What is it about the English?

by Ray_North on February 25, 2014

images-6Warning: this piece contains some serious national stereotyping – please bear with me, I mean well.

Now, I could be wrong about this, but I’d wager that if you spoke to the average Scotsman/woman and asked them, come on, let’s be serious what’s the real attraction of independence, I doubt, and I don’t mean this in a patronising way, that you’d get many detailed answers about the benefits of fiscal independence or the powers to spend north sea oil revenue or even a desire to bring life to a dying language or diluted culture; no, I’d wager that for many the real attraction is ridding themselves of the English.

It’s the same in Wales where I live, I don’t want an independent Wales, but, if Scotland goes, then I’m fucked if i want to be a tiny nation clinging on to the side of England.

On the whole, the Scots really don’t much like the English and in particular they don’t much the type of Englishman that is typified by the likes of Cameron, Clegg and Osborne. Alex Salmond knows that the greatest asset he has in his campaign for Scottish independence is David Cameron – every time Cameron or even more potently, George Osborne, utters a sentence about Scotland, Salmond gets a ruck load of votes saying ‘Yes’.

To be honest it’s a fairly dangerous subtext of the Scottish independence debate, I mean to make a decision as fundamental as this based upon an antipathy towards another nation or a certain type of national stereotype might not be the most satisfactory reason for taking such a portentous step into the dark.

But, it is out there – it is the elephant in the room – the people of Scotland, and indeed, many other nations hold the English in low regard.

Why?

Speaking as a Welshman, who spent a good few years living in England and likes to think that he has many very close English friends (hell, Mrs North is from Birkenhead), to say that the English are intrinsically a bunch of rotters is absurd. There are just as many bad eggs in Scotland, Wales, Ireland or anywhere else for that matter.

So why do so many people find it easy to despise the English? What have they done?

Well, there could be a number of reasons, and I point them out, not by way of criticism, after all, who am I to criticise, but by way of friendly assistance, so that perhaps my English friends can consider them:

First, perhaps, there is a national arrogance that is not really well founded. Ok, England, has a rich and wonderful cultural and social history and has produced some of the greatest men and women to have graced the planet – but, whether this is fair or not, sadly, there is often a lack of humility in the psyche of the English. You can sometimes see it in Sport, where England expect to hammer everyone. The attitude is often akin to ‘Two World Wars, One World Cup,’ and, quite frankly it grates with the rest of us.

Perhaps, the English should consider their own history with a little bit more circumspection – after all some of the crimes committed in the name of empire are as dreadful as anything committed by any conquering nation in history. They are not something to be proud of, they are not something upon which can be built an air of superiority – England should take a long look at its history and perhaps play down the ‘happy and glorious,’ and focus more on the dark satanic hills.

Just as irksome, there is often a lack of respect for other countries and their history, culture and language – I don’t know if this is to do with education, but, English people have little interest in speaking languages other than, er, English; whilst often the ignorance of anything that is deemed ‘foreign’ is just breathtaking. I’m constantly amazed how people come to Wales, quite clearly Englands closest neighbours, and, not only make no effort to speak the language, but, actually ridicule it. For god’s sake, even the Americans find the language quaint and fascinating. The conclusion is that English people come across as boorish and bullying. Perhaps, and again, this is just a suggestion, the English could learn some charm.

Perhaps some of this arrogance is born from the way in which England (and yes, I take the point that Wales and Scotland are not so different), is organised along such rigid class lines. Reinforced by the relics of Public School and monarchy, and with increasingly limited social mobility, the people of England are safely oppressed in their ascribed place. And it is this that has encouraged those at the ‘top’ treat others who they perceive as different or inferior – a group that includes the Scottish and Welsh and just about every other nation, with contempt, whilst those at the other end of the social scale, are often hamstrung by their enforced low self-esteem, which has contributed to some of the loutish behaviour abroad that gives the English such a bad name.

Now, as I said, at the beginning of this, I do plead guilty to some seriously unfair generalisations, but, but, but, though they are generalisations that may be unfair, but they are generalisations that are believed by many people who are not English and they are founded upon generations of condescension towards other nations, creeds and cultures.

I doubt very much if, between now and vote for Scottish independence, England can do much to repair its reputation, but, perhaps the Scottish vote and overwhelming feeling of antipathy that the Scots are demonstrating towards the English should make a few sit up and ask themselves why.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Charlie_East_West February 25, 2014 at 9:38 am

An interesting article, Ray.

I do however disagree with you about your comment “Now, I could be wrong about this, but I’d wager that if you spoke to the average Scotsman/woman and asked them, come on, let’s be serious what’s the real attraction of independence, I doubt, and I don’t mean this in a patronising way, that you’d get many detailed answers about the benefits of fiscal independence or the powers to spend north sea oil revenue or even a desire to bring life to a dying language or diluted culture; no, I’d wager that for many the real attraction is ridding themselves of the English.”

The attraction for most Yes supporters on independence is not about petty nationalism or indeed “ridding themselves of the English” – it is about ridding themselves of neoliberal policy and attitude at Westminster.

Also, most Scots do not hate the English. What are you basing that opinion on? Braveheart? Most Scots get on extremely well with the English, but they do not take too kindly to being a) patronised b) being told what to do from afar c) being disenfranchised by policies that have destroyed many components of their economic and industrial landscape.

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Jock February 25, 2014 at 1:39 pm

I’d agree with Charlie-E-W;

We Scottish people don’t hate English people, we hate the arrogance and attitude portrayed by “England”. To say the Scots hate the English is to ignore the sense of kinship between the Northerners and the Scottish – who in their identities exemplify far closer mannerisms, attitudes and beliefs that are held by the Scots, Welsh, and Northern Irish. Stodgy food, strong beliefs on the name of baps/buns/rolls, love of a good chippy, alcohol, self-mockery, humility, friendly banter and a friendly attitude.

If you had to exemplify the “English” as the ones the rest of the UK, including the North, don’t like, it’s those who sit comfortably in the South of England, dictating to the rest of the regions like they were born to rule, and complaining about subsidising the rest of the UK, whereas had the rest of the UK received the same levels of investment, there wouldn’t be such a disparity of wealth.

Every Scot I know who I’ve asked about the Referendum has given measured, informed arguments that would stun Westminster to hear how intelligent and forward thinking the benefit-scrounging Scots can be, whether they are for or against Independence.

As I now live in London, everyone asks about Independence, and every English person so far has spouted nonsense facts they’ve picked up from whatever right-wing rag they happened to read that morning. The typical line is “So what do you think about this whole Independence thing? I mean, it could never work…”

I don’t want to leave the UK, but I also don’t want to continue to be dictated to by a Government that has no idea what my country wants or needs, and continues to ride roughshod over the interests of every region that isn’t in close proximity to Westminster. We have twice as many Pandas in Scotland as we have Tory MPs (a grand total of 1), yet despite voting overwhelmingly against the Conservatives, we’re ruled and ridiculed by them. I can’t abandon the rest of the UK to Tory rule. I would happily vote for it if we could form a nation of the Scots, Northern Irish, Welsh, and Northerners.

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Ray_North February 25, 2014 at 1:47 pm

Jock – you’ve made the point beautifully, if I may say so.

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alx w February 27, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Speaking as a Northerner I’m not even sure its those ‘southerners’ per se. I think it has little to do with geography and more to do with a sense of entitlement that a number of English people (and you can include a number of Scots, Irish and Welsh who often join this club, but who either join their english counterparts in London and become synonymous with them, or remain a small minority in their own regions) retain. Obviously there are a number of ‘little’ englanders whose sense of entitlement is not born through wealth but insecurity, these we can call the aspirational ones.
The problem England has is that too many of these types get to dominate the airspace and the rest of us are left picking up the pieces (and often the ridicule)n when it comes to other nations (celts included).

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Fionauk512 February 25, 2014 at 9:43 pm

This is a debate very close to my heart and over the months I’ve been dipping into your blog I’ve been very interested in the conversations about the referendum in Scotland. I’m a Scot living in London, I won’t get a vote but I care deeply about the future of my country and that doesn’t spring from any hatred of the English. My partner is Welsh and so shares the view that if Scotland votes yes to independence he would certainly want Wales to follow suit. This is not some uber nationalist desire to tear apart the UK, but an honest reaction to the inequity that parades as policy from people who appear to have little regard for those unlike them. To be so callous as to pursue the most vulnerable in society on so many fronts, to poison any reasonable debate on serious issues by demonising the victims of austerity rather than truly dealing with the structural economic failures of those whose hand is on the helm is the reason why this Scot would support a different tack.

Call me idealistic but I’d like to try something different.

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Mohammad May 19, 2014 at 8:12 am

I did very much enjoy the discussion above. Now I see the extent of literary thinking among the British people. Literary thinking, to my way of thinking, is the most unique factor contributing to the overall success of British nation. I really long for speaking to a British. I am an Iranian by the way. Thanks for the insight.

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James McDonald September 10, 2014 at 1:09 pm

Perhaps Alex Salmond would like to go down in history. I suppose it would be too much to ask to do away with England, Scotland and Wales and just be one big country again called Albion. Being governed from afar, … tosh, the distance from Westminster to Scotland is miniscule compared to the Whitehouse and Alaska, Moscow and Krasnoyarsk. Damn Romans, it’s all their bloody fault.

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Bunny April 3, 2015 at 3:57 pm

it was the British Empire, so it’s not just England that has to recognise it’s colonial history. Scotland was just as much a part of the Empire as England, it’s not as if Scotland didn’t harbour it’s own colonialist dreams, and it’s not as if there isn’t an element of Scotland more responsible for the mess in Ireland more than say, Cornwall would be. At least the English take some ownership for that as opposed to the Scottish Nationalists who seem to think getting Independence is a way of separating themselves entirely from any of the responsibility of colonialism [it was always only the English apparently, and it couldn't possibly have been a Scotsman who was the father of free market economics, only the English could be so greedy and evil to have come up with such a thing]. And regardless of that, that’s history and most people today aren’t responsible for that.

“Perhaps, and again, this is just a suggestion, the English could learn some charm.”……oh, well that isn’t condescending, arrogant and looking down at an entire nation at all! How terribly English of you.

Your complaints about the English are complaints about every sort of people on earth – everyone gets into delusional flag waving optimism at some point. [it's hardly as if the Scottish are exempt for that] And vast swathes of English people aren’t posh Tories, the English as you know full well aren’t some unified monoculture just as the Scottish and Welsh [and combined British] aren’t.

Perhaps it would be more constructive to deal with the political issues without the xenophobia and the nationalism coming into the mix, which is inaccurate anyway.

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kitthehammer August 18, 2015 at 4:01 pm

I was wondering about this. I’m English I’ve got on well with pretty much every English, Irish or Welsh person I have met, but it does have to be said that all of them have a big chip on their shoulder about the English. I wouldn’t mind this so much if I didn’t feel that so much of this supposed arrogance that we have wasn’t being projected on to us by the very same people who accuse us of it or our rubbish media (particularly the BBC).

I don’t know one English person that doesn’t now think the English football team is on the same level as say Norway or Denmark and the World cup win was so long ago it’s embarrassing to mention it. The second world war we were saved by America and pretty much nobody currently living can remember the Empire so why should we still be feeling guilty about history? Are the Italians still supposed to be on a guilt trip about the Roman empire?

It’s interesting to see the accusation of Southerners believing they are subsidising the rest of the UK or at least the North or have a feeling of entitlement. Again this is an accusation thrust upon them rather than actual reality. Look at the voting in London. Hardly all Tory was it? So maybe the reality is that many in the South dislike who is in charge too and it has nothing to do with the fact that Cameron might have been born just down the road? It doesn’t mean they think the same.

Many lower paid Londoners are being forced out of London but that’s not just by rich Tories, it’s foreign investment. Half of London is pretty much foreign so the question has to be asked. when you are talking about the “English” or “Southerners” who is it you are talking about?

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artyliz October 20, 2015 at 6:50 pm

I am English and many years ago I spent a year in Wales. Before going I worked my way through a teach yourself Welsh book so I could make an effort to make friends in their language. The first night we went to the packed out local pub we joined in with the singing. Then the guitarists turned to us and struck up a chorus of ‘Go Home you Bums’ assisted by the crowd. We joined in.. and were then welcomed and made many friends. I have always kept my love of the Welsh, their language and culture. Recently I have moved to Brittany, where I have been frequently saddened to come across the phrase ‘I hate the English’ (the explanation being our arrogance and the British Empire). It isn’t the French or the Bretons that say this.. it’s the Welsh and Irish that I’ve met here, who are friends of mine, yet think nothing of telling us English how they feel about us, as though we have no feelings or right to them. I don’t retaliate, but say it’s a shame. Which behaviours there strike you as ‘charming’? Or is my refusal to carry a nationalist ‘chip on my shoulder’ just another sign of my innate arrogance?

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