It's time to take Englishness outside of the football stadium

Englishness finds a confident voice in sport, but has little cultural or political voice. Cameron and Miliband should not remain mute.

England are on their way to Brazil. Goals from Wayne Rooney and Steven Gerrard meant that a spirited Poland performance could not quite conjure up those Wembley ghosts of 1973, when England’s failure to beat the Poles meant a shock failure to qualify, greeted by the Sun with a black border around the headline 'The End of the World'. Only a game, maybe, but it would be almost a decade before England were to again play in the World Cup finals again, in Spain in 1982. Something else that would surprise a time traveller from those days is how football today is the arena where English national identity is expressed with most confidence.

How unlikely that would have seemed in the 1980s, when footballing Englishness was a source of national shame. While the Dutch fans dressed in orange, and Scotland's Tartan Army partied, England's hooligan element marauded across Europe singing 'If it wasn't for the English, you'd be Krauts'. Our club teams were banned from the continent, and normal fans were often driven away from the hassle of following England by the extreme elements and the police presence they attracted.

Football Englishness sorted itself out in that halcyon summer of Euro 96. The team did not quite end those 30 years of hurt since the 1966 World Cup, but the fans showed how we could host a party. It was a very English occasion. Wembley had been full of Union Jacks when Bobby Moore had lifted the gleaming Jules Rimet trophy in 1966. Now England had the right flag, as the St George's crosses fluttered in the breeze. (Even if we do retain the wrong anthem to this day.) Ever since, people have enjoyed flying the St George's flag - as long as there is a tournament on.

During those World Cup and European Championship summers, it springs up everywhere. Sold in supermarkets, flown on family cars, we enjoy seeing it flutter, for a fortnight or two, uniting the country in hope if not expectation - since we all know about the penalty shoot-out thing. Yet when the tournament ends, the flags go away, and are replaced by a curious and unhealthy unease about the flag of St George.

Some worry that it becomes an exclusive symbol, not the same inclusive one of our footballing summers, when it is flown outside a pub on a cold winter's night. Others are, quite reasonably, frustrated at feeling that they would like to express a perfectly normal sense of national pride, yet feel that would be frowned upon. 

Yet with our footballing patriotism, it has long been clear that the St George's flag represents the inclusive pride in the talent of our team, whose family histories tell many different stories about the making of the modern English. The latest England hero, Andros Townsend, was born in the same Leytonstone hospital as David Beckham, to parents with Jamaican and Cypriot roots - one more route to a shared pride in wearing the England shirt.

It is time for England to be more than a '90 minute nation'. Englishness finds a confident voice in sport, but has little cultural or political voice or presence beyond the football, cricket and rugby teams. A "Festival of Englishness" in London this Saturday will look at sport and national identity, but will also ask what comedy, culture and politics need to contribute to English identity today too. This extends to major cultural institutions like the National Theatre. There is a Scottish National Theatre and a Welsh National Theatre, while English theatre-goers are left without: the London institution still thinks of itself as having a British remit. 

The English question remains an enigma in the assymetric devolution settlement, put by the politicians of all parties in the 'too difficult to think about' box since the mid-1990s. But the question of England's political voice will be asked anew next year as Scotland votes on independence and, quite probably, revisits the devolution settlement within the union too. 

Paradoxically, the Scottish referendum is both further catalysing the rise of Englishness, while curiously delaying political engagement with it too. Both David Cameron and Ed Miliband have acknowledged the need to talk about England, yet have gone strangely mute on the subject, perhaps because they fear speaking about Englishness may make it harder for their Scottish pro-union allies ahead of next autumn.

Perhaps Scotland offers a model for the English in developing a broader sense of civic nationhood. England’s achievement last night in qualifying for their fifth successive World Cup final emulates something Scotland achieved between 1974 and 1990. Yet Scottishness then was far too dependent on footballing hubris, leading to the debacle of the 1978 World Cup, when Scotland crashed out having declared they would win it, even as Archie Gemmill’s goal against the Dutch, since immortalized in Trainspotting, suggested they were good enough to do so. During that World Cup hangover, the failure of the 1979 referendum saw devolution shelved for a generation.

It might now prove a long time before Scotland ever qualifies for a World Cup again, though they won impressively against Croatia last night. But sport matters much less in Scotland today because of the broader civic, political and cultural confidence enjoyed by the Scots since the 1990s.

We should not place too many English eggs in the sporting basket either. After the golden generation of the 1990s never quite fulfilled their promise, we have gone beyond the rollercoaster ride where England have to be either the best or worst team in the world.

England fans are glad that we have qualified. With the England team in transition, playing in the South American heat, the traditional quarter-final exit would be more respectable than disappointing. (It would be hard to do much worse than the last World Cup in Brazil, when England lost 1-0 to the United States, back in 1950.)

But we will dream a little, and then enjoy the World Cup while it lasts. We should realise too that, while it is good to express English pride and patriotism for our sporting teams, taking Englishness outside the stadium is long overdue.

"England, my England – A festival of Englishness" is hosted by British Future and the Institute for Public Policy Research on Saturday 19 October at the London College of Communication, London SE1. Tickets are £10 (£5 concessions). For more information and to buy tickets go to www.ippr.org

A young England football fan arrives ahead of the World Cup 2014 qualifying football match between England and Poland at Wembley Stadium. Photograph: Getty Images.

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.

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Winning Scottish independence will be even harder than before - but it may be the only choice

Independence campaigners will have to find answers on borders, currency and more. 

The Brexit mutiny has taken not just the UK economy and its relationship with Europe into uncharted waters. it has also imperilled the union between Scotland and England. From Sir John Major to the First Minister, both Unionists and Nationalists had warned of it. The outcome, though, has made this certain. The Leave vote in England and Wales contrasted with an overwhelming Remain vote north of the border.

That every region in Scotland voted to stay In was quite remarkable. Historically, fishing and industrial communities have blamed the European Union for their woes. That antagonism was probably reflected in lower turnout - an abstention rather than a rejection. 

The talk now is of a second referendum on independence. This is understandable given the current mood. Opinion polls in the Sunday Times and Sunday Post showed a Yes vote now at 52 per cent and 59 per cent respectively. Moreover, anecdotal evidence suggests even arch No vote campaigners, from JK Rowling to the Daily Record, are considering the option.

The First Minister was therefore correct to say that a second referendum is now “back on the table”. Her core supporters expects no less. However, as with the economy and Europe, the constitutional relationship between Scotland and England is now in uncharted seas. Potential support for independence may be higher, but the challenges are arguably bigger than before. The difficulties are practical, political and geographic.

Of course the Little Englanders likely to take the helm may choose a velvet divorce. However, given their desire for the return of the Glories of Britannia that’s improbable. They’re as likely to wish to see Caledonia depart, as cede Gibraltar to Spain, even though that territory voted even more overwhelmingly In.

Ticking the legal boxes

Practically, there’s the obstacle of obtaining a legal and binding referendum. The past vote was based on the Edinburgh Agreement and legislation in Westminster and Holyrood. The First Minister has indicated the democratic arguments of the rights of the Scots. However, that’s unlikely to hold much sway. A right-wing centralist Spanish government has been willing to face down demands for autonomy in Catalonia. Would the newly-emboldened Great Britain be any different?

There are no doubt ways in which democratic public support can be sought. The Scottish Government may win backing in Holyrood from the Greens. However, consent for such action would need to be obtained from the Presiding Officer and the Lord Advocate, both of whom have a key role in legislation. These office holders have changed since the first referendum, where they were both more sympathetic and the legal basis clearer. 

Getting the EU on side

The political hurdles are, also, greater this time than before. Previously the arguments were over how and when Scotland could join the EU, although all accepted ultimately she could remain or become a member. This time the demand is that Scotland should remain and the rest of the UK can depart. But will that be possible? The political earthquake that erupted south of the Border has set tectonic plates shifting, not just in the British isles but across the European continent. The fear that a Brexit would empower dark forces in the EU may come to pass. Will the EU that the UK is about to leave be there for an independent Scotland to join? We cannot know, whatever European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker may be saying at the moment. The First Minister is right to start engaging with Europe directly. But events such as elections in France and the Netherlands are outwith her control. 

Moreover, currency was the Achilles heel in the last referendum, and hasn’t yet been addressed. George Osborne was adamant in his rejection of a currency union. The options this time round, whether a separate Scottish currency or joining the euro, have yet to be properly explored. A worsened financial situation in the 27 remaining EU members hampers the latter and the former remains politically problematic. 

The problem of borders

Geography is also an obstacle  that will be even harder to address now than before. Scotland can change its constitution, but it cannot alter its location on a shared island. In 2014, the independence argument was simply about changing the political union. Other unions, whether monarchy or social, would remain untouched. The island would remain seamless, without border posts. An independent Scotland, whether in or out of the EU, would almost certainly have to face these issues. That is a significant change from before, and the effect on public opinion unknown.

The risk that's worth it

Ultimately, the bar for a Yes vote may be higher, but the Scots may still be prepared to jump it. As with Ireland in 1920, facing any risk may be better than remaining in the British realm. Boris Johnson as Prime Minister would certainly encourage that. 

David Cameron's lack of sensitivity after the independence referendum fuelled the Scottish National Party surge. But perhaps this time, the new Government will be magnanimous towards Scotland and move to federalism. The Nordic Union offers an example to be explored. Left-wing commentators have called for a progressive alliance to remove the Tories and offer a multi-option referendum on Scotland’s constitution. But that is dependent on SNP and Labour being prepared to work together, and win the debate in England and Wales.

So, Indy Ref The Sequel is on the table. It won’t be the same as the first, and it will be more challenging. But, if there is no plausible alternative, Scots may consider it the only option.

Kenny MacAskill served as a Scottish National MSP between 2007 and 2016, and as Cabinet Secretary for Justice between 2007 and 2014.