Only 19% in the UK call themselves British

There is an article in the Scotsman today about the decline in the number of people who describe themselves as British.

The British identity is in steep decline south of the border with the number of people who would describe themselves as English over British soaring, a poll has revealed. The study found that the number of people in England who would now describe themselves as English rather than British rose to 63 per cent, as opposed to 41 per cent in 2008.

The YouGov poll also discovered that just 20 per cent of the UK population preferred a British identity to any other, down from 42 per cent three years ago. The poll, taken last month, appears to show that English nationalism is on the rise at the same time as Scottish nationalism is the predominant force in politics north of the border. It prompted warnings of a shift that could threaten the Union.

The findings were last night seized on by campaigners for a separate English Parliament as further evidence that there was now a major social shift developing across the country.

And John Curtice, professor of politics at Strathclyde University, said that a weakening of “Britishness” in England could have massive repercussions for the future of the Union. He said: “Adherence to a common sense of ‘Britishness’ is often thought to be a vital part of the emotional glue that helps keep the Union together. That glue has long since lost much of its strength in Scotland. If it has now been eroded in England too, the long term prospects for the Union would seem rather bleak indeed.”

Scotsman, 20 November 2011

These are the figures from the YouGov poll:

If you had to choose one of the following, would you say you are mainly ...

English ... 63%
Scottish ... 8%
Welsh ... 5%
Irish ... 1%
British ... 19%
European ... 2%
Something else ... 2%

Attitudes to Europe, YouGov, 18 November 2011

So in fact the Scotsman got it wrong. The 63% is the overall figure for those who identify themselves as English in Britain. If we look at the full survey, we will see that the percentage of those in England who describe themselves as English is probably more than 70% (66% in London, 71% in the rest of southern England and 72% in northern England). The English Midlands and Wales are put together, so it's hard to work out the figure for Wales; but it would probably be at least that high on the basis that Wales is less than a quarter of their Midlands/Wales region.

But the real story is the marked increase in those who see themselves as English rather than British, and what this means for the future. If people in England prefer to describe themselves as English as opposed to British, it makes it very unlikely that they will want the remainder of the United Kingdom to be described as anything other than England if Scotland votes to become independent in a few years' time.

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Glyndo said...

5% of the UK population live in Wales. 5% of the UK population consider themselves to be Welsh. Seems we've cracked it.

Anonymous said...


As a former teacher in a secondary school in South Wales, I could have told you that several years ago. I regularly asked classes that very question - the answer was almost invariably 'Welsh', unless the child had come here from somewhere else. It was an English-medium school.

I wrote the choices, 'British' etc. on the board first, before asking the question. I gave the option that they didn't have to say if they didn't want to, or alternatively they could write it down on a piece of paper and I would collect it. No-one minded. It seems that people form the opinion as to their national identity pretty early in life.

Plaid Panteg said...

"If people in England prefer to describe themselves as English as opposed to British, it makes it very unlikely that they will want the remainder of the United Kingdom to be described as anything other than England if Scotland votes to become independent in a few years' time."

MH - I think you and I say that in hope, I question whether your absolute tone is necessarily the reality. It is going to be interesting, but I always worry when a nationalist feeling from the English is based on a negative about the celts getting a better deal out of the union than England.

My view is that the UK is not delivering for ANY of the nations involved.

Anonymous said...

I suppose the question is 'what does Welsh/English/British mean?' What do people mean by nationality? What is nationality. I'm not asking from some post-nationalist perspective, just genuinely asking what do people mean when they say they're 'Welsh'?


Aled GJ said...

It's a mixed bag as far as I'm concerned. Yes, it's good that more people in England now consider themselves English rather than British as that will presumably lead them to want a new political framework, which will involve dismantling the UK state. On the other hand, this could also well lead to an intensification of the Greater England mentality here in Wales( which is prevalent enough as it is). I really wonder whether our national movement would be robust enough to withstand such further psychological lebensraum. The comments of Plaid's former president about team GB this week don't exactly fill one with hope on this one.

Anonymous said...

Aled GJ - 'intensification of the Greater England mentality in Wales' would be fine. It's out in the open then. It's dangerous when it masquerades itself as 'British' or 'this country' or 'were all the same' etc etc.

Wigley? Well, time for him to move on.

No Team GB. Welsh, Scottish, English and Irish agreed.

Anonymous said...

Plaid Panteg:

"My view is that the UK is not delivering for ANY of the nations involved."

I wholeheartedly agree. The 20thC was a period of British decline in just about every sense. I put it down to a number of factors, but chief among them is the constitutional set-up where power resides in a ruling elite. Consequently the UK masquerades as a democracy.

Just look at the mess that successive Tory, Labour and Liberal governments have created. General elections give us a choice between one corrupt incompetent bunch or another, with no possibility of changing the underlying system in any meaningful way.

Finally, the Scots have the prospect of shaking the edifice to its foundations, and perhaps we all in Wales, England, Scotland, and NI will reap the benefits.

The age of Britishness post-1914 is coming to an end and the arch-unionists can do little about it.

Owen said...

We have to be careful when interpreting these results. There was no "Welsh and British" or "more X than Y" option. What that's telling me is that when given an either/or option, most people will adopt for their repective nationality over British. That's still bad news for unionism as it shows a weakening of "civic Britain" that might've been unthinkable even 30 years ago and in between three huge "British" events; the Royal Wedding, the Libyan campaign and the Olympics.

As there was no breakdown for Wales is unclear how many people in Wales alone chose Welsh. That 5% is the overall figure and will include Welsh in England and Scotland, likewise many British and English in Wales. We won't get a definitive answer until the census data is released but if it follows this trend then it could be interesting.

I would like to see what effect ethnicity and race plays in British identity. Do people from ethnic minorities feel more E/W/S/I than British? Do recent immigrants who've attained citizenship? Is there a difference here between Scotland, Wales and England?

Another key point, and slightly off topic, is the purpose for the poll itself - attitudes to Europe. Only Scottish and British seem to be pro-EU and pro-multilateralism, the English significantly more eurosceptic and anti-multilateralism than anyone else and the Welsh more evenly split on multilateralism and slightly eurosceptic.

Unknown said...

This seems to me to be a wonderful opportunity to question, publicly, what 'British' means!. For a lot of people it reflects the post war 'unionjackery' of having come through something terrible together, but the 'British Bulldog' imagery (entirely English) hasn't really helped keep that going, has it?

So let's just ask the question? What is being British? For me it is a simple geographic term, but for so many others it is so emotive that they can't express it in words. It is these that need to be challenged.

Anonymous said...

"British" means - "assimilated by the British state".


MH said...

I want to say that I didn't write this post from the angle of how people in Wales describe themselves, but how people in England do. I think those in Wales who describe themselves as Welsh is up there at around 70% or more, as would be expected from past surveys. The significant change is in how those in England describe themselves.

But as for the 5% Welsh in Britain as a whole, that is interesting, but not so different from the 8% who describe themselves as Scottish. Percentages can be misleading, and the decimal point would help, but there would seem to be somewhere between 1% and 2% in England who describe themselves as Welsh. 1.5% of the population of England is about 750,000, but 750,000 is 25% of our population.


I'm not sure that Marcus (Plaid Panteg) read me right. The point I was trying to make was not at all a hopeful one, it was in fact the opposite. If Scotland does leave the UK, then what is left will not be seen to be England, Wales and Northern Ireland ... it might be officially called that, but it will be thought of (both here and in the rest of the world) as "England". The England and Wales Cricket Board is a perfect example. Aled's fears of a "Greater England" are far closer to what I was trying to express.

In political terms, I couldn't agree more with those who say that England has the rawest deal under the current asymmetric devolution arrangements. While Scotland remains in the UK, there might be hope of moving to a more federal arrangement; but the danger is that if Scotland becomes independent, people in England will see no need for England to get any form of devolution. They will simply have more reason to see Westminster as England's Parliament, and will not notice the tiny number of MPs from Wales and NI. So independence for Scotland will not result in any constitutional change for what remains of the UK.

In this respect, I think Anon 21:25 is wrong. If Scotland becomes independent, it will not shake the UK edifice to its foundations. Like Monty Python's Black Knight, the UK will just regard the loss of another one of its limbs as a "flesh wound" and carry on behaving as if nothing had happened. That's exactly what it did when it lost most of Ireland.


In other words, we in Wales cannot rely on what happens in Scotland affecting the UK in a way that will bring us benefits. It might happen if the Scots don't vote for independence but get devo-max instead, but it won't happen if Scotland leaves. As I see it, many of us seem to have set our hopes on Scotland getting devo-max rather than independence in the hope that Wales will be given more autonomy by Westminster without us having to fight for it. It's easier to be a passenger.

But once we allow ourselves to believe that Scotland will become independent, everything changes, for Wales will inevitably become more isolated and ignored as a small part of what remains of a state that might be called "the UK of EW&NI" but which will in fact be, to all intents and purposes, Greater England. We have got to start thinking about whether we will want to be part of this Greater England, or whether we take it upon ourselves to follow Scotland's example.

Rob said...

I suppose the most important thing to note about his poll was that it asked for peoples' primary identity, thus not accounting for the dual Welsh/British-Scottish/British-English/British-Irish/British allegiance that many people feel. Polls consistently show strong support for the Union, weakest in Scotland but still a majority, and very robust in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. I myself am Welsh first, but British a close second, and European a very distant third. So I would have answered Welsh to this poll but that does not mean I want a break-up of the Union.

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