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Nationalism has been one of the major driving forces behind twentieth-century European politics but has received rather little attention in England, where debates have more often focused on the role of class or other economic interests. The implicit assumption is that Britain, or at any rate England, can be characterized by a consensus on national identity and that nationalism has played little part in electoral politics. The relative lack of success of parties like the National Front or the British National Party compared with their European counterparts has perhaps reinforced this impression.
There have been empirical studies of the role played by nationalism or national identity in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.(1) But as far as we know there is no systematic work in England itself.(2) This neglect is partly, perhaps, because nationalist movements have typically emerged among national groups who (as in Ireland or Scotland) are excluded from political power, while national groups which already hold the reins of power in their own country typically do not need to establish a nationalist movement. Dominant groups rarely provide such visible manifestations of nationalism.
However, issues of national identity have long underlain English politics, and they are now coming once more into the open. The Conservative party (historically the Conservative and Unionist party) has a long tradition of distinctive policies on Ireland and on the Empire, and most recently has become distinctive in its approach to constitutional issues in Scotland. It also more subtly attempted to play the 'patriotic' card in the aftermath of the Falklands War. Most recently, of course, national identity has resurfaced on the English political agenda over integration with Europe.
The notion of nationalism is not a straightforward one. At the simplest we need to distinguish between national identity, which can be thought of as a categorical self-concept, and nationalist sentiment, which can be thought of as a dimension. Gellner defines nationalism as:
primarily a political principle, which holds that the political and the national unit should be congruent. Nationalism as a sentiment, or as a movement, can best be defined in terms of this principle. Nationalist sentiment is the feeling of anger aroused by the violation of the principle, or the feeling of satisfaction aroused by its fulfilment. A nationalist movement is one actuated by a sentiment of this kind.(3)
As Gellner points out, this definition assumes concepts of state and of nation. The former he defines in Weberian terms, as that agency within society which possesses the monopoly of legitimate violence. The latter is defined in subjective terms as groups which share a common culture and which recognize each other as belonging to the same nation.(4) The nation is not a legal concept, therefore, but a cultural one, and this is particularly important in Britain where we may all share legal British citizenship but also have differing notions of whether we belong to a Scottish, Irish, Welsh or indeed English nation.(5)
Gellner's conception clearly has immediate application to the United Kingdom, where we can see Scottish nationalism as a movement aiming at statehood for the Scots nation, or Irish nationalism as directed towards the reunification of members of the Irish nation with the Irish state. As Gellner suggests, nationalist sentiment is particularly sensitive to one particular form of the violation of the nationalist principle - that when the rulers of the political unit belong to a nation other than that of the majority being ruled.
In this article, however, we wish to move the focus from the Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalist movements to British nationalism, which can be thought of, as Kellas has suggested, as the 'official nationalism' of the British state. This official nationalism 'is based on British citizens and their patriotism'.(6) It has tended to oppose the separatist tendencies of Scottish, Welsh and Irish nationalism and has tried to reaffirm the unity of the nation-state. It has also, at least in the hands of recent Conservative governments, emphasized issues of national sovereignty in international relations, especially vis-a-vis European integration. These internal and external aspects of British nationalism may not be unconnected. As Kellas has suggested:
There is evidence that internal national unity and the successful realisation of a nation-state produces stability and moderates the nationalism of a state's foreign policy. A state which is nationally and ethnically disunited may seek to divert attention from its internal problems by pursuing nationalist activities externally. So the internal and external aspects of nationalism are linked together.(7)
In this article we ask whether British nationalism is a source of cleavage within the British electorate and whether the supporters of the different parties (Greens and British National Party as well as the Conservatives, Labour and the Liberal Democrats) differ in their acceptance of 'official' British nationalism. Our general assumption is that people have relatively stable and enduring values and sentiments which in turn will shape their attitudes towards transient political issues. Two major dimensions of values are usually distinguished: the left-right (or socialist-laissez faire) dimension and a libertarian-authoritarian dimension.(8) The principal question that we tackle in this article is whether nationalist sentiment should be conceptualized as an autonomous principle in its own right. Does nationalism constitute a distinct third (affective) dimension which structures a range of political attitudes and behaviour covering both internal and external aspects of nationalism? Or can we make sense of political attitudes in Britain without recourse to a notion of nationalist sentiment? Finally, how does this dimension relate to electoral behaviour?
DATA AND MEASURES
Our data come from the 1994 wave of the British Election Panel Study (BEPS). The BEPS is a panel study, following up respondents to the 1992 British Election Survey. Respondents were reinterviewed in 1993, 1994, 1995 and 1996 and for the final time after the general election in 1997. The 1994 wave of interviews was conducted shortly after the European elections of 9 June 1994, and contained a number of questions covering those elections.(9)
Since our primary concern in this article is with the dimensional conception of nationalist sentiment, we have constructed a scale which attempts to measure the strength of people's British nationalist sentiments. In constructing this scale we are constrained by the limited number of questions available to us in the BEPS. We do not have any questions that directly tap the political principle enunciated by Gellner, but we do have a few which tap an affective dimension of British national sentiment. The ones which we have used are:
Britain has a lot to learn from other countries in running its affairs. I would rather be a citizen of Britain than of any other country in the world. There are some things about Britain today that make me ashamed to be British. People in Britain are too ready to criticise their country
For each item there were five response codes, ranging from 'strongly agree' to 'strongly disagree'. We have used these four items to construct a balanced Likert scale. Items have been recoded so that the overall scale runs from 1 to 10, high scores on the scale indicating British nationalist sentiment.
This scale has a rather meagre Cronbach's alpha (a measure of internal reliability) of 0.35, which is considerably lower than one would wish. With only four items a high level of alpha cannot be expected and in future research we hope to be able to construct a six-item version with higher reliability.(10) The present scale should, therefore, be regarded as an interim measure.
The low reliability is also due in part to the presence of question-direction effects: some respondents (particularly less educated ones) are inclined to agree with items and this tendency towards 'yea-saying' leads responses to items worded in the same direction to be more highly correlated with each other (and less highly correlated with responses to items worded in the opposite direction).(11) As can be seen, two of the items are worded in a pro-Britain direction and two in an anti-Britain direction. Factor analysis of the four items therefore results in a two-factor solution corresponding to the direction of the items. A higher level of internal reliability could be achieved by selecting items …