10 January 2012

Geordie nation? Does the north-east feel least British?

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The British Future state of the nation poll found that 50% of people in the north-east feel that they belong to Britain. The figure is 66% across Britain, 67% in England, and 60% in Scotland, making the north-east the place where people identify least with a British identity.

We wouldn’t want to place too much emphasis on the findings of one poll, particularly given that the large national sample of 2320 people naturally gives much smaller regional populations. But the difference in levels of belonging to Britain in the north-east are statistically significant.

But we would really like to hear more about what people in the north-east feel about identity. So it was really interesting to discuss this on BBC Newcastle this morning – and to hear how passionately people wanted to engage on how they think about their regional, local and national identities. Some people wanted to say that they did feel strongly British – something that half of the region expresses – while others felt it was their most distant identity.

The programme also reported from both sides of the English-Scottish border, to find out what people made of the British Future poll.

Snippets of some of the personal perspectives offered this morning are set out below.

The poll doesn’t tell us why the north-east respondents gave a different answer. The north-east is famous for the strength of its many and varied local identities – among Geordies, Mackems, Teesiders, Northumbrians, which is why we hear people talk about their sense of the ‘Geordie nation’ of Newcastle, though that isn’t an allegiance felt across the region. But the polling also picked up some very practical anxieties about the economy in 2012 which might well be affecting what people feel about belonging.

The poll also found that 72% in the north-east are pessimistic about Britain in 2012, a view held by 65% of people across Britain. 77% of people in the north-east are pessimistic about Britain’s economic prospects in 2012, along with 73% of people across Britain. But the region is looking forward to the Olympics, with 65% believing it will boost the national mood. And 62% of people in the north-east believe the Jubilee will boost the national mood. The GB-wide average is 68%.

The north-east might particularly expect to be particularly affected by what Scotland decides about the future of devolution. This might explain why the poll was strong support in the north-east for an English Parliament (58%), though the north-east was also the region in which people were likely to say that they did not feel they belonged to England, with four out of ten saying that in the north-east, against an average of one in four.

What callers told BBC Newcastle in response to the British Future poll …

 Report from Berwick, England’s most northerly town

“I would not say I’m Scottish, though I am born in Scotland. I would say this is not really England. Its a bit of everything here in Berwick”.

“Do you feel British? Of course I am. English or Scottish? I feel half English and half Scottish. We’re right on the borders. Its three miles”.

“Yes, I feel British. I know some people in Berwick feel they’re Scottish. I feel am more English”.

 From Eymouth, nine miles away across the border

Do you feel British? “Very British. My wife’s English. I’m definitely British” More than Scotland? “Oh, I feel very proud to be a Scotsman. I’ll always be Scottish bit I’m British too.

“Not very British. Scottish first, British second. A very distant second”.

Identity questions: what other callers told the programme

“I think in the north-east, we are more Celtic. We are more like the Scots and the Irish than the rest of England. That’s why I don’t mind being called British rather than English” – presenter Alfie Joey.

“As a Northumbrian, I can not abide being associated with Newcastle and being called a Geordie. I’m not. I’m a Northumbrian. Its a whopping twenty miles northwards, I might add.  If I’m abroad,  I will say I’m Northumbrian, and if people then ask where that is, I will say that its the last bit before you reach Scotland”.

“I’m English. Geordie first, English second, and a far distant third, because I have to be, British.  I have to have British on my passport, because I have to. It gets you to and from where you want to go too. I suppose everybody in the whole of England feels that their regional identity matters. People in Liverpool are Liverpudlians” – June

“Some say I’m a Geordie, some say I’m English, some say I’m European, but I am definitely an earthling”.

“English, traceable to 1688” – Steve, Whitley Bay.

“Durham lad being born on the south bank of the Tyne and traceable to the 1770s. I am a Geordie” – George.

“I am pleased that all of the lads and lasses who gave their lives in two world wars can’t hear you. You are a disgrace”

“Geordie first, English second, potentially with Northumbrian coming in third, and British a very distant last place. Because I’m English. English is my country I was born in England. Britain is a community of countries. I am British but I am no more British than I am European. I know that I am because I am classified as such but I don’t feel it  … I’m not bothered about the Olympics to be perfectly honest with you, but on the same topic I like Andy Murray to do well … I want Newcastle to win every time they play but, I am not like your previous caller; if Newcastle are knocked out of the Cup, I still won’t be supporting the Mackems. I am not wouldn’t go that far” – John

“I am a season ticket holder for Sunderland and the only time I want to see Newcastle lose is when we play them. I am a Sunderland supporter. I have been going there since I was four – but I used to go to Sunderland one week and to Newcastle the next”.

“Tell that fool on your radio show that if he’s from Ashington, he’s not a Geordie, he’s a Northumbrian” – Steve, a Northumbrian.

“This pride of Northumbria is a moot futile conversation. Several hundred years ago you were all Scotsmen. The original Scottish border is around the city of York. And I am from New Zealand”

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