom the Hopes and Fears State of the Nation 2012 report by British Future provides interesting reading.

66% of us feel a strong connection to Britain but we feel a greater sense of belonging to our home nations. In England, surprisingly perhaps, 62% of ethnic minorities (including 69% of Asians) feel strongly English, which leads the authors to muse that Englishness is now considered a civic rather than an ethnically defined identity. The poll suggests that there is little conflict between English and British identities, with respondents who feel that they belong to Britain and to their local areas demonstrating a strong sense of English identity too. A strong sense of English identity fell to 27% among those who claimed to have no strong sense of being British. This mutually reinforcing link between English and British identity was reflected in the data from the North East of England where a whopping 40% of people claimed to have no strong sense of belonging to England:

Only 49% of people in the north east feel strongly British, much lower than the 67% who feel strongly British across England as a whole. While 62% of Welsh people and 60% of Scots feel strongly British, with 37% and 40% disagreeing.

Despite its low affinity with England the North East was the area that demonstrated the greatest support for the establishment of an English parliament (58%), which is perhaps a reflection of concerns over the Barnett Formula or simply due to a greater awareness of devolution to Scotland.

Across Great Britain (not the UK, Northern Ireland was not included in this poll) 51% of people support the establishment of an English parliament, rising to 52% in England alone. There is little support for the Status Quo (though it is noticeable that Scotland, which has the greatest degree of autonomy, is more supportive of the Status Quo than the rest of Great Britain) and even less for ending devolution by abolishing the national parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Opponents of an English parliament will doubtless argue that whilst it may be true that polls such as this show demonstrable support for the establishment of an English parliament it is not a salient or high priority issue, as demonstrated by the lack of signatures for that cause on the Government's petition site. Nevertheless, given that the three main parties, and until recently UKIP, have been fiercely opposed to an English parliament, it will concern the British political classes that they are out of step with public opinion and there remains the potential in England for an assertive English nationalism during their battle with the Scottish nationalists.

The spirit of British fraternity that is evident in support for an English parliament is also evident when it comes to Scottish independence. Opposition to Scotland leaving the Union is similar in all three home nations, with - the authors say - the main difference being a lower proportion of don’t knows in Scotland. Though the headline for nat-bashers like Alan Cochrane must surely read 'Scots are more supportive of Scotland remaining a part of the UK than either the English or the Welsh'.

Support for Scottish independence was highest in the South West of England, where 34% would like Scotland to become independent compared with 40% who would like Scotland to remain a part of the UK.


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