Who's British Now?

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20140714

Politicians often express concerns about the failure of immigrant voters to integrate into "mainstream British life," or embrace "British" values. But data from the 2011 census seems to indicate a layer of complexity to British Asian attitudes about nationality which is missing from the rhetoric around British identity.

The 2011 census introduced a reporting category which was intended to capture whether voters considered themselves to have British identity only, English identity only, other UK identity only, or other identity only.

The results were fascinating- the groups most likely to report a British identity were Bangladeshi (72%) Pakistani (63%) and Indian (58%). White people living in England declared themselves 72% English: amongst whites in England, Englishness had outstripped Britishness in popularity. (In Scotland and Wales, Britishness had been in decline for decades.)

But while Asians in England cleaved to British identity, Asians in Scotland were far more likely to identify themselves as Scots. What is happening? Ritula Shah talks to those on both sides of the border to discuss national identity with recent and long standing immigrants.

Is Englishness so irrevocably tied up with white skin that it proves unattractive to incomers? Are Asian immigrants wedded to an old fashioned idea of Britishness, or could they be at the heart of a reconstruction of Britishness around multi ethnicity?

And what happens if Britishness shatters this year under the force of the Scottish Independence Referendum? How will the Asian community in England engage with Englishness if Britain no longer exists?