Rule Britannia, Land of Hope and Glory, Dunkirk Spirit, real ale, last night of the proms, the Queen, The Beatles, sarcasm, Tesco, dish cloths with Princess Diana on them, the M6 and tea. It all makes you proud doesn’t it? The love in your Union Jack heart runneth over?
No, me neither really.
I tend to rail against anything that is held up as quintessentially British, not due to the thing itself, but because of the regard that I have for Britain’s stilted, awkward place within the world, or Great Britain’s I should say to give our country its fuller title. And yet it is my mindset that is probably the problem rather than any of Old Blighty’s characteristics or personalities. We do have the marvellous Stephen Fry to revolve around as a nation, of course.
It is a curious twist of these British Isles that we seem to suffer from a twin cringe, and a disparate cringe at that. The Scottish cringe is well known. A country riddled with self-confidence issues, loathe to put its head above the parapet, embarrassed to be seen as too big or too clever and yet so irrepressibly popular on a global scale and repressing so much untapped potential. The cringe is by no means universal within Scotland but you’d struggle to argue that it doesn’t exist. We are certainly some way away from puffing our chest out on a world stage as so many other countries manage to do unthinkingly.
That leads me on to the English cringe, in many ways the polar opposite of the Scottish variant. I am of course generalising here but there is a superiority complex at play from our friends south of the border, a coldness to foreigners often complimented with a yobbish arrogance. Be it a mimicking of a foreign accent or a bizarre temptation to refer back to WW2 at the drop of a trilby, it is not what one would call pleasing. Cringeworthy is perhaps a better bet.
I just wonder if a new and improved rebranding of ‘Britain’ would simultaneously help take the edge of those in the south and help push forward those in the north. Dropping the Great and allowing a fraternal Britain to integrate more comfortably with Europe and the wider world may free up Scots’ minds to be the best they can be and help little Englanders to remember that they aren’t actually better than everybody else.
Of course, the term ‘Great Britain’ has a valid basis, far removed from the imperial and high-minded connotations that are unavoidable with the phrase. There are tens of thousands of British Isles and most of them have names be it Skye, Scilly or Shetlands and the largest of these islands can be classed as Britain Major or, yes, Great Britain.
For me, this is an insufficient naming convention, particularly as it is technically discriminatory against those who live on a ‘Britain Minor’ island. Indeed, the name ‘Great Britain’ was not derived by geologists who were concerned with the correct terminology of a collection of islands but seemingly created by King James in 1604 who proclaimed himself ‘King of Great Brittaine, Ireland and France’. This was later officially cemented with the 1707 Treaty of Union that brought Scotland, England and Wales together in the ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain’, the UK part being merely a description with the GB part being the formal title. Both decisions seemingly carried a certain degree of hubris.
Granted, many readers will rail against this union for separate (and separation) reasons but over and above that where do we get off calling ourselves ‘Great’? How silly must this grand title have sounded during these past 300 or so years? No wonder we got pulled into so many wars with other countries trying to teach us a lesson or trois.
Some are born great, some become great and some have greatness thrust upon them. Well, we absurdly thrust the third one onto ourselves and it’s time to get the monkey off our back.
What if the official title of other countries was ‘Super Spain’, or ‘Fabulous France’ or ‘Awesome Australia’? They would never get away with it. We didn’t even have the decency to indulge in the pleasing alliteration of Brilliant Britain. And we wonder why we get ‘nil points’ at the Eurovision Song Contests?
Indeed, bringing the debate right up to the present day, the name of our country undermines our best intentions. Only this week Prime Minister of Great Britain, David Cameron, was taking a firm stance against Pakistan, technically a former colony. Cameron may or may not have been right to do so (does Wikileaks now drive foreign policy?) but it must be particularly annoying for Pakistan to be told what to do by a country that literally describes itself as better than you.
Similarly, there was an admission from the coalition that Great Britain is the ‘junior partner’ in the special relationship with the United States. That is true and there’s no point in denying it but what better time and reason to dilute the greatness of our name than when accepting subordination to a global superpower. How can we call ourselves ‘Great’ when we freely admit that we’re not as good as some?
We could even do it in stages. From 2011 we could be called Good Britain, from 2021 we could be Quite Good Britain, from 2031 we could be Not Bad Britain and then finally in 2041 we could just be Britain, as we always should have been even all the way back in 1604. Personally I’d rather cut to the chase.
Indeed, timing is playing into our hands in another way. With the Olympics only two years away, when Team GBR will be a main focus, what greater statement could we make to the world that we are embracing the collegiate, equal 21st century than changing our moniker to Team BRI. We’re going to look a bit daft when Team GB is sitting 13th in the medals table anyway but that’s not a bad showing for Team BRI.
In any case, there is an ironic, rewarding upside to simply being Britain rather than ‘Great’ Britain. A long overdue showing of humility would make us collectively greater and, on global terms, we could probably do with a bit of both.
Court of Appeal Clanger
14 minutes ago