Loving one thing doesn’t automatically mean you hate something else. Being critical of something does not necessarily mean you hate it. You might love it very much, but still want to reform it. This came to mind the other day when I was unfriended by someone on Facebook because I supported the Scottish campaign for independence, or at least for self-determination, and the person who unfriended me had mistaken me for a right-winger, because they took the view that the Scottish National Party was like the various extreme fascist groups in England.
In an excellent article in The Guardian, Billy Bragg explains that Scottish nationalism and British nationalism are not the same. There may be many Scots who are nationalist in a narrow and xenophobic way, but in my experience, they are in a minority. When I lived in Scotland (from 1994 to 1996), I did occasionally find myself on the receiving end of anti-English comments, but they were perpetrated by a small minority.
I love England, but I am not blind to its faults as a nation. I love the rolling English hills, the English sense of humour, the hedgerows, the fields, the market towns, the quirky pubs, the red buses and postboxes, the dry-stone walls of the North, the sweeping moorland, the rivers, the history (especially the history of dissent and social justice). I love Marmite and tea and English beer. I love the fact that England produced Wicca. I love chalk hill-figures and standing stones and barrows and stone circles.
Of course England has plenty of faults – its anti-intellectualism, its imperial and colonial past (not least the colonisation of neighbouring countries, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland), its lager louts, the Bullingdon Club and their ilk, the inequalities of the class system, snobbery, inverted snobbery, the appalling way that asylum seekers get treated, the list goes on.
Just because I love England, does not mean that I hate Scotland, Ireland, or Wales – in fact, I love them too, and wish them well. And that means that if they wanted independence, they should have it. My friend Mel put it really well: “Just because I love my house, doesn’t mean I hate my next-door neighbours.” But even though I am very friendly with my next-door neighbours, I am a guest when I visit their house, and vice versa. I don’t help myself to the apples from their tree or the herbs in their garden unless explicitly invited to do so. Their house is not my home; my house is not their home.
Just because I love England, does not mean that I am anti-immigration, either. (Illegal immigration began in 1066, when the Normans invaded.) I think we should be welcoming to asylum seekers, the way Sweden is (and the way that Scotland was planning to be if they had got independence). My definition of English identity – you are English if you think you are.
And because I love England, that means I can understand why people of other nations love their homelands. I love several other countries very much, but they are not home. As Lloyd Stone wrote in 1934:
- This is my song, O God of all the nations,
- a song of peace for lands afar and mine.
- This is my home, the country where my heart is;
- here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
- but other hearts in other lands are beating
- with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.
- My country’s skies are bluer than the ocean,
- and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
- but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
- and skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
- O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
- a song of peace for their land and for mine.
It is quite natural to love the place where you come from, and want it to flourish. Obviously you don’t want it to flourish at the expense of another place. As we have discovered in this era of the global village, everything is interconnected, and harming other places harms the planetary ecosystem as a whole. There is only one spaceship Earth: our blue boat home.
People on the left may long for social justice, and we may want to see changes in government and economic systems; but I love the fact that there are many different cultures and religions on this planet, and I don’t think you will ever get rid of people’s urge to connect with the land where they are, and the culture and traditions of their homeland. The way forward, it seems to me, is to promote a progressive love of country, which does not involve hating other countries and cultures.
I suspect many people voted ‘No’ in the Scottish referendum because they feared that voting ‘Yes’ implied anti-English feelings. However, the many Yes voters that I know are not anti-English – they just want self-determination for Scotland, which is a distinct country with its own traditions, culture, laws, language (in parts of the Highlands) and dialect. And, however benign the United Kingdom may be, it is still the case that Scotland, Ireland, and Wales are regions that were colonised by England. People would not argue that Canada, Australia, and New Zealand should not be independent – why shouldn’t Scotland be independent? Just as the people of Finland in the nineteenth century wanted independence from Sweden, so Scotland should be independent.
Of course, a 55% vote for staying in the United Kingdom is a comfortable majority, but it does mean that 45% of Scots were disappointed by the outcome. I guess a referendum is the only way to settle questions like this; but I suspect the question is not going to go away. There will probably be other referendums in the future. But that is not the main point of this article; the main point is that it is possible to love your country without hating other countries, and it is possible to be highly critical of your country, and still love it.
Internationalism and global consciousness is a great thing, and clearly a great impulse for peace and sustainability; but it is only natural for humans to feel connected to their local and regional places, and love the landscape and culture of home.