British Day


British Day

"British Day" is an umbrella term used for a number of proposals to create a national day for the United Kingdom and celebration of "Britishness". Recently, this suggestion has been associated with one of its main supporters, Prime Minister Gordon Brown. [http://en.wikinews.org/wiki/Gordon_Brown_calls_for_national_day_to_celebrate_'Britishness']

Current position

The United Kingdom is unusual in having no single national holiday. It has a number of national days of celebration which go largely uncelebrated, and others which are associated with the constituent countries of the UK. The latter category includes St George's Day in England, St Andrew's Day in Scotland, St Patrick's Day in Northern Ireland and St David's Day in Wales.

At present, the Queen's Official Birthday is marked as a "de facto" national day by British diplomatic missions overseas [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/6721239.stm BBC NEWS | UK | Ministers proposing 'Britain Day' ] ] but not in the UK itself. Another day which could be seen as taking the form of a British national day in recent years, albeit spread out over a weekend and not an annual event, was the Queen's Golden Jubilee. Jubilees and Coronations are typically invested with a great deal of patriotism and participation by some members of the public, as are a number of remembrance events related to Britain's participation in wars throughout history (mentioned below).

Similar ideals to those put forward for a British national holiday led in 2006 to the creation of a Veteran's Day in the UK.

In June 2008, Immigration Minister Liam Byrne suggested the "August bank holiday" to be made a weekend of national celebration in a speech to Labour Party and trade union [ [http://www.progressonline.org.uk/About%5Fus/ | [ Progress About us ] ] think tank "Progress". However, Scotland's August bank holiday is held on a different date from that in England and Wales. He later retracted this - after pressure from the Scottish National Party (SNP) - saying he was merely trying to "get the debate started". Angus Robertson MP and Westminster SNP group leader stated "Labour's cack-handed attempts to resuscitate a British 'national' identity are just desperate, motivated by self interest rather than national interest". [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/7433479.stm BBC News | Politics | Minister in 'British Day blunder'] ]

Candidates for a new national day

Most of the suggested proposals for a British Day are already existing holidays or days of celebration in the UK which either are poorly marked by the government and the people, or are not readily associated with the idea of Britishness at present. They include:

* The day that the slave trade became illegal in Britain in 1807 (25 March)Fact|date=July 2008
* Chartist Day (10 April) to remember the Chartism movement and its democratic legacy.Fact|date=July 2008
* The date that the Acts of Union 1707 took effect (1 May)
* VE Day (8 May)Fact|date=July 2008
* Democracy Day (7 June) to remember the Reform Act 1832 also known as the Great Reform Act.Fact|date=July 2008
* D-Day (6 June)Fact|date=July 2008
* The Queen's Official Birthday (a Saturday chosen in June)Fact|date=July 2008
* The date of the signing of the Magna Carta (15 June)
* Waterloo Day (18 June)Fact|date=July 2008
* St Alban's Day (22 June) (Saint Alban was Britain's first martyr)Fact|date=July 2008
* Suffrage Day (alternatively Democracy Day) (2 July) to remember the passing of the Equal Franchise Act in 1928 and the achievement of the aims of the Suffragettes.Fact|date=July 2008
* Peterloo Day (16 August) to remember the Peterloo Massacre in 1819.Fact|date=July 2008
* Wilberforce Day (24 August) to remember the ending of slavery and the part played by William Wilberforce.Fact|date=July 2008
* Trafalgar Day (21 October)Fact|date=July 2008
* Armistice Day (11 November)Fact|date=July 2008
* Remembrance Sunday (Sunday following Armistice Day)Fact|date=July 2008

Opposition

In recent years, surveys have demonstrated a significant increase in the number of people choosing to solely or primarily identify with their own national identities instead of a British identity. This is particularly true in Wales and Scotland since the introduction of devolution. In those two countries, and in the Republican community in Northern Ireland, the potential opposition to a British Day is considerable. In Wales, for instance, there have been repeated calls for Saint David's Day to be made an official national holiday, with one poll finding that 87% of the Welsh wanted it to be a bank holiday, [cite web |url=http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/4760362.stm |title=Poll backs St David's Day holiday |author=Guto Thomas |publisher=BBC News |date=1 March 2006 |accessdate=2008-03-01] and in the National Assembly for Wales all 60 AMs voted unanimously for it to be declared so but the UK government rejected the proposal on the grounds that it was not practical to introduce an additional public holiday. [ [http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/wales/2405805.stm BBC Wales] ] The Scottish Parliament, which has the legal powers to do so, is set to introduce a public holiday for Saint Andrew's Day in 2008.

The proposal for a 'British Day' was included [at para. 41] in a raft of proposals contained in a report entitled "Citizenship: Our Common Bond" by former Attorney General Lord Goldsmith. [ [http://www.justice.gov.uk/docs/citizenship-report-full.pdf Citizenship: Our Common Bond ] ] Goldsmith's report also a number of other suggestions including the involvement of schoolchildren in citizenship ceremonies as part of citizenship education [Goldsmith, "Citizenship", para. 45] , which included requiring school-leavers - and UK citizens as part of a 'British Day' - to swear an oath of alliegance to the British Queen: the ideas have been roundly condemned by a number of leading politicians in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, notably Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond who described the proposals as "Monty Pythonesque". [ [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/politics/article3533744.ece "Timesonline", March 12 2008] ]

Lord Goldsmith addressed potential opposition to a British Day in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the report, stating::"There were undoubtedly issues raised about how a national day would be received in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland. But the important point to stress in this regard is that there ought to be nothing in the framework of the national day to prevent particular areas from creating events that celebrate other shared identities alongside our bond of shared citizenship. People have multiple identities and it would be false for events organised for a national day not to be responsive to that." [at para. 40]

References


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