The Union Flag is one of the most potent symbols of Britishness.[1]

Britishness is the state or quality of being British,[2][3] or of embodying British characteristics,[3] and is used to refer to that which binds and distinguishes the British people and forms the basis of their unity and identity,[4] or else to explain expressions of British culture—such as habits, behaviours or symbols—that have a common, familiar or iconic quality readily identifiable with the United Kingdom.[5] Dialogue about the legitimacy and authenticity of Britishness is intrinsically tied with power relations and politics;[6] in terms of nationhood and belonging, expressing or recognising one's Britishness provokes range of responses and attitudes, such as advocacy, indifference or rejection.[6] Macphee and Poddar state that although the designation of the two differing terms, Britishness and Englishness, is not simple as they are invariably conflated, they are both tied into the identity of the British nation and empire, since these last two are altering considerably as Englishness and Britishness do too. Thus the slippage between the two words can be seen as a play between these changing dynamics.[7]

Britishness "sprung into political and academic prominence" in the late-20th century,[8] but its origins lie with the formation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. Although Britishness was used to refer to Britons collectively as early as 1682,[3] historian Linda Colley asserts that it was after the Acts of Union 1707 that the citizens of Great Britain began to assume a "layered" identity—to think of themselves as simultaneously British but also Scottish, English, and/or Welsh.[9] In this formative period, Britishness was "closely bound up with Protestantism".[9] The Oxford English Dictionary Online dates the first known use of the term Britishness to refer to the state of being British to a June 1857 issue of Putnam's Monthly Magazine.[3]

Since the late-20th century, the exploration and proliferation of Britishness became directly associated with a desire to define, sustain or restore a homogenous British identity or allegiance to Britain, prompting debate. For instance, the Life in the United Kingdom test—reported as a test of one's Britishness—has been described as controversial.[10] The United Kingdom Independence Party have asserted that Britishness is tied with inclusive civic nationalism,[11] whereas the Commission for Racial Equality reported that, Scots, Welsh, Irish and ethnic minorities may feel quite divorced from Britishness because of White, English dominance; Gwynfor Evans, Welsh nationalist politician, said that "Britishness is a political synonym for Englishness which extends English culture over the Scots, Welsh and the Irish".[12] With regards to a proposed Oath of Allegiance for school leavers, historian David Starkey argued that it is impossible to teach Britishness because "a British nation doesn't exist."[13][14]


Government perspective

Gordon Brown, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, made a speech in 2006 to promote Britishness.[15] Brown's speech to the Fabian Society's Britishness Conference proposed that British values demand a new constitutional settlement and symbols to represent a modern patriotism, including a new youth community service scheme and a 'British Day' to celebrate.[16]

One of the central issues identified at the Fabian Society conference was how the English identity fits within the framework of a devolved UK. Does England require a new constitutional settlement for instance?[17]

Her Majesty's Government's sought to promote Britishness with the inaugural Veterans' Day, first held on 27 June 2006. As well as celebrating the achievements of armed forces veterans, Brown's speech at the first event for the celebration said:

Scots and people from the rest of the UK share the purpose – that Britain has something to say to the rest of the world about the values of freedom, democracy and the dignity of the people that you stand up for. So at a time when people can talk about football and devolution and money, it is important that we also remember the values that we share in common.[18]

Critics have argued that Gordon Brown's sudden interest in the subject is more to do with countering English opposition to a Scottish Member of Parliament becoming Prime Minister.[19]

In November 2007 The Times' Comment Central asked readers to define Britishness in five little words. The winning suggestion was "No motto please, we're British."[20]

Ethnicity and social trends

In 2007, the majority of people in many non-white ethnic groups living in Great Britain described their national identity as British, English, Scottish or Welsh. This included almost nine in ten (87%) of people with mixed heritage, 85% of Black Caribbeans, and 80% of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis. Non-whites were more likely to describe themselves as British than whites. One-third of people from the White British group described themselves as British; some respondents opted to call themselves English, Welsh or Scottish.[21]

A study conducted for the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) in 2005 found that, in England, the majority of ethnic minority participants identified primarily as British, whereas white English participants identified as English first and British second. In Wales and Scotland, the majority of both white and ethnic minority participants identified as Welsh or Scottish first and British second, although they saw no incompatibility between the two identities.[22] Other research conducted for the CRE found that white participants felt that there was a threat to Britishness from large-scale immigration, the 'unfair' claims that they perceived ethnic minorities made on the welfare state, a rise in moral pluralism and political correctness. Much of this frustration was found to be targeted at Muslims rather than minorities in general. Muslim participants in the study reported feeling victimised and stated that they felt that they were being asked to chose between Muslim and British identities, whereas they saw it possible to be both at the same time.[22]

Within the United Kingdom



Identity National Identity in Scotland from 1997–2003[23]
1997 1999 2001 2003
Scottish not British 23 32 36 31
More Scottish than British 38 35 30 34
Equally Scottish and British 27 22 24 22
More British than Scottish 4 3 3 4
British not Scottish 4 4 3 4

There is evidence that people in Scotland are increasingly likely to describe themselves as Scottish, and less likely to say they are British. A study by social scientists at the Universities of Edinburgh, Dundee, St Andrews and Lancaster shows that more than eight out of ten people in Scotland see themselves as Scottish. At the same time, there has been a long-term decline in Scots defining themselves as British.[24]

The Scottish National Party MSP and Cabinet Secretary for Justice, Kenny MacAskill gave the following submission to the UK Parliament's Joint Committee on Human Rights in March 2008 discussing a British Bill of Rights:

What is meant by Britishness? Is there a concept of Britishness? Yes, just as there is a concept of being Scandinavian. We eat fish and chips, we eat chicken masala, we watch EastEnders. Are [the SNP] British? No, we are not. We consider ourselves Scottish.[25]

Identity and politics

In a 1998 poll, 37% of Scottish National Party voters stated themselves to be "Scottish, not British", the rest demonstrating some form of British identity, with the most popular choice being "More Scottish than British" (41%).[26] This conclusion was again put forward in 2002, with similar figures cited.[27] However, the British Social Attitudes Survey of 2007 found that only 21% of Scots saw themselves as 'Equally Scottish and British', with less than half choosing British as a secondary identity.[28] The report concluded that 73% of respondents saw themselves as 'only' or 'mainly' Scottish.[28]

See also



  1. ^ Commission for Racial Equality 2005, p. 21
  2. ^ "British > Britishness". Brewer's Britain and Ireland. 2005. Retrieved 2010-04-11. (subscription required)
  3. ^ a b c d "Britishness". Oxford English Dictionary Online. September 2008. Retrieved 14 September 2010. 
  4. ^ Wright & Gamble 2009, p. 32.
  5. ^ Commission for Racial Equality 2005, pp. 6–7
  6. ^ a b Commission for Racial Equality 2005, pp. 11–12
  7. ^ Macphee & Poddar (2007). Empire and After: Englishness in Postcolonial Perspective. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. ISBN ISBN 978-1-84545-320-6.. 
  8. ^ Wright & Gamble 2009, p. 149.
  9. ^ a b Colley 1992, pp. 12–13.
  10. ^ What is Britishness anyway? BBC News, September 10th, 2002
  11. ^
  12. ^ "South East Wales Public Life - Dr Gwynfor Evans". BBC. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  13. ^ Can pupils learn 'Britishness'? BBC News, October 12, 2007
  14. ^ "UK | UK Politics | Pupils 'to take allegiance oath'". BBC News. 2008-03-11. Retrieved 2010-04-13. 
  15. ^ Brown speech promotes Britishness BBC News, 14 January 2006.
  16. ^ The future of Britishness Fabian Society, 14 January 2006
  17. ^ New Britishness must resolve the English question Fabian Society, 14 January 2006
  18. ^ "Brown pinning his hopes on a new regiment". The Herald. 2006-06-27. Retrieved 2006-10-15. [dead link]
  19. ^ "Our Scottish PM in waiting goes British". Daily Telegraph. 2006-01-14. Retrieved 2006-10-15. 
  20. ^ Hurst, Greg (22 November 2007). "Maverick streak makes mockery of hunt for a British motto". The Times. Retrieved 10 May 2010. 
  21. ^ Office for National Statistics, Social Trends No.39, 2009.
  22. ^ a b Commission for Racial Equality 2005, p. 37
  23. ^ Devolution, Public Attitudes and National Identity
  24. ^ Study Shows Scottish Sense of ‘Britishness’ in Decline The University of Edinburgh, News and Events[dead link]
  25. ^ Joint Committee on Human Rights, A Bill of Rights for the UK?, Twenty – ninth Report of Session 2007–08, Ev. 61, Q290
  26. ^ Scottish Affairs, D.McCrone, Polls 1997-98 (online article)
  27. ^ Scottish Affairs, D.McCrone+L.Paterson, No.40, Summer 2002 (online article)
  28. ^ a b "Home". NatCen. Retrieved 2010-04-13. [dead link]


External links

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Britishness — British ► ADJECTIVE ▪ relating to Great Britain or the United Kingdom. DERIVATIVES Britishness noun. ORIGIN Old English, from Latin Britto or Celtic …   English terms dictionary

  • Britishness — noun see British …   New Collegiate Dictionary

  • Britishness — noun The state or quality of being British …   Wiktionary

  • britishness — brit·ish·ness …   English syllables

  • Britishness — /ˈbrɪtɪʃnəs/ (say britishnuhs) noun 1. the quality of being British. 2. the quality found in British behaviours and attitudes of mind, perceived as culturally stereotypical, such as bravery, reserve, etc …   Australian English dictionary

  • britishness — noun see british I …   Useful english dictionary

  • British people — Infobox Ethnic group group= Britons/British people caption = Notable Britons: Isambard Kingdom Brunel·Gordon Brown·Keira Knightley·Winston Churchill David Lloyd George·Kelly Holmes·Adam Smith·Horatio Nelson regions= tablehdr= genealogy=… …   Wikipedia

  • Unionism in Ireland — Unionism in Ireland, is a belief in the desirability of a full constitutional and institutional relationship between Ireland and Great Britain based on the terms and order of government of the Act of Union 1800 which had merged both countries in… …   Wikipedia

  • Countries of the United Kingdom — Map showing the four countries of the United Kingdom Countries of the United Kingdom is a term used to describe England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales. These four countries together form the sovereign state of the United Kingdom of Great B …   Wikipedia

  • Flag of the United Kingdom — Infobox flag Name = United Kingdom Article = the Nickname = Union Flag or Union Jack Use = 110000 Symbol = Proportion = 1:2 Adoption = 1 January 1801 Design = A white fimbriated symmetric red cross on a blue field with a white fimbriated… …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.