Leading political theorist to address the concept of Britishness

Published: 23 January 2007

Leading political theorist, Professor Sir Bernard Crick believes Gordon Brown is playing into the hands of the SNP by defining Britishness as English.

Leading political theorist, Professor Sir Bernard Crick believes Gordon Brown is playing into the hands of the SNP by defining Britishness as English.

Sir Bernard will make the point when he addresses the vexed concept of Britishness in the opening free, public lecture in the Second Term of Stevenson series at 6pm on Thursday 25 January in the Sir Charles Wilson Building, University of Glasgow.

"Both English newspaper editors and SNP leaders assume that nations should constitute states. But the United Kingdom has been a multinational state since 1707 and a multicultural society long before the Windrush and third world immigration. Multiculturalism has not been a government policy that could be reversed - it is a description of a long historical process," says Sir Bernard.

"Englishness and Britishness are still confused. 'Britishness' is not comprehensive culture, the cultures are English, Irish, Scottish and Welsh. Britishness is a strong but narrow political, pragmatic and prudential concept, an overarching legal framework in which different identities both flourish and intermingle. Separation is a right, if people want it, but unlikely to make as much difference to ordinary life and both proponents and opponents imagine.

"One consequence of the confusion of Englishness with Britishness is the delusion of world power status, the imperial hangover, that has taken Thatcher and Blair away from Europe and too close to American power.

"Gordon Brown's Britishness rhetoric stresses English history and values rather than the diversity of the union. In attacking nationalism Brown plays into the SNP's hands. Most Scots are nationalistic but not separatist. The SNP is thriving on old Labour votes disillusioned with New Labour."

Sir Bernard's lecture, 'Identity politics, multiculturalism, Britishness and Europe' is at 6pm in the Sir Charles Wilson Building, at the junction of Gibson Street and University Avenue. Subsequent Stevenson lectures in the series, at the same time and venue, are as follows: Professor Elizabeth Meehan - 'Making New Citizen' on 8 February; Professor Chris Berry - 'The Idea of the citizen in the Scottish Enlightenment' on 22 February; Professor Pamela Munn - 'Citizenship in our Schools' on 8 March and Professor Ruth Lister - 'Citizenship and Gender' on 22 March.

The lectures are free and open to all without ticket.

Martin Shannon (m.shannon@admin.gla.ac.uk)

Professor Sir Bernard Crick was Chair of the Living in the United Kingdom Advisory Group who produced the 2003 Report ?The New and the Old? which advises on the implementation of the ?Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act (2002)? and requires UK residents seeking British Citizenship to demonstrate ?a sufficient knowledge of English, Welsh or Scottish Gaelic? and ?a sufficient knowledge of life in the UK?.

The Crick Committee sought to enhance the significance of becoming a British citizen by making naturalisation ?a significant life event? culminating in citizenship ceremony that includes a declaration of loyalty ?to the United Kingdom with respect for its rights and freedoms? - allowing that such ceremonies might include ?local flavour?.

Professor Crick will discuss how the encouragement of residents to become active British Citizens is compatible with different national identities in the different parts of the UK, European citizenship and other possible competing loyalties associated with religious, ethnic or country of origin affiliations.

First published: 23 January 2007

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