The concept of an 'English nation' (as opposed to a British one) has become increasingly popular after the devolution process in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland resulted in the four nations having semi-independent political and legal systems. Although England itself has no devolved government, the 1990s witnessed a rise in English self-consciousness. This is linked to the expressions of national self-awareness of the other British nations of Wales and Scotland – which take their most solid form in the new devolved political arrangements within the United Kingdom – and the waning of a shared British national identity with the growing distance between the end of the British Empire and the present.
Many recent immigrants to England have assumed a solely British identity, while others have developed dual or mixed identities. Use of the word "English" to describe Britons from ethnic minorities in England is complicated by most non-white people in England identifying as British rather than English. In their 2004 Annual Population Survey, the Office for National Statistics compared the ethnic identities of British people with their perceived national identity. They found that while 58% of white people in England described their nationality as "English", the vast majority of non-white people called themselves "British".
Relationship to Britishness
It is unclear how many British people consider themselves English. In the 2001 UK census, respondents were invited to state their ethnicity, but while there were tick boxes for 'Irish' and for 'Scottish', there were none for 'English', or 'Welsh', who were subsumed into the general heading 'White British'. Following complaints about this, the 2011 census was changed to "allow respondents to record their English, Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish, Irish or other identity." Another complication in defining the English is a common tendency for the words "English" and "British" to be used interchangeably, especially outside the UK. In his study of English identity, Krishan Kumar describes a common slip of the tongue in which people say "English, I mean British". He notes that this slip is normally made only by the English themselves and by foreigners: "Non-English members of the United Kingdom rarely say 'British' when they mean 'English'". Kumar suggests that although this blurring is a sign of England's dominant position with the UK, it is also "problematic for the English [...] when it comes to conceiving of their national identity. It tells of the difficulty that most English people have of distinguishing themselves, in a collective way, from the other inhabitants of the British Isles".
In 1965, the historian A. J. P. Taylor wrote,
- "When the Oxford History of England was launched a generation ago, "England" was still an all-embracing word. It meant indiscriminately England and Wales; Great Britain; the United Kingdom; and even the British Empire. Foreigners used it as the name of a Great Power and indeed continue to do so. Bonar Law, by origin a Scotch Canadian, was not ashamed to describe himself as "Prime Minister of England" [...] Now terms have become more rigorous. The use of "England" except for a geographic area brings protests, especially from the Scotch."
However, although Taylor believed this blurring effect was dying out, in his book The Isles (1999), Norman Davies lists numerous examples in history books of "British" still being used to mean "English" and vice versa.
In December 2010, Matthew Parris in The Spectator, analysing the use of "English" over "British", argued that English identity, rather than growing, had existed all along but has recently been unmasked from behind a veneer of Britishness.