I've tried to avoid politics on this blog but I'm afraid it can go on no longer. I have to vent a little about this issue.

Recently, Gordon Brown, a PM so beloved by all his people was very down in the dumps. 
Poor Gordon. Gordon felt that people were not being proud enough of being "British" and so to cheer himself up, Gordon thought it might be good if the British Library held an exhibition on "Britishness". Which, in case you haven't noticed, is Gordon's favourite word, ever. In the whole, wide world. 

Perhaps Gordon didn't expect the British Library would take him up on the offer and throw two fingers up to him with their exhibition, "Taking Liberties."

Now, this exhibition, in a very satirical and downright cheeky way, displays that "Britishness", to them, is the appreciation of freedom and strong support for the values and powers that entails. By Gordon's lot practically tearing the Magna Carta to pieces, throwing ID cards at us, gaining extraordinary powers for surveillance and detention and using the "Terrorism" Act for everything from blowing up a shopping centre to dropping a sweetie wrapper-well, you can bet they're not top of the guest list at this particular show.

But this brought a much more prominent question to my mind (again): what is Britishness

I, personally, have never, ever felt British. I've felt Scottish: probably in the way someone born and bred in, say, Wales or England, feels very Welsh or English. Nor have I ever equated Scottishness with being anti-English. 

As I've got older, I've questioned almost every aspect of the idea of Britain and found that this "Britishness" simply doesn't exist. No matter how Gordon Brown wants it to exist. He defined it as:

"We can find common qualities and common values that have made Britain the country it is. Our belief in tolerance and liberty which shines through British history. Our commitment to fairness, fair play and civic duty"

So "Britishness" is believing in democratic values? Personally, I think that's a political choice that many people in the UK history would be inclined to disagree with but who felt very "British". Also, if that's the foundation of your culture, is that to say that other cultures don't share these values? Do Egyptians all beat their children senseless because their culture is non-tolerant? Have Trinidadians never been on a jury because they don't appreciate civic duty? Will Canadians cheat at any sport because they don't have a notion of fairness? It's safe to say that whatever Brown believes constitutes "Britishness", that those values do make appearances in other cultures. Ahem.

Brown probably doesn't realise that "Britishness" is actually more of an internationalist philosophy rather than a national one. He, a history student of all people, should understand that Scotland, Wales and both halves of Ireland underwent a mythologising of British past in order to create some homogeneous, unified culture that was never there in the first place. Then again, could have something to do with him worrying about being the guy that drove Scotland (and all the oil) away and ergo sent Britain into a several decade economic spiral. Could be.

I'd love to hear what people think about this, it is a contentious issue and completely up for debate. For more interesting and keenly balanced/informed opinions, try here

Oh, and Leslie, I'm so sorry I just drove a few hundred MI5 agents/a big bag of hate mail to your blog...




Anonymous said…
Scottish Not British !!
Anonymous said…
Very interesting article.

Like you, I have never felt British for many reasons:

The south of England seems like an entirely forgien place to me.

I reject most of the symbols of "britishness" such as the monarchy and empirialism.

I found GB's "common qualities" that we as British subjects share rather comical:

"tolerance"- For a country "over-run" with people claiming to be "over-run" by foriegn immigrants "tolerance" seems miles from the truth. The fact is, most people who pride themselves on being British are Europhobic little-Englanders.

"liberty"- In the country with the most CCTV cameras per head in the world? Geez a break!

British history consists mainly of oppression and brutality. The slave trade, the plundering of half the world under the British Empire and the mistreatment of Ireland. As bloody as anywhere's.

"fairness"- Despite being a British citzen, born and raised in Glasgow, due to my religion I am ineligable for election as Prime Minister. Is that fair?

"Civic Duty"- Yeah, there's always someone on hand to mop up the blood of the lastest teenage murder victim.

Scottish not British.

and liberty
Glad you got onto politics, in total agreement with you and the other commenters, Scottish first.

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