A couple of days ago I went to see Louis de Bernieres speaking at the start of our local literature festival (or literacy festival, as the local dignitary who did the official opening insisted, in illiterate fashion, on calling it). Louis has always been a favourite of mine, since the days when I was a stock librarian and at the same book selection meeting I picked up his first novel, The War of Don Emmanuel's Nether Parts, the first translation of Haruki Murakami into English, A Wild Sheep Chase and Vladimir Voinovich's The Fur Hat. The best book selection meeting I ever attended.
Anyway, Louis was good value, though perhaps not as jolly as the last time I saw him speak, about ten years ago in Peterborough. He veers close to grumpy old man territory at times. But I was interested in what he said about nationality and nationalism and patriotism. He always felt British when he was younger, he said, as he saw little distinction between English people and Scots and Welsh. We've all been tempered by the same experiences. Now, however, he is increasingly feeling that the Scots and the Welsh are leaving the English behind. The Scots, in particular, he said somewhat tartly, 'seem to want to live off us, but not with us.'. That's perhaps overstating the case, but nonetheless there is something in it.
I am Scottish but I've lived in England a long time. Indeed, on the August Bank Holiday just past, I reached the moment where I've lived in England longer than I ever lived in Scotland. I still feel strongly Scottish, but I do not feel any different from English people. I was in Scotland a few weeks ago for the first time in a while and, listening in to some of the conversations around me, I was staggered by how often "the English" or "England" came up in conversation. I'm not just talking now and again - virtually every conversation I heard between Scottish people seemed to end up with a discussion of "the English". Why?
Scotland got devolution more than ten years ago. It has its own Parliament (a distinctly underwhelming building, I have to say, it looks like a glorified school assembly hall) and manages much of its own affairs. It also does extremely well in terms of finances, through the Barnett Formula, which means more is spent per head of Scottish population than on English or Welsh. It has its own vibrant culture (and compare that to the puny cultural identity that the English hang on to, terrified of their own customs and cultures). And yet they (we) can only define themselves in terms of not-Englishness. Devolution was meant to remove the chip on the shoulder. All it seems to have done is broadened and strengthened the shoulder, so an even bigger chip can be borne on it.