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UNIT I

WHAT IS BRITAIN?

WHATS IT LIKE? LIFE AND CULTURE IN BRITAIN TODAY

Read these three questions, then find answers in thearticle below.


a Who finds the label 'British' least acceptable: the English, the Scots or the Welsh?
b What four things have contributed to creating a sense of British identity?
c Why do some people feel that 'Britishness' is no longer a useful concept?

British Unity in Diversity


What is Britishness? Is it more
than the sum of its parts or less?
Many Scots and not a few Welsh
believe that Britishness is no more
than a disguised version of
Englishness. I have just visited three
towns with the same name - one each
in Scotland, Wales and England - to try
to discover whether there is an
overarching sense of identity that it still
makes sense to call British.
Nobody in Newport, Shropshire,
had a problem with Britishness. In
Newport, Gwent, some of the Welsh
felt British, though others preferred to
call themselves European. But it was in
Newport-on-Tay, near Dundee, that we
found the greatest reluctance to sign up
to a common identity of Britishness.
Here is Billy Kay, a local writer:
'The British identity that I'm
supposed to feel part of I see as being
first of all an imperial identity through
the Empire and then an identity which
has been forced by the idea of people

coming together to fight two world


wars. I don't think that's a healthy
identity to carry into the 21st century.'
This is a common complaint - that
Britishness is something from the past
that has little relevance today. When
the Act of Union was signed in 1707,
people had to be persuaded to attach
an extra loyalty to their long-standing
allegiance to region or nation.
Successive governments used the
common religion of Protestantism as a
propaganda weapon to encourage the
English, Scottish and Welsh to unite
around a common flag - and against
Catholic enemies.
The Empire - which was always
the British, not the English Empire
-was also a unifying force. It drew
heavily on the expertise of the Scots
and Welsh as doctors, traders,
explorers and administrators.
Then there was the monarchy.
Queen Victoria perhaps perfected the
art of being monarch to all of
Britain

and the Empire. Meanwhile,


successive wars have brought Britons
together in defence of the Empire and
the Union. It was the Battle of Britain,
not the Battle of England, that took
place over the Channel and southern
counties.
But history is history: the Empire
has gone, the Church no longer binds
us, the Armed Forces are shrinking
and the monarchy is troubled. Some
people feel that the glue of nationhood
has dried up. Alex Salmond, leader of
the Scottish nationalists, no longer
wants to be attached to what he sees as
a Britain in decline. He looks to
Europe as Scotland's new stage.
So do a surprising number in
Newport, Gwent. Alan Richards, a
sales director, has found that doing
business with Europe has changed his
outlook. I see our future very much as
being linked to Europe as a whole:
that includes England. I see England
merely as part of Europe.'

The Times