Imagine what it would be like to have your country invaded by hundreds of thousands of people from a different culture, with different values, who sometimes do not even speak the same language as you. These people have usually come to live near you, not because they want to live like you, but because they want to improve their standard of living, which may already be higher than yours. Eight million British people have experienced just such an invasion over the last 20 years: these people live in Scotland and Wales-and the immigrants have been the English.
The current debate over the nature of the “New Britain” and the political institutions which can best reflect the separate concerns of the English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish, frequently overlooks the extent to which those identities might be affected by large-scale internal migration within the British Isles.
Of the 55 million people who were counted at the last census as residing in Great Britain (meaning England’s 47 million, Scotland’s 5 million, and Wales’s 3 million), 93 per cent are British-born. Of those, four-fifths were born in England. The largest national group in England born outside the country are the Scottish-born (about 750,000). This group is also bigger than any ethnic minority living in England, except for those who describe themselves as of Indian origin.
THE ENGLISH IMMIGRANTS
The latest statistics, based on the decennial census of population for 1971, 1981 and 1991, reveal surprising trends of movement within Great Britain. A notable development is that the English are moving to the “Celtic fringes” of Scotland and Wales in larger numbers than ever before. Nearly 20 per cent of the current Welsh population, for example, was born in England-and nearly 8 per cent of the Scottish population was born in England. A central question arising from high levels of internal migration must be whether a large influx of people out of one part of the country and into another creates a more unified Britain, or exacerbates regional tensions and latent nationalisms by threatening identities.
In rural Wales the effects of English immigration have been keenly felt. An additional 150,000 English-born people have moved to Wales in the last 20 years. Now, English-born residents constitute half a million people, or a fifth of all residents in the principality. The least populated Welsh county, Powys, has seen the fastest increase: in 1971 it had 19,000 English-born residents-by 1991 that had soared to 42,000 (although a small part of this may be the result of closing a maternity ward on the Welsh side of the border). Not just people, but thousands of homes, jobs, school places and even whole villages have, in effect, been anglicised. In the county of Dyfed the English-born population doubled in two decades to 74,000. And in Gwynedd, and then Clwyd, more than a third of the population are now English-born. But, although the numbers of English-born have risen in every Welsh county in each decade since 1971, the growth has been far less striking in the Glamorgans and Gwent. It is clear that the English have been emigrating not for the industry, but for the scenery.
In every one of the ten Scottish regions the number of English-born residents has also increased in every decade since 1971, when 250,000 of the residents of Scotland were English-born. Since then over 100,000 more English immigrants have settled in Scotland. As in Wales, however, much lower rates of English immigration were experienced in the most densely populated regions of Scotland such as Glasgow. The greatest influx has been to the island areas of Scotland where the English presence has more than tripled in 20 years. One person in ten now living in the Western Isles, the Orkneys or the Shetland islands was born in England. The next largest rise has been in the Grampian region where the number of English-born residents has more than doubled in two decades. The Highlands, Borders and Dumfries & Galloway have also experienced rapid immigration from England, particularly of older people. Highland Scotland and Mid Wales have become the “elephant’s graveyard” for many English people at the end of the 20th century. As a result, these areas have among the highest crude mortality rates (not adjusted for age) in Great Britain.
THE CELTS IN ENGLAND
But at the same time, the Scottish, Welsh and Irish have continued to flock in large numbers to England, with London the favourite destination for each group. The Irish-born, taking Ireland north and south together, remain the biggest group in England born outside the country: 767,000 according to the 1991 census. The largest group from a single country and easily the most widespread around England are the Scots-born, with 743,000. Within local government wards covering more than a third of the country, people born in Scotland make up the largest minority group. The Scottish-born migration has been much less geographically concentrated than that of the English to Scotland, and is much more widely spread than the largest ethnic minority in England-people who identify themselves as Indian (823,000). In 1991, 1.6 per cent of residents in England were Scottish-born-equivalent to 16.7 per cent of the Scottish-born living in Scotland.
Looking at Great Britain as a whole, one in every 66 residents was born in Ireland. People in large parts of Merseyside, Manchester and the West Midlands have the Irish-born as their most likely “minority neighbours” and the same is true in Greater London. But, although people migrating from Ireland are often seen as a single group, migration patterns from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have been traditionally very different. People born in the Irish Republic are more likely to be living in the south of Great Britain, while those born in Northern Ireland outnumber the Irish Republic-born in most of the north of England and Scotland. This difference however, is slowly decreasing, with the Northern Irish-born increasing most rapidly in London, while the strongest area of growth of the Irish Republic-born living in Britain has been in Glasgow (both, however, from low initial numbers). After the Scots and the Irish the third largest immigrant group born outside the country (just larger than Indians born outside England) are the Welsh. But they are only the biggest minority close to the Welsh border and in the south west of England. In 1991, 1.2 per cent (544,852) of English residents were Welsh-born-equivalent to slightly more than 25 per cent of Welsh-born people in Wales.
There is nothing wrong with the migration of so many English people into Wales and Scotland. Indeed, it could be argued that they are bringing both investment and new life to these areas. Even the Scottish National Party defines Scottish people as those who are living in Scotland, not those who are born there. Yet, given the impact which English migration is having on communities in Scotland and Wales, the preoccupation of English newspapers and politicians with the movements of much smaller groups of people from overseas into England seems unbalanced. It is evident that migration from one part of the British Isles to another has a much greater demographic significance than immigration into Great Britain from outside the British Isles. Over the same period in which 250,000 additional English migrants settled in Scotland and Wales, the number of people born in the Irish Republic living in Britain fell by 100,000, and the number born in the West Indies fell by 30,000. The entire Bangladeshi-born population living in Britain in 1991 was 100,000 people, less than 0.25 per cent of the total English-born population. The disquiet has clearly not been about numbers, but about colour, culture, and concentrations.
If a stereotype of national identity is sought, it is interesting to ask which is the most English, Scottish or Welsh place in terms of the birthplace of its inhabitants? The answer depends on the types of areas used, but if we choose local authority districts, then it is Easington (in County Durham), Monklands (in Strathclyde) and Rhondda (in Mid Glamorgan) respectively, with 98 per cent, 96 per cent, and 94 per cent of their populations born in the counties of each district. That these places are not usually thought of as archetypal England, Scotland or Wales says something about the way national identities are constructed. Because of economic decline, these are places to which few people would choose to move if they were going to leave another country to look for a new place to live.
WHITES AND NON-WHITES
To try a reverse experiment: in which district would you expect to find the most people born abroad but now living in Britain? This is a district where 42 per cent of the residents were not born in the United Kingdom. It also has the highest proportions of residents born in the Irish Republic (8 per cent of its population), and the New Commonwealth (24 per cent).The answer is Brent, in west London. Other large concentrations of people born outside Britain are British residents born in Jamaica and now living in Lambeth (4 per cent of Lambeth’s residents), Bangladesh in Tower Hamlets (15 per cent), India in Leicester (8 per cent), Pakistan in Bradford (5 per cent), Cyprus in Enfield (4 per cent) and the US in Forest Heath (18 per cent of the residents of this Suffolk district were born in the US). In fact the Americans have the highest non-British national concentration of immigrants living in any single district in the country.
It is not easy to guess the whereabouts of immigrants to Great Britain. And, contrary to popular belief, they are not always centred on the poorer parts of the country. Within Great Britain the highest proportions of people from Albania, Algeria, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Egypt, Finland, France, Iran, Luxembourg, Morocco, the Philippines, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Zimbabwe are all found in Kensington and Chelsea. Even if the people here are not permanent immigrants, the presence of embassies, trade delegations, bankers and foreign journalists has been fairly permanent. Elsewhere in Great Britain, some of the stranger concentrations-such as the presence of so many Americans in Forest Heath-can be explained by military connections.
The 1991 census asked British residents to tick the ethnic group to which “the person considers he/she belongs.” Fourteen key national or ethnic “minorities” can thus be identified. The smallest ethnic minority are those identifying themselves as Chinese. Only 157,000 people in Great Britain ticked that box; the Chinese are the second largest group in only 0.1 per cent of wards. At the other extreme 51,900,000 people ticked the “white” box. Whites are only a minority in a very few areas-in fact in only 18 wards out of over 10,000. The number of people living in Britain who identify with the Black Caribbean ethnic group (500,000) is roughly the same as the number who were born in other European Union countries (494,000 and growing quite rapidly). The largest ethnic minority in Great Britain is the group which identifies itself as Indian: 840,000 in 1991, 41 per cent of whom were also born in Great Britain.
In England, 6.9 per cent of current residents were born outside the UK (roughly half of whom were New Commonwealth-born). But only a fifth of the population in Britain lives in areas which have more immigrants from outside Europe than from different countries within Europe.
This analysis of internal migration within the British Isles suggests that the British are a more mobile people than is commonly supposed. Mobility rates may not yet compare with the US, but they are likely to increase. Most of those who move are young people; and their numbers have certainly been boosted by the fact that one third of young people now attend higher education establishments, which are often a long way from home.
The research also shows that white immigrants into England are as numerous as non-white immigrants. The overwhelmingly white residents born in Scotland, Wales, the two Irelands, or the EU, total about 2.5 million (close to 3 million if Americans, Australians, and so on, are included). Those in the mainly non-white ethnic groups associated with the New Commonwealth (either born abroad or, increasingly, in England itself) number about 2 million, while another 1 million English residents belong to other non-white groups.
Statistics from Daniel Dorling’s A New Social Atlas of Britain (John Wiley; 0800 243 407)