The UK EU referendum didn’t seem to be really about UK membership of the EU. In many ways it should have been a rational assessment of the the benefits and costs of continued membership of this organisation. However it is difficult to isolate a single issue like that from it’s context. I have read about people describing the campaign as about identity politics, about the end of Britishness, the end of the UK; with Scotland, Northern Ireland and indeed Wales, leaving the union. The campaign has left a very divided confused Britain, in part due to the those under my age being strongly for remaining, whereas those older than me being largely for Leave. It is arguable than in a few years as the population ages, such a campaign would never again be won by Leave.
It does seem that people of my age are on the cusp of this generational divide. My parents were the post second world war baby boomer and the younger generation are the millennials. Perhaps the key difference between these two generations is the second world war. I am a member of the last generation who was able to talk to people who lived through the Second World War, to have had conversations with former soldiers who fought in that war with my grandfather. My grandparents retained lingering prejudice and suspicion of Germans, because they were the enemy and they saw the destruction of British towns and cities wrought by German bombs. However my generation and the one behind me, have no negativity towards Germans.
I have always described myself and Welsh first and British second. It does seem that this identity is on the wane. When I was growing up at international football matches, Welsh supporters proudly flew both the Union flag and Y Ddraig Goch, English supporters almost exclusively flew the Union flag. Here we are in footballs Euro 2016 [and Wales are in the semi-finals, WOW! Dewch ymlaen Cymru! Dan ni’n enill yn erbyn Portiwgal!] where the Union flag is very rare amongst Welsh supporters and equally rare amongst England supporters, who now fly the St George’s Cross. My English friends of my age, described themselves as British and didn’t really understand my pride in being Welsh. In Welsh circles it was often discussed that the English didn’t understand their own identity. However these days, there is a sense of the English understanding that they are English or have some other identity, such as British Muslim.
Going back again to my parents and grandparents. Whilst they rooted for Wales in sport, they retained a support for England when England were playing a non-home nation [the Home nations are Wales, England, Scotland and Ireland]. I think it was the sense of unity that came from the war, of working together for the good of the country, which no-one really talks about nowadays. This was the generation that saw the creation of the National Health Service (NHS), the Welfare state, had jobs for life, a generation that invested a part of themselves in the nation state.
Now these national institutions are under attack, the sense of identity of being British with the NHS. I have grown up with Thatcher and a generation of politicians that grew up under her influence, which has divided the nation of the UK between North and South, which has encouraged economic individualism. Instead of a uniting identity, my generation and the millennials, generate their own identities, based on who they are. It is this generation that positively identify with being European, in a way my grandparents would never do. There is no sense of identity with the British government, people generally don’t see the Prime Minister as our leader as once people did. My identity is with the people who live on these islands, not with those who govern it.
Personally, I do not identify or feel European. I appreciate that I come from a European culture. However I have been lucky enough to be able to travel around the world. Most of my experiences have been outside Europe. So I identify myself as more a World citizen than as a European citizen. The other issue is language. As the UK is an English speaking nation, we have and continue to grow up heavily influenced by North American culture. Yesterday the USA celebrated it’s independence day from the British. British and Irish people have this dual outlook that is both towards America and continental Europe, that is not perhaps shared to the same extent by other Europeans. It is sobering to think that the British may soon no longer exist as a socio-political entity. I will always consider myself British, though a long standing attachment to England, Ireland and Scotland and the subtle differences between mine and these nations. However if the UK does indeed break up, this sense of a cultural Britishness may also fade.
This sense of Britishness is actively threatened, as there is a division between those who see non-white British origin people as apart from everyone else. This talk of identities has awakened racist abuse and attacks. Yet in the metropolitan towns and cities particularly, people are aghast at these attitudes. This has come to be symbolised by the animosity over this last week between Bremainers and Brexiters. All this on a day before the publication of the Chilcott report, which will hopefully clear up whether the UK did indeed join the US to invade Iraq in 2003 under false pretences, with no coherent plan. A conflict that was a catalyst for the rise of terrorism from groups like ISIS, hundreds of thousands of pointless deaths and suffering, that did not bring about the peace that allegedly justified that war.
I am sure the Brexit vote aftermath will continue for some time. However at least tomorrow, we can forget about it and be carried away by the excitement of the football!