Some of us hoped that Gordon Brown’s demise would have seen his beloved ‘nations and regions’ travesty of the UK put to bed: the idea that Britain / the UK is comprised of (devolved) nations and (British) regions, with no place for an English nation. But it seems this idea is too deeply embedded in the British-establishment consciousness to fade away along with its biggest fan.
One of the reasons why this concept won’t simply disappear relates to one of the ways in which it in fact perpetuates a divided and unequal vision of the UK. There are two main aspects to this:
The nations and regions idea re-works the old Anglo-British conflation of England with Britain / the UK. The language and the thinking have changed significantly, but the underlying structure is the same. Previously, because the identities of England and Great Britain were so profoundly fused in the mind of the establishment, and of many ordinary English people, it used to seem perfectly normal and acceptable in England to say ‘England’ when you really meant Britain, and vice-versa. Now, that’s reversed: the politically correct thing is to say ‘the UK’, ‘Britain’ or ‘the country’ irrespective of whether you do actually mean the UK, Great Britain or England. But there’s still fundamentally the same conflation of England with the UK, except now you can’t overtly express it. Hence, the total taboo on saying ‘England’.
- Even within the logic of the nations and region concept, there is an implied inequality and demarcation between the regions and nations, which is perhaps even more divisive than the previous careless projection of Englishness beyond England’s borders. That is, what is effectively England – historically and territorially – is viewed as more ‘properly’ British and as the ‘core’ of Britain; whereas the ‘nations’ are by definition somewhat other than Britain and not viewed as an integral part of it. In other words, instead of four equal but distinct ‘home nations’ joined together in a shared Britain and Britishness (seen as both a political union, and common cultural and national heritage), only England is truly Britain (except, of course, you can’t call England ‘England’ any more, but only ‘Britain’). You end up with a nation of Britain whose heartland is effectively England but is divided up into regions surrounded by other merely affiliated, and not integrally British, nations.
So the ‘nations and regions’ model of Britain / the UK is deeply divisive, and in fact fosters and enshrines a Dis-United Kingdom: it denies the distinct identity of England while also denying full British status to the non-English nations. Ultimately, it’s designed to prevent the emergence of a different, federal model for the UK in which four nations (or five if you include Cornwall) can be joined together in an equal political union without suppressing either their distinct national identities or their shared Britishness.