Today is the National Day for England, St. George's Day. Compared to St. David, St. Patrick or St. Andrew, I expect very few English people to notice.
Scots, Irish and Welsh have an obvious sense of identity, whereas the English do not in quite the same way. In the six nations tournament, each country had it's own anthem, and England got... 'God Save the Queen' - the Anthem for the UK as a whole. Similarly, England is the only nation in the UK without any control of it's own destiny, we have no parliament.
Historically as the most dominant country in the UK we did not define ourselve by reacting against 'the other' and so outward displays of national pride can be seen as distasteful by the English. It's too showy, too 'in your face'. Visiting the USA can sometimes give that 'over the top' feeling!
The English, on the whole, tend to prefer understatement. Indeed, unthinking national pride is a bad thing for lots of reasons, not least of which is that it suspends the critical faculties and doesn't allow one to consider the view of 'the other'. The flag itself (like the Union Flag) has been appropriated by racists and bigots - patriotism can so easily slide into nationalism. 'My country right or wrong' is potentially very dangerous.
As a result of the flag being appropriated by bigots I have grown up not feeling an affinity for this flag. It's very weird, but a pretty safe rule of thumb is that if someone is walking toward you carrying a Union or English flag, they're probably not someone you're going to want to stay on the same side of the road for. It's quite a terrible thing. I recognise it. I resent it. Yet the association is still there. The same is sometimes true for the Union Flag.
I googled around a little on the subject, and came to this nice post which was made a year ago.
I just don't feel any affinity for the symbol of a group that I have very little to do with. To be either proud or ashamed of being English or British seems ridiculous to me; you didn't have anything to do with the World Cup, or the British Empire, or any of that, how can you feel proud or ashamed of something you didn't do? My sense of responsibility is limited to how I affect the community as a current part of it, and so I am somewhat ashamed of, say, how asylum seekers are treated, because I could do more to stop it. But that never goes as far as me feeling a personal affinity to any flag.
That pretty much sums it up for me.
To be English is probably best summed up as being fairly confident in who you are, whilst at the same time being a little bit reticent about showing that confidence. The English as a whole do not to have the need to wave a flag to demonstrate identity, and they find that need somewhat distasteful (at the same time, the reasons for this distaste are incredibly hard to articulate!)
As I mentioned, England is the largest country in the Union, whereas historically one could imagine the other countries in the Union threatened by England, and hence with a need to demonstrate their own identity. For many English, the words 'English' and 'British' are (unfortunately) synonymous. The same is not true of, for example, the Welsh (note to Americans, a Welshman is usually happy to be called British, but never English!) If you take a British person at random, chances are that they will be English.
Though England is dominant in the Union, the other countries in the Union have a disproportionate power. For example, Scottish MPs have been known to tip the balance of a vote on a bill which does not affect Scotland. Similarly, like it or not, more votes in England went to the Tories in 2005 than to Labour, not only do we have a labour English majority in the house, but this is augmented by MPs from the other parts of the Union. These MPs can vote on matters which do not affect their own constituents, but do affect English ones.
So why this post at all? Primarily it's about the future, in the UK, England has laws made for it by Scottish MPs, elected by Scots, and those laws have no role in Scotland. This can't be just - and over the long term is likely to divide the Union due to a growing sense of injustice. I don't want to Union divided, I like the Union - but the solution is not to have a second class of MP as proposed by the Tories ('English votes on English matters'). We need a UK parliament (probably seated at Westminster), which has true jurisdiction over UK-wide law (including Scotland and Wales), we need national parliaments which vote on national issues - for each of the countries that make up the Union. Currently Wales has an 'Assembly' with much fewer powers than the Scottish Parliament, and England has no seperate voice. A seperation of bodies would clearly allow English versus UK matters to be clearly defined, if it's in the UK parliament it's a UK wide issue. If it's not, it isn't. What goes where would be clearly defined. Our piecemeal approach that we have at the moment cannot be sustainable, and that is bad for the Union.
If raising the profile of the symbol that is the English flag can help that end in some small way, if we can reclaim the flag from the bigots, then so much the better.
At the moment the flag still has unfortunate associations as for so long it was appropriated by thugs. I do resent this, and hope that we can claim it back for civic purposes, removing that association.
Even if successfully reclaimed, it'll probably still remain that flag waving for the sake of it will, for many English, seem, well, 'tacky'. It will also remain the case that most of the world (and some English) won't understand this.