St George’s Day is one of those festivals that politicians are particularly earnest about, for fear someone accuse them of being ashamed of England. But today’s most interesting pointed St George’s Day celebration comes from a man more accustomed to suggesting that Englishness is something he is quite separate from. Alex Salmond is hopping across the border to give a speech in Carlisle.
The SNP leader wants to reassure English people on St George’s Day that they can still be chums with the Scots. They’re not going to become surly dragons after independence. Instead, Salmond will say Scots and English people will still cross that border to work and to marry, and will continue to watch many of the same television programmes.
This isn’t a change of tack from Salmond: his independence-lite model has always grabbed as many of the cultural things that show the Union is an emotional one with deep roots.
But there’s something quite amusing about the SNP leader choosing the day that celebrates Englishness to do it. St George’s Day and the whole concept of Englishness are difficult for politicians because they are difficult to pin down as distinct from Britishness. Ed Miliband had a good go at it in 2011, but did spend a lot of time talking about his family not sitting under oak trees as he tried to unravel the concept.
Meanwhile Salmond’s success has been partly in creating divisions between Scots and those in the rest of the UK to make the case for independence a mainstream one. It’s a trick as old as the hills: Shakespeare explored the way man artificially ‘others’ those who are really quite similar in much of his writing (read Daniel Hannan’s cover piece on Shakespeare as the voice of Britain here). And as Salmond’s speech today shows, those divisions aren’t quite as instinctive as the ‘yes’ camp would have you believe.
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