Gary Gibbon, First-class BA History (Balliol College, Oxford). Breaking Point: The UK Referendum on the EU and its Aftermath (Haus Curiosities). p. 63.

        And then there is English nationalism. Defining yourself as English rather than British was one of the most accurate indicators of a Brexit vote. [mine] But what is English identity? It is not like other nationalisms. A Scottish Nationalist might resent Edinburgh a bit but nothing like an English nationalist will loath London and, to his or her mind, what it stands for. The common identifiers of someone describing themselves as

p. 64

English more than British will be a sense that they are not doing very well, struggling perhaps. They will usually look at the pace of change and migration and feel it is "time to put people like me first". It is often linked to a sense that life would be better if the clock could be turned back. Five years ago, Peter Kellner delved into the issues and found that "English" voters overwhelmingly wanted their country to withdraw from the world and that international agreements were more trouble than they were worth compared with "British" voters who were much more evenly divided between internationalists and isolationists.14
        The Labour MP Tristram Hunt has been at the forefront of Labour attempts to get in touch with English sentiment. He's recalled George Orwell's admonishment back in 1941 that England was "the only great country whose intellectuals are ashamed of their own nationality. In Left wing circles it is always felt there is something slightly disgraceful in being an Englishman." But those Labour souls that struggled to find an English nationalism they could identify with are struggling even more after June's referendum. Fintan O'Toole in The Irish Times wrote straight after the referendum: "England has not had the time, nor made the effort, to develop an inclusive, civic, progressive nationalism. It is left with a nationalism that is scarcely articulated in positive terms at all and that thus plugs into the darker energies of resentment and xenophobia. 15

  1. Please see the titled question, which pertains to the bolded sentences.

  2. Why'd a Scottish Nationalist "resent Edinburgh a bit"?

  3. Why'd an English Nationalist "loath London"?


Why would a British citizen define themselves as English, not British?

This is in the context of personal identity rather than a strict statement of the nationality listed in one's passport. As such, it is somewhat like identifying as Armenian Orthodox rather than Christian, or French rather than European. The person identifies with the demonym and (one) culture of the constituent country, England, rather than the identity of the state as a whole. Another example would be someone who describes themselves as Texan rather than American.

The complication, as sort of pointed out in the second paragraph, is that, due to the relative sizes of the countries, identification with Englishness is an identification with both a local and national majority, whereas Scottish, Welsh and (Northern) Irish identities are local majorities, but national minorities. This, coupled with some rather nasty historical attitudes and policies within the celtic nations, have connected it more strongly to rather ugly racist attitudes.

Why'd a Scottish Nationalist "resent Edinburgh a bit"?

Edinburgh is the capital of Scotland and the site of the seat of the devolved Scottish parliament, Holyrood. This leads to disparagement as a home of a wealthy, powerful elite, and "not the real Scotland", along with the usual distaste for those in government.

Why'd an English Nationalist "loath London"?

See the reasons above, except the UK parliament at Westminster is much more powerful and the financial centre is much bigger. The city is also significantly more cosmopolitan than England as a whole, with 37% found to be born outside the UK in the last Census in 2011, compared to 13% for England and Wales as a whole.

Note that both cities also contain some of the most deprived communities in the UK, and often both have strongly objected to the governments of the day imposed on them, so as always, the full picture is somewhat more complicated than simple narratives sometimes suggest.

  • 3
    One might likewise ask why many Americans despise Washington and New York City, why many rural French people aren't all that fond of Paris, and so on. It's because people living in these places have a different culture from the rest of the country, generally have little or no understanding of the rest, and think their differences and lack of knowledge somehow makes them superior. Add the fact that the elite of such places can often impose their rules on the rest... – jamesqf Dec 1 '18 at 4:31
  • @jamesqf Although defining such an elite by the place it happens to be in at the time isn't necessarily useful. – origimbo Dec 1 '18 at 4:49
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    @origimbo "at the time" sounds like they move around a lot. I'd say London, Paris, Berlin (with a short provisional move to Bonn), Madrid etc have been the place where the elite rules the country from for quite some time, haven't they? – janh Dec 1 '18 at 5:32
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    @janh: Yes, and as with NYC (and to some extent the parts of Southern California associated with "Hollywood"), the elites there don't actually have to be the people who make the laws & regulations. See for instance the American phrase "flyover country". – jamesqf Dec 1 '18 at 18:46

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