The Scots reject Britain as a nation, too

When the 2011 census figures on national identity for Wales and England were released last year they showed that people in both countries overwhelmingly rejected the idea that Britain was a nation. The equivalent figures for Scotland are among those that have just been released today, and they show almost exactly the same thing.

To demonstrate this, I have updated the table I included in this post to include the figures for Scotland. Although the wording of the questions is slightly different, it is important to notice that these are specific questions about national identity rather than identity in a more general sense.

How would you describe your national identity?
Tick all that apply ...

In Wales:

Welsh only ... 57.5%
Welsh and British only ... 7.1%
Welsh and any other(s) ... 1.2%
Welsh in any form ... 65.9%
Not Welsh ... 34.1%

British only ... 16.9%
British and any other(s) ... 9.4%
British in any form ... 26.3%
Not British ... 73.7%

English only ... 11.2%
English and British only ... 1.5%
English and any other(s) ... 1.1%
English in any form ... 13.8%
Not English ... 86.2%

In England:

English only ... 60.4%
English and British only ... 9.1%
English and any other(s) ... 0.7%
English in any form ... 70.1%
Not English ... 29.9%

British only ... 19.2%
British and any other(s) ... 10.1%
British in any form ... 29.3%
Not British ... 70.7%

Welsh only ... 0.6%
Welsh and British only ... 0.1%
Welsh and any other(s) ... 0.1%
Welsh in any form ... 0.8%
Not Welsh ... 99.2%

What do you feel is your national identity?
Tick ALL that apply ...

In Scotland:

Scottish only ... 62.4%
Scottish and British only ... 18.3%
Scottish and any other(s) ... 1.9%
Scottish in any form ... 82.6%
Not Scottish ... 17.4%

British only ... 8.4%
British and any other(s) ... between 8.4% and 10.7% *
British in any form ... between 26.7% and 29.0% *
Not British ... between 71.0% and 73.3% *

English only ... 2.3%

* The dataset for Scotland has been released in a less detailed form, making it impossible to distinguish between those who describe their national identity as, for example, Welsh only and those who describe it as Welsh and British. However these groupings only account for 2.3% in total and therefore don't affect the overall picture by very much.

Census 2011, Table KS202EW
Scottish Census 2011, Release 2A, Table 6

In each country the figure who describe their national identity as British in any way, shape or form is less than 30%. There is hardly any difference between the three countries. The figure is lowest in Wales at 26.3% and highest in England at 29.3%. This is an emphatic rejection of the idea of Britain as a nation across the whole of this island.

Instead, a large majority of people in all three countries think of their national identity as being Welsh, English or Scottish only. Again the figures are remarkably similar: highest in Wales at 69.2% (57.5% Welsh only, 11.2% English only, 0.5% Scottish only) and lowest in England at 61.8% (60.4% English only, 0.6% Welsh only, 0.8% Scottish only).

In both cases Scotland sits neatly in the middle. However there is one significant difference: the percentage in Scotland who regard their national identity as Scottish and British is very much higher (18.3%) than the equivalent figure in either Wales (7.1% Welsh and British) or England (9.1% English and British). And, correspondingly, the figure for those who regard their national identity as British only is very much lower in Scotland (8.4%) than it is in either Wales (16.9%) or England (19.2%).

I don't fully understand the reason for this, and I'd value people's thoughts about why opinion in Scotland should be so different.


In closing, I think I should repeat the point I touched on before. These census questions are specifically about national identity, not about identity in a more general sense. Most people in Denmark would feel Scandinavian and be happy to identify themselves as Scandinavian ... but would never describe their nationality as Scandinavian. Most people in the Netherlands would feel European and be happy to identify themselves as European ... but would never describe their nationality as European.

In the same way, it is perfectly possible for people to feel British without considering their nationality to be British. There's nothing wrong with the idea of Britain; it is perfectly reasonable to describe the geographical, historical, cultural and social identity we have in common as British.

But it is wrong to describe Britain as a nation, and even more wrong to describe Britain as "one nation". The census evidence shows that the people who live on this island overwhelmingly reject the idea of Britain as a nation. Instead, the vast majority of us see our national identity as Welsh, English or Scottish only.

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Anonymous said...

But it still doesn't help us move forward with the idea of independence for Wales.

Come on, we need a more credible narrative!

Anonymous said...

Smashing the notion that we're all proud Brits is a major step to freeing ourselves. So well done Scotland on rejecting the vile empire. Now all we need is a pro independence narrative from our national party. It's quite clear there is no reason to continue this sham of a union for a second longer.

Jac o' the North, said...

'Scottish and British' is accounted for by a sizeable element in Scotland that has always regarded the Union as a Union of equals, from which many Scots prospered. Throw in the Rangers / Loyalist element and there's your 18.3%.

The real worry for us should be that 34.1% in Wales reject any Welsh identity compared to just 17.4% rejecting any Scottishness. This is the elephant in the room. This is the reason Scotland is on the cusp of independence while Wales is more likely to be assimilated into England.

MH said...

Not everything has to be framed in terms of independence, 16;45. There's a lot more to life, even political life, than that.

However national identity is relevant insofar as it exposes the foolishness of political platform based on Britain as one nation. It is a lame-brained idea, as this rather old, but still relevant, cartoon expresses rather well. But the Tories are just as guilty, and Labour is only following in their footsteps.

What you call a "credible narrative" for independence is going to be based on what you find credible. Please feel free to put forward your idea of a narrative that is credible ... but I rather suspect you have already made up your mind and would therefore never find any narrative credible.

MH said...

Love your graphics, Stu, as always. But I'd ask you the same question. What do you consider to be a credible pro-independence narrative?

This census information is useful, especially for exploding the idea of Britain as a nation. But it is not, in itself, a reason for independence. There is no reason why a group of nations should not be united into one State if they each thought that acting together would enhance their influence on the world stage and prosperity in terms of trade. To use the example I've quoted, but in a different way, I could well imagine a State called Scandinavia including Denmark, Sweden and Norway. Or perhaps a Nordic State including Finland, Iceland and the Faroes as well.

There are pros and cons to such a State. The major pro is a single state of some 27m people would have more collective weight to throw around (if it ever wanted to). The major con is that five seats and votes in international organizations like the UN voices would be reduced to just one, and that six teams in events like sport would be reduced to just one. In my opinion, what they have now is better than what they'd have if they were one State. A flotilla of frigates, destroyers and submarines is more effective, more flexible, and less vulnerable than one huge battleship. And I think the same would be true for three independent nations (four if Cornwall is also independent) in Britain.

In one very important respect a United Nordic State could work in a way that the United Kingdom of GB&NI cannot work. Sweden, the largest nation with a population of 9.5m out of the 27m (35%), would not totally dominate it. The other nations would get a meaningful say in the decisions it made. But England, with 53m out of 63m (84%) will always get its way irrespective of what the other nations wanted. In this respect alone, the UK cannot function in a way that allows any meaningful input into the decisions it makes from nations other than England. It is fundamentally flawed as a State, and this is the main reason why the UK cannot survive as a State.

MH said...

Thanks for your explaination, Royston. There's an element of truth in it. There's another good explanation on the Radnorian blog, which I'll copy here:

Another difference is the figure for Welsh/Scottish and British identifiers 18% in Scotland, just 7% in Wales. I'd guess that the independence debate has polarised things a bit, you can imagine tribal-Labour supporters ticking this box. In Scotland just 8% opted for a British-only identity while in Wales the figure was nearer 17%. This is easily explained by the fact that twice as many in Wales were born in England. People who may for example feel like the author of this blog comment:

"Maybe it's Englishness that no longer regards itself as such and yet doesn't think it has earned the right to call itself Welsh. Take me, for example. I was born and raised in England, yet I and my children speak Welsh (extraordinary though that may be in Maesyfed), and regard Wales as 'our' country. Indeed, later this week we will all be spending a few days at the Urdd Eisteddfod as we do every year. Did I list myself as Welsh on the census form? No: I felt the obligation to tick the British box, simply because it was the closest approximation to what I am"

Around 11% of the population of Wales had no such well-mannered qualms, listing themselves as English-only. Here is another major difference with Scotland where just 2.3% distinguished themselves in this way.

I think this explanation is good, but only to a point. This is because it doesn't account for why the figure for E&B in England (9.1%) is roughly the same as the figure for W&B in Wales (7.1%) rather than the much higher figure for S&B in Scotland (18.3%). In every other respect the figures for Scotland are broadly the same as for Wales and England. So why this one anomaly for Scotland?


One answer is that completely different factors are in play in England, that these balance out Radnorian's explanation, and the fact that it brings the E&B figure in England much closer to the W&B figure in Wales than to the S&B figure in Scotland is therefore a coincidence. Foremost of these would be the higher level of non-UK immigration into England than into Wales, coupled with the fact that non-UK immigrants tend to think of themselves as British-only because they have had to deal with the officialdom of the British State (with its relentless emphasis on Britishness) in order to gain residency or citizenship. This British-only identity would then be passed down to their children.


Another way of looking at it is that the figure for S&B in Scotland is different from that for both W&B in Wales and E&B in England because Scotland has a greater number of distinctive Scottish national institutions. Wales has these institutions to a much lesser extent; but England does too because of the general lack of distinction between what is an English national institution and what is a British national institution. In this respect Wales and England are much the same.

So a born-and-bred local who would call themself British-only if they lived in Wales or England would be more inclined to think of their national identity as B&S in Scotland, simply because those who live in Scotland are much more exposed to the idea of Scotland as a nation in contradistinction to "Britain-and-or-England-and-or-Englandandwales" as a nation.


I think all these explanations are true to a certain extent. At the moment I'm more inclined to think the last is primarily responsible for the Scottish anomaly, but I'm open to persuasion.

Anonymous said...

Scotland was considered a nation (including by the bulk of its own people) before devolution. Indeed it has already been independent. In Wales this has never been the case, and people are still getting used to the idea of governing ourselves. The low support for independence pretty accurately reflects this lack of historic experience and confidence, which is underpinned by the economic situation here.

If we want an independent Wales we have to understand we're talking about the Wales that already exists becoming independent. We're not talking about inventing a non-existent or fantasy Wales becoming independent where everything is easy and our history is more succesful. The Scots built up their country before devolution, and now have improved it even more under the parliament. Wales is a much different place.

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