Monday, 11 June 2007

Britain Day a bad idea?

The hastily-conceived notion of a day to celebrate Britishness trumpeted by the likes of Ruth Kelly last week, causes me some disquiet.

Whilst the nebulous notion of providing social cohesion in an increasingly disparate society is evidently a laudable one, the spectres of nationalism and grubby identity politics hang over this suggestion.

Rather than counter the reductionist regional nationalisms currently buoyant in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with an alternative nationalism for citizens to cleave to, the emphasis should be on the multi-national, multi-ethnic, inclusive nature of the United Kingdom. These values are the antithesis of nationalism.

A shared sense of Britishness is desirable. But this sense should be based around values and not identity. One of the key strengths of the United Kingdom is that an ethnic identity is not the core around which society is built. Rather the UK is based on liberalism, tolerance, political and religious freedom, a shared history of state, empire, intellectual ideas grounded in the enlightenment and the use of the English language.

Any “Britain Day” must emphasise these values and not some quasi mystical attachment to a flag, some outmoded vision of bucolic ethnic roots or to a myth of shared national identity. We are a state of many cultures and many national heredities, and all the healthier for that.


toddrpr said...

Your list of Britains strengths are all under threat. Multi-culturalism on works if managed properly. In order to have an genuinely inclusive, multicultural society, we need to re-evaluate our moral codes and attempt to create more distance between ourselves and the USA. The combination of increasing American culture and behaviour among young people and the increase in the number of immigrants all over the UK is one of the main causes of tension. We need to reverse this and re-establish our national pride, respect and standards of discipline. From a professional point of view, a good start would be to have more civic pride and respect our natural and built environment. If a 'Britain Day' helps to promote this or at least raise awareness then why not? Plus it's an extra day off work innit? Thats the crucial factor. Obviously.

Anonymous said...

Chekist - cheers for your comment on my blog. Not sure if I entirely agree with your description of 'reductionist' regional nationalisms. I think we have to roll with this. English, Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish identities are all strengthening - and the primary self-description of 'British' is declining. I think that at least partly this is due to a failure to see British identity as civic - founded on the shared institutions of monarchy and parliament, and a shared history. Our cultural identities flow from other sources - regional identity, also inherited religious identities. Britishness is what holds the patchwork quilt together.

Chekist said...

Brian, thanks for your comment. In condemning the various nationalisms that seem to be gaining strength in the constituent parts of the UK, I am not attacking those cultural identities. It is when the separateness of a culturual identity is used as an argument for the region seceding, or for the diminution of the shared institutions you talk about that I get nervous. I'm thinking of Scottish and Welsh nationalism, as well as the pseudo unionist Ulster nationalism of the DUP. I'm certain you didn't miss Paisley's comments regarding a federal United Kingdom of "nations".

I think what I'm trying to say in my post isn't all that different from the point you're making. I want to see Britishness defined by those institutions and that shared history, rather than trying to inforce the idea of a more homogenous culture, or trying to stoke up British nationalism.