OVER the past decade or more, Scotland has become well accustomed to discussions about whether its future lies inside or outside the United Kingdom.

While Scotland opted to stay in the Union on September 18, 2014, this did anything but end the debate about whether independence is the route the country should take. Instead, it sparked the beginning of an ongoing national conversation, as significant cracks in the UK as we know it began to show.

These cracks are so exposed now that doubt over the Union has spread beyond Scotland. There has been an Independent Commission on the Constitutional Future of Wales that concluded independence is a viable option for the nation. Across the Irish Sea, meanwhile, the possibility of Irish reunification seems closer than ever.

And yet, England’s only Green MP Caroline Lucas has highlighted an increasingly uncomfortable reality across the Border – England is not having this conversation.

In her new book Another England: How To Reclaim Our National Story, the Brighton Pavilion representative argues that while every other nation of the UK has, to varying degrees, addressed the fact the UK likely has an end date, England has continually refused to entertain that notion and, in doing so, has lost its identity as a separate entity from Britain.

Squeamishness over Englishness

LUCAS - who has said she will not be standing for re-election - has argued English identity has been hijacked by the right, to the point where the sight of a St George’s Cross flying from someone’s window is one which is treated with suspicion.

And she has fired a parting warning shot that if the left does not stand up to their “squeamishness” around talking about England in its own right, the nation may one day be left out in the cold.

“There is a move to reunite the island of Ireland and there is a sense of a growing momentum behind that which no doubt has been accelerated by the Good Friday Agreement and the way that was handled by Westminster,” Lucas told the Sunday National.

“There was a commission on the future of Wales which mooted the possibility of an independent Wales. We know in Scotland there is a majority - or at least a solid group of people - who want another independence referendum.

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“It struck me that while those conversations are happening, we’re not even beginning to think about that in England.

“England and Britain are just used interchangeably. The Government in Westminster is seen somehow as being the Government for England and the rest of the UK and I think, as a result, people in England have lost a sense of their identity. We don’t quite know who we are anymore.”

If Scotland goes, who is thinking about England?

LUCAS told a story of how ex-prime minister David Cameron, during the lead-up to the Brexit referendum, sent out an edict to all the departments in Whitehall that they were not to think about what would happen in the event of a Leave vote, and she has noted parallels in the way the UK Government has batted away suggestions of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland leaving the Union.

She added: “If in 20 years' time, Scotland has left - which doesn’t seem impossible - or Wales even, then who is beginning to think about what that means for England?

“We need to find a way to tell better stories about England and the English so we feel more confident about the future and less prone to either exceptionalism or the total inability to feel comfortable in our own skin.”

The idea many English people were not at ease with their country became apparent to Lucas in the immediate aftermath of that Leave vote in 2016. She wanted to unpack why seemingly thousands of people outside of London believed anything was better than the status quo. So desperate was their need for identity, they were coaxed by the right into believing Brexit could deliver just that.

Lucas subsequently went around the country as part of a project she titled Dear Leavers to attempt to understand why so many English people felt disempowered.

The National:

“I was really struck by the number of Remainers around me who said, ‘I don’t recognise my country’ anymore,” the MP said.

“Two things struck me and they were that we bloody well should recognise our country and if we don’t, that’s on us. If we haven’t realised that people are so desperate and angry that anything is better than the status quo, then we should have understood that. It was also just the realisation that this country people were saying they didn’t recognise was, by and large, England.

“I suppose that process of understanding made me understand that something was deeply wrong in the politics of England.”

‘An institution that speaks for us’

IN Another England, Lucas argues that anxieties around discussing Englishness and what the country should or could look like if the UK’s nations go separate ways need to be addressed urgently.

And she insists the left needs to lead on those discussions which she hopes could open up policy debates about the creation of an English Parliament, for example, or how fairer taxes or land ownership rules could be introduced in a future England.

She said: “It’s [an English Parliament] somewhere we could locate a political identity and an institution that speaks for England, separate from the UK as a whole.

“That’s been experimented with, to a certain extent, with English Votes For English Laws (EVEL), but although it was a technical way of trying to deal with that issue, it didn’t help us in terms of a tangible identity which I think you would have with an English Parliament.”

While she added the timing of the EVEL announcement right after the Scottish independence referendum was “patronising” and “unhelpful”, the principle of it was not “wrong” and the left needs to ensure it “takes responsibility” for that debate going forward.

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“It seems to me the case for an English parliament could start being made by the populists and it feels like the progressives need to get in there first, rather than being forced into a corner and potentially opposing it because it was being promoted by people with a very different agenda.

“The important thing about this debate, I hope, is that it would lead to a number of policy changes that would make England a fairer and greener place, irrespective of what happens to the rest of the UK. It feels this is an opportunity to talk about what is the kind of England we could feel more proud of than we do.”

The power of stories

BUT as someone who studied English literature at university, Lucas knows all too well the stories we tell ourselves and buy into contribute immensely to our sense of identity. In her book, she explores some more progressive stories of England that have been lost over time that she hopes will be inspirational to readers.

Perhaps even before any discussions about policy or the future mechanisms of England separate from its apparent alias of “Britain”, she suggests the English simply need to discover “better stories to tell” about their nation so the country can stride more courageously into its future, whatever that may look like.

She said: “The right has always known the power of stories and that’s why you have these myths of the plucky English at Dunkirk or whatever. We need to get better at telling those stories on the left.

“So part of the book is looking back to the opposition to the Enclosures, for example, that happened several centuries ago, and reclaiming the fact the English have had a strong sense of how there should be a more equal settlement in the country for centuries.

“It’s looking back at what inspiration we can take from the movement for land or the Chartists wanting a better democratic settlement, but also looking at some of the policies for the future like land value taxation or a wealth tax, or some other tools we can use to make England fairer and greener.

“I hope it [the book] kickstarts a conversation about how to imagine a better England. I hope it reminds people why that’s urgent given the rise of populism and I hope some of the examples I’ve drawn on will inspire people to feel excited about the reimagining of England.”