Two Thursdays ago was St. George’s Day. It may have passed you by. The streets of central London were not noticeably busier, give or take the odd group of drunken stragglers with English flags. The atmosphere was more akin to that of a minor schoolboy football friendly than a national celebration.
And that’s the way it should be, according to Henry VIII historian and professional controversialist David Starkey, who ruffled some feathers on that day’s Question Time when he lambasted the “romantic 19th century nationalism” of the Welsh and the Scots. English restraint was instead testament to the country’s greatness:
If we decide to go down this route of an English National Day it will mean that we’ve become a feeble, little country, just like the Scots, Welsh and Irish. We don’t make a great fuss about Shakespeare like the Scots do about that deeply boring provincial poet Burns.
Of course, Starkey failed to note that unease about English nationalism’s association with far-right politics (underlined when a BNP London Assembly member claimed credit for Boris Johnson’s St. George’s Day plans) may have curbed enthusiasm for celebration. And with the government still seeking to promote Britishness over Englishness, but apparently unsure of what actually constitutes Britishness, it’s no wonder that there was little appetite for patriotic revelry.
Still, the outburst prompted predictable howls of protest from Welsh and Scottish politicians, including one member of Plaid Cymru who reminded Starkey that the Tudors, his pet obsession, were of course Welsh. The BBC also received just over 70 complaints, which suggests the public at large weren’t inordinately riled.
Yet no one pointed out to Starkey the real significance of national holidays to the “Celtic” nations. It’s not just about petty patriotism, or even an excuse for a mass piss-up. It’s about combining the two, and raking in the cash at the same time—even in these straightened times, the nationalism cash cow isn’t showing any signs of running dry. Scotland’s ongoing Homecoming festival (which will feature Highland games outside Holyrood parliament and a month of whisky drinking) is expected to bring in over £40m in revenue. The Scottish assembly hope the initiative will “energise and mobilise the Scottish diaspora”—presumably to dig deep into…