§ 2. The Native British
1. What are the ways of expressing national (‘ethnic’) identity?
The United Kingdom is a land of great diversity, partly in its landscape, but more importantly in the human sphere. There are four territorial divisions, Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland (or Ulster). They all carry a special sense of identity which is strongly affected by the tension between their own distinctive history and tradition and centralised government from London.
National ‘ethnic’ loyalties can be strong among the people in Britain whose ancestors were not English. For some people living in England who call themselves Scottish, Welsh or Irish, this loyalty is little more than a matter of emotional attachment. But for others, it goes a bit further and they may even join one of the sporting and social clubs for ‘exiles’ from these nations. These clubs promote national folk music, organize parties on special national days and foster a consciousness of doing things differently from the English.
2. How does ethnic identity express itself in different parts of Great Britain?
For people living in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, the way that ethnic identity commonly expresses itself varies.
People in Scotland have constant reminders of their distinctiveness. First, several important aspects of public life are organized separately and differently, from the rest of Britain - notably, education, law and religion. Second, the Scottish way of speaking English is very distinctive.
A modern form of the dialect known as Scots is spoken in everyday life by most of the working classes in the Lowlands. Third, there are many symbols of Scottishness which are well-known throughout Britain.
However, the feeling of being Scottish is not that simple. This is partly because of the historical cultural split between highland and lowland Scotland. A genuinely Scottish Gaelic sense of cultural identity is, in modern times, felt only by a few tens of thousands of people in some of the western isles of Scotland and the adjoining mainland. These people speak Scottish Gaelic (which they call ‘Gallic’) as a first language.
The people of Wales do not have as many reminders of their Welshness in everyday life. The organization of public life is identical to that in England. Nor are there as many well-known symbols of Welshness. In addition, a large minority of the people in Wales probably do not consider themselves to be especially Welsh at all. In the nineteenth century large numbers of Scottish, Irish and English people went to find work there, and today many English people still make their homes in Wales or have holiday houses there. As a result, a feeling of loyalty to Wales is often similar in nature to the fairly weak loyalties to particular geographical areas found throughout England - it is regional rather than nationalistic.
However, there is one single highly-important symbol of Welsh identity - the Welsh language. Everybody in Wales can speak English, but it is not everybody's first language. For about 20% of the population (that's more than half a million people), the mother-tongue is Welsh. For these people Welsh identity obviously means more than just living in the region known as Wales.
As for English identity, most people who describe themselves as English usually make no distinction in their minds between ‘English’ and ‘British’. There is plenty of evidence of this. For example, at international football or rugby matches, when the players stand to attention to hear their national anthems, the Scottish, Irish and Welsh have their own songs, while the English one is just ‘God Save the Queen’ - the same as the British national anthem.
1. What influences the sense of national identity?
2. Do all British people speak English of the same type?
3. What other languages do they speak?
4. What are the examples of ethnic identities?
Additional Reading Other Signs of National Identity
The following are also associated by British people with one or more of the four nations. Names. The prefix ‘Mac’ or ‘Mc’ in surnames (such as McCall, Mac-Carthy, MacDonald) is always either Scottish or Irish. The prefix 'O' (as in O'Brien, O'Hara) is distinctly Irish. A very large number of surnames (for example, Davis, Evans, Jones, Lloyd, Morgan, Price, Rees, Williams) suggest Welsh origin (although many of these are found throughout England). The most common surname in both England and Scotland is actually ‘Smith’.
First names can also be indicative. The Scottish form of ‘John’ is ‘Ian’ and its Irish is ‘Sean’ (although all three names are common throughout Britain). There are also nicknames for Scottish, Irish and Welsh men. For example, an English, Welsh or Irish person might refer to and address a Scottish friend as ‘Jock’, whatever his first name is. Irishmen are called ‘Paddy’ or ‘Mick’ and Welshmen are known as ‘Dai’ or ‘Taffy’. If the person is not a friend the nickname can sound rather insulting.
Clothes. The kilt, a skirt with a tartan pattern worn by men, is a very well-known symbol of Scottishness (though it is hardly ever worn in everyday life).
Musical instruments. The harp is an emblem of both Wales and Ireland. The bagpipes are regarded as distinctively Scottish (though a smaller type is also used in traditional Irish music).
Characteristics. There are certain stereotypes of national character which are well-known in Britain. For instance, the Irish are supposed to be great talkers, the Scots have a reputation for being careful with money and the Welsh are renowned for their singing ability. These characteristics are, of course, only caricatures and are not reliable descriptions of individual people from these countries. Nevertheless, they indicate some slight differences in the value attached to certain kinds of behaviour in the countries concerned.