29 February 2012

On the English Question (II) ...

As promised in yesterday's post on attitudes in England towards identity, devolution, finances and government, a few more graphs from the NatCen data.  In my last blog, we saw that English perceptions of Scottish public spending have changed significantly since 2000, but much more modestly in the past few years. Perhaps the starkest finding is that in 2011, 43% of respondents based in England believe that Scotland received more than its fair share of public spending, compared to 21% who harboured such suspicions in 2000.

Today, I wanted to focus on the identity questions posed by the NatCen researchers. Their study report asks, does England feel more English? Answering that question using this sort of data is not unproblematic.  But to proceed in a workmanlike manner, within the very limited terms afforded by the survey instrument, how did the decent wadge of respondents self-identify? How have these identifications changed over time? What primary identities do people avow? Where folk identify with multiple identities (as many British people do), which of them, if any, would they prioritise? Are there any signs that people are increasingly giving Englishness priority over Britishness?

To kick us off, the researchers collated data from 1996 to 2011 British Social Attitudes Survey, asking which national identities those questioned identified with. Respondents living in England were invited to choose from a list of options - English, British and so on - and could choose as many as they liked. So what did they find? The results are plotted below, but to take the most recent year, in 2011 61% of people living in England identified themselves as English, 66% chose British, while 37% of folk chose both identities.  Despite the instability presently pulling at the fabric of the British state, as an identity in England, bare and unadorned identification with Britishness has proved strikingly stable over the last sixteen years, while Englishness leaps up and down like an irate frog.

In an attempt to move beyond binary choices, and to try to say something more nuanced about how respondents envisaged their identities, data was also generated which seeks to discern (or one might say, for villainy, impose a model of) prioritised identities on respondents. You'll likely all have answered questionnaires with similar forms of question: do you feel Scottish not British, more Scottish than British, equally both, or more British or just British? Between 2000 and 2009 (but not every year in that period), these questions were put to those living in England. In 2008 and 2011, by contrast, the question was asked of those born in England only.  For the first period, the results were as follows. As the researchers suggest, it hardly furnishes clear support for the thesis that a clear English consciousness is emerging (in part response to developments elsewhere in these islands), which rejects as increasingly sclerotic an addled and irrelevant Britishness. Not a bit of it, in fact.


Does the drift of opinion change if you ask only those born in England? Not spectacularly. While the number of English-born respondents rejecting British identity altogether increases, it does so relatively modestly. The results for 2008 and 2011 were as follows:



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