In the aftermath of the Jubilee and before the Olympics descends, Miliband is wringing out more flag waving, speaking at the site of the 1951 Festival of Britain to compel England to be a bit more interested in the break-up of the British state.
Singling out arch agent provocateur Jeremy Clarkson, who has likened Scotland leaving the UK to “waving goodbye to a much loved, if slightly violent, family pet”, Miliband criticises those in England for narrow nationalism and ignoring multiple identities and allegiances. He criticises the SNP too for the same crime of narrow nationalism, of making people choose to be Scottish over British.
It’s not the SNP who are making Scottish people choose to identify as Scottish instead of British: 14 years of polling data indicates only 19% of Scots choose to describe themselves as British first.
Likewise, I’m not convinced persuading the English of the need to take more of an interest in Scottish devolution and independence is a good strategy for Miliband either. I believe Scotland’s future should be a matter for people living in Scotland alone when it comes to voting in the independence referendum, but that said I remain interested in what people living in the other UK nations think, and how that affects their own attitudes to living on this island.
But I don’t think those attitudes are in the direction Ed Miliband wishes them to be facing in. According to the IPPR’s Future of England survey, published in January 2012, most people in England are decidedly relaxed about Scotland’s departure from the union. A relaxed position developed and strengthened by a simmering resentment at an increasing feeling that England herself gets a raw deal from the union.
As Slugger details today, British identity and English identity are no longer co-terminous. Miliband may have electoral interests in building a strong English identity among English voters, against the far right and to tackle Tory toffs unable to talk to common people, but I fail to see where such a feeling becoming fervour for retaining Britain translates into defending the union.
Whether the English are indifferent or passionate about retaining Scotland in the UK, their influence will always be minor on how Scots vote in the independence referendum. It’s nice to be wanted of course, but it’s equally nice to be respected to make up our own minds.
Miliband’s aides say he’s brave for not going for the obvious topic of addressing national identity in Scotland; but I’m not convinced trying to persuade the English about their identity instead is a show of strength.
For Scottish independence, much like Scottish nationalism, identity itself is only one factor. The desire for independence goes further and deeper than notions of whether one is a Scot or a Brit, but rather how we want to be governed and how we see our country and economy, schools and businesses, being run. It’s safe for Miliband to talk about identity, but it will have no impact on the referendum result. Perhaps, like Mr Clarkson, he too should ditch such a narrow outlook.