Britishness: Wikis


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The second Union Flag, more commonly known as the Union Jack (the Flag of the United Kingdom)

Britishness is a term referring to a sense of national identity of the British people, and common culture of the United Kingdom.

Britishness only became synonymous with a national civic identity with the formation in 1707 of the united Kingdom of Great Britain,[1] which became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and in turn, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with the secession of what became the Republic of Ireland. Historian Linda Colley argues that following the 1707 Act of Union, it became common for the people of the Kingdom of Great Britain to have a "layered" identity, that is, to think of themselves as simultaneously British and also Scottish, English, and/or Welsh.[2] She elaborates that at the time of its development, the notion of Britishness was "closely bound up with Protestantism".[3]

In the present day, the term is often associated with a desire to develop the sense of British identity for political reasons by appealing to British patriotism, British nationalism, British unionism or British Separatism,[4][5] and in this capacity is reported as controversial.[6]

A range of responses and attitudes are attributed to Britishness, making a precise definition of the concept elusive.[7] Historian David Starkey has argued that it is impossible to teach Britishness because "a British nation doesn't exist."[8]


Britishness and the United Kingdom government

Most recently the search for an understanding of Britishness has been associated with the UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown's attempts to initiate debate on British identity.[9] Brown's speech to the Fabian Society's Britishness Conference proposed that British values demand a new constitutional settlement and symbols to represent a modern patriotism, including a new youth community service scheme and a 'British Day' to celebrate.[10] One focus can be seen in terms of celebrating the best of the United Kingdom. That is to stress that what unites the UK is stronger than the issues dividing it, such as support in Scotland for Scottish independence, Home Nations football loyalties or the suggestion of some distaste amongst the English public regarding the distribution of funds to Holyrood (see Barnett Formula).

One of the central issues identified at the Fabian Society conference was how the English identity fits within the framework of a devolved UK. Does England require a new constitutional settlement for instance?[11]

A tangible expression of Her Majesty's Government's initiative to promote Britishness was the inaugural Veterans' Day which was first held on 27 June 2006. As well as celebrating the achievements of armed forces veterans, Browns' speech at the first event for the celebration said: "Scots and people from the rest of the UK share the purpose – that Britain has something to say to the rest of the world about the values of freedom, democracy and the dignity of the people that you stand up for. So at a time when people can talk about football and devolution and money, it is important that we also remember the values that we share in common".[12]

Critics have argued that Gordon Brown's sudden interest in the subject is more to do with countering English opposition to a Scottish MP becoming Prime Minister and the unresolved issue of the West Lothian question.[13]

In November 2005 The Times’ Comment Central asked readers to define Britishness in five little words. The winning suggestion was "No motto please we're British."[14]

Britishness and ethnic diversity

In 2007, the majority of people in many non-white ethnic groups living in Great Britain described their national identity as British, English, Scottish or Welsh. This included 87% of people with mixed heritage, 85% of Black Caribbeans, and eight in ten Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Non-whites were more likely to describe themselves as British than whites. Only one-third of people from the White British group described themselves as British; with many respondents preferring to call themselves English, Welsh or Scottish.[15]

In 2005 the Commission for Racial Equality published a report entitled Citizenship and Belonging : What is Britishness?, to examine the way in which British people of different ethnic backgrounds thought about Britishness. The Commission reported that:

“As White people involved in the study were asked to talk about Britishness, many immediately and spontaneously changed the topic of discussion slightly talking instead about a perceived decline in Britishness. This happened in all focus groups with White people. They attributed the decline to four main causes: the arrival of large numbers of migrants; the ‘unfair’ claims made by people from ethnic minorities on the welfare state; the rise in moral pluralism; and the failure to manage ethnic minority groups properly, due to what participants called political correctness.”

And that:

“Most White participants were distressed by this perceived decline in Britishness. They felt victimised and frustrated and many anticipated that social unrest would become inevitable.”[16]

Within the United Kingdom



Identity National Identity in Scotland from 1997–2003[17]
1997 1999 2001 2003
Scottish not British 23 32 36 31
More Scottish than British 38 35 30 34
Equally Scottish and British 27 22 24 22
More British than Scottish 4 3 3 4
British not Scottish 4 4 3 4

There is evidence that people in Scotland are more likely than ever before to describe themselves as Scottish, and less likely to say they are British. A study by social scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh, Dundee, St Andrews and Lancaster shows that more than eight out of ten people in Scotland see themselves as Scottish. At the same time, there has been a long-term decline in Scots defining themselves as British.[18]

However Britishness has been decoupled from British national identity. The Scottish National Party MSP and Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill gave the following submission to the UK Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights in March 2008 discussing a British Bill of Rights:

"What is meant by Britishness? Is there a concept of Britishness? Yes, just as there is a concept of being Scandinavian. We eat fish and chips, we eat chicken masala, we watch East Enders. Are [the SNP] British? No, we are not. We consider ourselves Scottish"[19]

Identity and politics

In a 1998 poll, 37% of Scottish National Party voters stated themselves to be "Scottish, not British", the rest demonstrating some form of British identity, with the most popular choice being "More Scottish than British" (41%).[20] This conclusion was again put forward in 2002, with similar figures cited.[21] However, the British Social Attitudes Survey of 2007 found that only 21% of Scots saw themselves as 'Equally Scottish and British', with less than half choosing British as a secondary identity.[22] The report concluded that 73% of respondents saw themselves as 'only' or 'mainly' Scottish.[22]

See also


  1. ^ Welcome, accessed 22 june 2009
  2. ^ Colley, Linda; Britons; Forging the Nation, 1701-1837, Yale University Press, 1992.
  3. ^ Colley, Linda; Britons; Forging the Nation, 1701-1837, Yale University Press, 1992, p. 8
  4. ^ Brown: Britishness is booming BBC News, April 15, 1999
  5. ^ Pupils 'to take allegiance oath' BBC News March 11, 2008
  6. ^ What is Britishness anyway? BBC News, September 10th, 2002
  7. ^ Citizenship and Belonging: What is Britishness? Ethos, November 2005
  8. ^ Can pupils learn 'Britishness'? BBC News, October 12, 2007
  9. ^ Brown speech promotes Britishness BBC News, 14 January 2006.
  10. ^ The future of Britishness Fabian Society, 14 January 2006
  11. ^ New Britishness must resolve the English question Fabian Society, 14 January 2006
  12. ^ "Brown pinning his hopes on a new regiment". The Herald. 2006-06-27. Retrieved 2006-10-15.  
  13. ^ "Our Scottish PM in waiting goes British". Daily Telegraph. 2006-01-14. Retrieved 2006-10-15.  
  14. ^ "Britishness in five little words". The Times. 2007-11-08. Retrieved 2007-11-11.  
  15. ^ [ Office for National Statistics, Social Trends No.39, 2009.
  16. ^ The decline of Britishness: a research study
  17. ^ Devolution, Public Attitudes and National Identity
  18. ^ Study Shows Scottish Sense of ‘Britishness’ in Decline The University of Edinburgh, News and Events
  19. ^ Joint Committee on Human Rights, A Bill of Rights for the UK?, Twenty – ninth Report of Session 2007–08, Ev. 61, Q290
  20. ^ Scottish Affairs, D.McCrone, Polls 1997-98 (online article)
  21. ^ Scottish Affairs, D.McCrone+L.Paterson, No.40, Summer 2002 (online article)
  22. ^ a b

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary





Britishness (uncountable)

  1. The state or quality of being British.


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