On the loose
Following the next referendum in Scotland, whenever it happens, England could well be on their own for the first time in a thousand years
The White-British are now a minority in London, Birmingham, Leicester, and Manchester. (The census data for Scotland is not available yet.) There are similar sets of stats for the USA. At the millennium, the white population of the USA was 75%; now it’s 60%, and by 2050 it is predicted that Whites will be in the minority.
These figures are undisputed demographic facts and forecasts. The white worlds of Europe, North America and Australia/NZ are going through an unstoppable process of coalescing into a new mélange of multi-ethnic societies. We have never seen such a mass movement of populations since the collapse of the Roman Empire. The Right shout about the imagined horrors of such a seismic societal shift, whilst the Left don’t like to mention it at all.
Into this mix comes the Great Replacement Theory. This is a view of world events that first started in France and is now taking off amongst the Far-Right in the States. It claims that a conspiracy exists within the liberal establishment who are deliberately encouraging immigration in order to ‘replace’ the majority white population, with the sole aim of building up a new electoral majority of blacks, Hispanics, white woke liberals, and Jews. “Jews will not replace us” was the chant at the white supremacist’s rally in Charlottesville, North Carolina, in 2017. (It’s always the Jews with these people. As the Irish writer and politician, Conor Cruise O’Brien, so succinctly said, “Antisemitism is a light sleeper”.)
Replacement Theory is taking off in England too. The manifesto of the bomber who attacked the migrant centre in Dover last year was full of Replacement Theory propaganda. One of the most prominent Far-Right groups in England called Patriotic Alternative have a clock on their website ticking down, minute by minute, towards the date when they predict white Britons will ‘become a minority in our own country’.
This is not just the language of caricature BNP-style quasi-fascists; Nigel Farage joined in with a nod to replacement ideas by saying “London, Birmingham and Manchester are all now minority white cities. A massive change in the identity of this country that is taking place through immigration”. And on one level, in terms of the census stats, it’s true: ‘the times they are a-changin’.
England is changing on so many levels. Brexit is still an open wound where one half of the so-called white Brits feel betrayed by the other half. But here’s the difference with the US and other European countries. Farage was wrong about London. White people are not in a minority in the Big Smoke. It’s only the White-British who are in a minority at 37%. But the Brits combined with other Whites make up an overall white majority of 54%.
So, the English version of Replacement Theory has a specific white ethnic quality to it. White Americans can trace their roots to whichever part of Europe they wish; they are all still white. But for the white English the legacy of the notion that, “Wogs begin at Calais” still lingers; archaic imperial language which shocks the modern ear but was commonplace when my dad was a lad.
The very word ‘English’ exposes the confusion. The English, a corruption of ‘Angles’ along with the Saxons and Jutes, as they were known in the 5th and 6th centuries, poured onto the south-eastern shores of this island in their small boats, and proceeded to impose their language and values on the natives. The native Celts were either enslaved or pushed westwards into Cymru and Kernow.
But who are today’s English? For us Scots it feels like an odd question to ask. Despite our own very real divisions it feels that identifying as Scottish is far easier, more inclusive, and less ethnic than the equivalent test across the border. Most Asians I have met in Scotland have no problem describing themselves as Asian-Scots. But that is not the case south of the border. ‘British-Asian’ is as good as it gets.
Why is this? My guess is that it was a British passport that gave them the right to come in the first place and that ‘English’ then became a label to identify the indigenous population who were white. Then, with the everyday experience of discrimination and violence in the 60s and 70s it became the term for the white natives collectively for most Asians and Afro-Caribbeans in England. In Scotland, there was much less immigration, and this, combined with a shared ‘auld enemy’ thinking, meant that cross-ethnic identification as Scots became much more palatable.
But we are still left with the problem that the white English can’t even agree on a name. All my life, English friends I have known have used the terms ‘British’ and ‘English’ inter-changeably. My own theory is that England has never known itself as an independent country since 1066 when the Anglo-Saxons were conquered by the Normans. Ever since England has been imperial, firstly with France, then Wales, then Ireland, followed by a cunning wooing of ourselves, and then into the next great expansionist project - the Empire. For England, it’s hard to know who you are if you’ve always had your fingers in other countries’ pies. And particularly when you believed you were at the top of the pile.
For the Left in England this is agony. Throughout my 25 years in England, I got used to hearing white English leftists or liberals tie themselves in knots over the question of their nationality. ‘European’ was a popular answer, as was ‘citizen of the World’. Some would claim an Irish or Welsh grandparent as a get-out from the question. Many used their socialism to excuse themselves from the very question of nationality by recalling the Marxist mantra of ‘workers of the world unite’. It felt as if they didn’t want to even acknowledge the existence of England.
As if to illustrate this further, have you ever noticed how many English institutions don’t use the word England/English to define their reach? The Football Association, the Rugby Football Union, the National Gallery, the NSPCC or the NSPCA. It’s frequently ‘National’, sometimes ‘Royal’. Whereas the equivalent for us always emphasises our organisations’ ‘Scottishness’.
It’s as if their establishment believes that England is the only nation that counts; the norm that doesn’t need to be named, against whom all others should measure themselves. And now that the sun has set on the British Empire and the drawbridge has been raised against the rest of Europe, the rump of English ‘patriotic nostalgists’ remaining, see only small boats and ungrateful Scots threatening the last possibility of making Britain Great again. Following the next referendum in Scotland, whenever it happens, England could well be on their own for the first time in a thousand years – and at a societal and psychological level, it must feel scary; their passport to global greatness revoked.
But could it be the start of something much more positive? I went to an exploration of Englishness yesterday in the form of Grayson Perry’s exhibition at the foot of the Mound. Here is an Englishman who knows the difference between England and Britain. He is proud to be English and even loves the flag and the football supporters. He paints, weaves, and sculpts an emerging multi-ethnic England at a grass roots level.
He pictures what is essentially English and makes us smile. Grayson’s vision is of an ordinary happier England going through its everyday domestic struggles and yet more at peace with itself. And he seems to recognise that Scotland is probably going to leave quite soon and is accepting of that too. Maybe our two countries could one day become better neighbours, rather than the disgruntled co-creators of a sad and failed Imperial project that is long past its sell by date. ■
Info: Grayson Perry Smash Hits, National (Royal Scottish Academy), till Sun 12 Nov 2023. Open daily, 10am–5pm