Britology Watch: Deconstructing \’British Values\’

10 January 2009

Lies, damn lies and censuses: nationality, national identity and ethnicity in the proposed 2011 UK censuses

It’s been said before, but I’ll say it again: there are lies, damn lies and statistics. And the 2011 census belongs, clearly, in the latter category. Or the 2011 censuses, rather; because, in the wake of devolution, there are now three censuses for the UK – or four, if you include the superficial differences, mostly relating to the sequence of the questions, between the forms that will be sent out to households in England and Wales.

The questions about ‘national identity’ and ‘ethnic group’ in the proposed forms for England & Wales and Scotland respectively neatly illustrate how the way you gather statistics can pre-determine the answer you want, in the service of a political agenda; whether that agenda is to reinforce the cohesiveness of a British ‘national identity’ or to insidiously drive a wedge between the different national identities of the UK by defining them in ethnic terms.

First, the form for England and Wales. As reported by Toque, the 2011 census will ask people the following question about their ‘national identity’:

So far so good: very good, in fact. In contrast to the 2001 census, there are at least separate ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, ‘Scottish’ and ‘Northern Irish’ tick boxes; and they’re not indented underneath the ‘British’ category (making ‘British’ the implied primary national identity for all UK citizens), as they were in an earlier proposal for the ethnic categories in the census (see my previous discussion). And you can also pick more than one of these national identities, if you so wish; e.g. English and British, Scottish and British, etc. However, Cornish nationalists will understandably decry the absence of a ‘Cornish’ check box. And there’s also still a big problem with this ‘national identity’ list when set against the ‘ethnic group’ question:

It’s undoubtedly a good thing that people aren’t asked to differentiate in ethnic terms between Englishness, Scottishness, Welshness, Northern Irishness and Britishness: there’s a single ‘white’ category for all white persons who have selected one or more of these terms as their national identity (-ies). However, this implicitly sets up a ‘white-British’ ethnic group (like the one used in the 2001 census), as all of these five ‘national identities’ are basically those of Britain / the UK. This white-British ethnicity is differentiated in the ethnic-group question from ‘white Irish’; in contrast to the 2001 form, which defined a single ‘white Irish’ ethnicity that could include people with political loyalties or affiliations to either Northern Ireland or the Republic. In other words, the form is making an ethnic distinction purely on the basis of a political division: between Britain / the UK (including Northern Ireland) and the Republic of Ireland.

This definition of ethnic categories along the lines of state frontiers is completely inappropriate and unacceptable, politically and methodologically. In actual fact, this introduces into the census a third, unspoken type of ethnic / national categorisation – nationality – that is subtly different from ‘national identity’ but will inevitably skew the way respondents describe their national identity. White-British people are being forced by the form to define their ethnicity in relation to this third type of identity (nationality), i.e. their status as British citizens. If the form succeeds in getting English people to accept a definition of their ethnicity that is based on their nationality (i.e. ‘white-British’), then those same people are far more likely to tick the ‘British’ check box in the question on ‘national identity’ (No. 15 above), whether in addition to or instead of ‘English’.

In this way, the census manipulates the power of ethnic identity to reinforce a political identity: Britishness. In relation to all the ‘non-white-British’ ethnic categories, it also effectively biases people in favour of choosing ‘British’ as their ‘national identity’ by again using the political category ‘British’ as an ethnic identifier (e.g. in the top-level categories ‘Asian British’ and ‘Black British’). If, on the other hand, the terms ‘Asian English’ and ‘Black English’ were used alongside ‘Asian British’ and ‘Black British’, respondents selecting those ethnic groups would be far more likely to select ‘English’ as their national identities in addition to or instead of British. But if their very ethnicity is defined in relation to Britishness, this subliminally induces them to also pick an exclusively British national identity.

In the proposed Scottish census, by contrast, ethnically Asian and Black persons are allowed to view themselves ethnically as Scottish; i.e. the terms corresponding to the ethnic-group categories C and D in the England & Wales form shown above are ‘Asian, Asian Scottish or Asian British’ and ‘African, Caribbean or Black’ – a heading that includes the sub-categories ‘African Scottish’, ‘Caribbean Scottish’ and ‘Black Scottish’ alongside ‘African British’, ‘Caribbean British’ and ‘Black British’. This is of course designed to produce the same effect as would the inclusion of the categories of ‘Asian English’ and ‘African English’ in the English census (or ‘Asian Welsh’ and ‘African Welsh’ in Wales): it encourages people of those ethnicities to indicate ‘Scottish’ as one of their ‘national identities’ or even their only one, especially as the ‘ethnic’ designator ‘Scottish’ precedes that of ‘British’ in each of these ethnic-group categories.

To this extent, the Scottish form works in a similar way to the English & Welsh one, although to politically diametrically opposed ends: it encourages people to identify ethnically as Scottish so that they will also select ‘Scottish’ as their national identity, and perhaps their exclusive one. However, the Scottish census exploits ethnic identification in an even more pernicious way still. In contrast to the England & Wales form, the Scottish questionnaire explicitly separates out the terms ‘Scottish’, ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, ‘Northern Irish’ and ‘British’ as distinct ethnic categories, albeit only when identified with the white ethnic group, as illustrated below:

There are many things that could be said about these categories; but the most important point is the utterly insidious way that these ethnic categories are intended to influence the way people will fill in the checkboxes relating to ‘national identity’ (see below). If respondents are forced to define themselves ethnically as either Scottish, English, Welsh, Northern Irish or British (when these are political and cultural identities, not ethnic), then this will inevitably induce more of those that choose ‘Scottish’ to select only ‘Scottish’ as their national identity, and not Scottish and British. Here is the bit of the form relating to national identity:

Note the quite astonishing omission of ‘Welsh’, ‘Northern Irish’ and even ‘Irish’ as options for national identity, whereas these terms are options for ethnicity, a discrepancy that was reported on with some bemusement in Wednesday’s Wales Online. This seems to me to be a complete reversal of the correct way of looking at things: Welsh and (Northern) Irish, and Scottish and English for that matter, are properly to be seen as national and cultural identities, not ethnic ones.

What on earth is going on here? My interpretation is that the form is trying to foster an ‘ethnic-Scottish’ identity as the ‘primary’ national identity of Scottish people: one that takes precedence, precisely, over their British nationality. As people work their way through the form, they may well tick both ‘Scottish’ and ‘British’ in question No. 14 above on national identity. Then, when they come to question 15 on ethnic group, they are forced to choose between Scottishness and Britishness, purely on supposedly ethnic grounds. Scottish people going through this process will then think to themselves: ‘well, am I more Scottish or more British in terms of my genealogy and family affiliations’, which is how people think of their ethnicity. And, of course, they’re much more likely to answer ‘Scottish’ if they’ve got Scottish family roots and have lived in Scotland all their lives; whereas ‘British’ is a merely political affiliation: nationality as opposed to this faux ethnicity. So, once they’ve decided to describe themselves officially as of Scottish ethnicity, then they are a) much more likely to go back and cross out ‘British’ as one of their national identities (or not select it at all if they fill in question 15 before question 14); and b) more importantly, they may henceforth come to see their national identity as Scottish in the first instance, as the form invites them to see this concept in relation to a spurious Scottish ethnicity rather than their British nationality.

So whereas the England & Wales form defines ethnicity along the lines of nationality to reinforce an acceptance of a British national identity on the part of English people, the Scottish form defines national identity along the lines of a concocted Scottish ethnicity in order to undermine Scottish people’s identification with their British nationality.

It’s hard to say which is worse. If anything, I think it’s the Scottish one, which uses a totally unjustifiable division of the UK along dubious ethnic lines in the service of a nationalist agenda. This is the kind of ethnic nationalism that undermines the cause of civic and multi-ethnic nationalism. But both approaches will inevitably generate misleading results designed to support the national-identity politics of the UK and Scottish governments respectively.

As I said: there are lies, damn Scottish lies and UK censuses.



  1. sir i have been in contact with the ONS for several weeks trying to get them to revert to the proposed 2007 census on Ethnic identity but am getting the runaround as they attempt to muddle up ethnic and national identity to suite themselves.

    Thanks to mass immigration into certain towns and cities we ethnic English are a minority group in many areas…..yet for the next decade our minority status will be hidden by this pack of government lies and spin.

    By ‘lumping’ together the ethnic groups English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and British it will be impossible to correctly asses the individul groups true figures.

    I believe it is an attempt to trick people away from the growing habit of ticking white other and writing in English.

    Our minority status has been hidden for ten years and if we dont fight for change now then we will be lost for another ten years.

    Contact ONS and ask them to explain how they intend to break down the English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and British ethnic groups into their respective sizes they cannot do it.

    They replied to me with the following………..

    Dear Mr Cooper

    I am sorry that you did not understand my earlier signed reply.

    Subject to the requirements of users of Census statistics which are yet to
    be identified, for the purposes of the 2011 Census outputs, national
    identity and ethnic group are to be treated together. Therefore in the
    results of the Census, users will be able to identify the numbers of people
    in each of the main ethnic groups (such as White , Asian etc) sub-divided
    by whether they are ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, ‘Scottish’, ‘Northern Irish’,
    ‘British’ or other descriptions that they may choose to write-in, for
    example, Cornish.

    Accordingly the Census will identify how many ‘English’ live in English
    cities and towns. There will be separate figures for the number of ‘Welsh’,
    ‘Scottish’, ‘Northern Irish’ or ‘British’ people living in English cities
    and towns. By comparing these figures it will be possible to identify in
    which cities and towns the ‘English’ are a minority group.

    I hope this answers all your questions.

    Yours sincerely

    Margaret Wort
    2011 Census Stakeholder Management and Communications


    my reply was…..

    I thank you for providing your name on this reply.

    So Miss/Mrs Wort

    forgive me my inability to understand your method of calculating my ethnic English group number. But perhaps you could provide an example.

    As i understand it when you wrote……

    national identity and ethnic group are to be treated together. Therefore in the
    results of the Census, users will be able to identify the numbers of people
    in each of the main ethnic groups (such as White , Asian etc) sub-divided
    by whether they are ‘English’, ‘Welsh’, ‘Scottish’, ‘Northern Irish’,
    ‘British’ or other descriptions that they may choose to write-in, for
    example, Cornish.

    so, Lets say we have 1000 people who tick they are members of the English NATION

    and 500 tick the ethnic group box English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British
    and 200 tick the Indian ethnic group box
    and 100 tick the Pakistani ethnic group box
    and 100 tick the Bangladeshi ethnic group box
    and 100 tick the African ethnic group box

    how many of the 500 who tick the English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British are ethnically English????

    what is your definition of the English nation? is it the people living in the land called England or are you deliberately mixing up national and ethnic identity? surely not.

    i look forward to seeing how you manage to correctly asses the ethnic English numbers when it appears you are confusing national and ethnic definitions to muddle up the results.

    As the Treasury Committee has commented, “…. it is

    therefore a matter of social responsibility to ensure that the population statistics

    are calculated accurately”.

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 10 January 2009 @ 12.21 pm | Reply

    • Andy, I think you are right that they are muddling up the ethnic and national definitions of Englishness: Miss Wort is saying that by ticking ‘English’ as the national identity and ticking ‘White – English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British’ as the ethnic group, this provides a measure of how many people identify as ethnically English, which it clearly doesn’t.

      This could have two obvious consequences. 1) The fact that ‘English’ is (only) implicitly being viewed as an ethnic category in this way could lead some English people to select British rather than English as their national identity, if they do not wish to associate themselves with Englishness defined in a narrowly ethnic way. ‘British’ is indeed positioned by the form as the inclusive term for British nationality and ethnicity, as it is common to all the different main ethnic categories, or at least three of them: white, Asian and African; 2) people who – like yourself, I suspect – identify as ethnically English (and while I personally don’t agree that Englishness should be defined only in ethnic terms, I would defend the right of people to see themselves as ethnically English) would be deterred from filling in the form in the ‘correct’ way, i.e. how it has been designed to reveal such information (national identity = English, and ethnic group = White – English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British) because they rightly feel that this does not do justice to how they see their respective national identity, ethnicity and nationality. For example, if you’re going to define ‘English’ (as a sub-category of white ethnicity) in a distinct group from ‘Irish’ (meaning only Republican-Irish), then I personally would be tempted to write ‘white other’ and write in something like ‘white – English, Welsh and Irish’ (as that’s where my grandparents come from) or even ‘white – European’. And that would not accurately reflect how I see myself, which is: national identity = English; ethnicity = ‘white – European’; and nationality = British.

      In my previous post, which I make reference and link to in the present post, I suggested that they need to disconnect ethnicity from national identity and nationality altogether, and have a consistent set of ethnic terms that do not steer people in the direction of either Britishness or Englishness (or, in the present instance, Scottishness). Hence, you’d have one category for ‘white’ that would make no mention of Britain (nationality) or England (national identity) at all. And then, in the separate list of national identities, you could select any of the possibilities, including Cornish alongside Northern Irish and Irish, and of course English, Scottish, Welsh, etc. If your understanding English national identity also included the idea of ethnicity, then there could perhaps be separate tick boxes: one column for national identity and one for ethnicity. In this way, you’d be being asked to give information about your your ethnicity and national identity in a way that was neutral with respect to nationality, and which allowed people to state whether their ethnicity (e.g. as white) overlapped with their sense of national identity (e.g. as English).

      Perhaps in your subsequent correspondence with the ONS – if you agree with my solution – you could refer them to this post and to this comment. All the best.

      Comment by David — 10 January 2009 @ 1.21 pm | Reply

  2. Hi David…..

    In a prior E-mail I sent to the ONS i actully sugested that they put NO ethnic identities on the questionire
    I wrote this suggestion down……..

    I suggest you make a heading

    A)WHITE, write in below


    B)BLACK, write in below


    C) ASIAN, write in below


    etc etc

    How much space does this save???? and how easy is that. I give you this free of charge.

    David this simple and easy to understand form would have allowed people to chose their racial group themselves.

    It would have been 100% accurate and would have been easily calculated to show the population of Briton makeup.

    We have been told that the population of Britons increase in the future will be from approx 70% immigration. The ethnic English will be minority group in many towns and cities of England, The ONS and the government fear showing that this is alredy the case as a result of their inability to control immigration.

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 11 January 2009 @ 6.13 am | Reply

    • I agree with your approach, Andy; it’s much, much simpler and is broadly what I suggested myself in my earlier post: keep the ethnic categorisations very general (white (European), black (Afro-Caribbean), Asian, etc.). I’ve just looked back at that previous post myself, and what I in fact suggested was that the much longer list of national identities (which includes all the nations of the British Isles, Pakistani, Indian, Chinese, etc.) could be referred to on the form as ‘national or cultural identity’, which is a better way of capturing the ambiguities around national identity and ethnicity, I feel.

      For example, at the risk of putting words into your mouth (or your form-filling pen), you yourself could select ‘white’ as the ethnicity, and ‘English’ as the national / cultural identity. The combination of white (race) and English (nation / culture) pretty much equates to ‘ethnic English’ without coming to any sort of formal judgement as to the scientific basis for saying that someone is ethnic-English, e.g. how would you prove what is the agreed ethnic-English gene pool, and how racially pure would you need to be in order to be classed as properly ethnically English? Adding the term ‘culture’ is critical, here; because ‘ethnicity’ also implies cultural background as well as genetic inheritance. For example, if someone said they were of Pakistani ethnicity, they could be thinking more that they had a Pakistani cultural background that they regarded as an essential part of their personal identity, rather than that they were ‘racially’ Pakistani, especially as there are a number of different ethnic / racial groups within Pakistan itself. Presumably, you would be satisfied with such a solution, if you’re saying that it would be enough to simply declare yourself as ‘white’ while writing in ‘English’.

      This particular solution – using ‘national / cultural identity’ rather than just ‘national identity’ to flesh out an understanding of people’s sense of their ethnicity and nationhood – also has the advantage that it does not play into the kind of national-identity politics I described in this post; i.e. it makes a clear distinction between nationality (e.g. British) and national identity (e.g. English), which is especially critical in a multi-ethnic / multi-cultural / multi-national society such as the UK, where people frequently describe their background or identity with reference to national terms (e.g. English, Pakistani) that do not have any formal, institutional status within Britain. This prevents the false picture of national-ethnic cohesion that the census is likely to give, whereby people will be induced to write down their ‘national identity’ as British because the ethnic categories used build such an identification in, thereby pre-determining the result.

      I think that, ideally, a full debate is needed about this. But it’s unlikely to happen, as the main parties are just not interested in engaging with the English question, and the Scottish government is actually behind the Scottish census, which is clearly wanting to foster an ethnically based sense of Scottish national identity.

      Comment by David — 11 January 2009 @ 11.03 am | Reply

  3. David

    The debate of who is and who is not of an ethnic group is for another day. For the purpose of the census it is PURELY the person filling in the census whose perception of their ethnicity that matters.

    So using the basic definition of race as being skin colour is an easily recognised catagory heading that is hard to deny.
    As a white male I couldnt claim to be Black or Asian, my racial colour is factual.

    Ethnicity as I state is an argument for another day… perception of my ethnicity (or your perception of your ethnicity) is all that matters FOR THE PURPOSE OF THE 2011 CENSUS

    A black male would tick the BLACK catagory (the ONS would know exactly hao many black males filled in the census)
    He may consider himself to be ethnically English and therefore write English in the ethnicity space below.

    Now the ONS may turn around and say that in England is ONE BLACK MALE who is of the ETHNIC ENGLISH group.

    This is again FACT for that person.

    Therefore the census is 100% exact….no DNA rubbish required

    He is not of my ethnic group because I would be white ethnic English.

    To consider ancestry, history, culture would need a census the thickness of a telephone book.
    As I say this is a debate for another day, the perception of the person filling in the census is all that matters.

    Comment by Andrew Cooper — 11 January 2009 @ 2.27 pm | Reply

  4. My census would be 100% correct on the perceptions of the person filling in the form
    It is not for me or the government to tell a person who HE can or cannot consider himself to be. Though they certainly think they can.

    Mixed race may need a further space to write in Black/White, Black/Asian Oriental/White etc

    Comment by Andrew Cooper — 11 January 2009 @ 3.01 pm | Reply

  5. Andy, I guess no census form is going to satisfy everyone, as ethnicity is such a personal matter, as you indeed say. Where you and I agree is that the proposed forms blur the distinctions between ethnicity, national identity and nationality in a wholly inappropriate manner that will generate inaccurate, misleading results. Where we disagree, I think, is on the way to capture things like Englishness, Scottishness, Britishness, etc.; and whether those terms are to be understood as primarily ethnic or national-cultural. I do, in fact, think you are right to say that the ethnic categories specified in the form should be as general as possible, without references to national terms such as British, English, etc. Then you should be entirely free to expand on your choice (e.g. ‘white’) by writing in English or whatever you want.

    Have you noticed that the wording is different for the ethnicity and national-identity questions? For ethnicity, they ask “What is your ethnic group?”; whereas, for national identity, they ask, “How would you describe your national identity?”. This indicates there is an implied objectivity about the ethnicity question, which makes the tie-up with nationality all the more blatant: it forces white British nationals to accept and select the ‘white – English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British’ category by making this a question with only correct answers, not an indefinite number of personal answers, as you say it should allow. Meanwhile, ‘national identity’ is presented as subjective: down to individual self-description.

    I think the purpose of this is that they want to obtain empirical data about what is referred to as people’s ‘ethnic background’, i.e. if they are of a ‘native British’, Pakistani or Caribbean etc. ‘culture’ or ‘background’. By making this ‘objective’, it forces, say, second-generation descendants of immigrants from India to say their ethnicity is ‘Indian’ even if they live a completely Western lifestyle and have never been to India. So you can’t say only Asian but have to specify which Asian community or nation you originate from. So, for the purposes of the England & Wales census, the fact that they group the terms English, Scottish and British into a single ethnic category (which is effectively ‘UK / British’ in all but name) indicates that all they’re interested in is establishing where a person’s roots are in a similar way to the above example of the ‘Asian – Indian’ person. In other words, if you’re white, they want to know whether you trace your roots to the UK, the Republic of Ireland, to the Roma or any other ‘non-British’ white origin.

    So these are not really questions about personal perceptions of ethnicity at all but about establishing patterns of migration and settlement on the part of recognised, ‘official’ ethnic communities. For the purposes of the census, they’re just not interested in breaking down what is effectively a ‘white – UK family background’ category any further. But they should be honest and explain clearly that this is what they mean by ethnicity; for instance, by asking the question in the following terms: “What is your cultural and ethnic background? E.g. if you are a white person whose family roots are in the UK, you may fill in the appropriate tick boxes for ‘white’ and ‘English / Welsh / Scottish / Northern Irish / British’ respectively. Similarly, if you are an Asian person whose family roots are in India, you may state ‘Asian’ and ‘Indian’ respectively. You must select only one of the terms in boxes A to E [my note: those referring to ‘race’ as such: white, Asian, black, etc.]. And you may select any number of the tickboxes underneath your choice in the sections A to E, or choose none and write in the term that best describes your background”. This is long-winded, but at least, it makes explicit what they are doing.

    In a similar vein, when they ask about national identity, all they’re really wanting to establish is how many of which types of ‘ethnic’ group identify as English, Welsh, Scottish or (N.) Irish rather than (or as well as) British. That’s why this is the only place where they list English as a separate category. They’re not interested in measuring ‘English ethnicity’ at all; not in any scientific, objective way, that is. They just see English identity as a by definition subjective thing (down to personal description), not an ethnic category on either their terms (as an objective national-ethnic community) or yours (as a ‘racial group’: white-English). This is perhaps the biggest assault on England of the lot: that in a census that is ostensibly trying to gather information on the population of England and Wales, not Britain, all they track is the British population; seeing English identity as something merely secondary and subjective: an indicator of personal identity only as opposed to an objective nationality or ethnicity.

    Comment by David — 11 January 2009 @ 6.19 pm | Reply

  6. David
    You said;
    Where we disagree, I think, is on the way to capture things like Englishness, Scottishness, Britishness, etc.; and whether those terms are to be understood as primarily ethnic or national-cultural…………..

    the problem is defining what is the ethnic group.

    I am guessing that you refer to this as Englishness?

    Is it purely cultural or ancestral or is it a combination?

    I think that discussing what is the English ethnic group (those with recognised Englishness?) is irrelevnt.

    The census paper wouldnt be able to define Englishness in a couple of sentences so it needs to get as close as possible.

    By using my
    What is your ethnic group
    1)White, please write in below

    2)Black, please write in below

    ………………… etc

    then we have a clear and correct statisticl amount of each racial group that consider themselves ethnically English

    Now I have my own view on who is and who is not ethnic English. But unless the government is prepared to define who they class as ethnically English we have to take the persons answer as what he considers his ethnicity…right or wrong.

    I would like to have seen the 2007 census papers proposed ethnicity question used whereby English was listed as an ethnic option and ONLY under the racial heading WHITE;


    other British
    any other hite background, please write in…………..

    B)Asian or Asian British

    any other asian background, please write in………….

    C)Black or Black British

    any other black background, please write in …………

    For me ethnicity is a shared ancestry and history as well as a shared culture…..again, I feel that what we consider ethnically English is a debate that the English need to have, but until we do define ethnicity/Englishness then using my method of self definition is the closest we will get to a true figure.

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 11 January 2009 @ 8.27 pm | Reply

    • Andy, I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on the details. My point essentially is that that there’s no objective or reliable recording of national identity (whether ethnic or cultural) in both the censuses I discuss. This is because the way they structure the ethnicity question biases the responses in the national-identity question. Your solution doesn’t really remedy this, as it still means that national identity, the core of which you appear to regard as ethnicity, is a subjective thing (purely down to individual choice and self-description), rather than something that the compilers of the census data regard as a valid empirical category.

      So there are three main failings, in my view: 1) biasing the national-identity responses by the way they structure the ethnicity questions – in relation to ‘nationality’ in the England & Wales census, and imposing acceptance of an ethnically based Scottish national identity in Scotland; 2) regarding English national identity as a subjective thing, whereas Britishness is taken as an objective category, linked to formal nationality; and 3) not making it clear to people whether or how they can record their ethnicity as English, or whatever, if they want to. I guess we’d agree on the latter point.

      Comment by David — 12 January 2009 @ 7.58 am | Reply

  7. David, for me the nation question is irrelevnt. Because a nation is neither ethnic or cultural. For Example the Scottish nation…..anyone living in Scotlnd and governed by the Scottish parliament is a member of the Scottish nation. Whatever their ethnic identity. To try to define it culturally is impossible because it is so multi cultural.

    An Englishman living in Glasgow is a member of the Scottish nation. He is governed by a Scottish parliament. An Urdu only speaking Pakistani living next door to the Englishman is of the Scottish nation.

    This makes asking the question what is your nationality irrelevent as it can be decided purely on where you live and who governs you. The Scottish nation is governed differently then the English nation because they have a Scottish parliament, the English nation are run by a government meant to govern the British nation. This is why we need an English parliament…but thats another debate.

    I agree with your observation that the ONS are trying to tie national identity to ethnic identity in such a way as to muddy the water.

    if i had my way there would be no need for a national identity question just the ethnic identity question.

    Ethnic identity is in my opinion not just the opinion of the person filling in the census, it is also (and more importantly) the view of the group.
    However how would you transfer this to a census?

    We have to keep the question simple…so using racial groupings, White/Black/Asian/Mixed etc we have a factual criteria to work with.

    This allows the government to identify who is of the English nation, Scottish nation and Welsh nation from where we live. And, allows US (not the government) to identify what we consider OUR ethnicity to be.

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 12 January 2009 @ 11.01 pm | Reply

  8. I thought i would seperate these point…..

    you said

    They’re not interested in measuring ‘English ethnicity’ at all; not in any scientific, objective way, that is. They just see English identity as a by definition subjective thing (down to personal description), not an ethnic category on either their terms (as an objective national-ethnic community) or yours (as a ‘racial group’: white-English). This is perhaps the biggest assault on England of the lot: that in a census that is ostensibly trying to gather information on the population of England and Wales, not Britain, all they track is the British population; seeing English identity as something merely secondary and subjective: an indicator of personal identity only as opposed to an objective nationality or ethnicity.

    …….I agree

    The government fear finding out and having to reveal the ethnic English statistics, this is why they are trying to boost the numbers by lumping English, Welsh, Scottish, northern Irish and British in one group.

    The ethnic English are most likely a minority group in many of our towns cities and villiges, this census will allow the government to hide the size of our minority.

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 12 January 2009 @ 11.11 pm | Reply

  9. David/Andy you both appear to be running in circles, as interesting as each argument is, can I offer my own take on the census with how I intend to answer the questions.

    1 tick box….English..thats declared my nationality
    2 tick box….English, strike out Scottish,Welsh,Northern Irish, British..that’s declared that I am a white ethnic Englishman.
    Job done !…or am I too simplistic!!.

    Andy @10 you imply that non Scottish people living in Scotland are members of Scotland, yes,they are GOVERNED by the Scottish government, but they are just resident from elswhere living in Scotland abiding to Scottish law, and should tick relevant boxes to show this. EG. an ethnic Englishman living in Scotland, as should a Pakistani living next door, your culture should be automatically defined by your ethnicity in all normal cases.

    I believe that any person born within the confines of, say, England are English, be they Black, Asian, Chinese,or of any other none English origin, it is only in these cases where culture is a matter of personal belief.

    Comment by BobShaw — 13 January 2009 @ 12.55 am | Reply

    • Bob, people are going to have to do either what you suggest, or just not tick the first box in the ‘white’ category and write in ‘White – English’. The problem is will the statisticians count such responses as corresponding to a separate ‘English’ category, or will they just lump them in with the other ‘White – English / Welsh / Scottish / N. Irish / British’ answers?

      Andy, you’re using ‘national identity’ in a similar way to what I call ‘nationality’, i.e. the country of which you are a citizen. This is not the same as residency; i.e. I don’t think most English people living in Scotland would class themselves as Scottish, even if Scotland were an independent country, unless (in that circumstance) they held a Scottish passport.

      I think it is essential to differentiate between these categories: nationality, ethnic group and ‘national identity’. I think it is possible to define the latter in relation to culture; but then, my understanding of national identity is very much based on culture, whereas Andy’s is based on ethnicity.

      Culture, in my view, is a very broad thing, encompassing all of the social conventions, belief sets, attitudes, relations and behaviour patterns that define so much of who we are and where we consider to be our home. In fact, these things define nations in a way that is more fundamental than nationality; i.e. there is a distinct English culture, in my sense (and a distinct Scottish, Welsh and N. Irish culture, etc.) that is more fundamental, pervasive and personal to people who feel they are English, Welsh, Scottish, etc. than their British nationality. And the terms used for culture are also predominantly ‘national’ or geopolitical / continental: English, Pakistani, African, European, etc. That’s why you can’t separate out the concepts of national and cultural identity. And it’s also why, in my proposed census form in the previous post, I suggest that people could fill in more than one national / cultural term, which would in fact express their own personal multi-cultural identity. E.g. someone could say their national / cultural identity was both English and Pakistani; indeed, English + British could also be seen as multi-cultural (especially given the intrinsically multi-cultural character that is often attributed to Britain itself). I think this would provide a much more accurate measure of the complex variations in people’s ethnic (in the government’s definition), national and cultural identities than forcing people’s self-definitions (e.g. as English) into the government’s pre-determined categories, which in the England & Wales census effectively means ‘British’.

      Comment by David — 13 January 2009 @ 8.22 am | Reply

  10. Hi BOB

    I could go for your definition of nationality…where you are born.

    But I agree with David on ethnicity and the governments ignoring your crossing out the Scottish, Welsh etc and lumping you in with these ethnicities in any case.

    It would be better to tick White other and then write in English like many do with current ethnic monitoring forms

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 13 January 2009 @ 11.14 am | Reply

  11. David/Andy…point taken, thanks.
    By coincidence I have a hospital appointment shortly, and yesterday I received a questionnaire, conducted by Ipsos MORI for the NHS about said appointment.
    The last question on the questionare is about ethnicity, I intended to ignore it completely, on the basis of, why should I, along with 50 million other English people here in England have to make a point of declaring our Englishness as a separate issue when virtually every one else on the planet are catered for, however the lady of the house thought otherwise, so I am doing as you say, thanks again.

    Comment by BobShaw — 15 January 2009 @ 11.03 am | Reply

  12. 50 million ethnic English, I wish.

    there maybe 50 million people living in England but;

    Not all were born here (hasnt the government said 70% of the recent population increase (last 10-20 years) is from immigration)? So any foreign born brits wouldnt tick that they are of the English nationality as you stated in your reply 12.

    Ethnicity also is not defined purely by where you are born.

    It would be nice to see the census state

    Nationlity….nation of birth.
    Ethnicity…..1)white, write in below 2)Black, write in below etc

    I think this method would allow a complete method of tracking all national and ethnic identities.

    Born in England (English nationlity) white Ethnic English or black ethnic English or Asian ethnic English etc

    Born in Scotland (Scottish nationality) but could still consider oneself of the white ethnic English black ethnic English etc depending on your parents, perception,ancestry, etc

    I think that this ethnic monitoring would show that the white ethnic English are a hell of lot less then 40 million.

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 15 January 2009 @ 12.00 pm | Reply

  13. Oh and those blck ethnic English, asian ethnic English I think would be a very small % of the blck or asian community as most will tick their ethnicity as being Somalian or Pakistani of indian etc

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 15 January 2009 @ 12.02 pm | Reply

  14. Another reply from the census office

    Helen Bray 2011
    Tel: 01329 444518

    ONS has undertaken an extensive programme of consultation with people who use the Census data – for example, local and central government, the health service, and education services.
    In order to identify what their requirements are for questions and categories to appear on the Census questionnaire and the format of the questionnaire is a result of this consultation.

    We are currently planning to collect information on both national identity and ethnic group in the 2011 census. A specific category for ‘English’ is included in the national identity question. It is not possible to include in the ethnic group question a specific category for every ethnic group but the list of categories is designed to enable the majority of the population to identify themselves in a manageable way and for which there is greatest user need for information.

    Analysis from the 2007 Census Test suggests that there is little additional value including sub-national UK identities in both the ethnic group question and national identity question since of those that ticked ‘English’ in the ethnic group question . 82 per cent also ticked ‘English’ in the ethnic group question. In light of space constraints in the questionnaire, the additional data provided by having an English’ ethnic group tick box as well as an English’ national identity tick-box would be justifiable.

    It would also be problematic to break the British tick box down to into separate categories in the ethnic group question as there is a risk that respondents might tick more than one option if for example they could not choose between identifying as English or British.

    The responses to the national identity and ethnic group questions will be analysed together and it will therefore be possible to determine the numbers of people in each of the main ethnic groups (such as White, Asian etc) sub divided by whether they are ‘English’, Welsh’, ’Scottish’, Northern Irish’, ‘British’ or other descriptions that they may choose to write-in, for example. Cornish.

    Accordingly the Census will identify how many ’English’ live in English cities and towns. There will be separate figures for the number of ‘Welsh’, Scottish’, ‘Northern Irish’ or British people living in English cities and towns. By comparing these figures it will be possible to identify in which cites and towns the English are a minority group.

    She wrote….”but the list of categories is designed to enable the majority of the population to identify themselves”

    The mjority?? is this not racist to deny the minority WHOEVER they are the ability to equal treatment nd to be recognised and correct statistics of their group recorded????

    She also wrote…” Analysis from the 2007 Census Test suggests that there is little additional value including sub-national UK identities in both the ethnic group question and national identity question since of those that ticked ‘English’ in the ethnic group question . 82 per cent also ticked ‘English’ in the ethnic group question.”

    I assume she means here that of the 100% who ticked they were of the English nation 82% ticked they ere ethnic English……so their count is going to be wrong by nearly 20% BLOODY HELL…in a population of 60+ million that 18% is a lot of people to add on to our ethnic group.

    Comment by Andy Cooper — 20 January 2009 @ 12.30 pm | Reply

  15. “Accordingly the Census will identify how many ’English’ live in English cities and towns.”, so if the this information from ONS is true, we can sometime after the count has been verified ask for information on the figures, we can then see where the English are in the minority in cities, towns etc..

    Comment by Barry (The Elder) — 25 January 2009 @ 10.31 am | Reply

    • Not sure whether you’re being deliberately ironic or not, Barry. You won’t be able to identify this because the census doesn’t have a consistent definition of what is English; hence, the ONS respondent’s use of the apostrophes around ‘English’. For ‘national identity’, you can indicate ‘English’ alongside ‘British’, with no explanation or help to people as to why they might wish to indicate one or the other, or both. My point in the post is that it’s weighted in favour of a ‘British’ answer because the corresponding white ‘ethnic group’ category is effectively ‘British’, inducing people to think that, as their ‘official’ identity / nationality is British, they ought to indicate their national identity as such.

      So it’s weighted against people ticking ‘English’ as their national identity; and there’s no inclusion or definition of an English ethnic group. So not much of a measure of how many English people there are around, really.

      Comment by David — 25 January 2009 @ 12.19 pm | Reply

  16. The Cornish had their own census code (06) in 2001, and I assume they’ll also have it in 2011, so why can’t there be a tick box for them? Seems unfair to me.

    Comment by Scottish Dave — 29 January 2009 @ 9.31 pm | Reply

  17. OK guys, the penny has finally dropped.

    We are all looking at this from the angle that millions of responses to each question will hide our racial group.
    How we should be looking at it is as an individual.

    When the data from ONE census paper is inputted into a computer (mine for example);

    I will tick the English national Identity tick box: This makes me English. It doesnt define my colour or ethnic identity.

    So, when they input the ethnic tick box answer, mine will be the,

    White; English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish or British

    They will have the result; 1) English and 2) White ethnicity, therefore White ethnic English.

    A Scotsman living in England would still tick Scottish national identity and the White ethnic English, welsh, Scottish etc tick box

    So as long as they calculate by each individual form then they can asses the numbers of White ethnic English, black ethnic English etc

    In my discussions with the ONS nobody has made this clear, though their latest answer from a Mr Ian Wright allowed the penny to drop.
    The ONS have not yet decided on whether or not there is a need to gather this infomation so we still need to chase them up to make them realise we ethnic English need to know how big an impact mass immigration has had on our racial group.

    Where are we a minority group?

    Which town or city?

    So there you have it, how to calculate the White ethnic English from the 2011 census……unless I have missed something else???

    Comment by Andrew Cooper — 1 December 2009 @ 11.02 am | Reply

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