Nationalism in Great Britain

Throughout much of history, Great Britain has used its strong nationalism to colonize territories throughout the world. In the modern day, however, Britain has a different issue to face. Rather than worrying about the worthiness of their colonies to rule themselves, Britain instead needs to worry about its own worthiness to do so. Because Britain’s feeling of unity has changed from being classified as unionism to pure nationalism and exceptionalism, and English nationalism on its own is at an all time high, Britain feels confident moving into a Brexit future. 

Since the beginning of the process of Brexit, Britain has become progressively more nationalistic. In July of 2020, Boris Johnson declared that there is no border between Scotland and England. This is an example of an action that proves Britain’s general sense of unity has developed recently. For most of its time, Great Britain has been considered unionistic, or ‘many countries within one nation’, meaning they share some policies but each government still has a certain control of its people. Since slightly before Brexit, scholars are defining Britain’s sense of unity as more nationalistic than ever before. Governments seem to no longer be able to define what exactly Great Britain is, and British politics are more likely to target policies that aren’t ‘British’. Britain, therefore, has become focused on being the same throughout, or nationalism, rather than accepting differences between the countries but still having unity, or unionism. Michael Keating, a Professor of politics at the University of Aberdeen, claims that Great Britain “has a demos, the British people; a telos, that we agree on what the constitution is; an ethos, what they call British values; and a principle of sovereignty…so unionism, which was never a nationalism, has become a nationalism.”. To this end, Britain’s sense of self and exceptionalism has grown so much that it has caused it to want to separate itself from the larger power of the EU. Great Britain’s nationalism has grown directly alongside the viewpoint that “Britain can do what it likes because it is freedom loving and, well, simply a “better country.” This exceptionalism has led Great Britain to believe that it can fend for itself on the global economic stage, even if that is not necessarily true. Many British exceptionalists believe that any economic compromise or deal to come from Brexit would be unacceptable. Therese Raphael, in a opinion piece for Bloomberg, claimed: “The government’s position is that leaving without a trade deal will have only short-term costs, that these will be minuscule in the context of the pandemic and that people will shrug them off because they’ll ultimately still be getting the freedom they want.” Many English exceptionalists see their self image as more important than keeping a stable economy. Boris Johnson, the prime minister of the UK, has exemplified this ideology in his rhetoric throughout the past few years. Together, Britain’s nationalism and exceptionalism have led Great Britain to leave the EU and become a more independent entity. 

Great Britain is not alone in its growing nationalism, in fact, many attribute Brexit largely to a growth in English nationalism. Given the fact that Scotland wanted independence, it is not unlikely that Wales and/or Northern Ireland would want the same, leaving England as an independent nation. For that reason, many English nationalists are seeing a chance for English independence and are in strong support of Brexit. In a poll done in 2016, researchers found that the more someone identified as “strongly English” the more likely they were to be in support of Brexit. English nationalism stems almost entirely from politics, which means England wants to preserve its political practices more than its cultural identity. Unlike other countries, many of England’s cultural identities are global standards – from the English language to Shakespeare – so it’s not a huge concern that those aspects of culture might ever be lost. Because English nationalism stems mostly from politics, there is an even stronger want for political independence when it comes to Brexit. Between British nationalism, overall exceptionalism, and English nationalism, Great Britain is leading a steady charge ahead to Brexit and complete independence.

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