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National Identity Choice; Devolution; Moreno; England; Scotland; United Kingdom

Choosing National Identity

Frank Bechhofer and David McCrone
Sociological Research Online 15 (3) 3

Keywords: National Identity Choice; Devolution; Moreno; England; Scotland; United Kingdom
Abstract: This paper examines national identity in England and Scotland, arguing that it is necessary to understand how people construe it instead of simply assuming that it is constructed from above by the state. It adds to qualitative data on this issue by discussing recent survey data, from the British and Scottish Social Attitudes surveys 2006, in which for the first time people are asked about their reasons for making a specific choice of national identity. In so doing it fleshes out the responses given to a well known survey question (the so-called 'Moreno' question) providing a greater understanding of what a large sample of people are saying when they make these territorial identity choices. The English and the Scots handle 'national' and 'state' identities differently, but the paper shows there is considerable similarity as regards reasons for choosing national identity. Both English and Scottish 'nationals', those placing greater weight on their 'national' as opposed to their 'state' identities, choose to do so mainly for cultural and institutional reasons. They are not making a 'political' statement about the break-up of Britain. At the British end of the scale, there are patterns in the English data which throw into doubt easy assertions about 'being British'. Simply assuming, as some politicians and commentators do, that 'British' has singular meanings is unfounded. The future of the United Kingdom as presently constituted may lie in the hands of those who describe themselves as equally national (English or Scottish) and British. Devolution influences which national identity people choose in all three sets of national identity categories but these effects are sociologically most interesting in this group. Devolution seems to have encouraged them to stress the equality of the two nations in the British state, recognising that they are equal partners, that one can be equally proud of a national and a British identity, and that it is not necessary to choose one over the other.