by David Jeffery
Monday, 1
February 2021
Chart
15:51

The myth of ‘Scouse not English’

Liverpool has long thought itself detached from the rest of England — but is it?
by David Jeffery
Are the banners at the Kop fake news? Credit: Liverpool Echo

Liverpool has long thought itself unique, detached from the rest of England — Irish in heritage, international in outlook. Like many stories about our past that we tell ourselves, this contains some of truth — but it also hides a darker side.

Liverpool’s internationalism was rooted in its close links to the slave trade; it received its royal charter from King John in 1207 when he recognised the area’s useful position for supplying the troops in the recently-conquered Ireland. The influx of Irish in the 19th and 20th century — the same influx which gives Liverpool a sense of being a world apart from the rest of England — also led to long-running sectarian conflict, between largely Irish Catholics and Lancastrian Protestants. A Protestant Party was still winning council seats up until the 1970s.

The effects of this are still felt today — it is common to see banners saying ‘Scouse not English’ flying in Anfield stadium (it is, to be fair, less common over at Goodison). The Liverpool Echo, in its constant struggle for clickbait, even ran an article after the 2019 general election with the title “’Scouse not English’ goes viral as Merseyside remains defiant after the election” and quoted a few tweets. Truly the hard-hitting journalism the city needs.

But is this ‘Scouse not English’ narrative actually true? I wanted to find out so I surveyed 310 people who grew up in Liverpool and still lived in the city. I asked them a series of questions about their voting behaviour and also how strongly they identify with the following identities: Scouse, English, British and European on a scale of 1 (not at all) to 5 (very). I also asked a series of questions from the British Election Study designed to measure the levels of populist attitudes held.

Each box represents the interquartile range of the responses. The black line represents the medium and the dot represents the mean.

The boxplot shows the spread of responses for each identity. Among respondents, Scouse is the most strongly-held identity, with a median value of 5, followed by Englishness and Britishness that are also strongly held (in equal measure). A European identity, however, is not as widely held and on the whole, respondents hold fairly populist values too, with an average value of 3.5.

We can also look at the relationship between each specific identity. For respondents as a whole there is no negative relationship between being Scouse and English — those banners at the Kop are #FakeNews — and no positive relationship between being Scouse and European. What we do see, and which perhaps is not so surprising, is that there is a positive correlation between how Scouse you are and how populist you are.

What’s even more interesting is that we see a statistically significant positive relationship between holding a Scouse identity and holding an English identity among female voters — maybe those football fans should speak to their girlfriends or wives before making their banners — as well as between a Scouse and a British identity.

These results suggest that the ‘Scouse not English’ myth is exactly that — a myth. It also suggests that Scousers are not particularly European in outlook either. Instead, local political elites use the identity to mean whatever they want it to — and the lack of academic research on the identity makes that much easier.

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G Matthews
G Matthews
1 year ago

Was the author really so upset at the banner that it prompted him to interview 310 people to resolve his angst? The fact is that a large proportion of people in Liverpool, particularly up until the 1970s and 1980s, regarded themselves as Irish living in England and maintained regular contact with their families in Ireland. Liverpool was the only city to elect an Irish Nationalist Party MP to the UK (I should say GB & I) parliament, not once but at least 4 times in succession. There is a very clear linguistic boundary around the city that delineates the Irish influence from the ‘native’ lancastrians and cheshire folk (as far as I know there is no collective noun for people who live in Cheshire?). In the same way that in London now you have immigrants who have lived in London for decades but who have stronger family and other links back to their home countries than they do to any other part of the UK, and don’t even venture outside of their borough unless they are forced to or are passing through on the way to Heathrow, for a lot of people in Liverpool they never had to go into the rest of England, the world revolved around the city and the passage across the Irish Sea. With the economic recovery of Ireland following EU entry then immigration dropped off and the Irish influence has declined (although not in organised crime where it thrives!) and people move on.

The banner I am most offended by is the one that commemorates the Italian fans killed in the Heysel stadium disaster – because there is no such banner.

tony benson
tony benson
2 months ago
Reply to  G Matthews

The banner that references heysel is a steaua Bucharest banner let’s not forget you flew a Munich 58 banner until 1989

Tommy Fisher
Tommy Fisher
4 months ago

What a load of nonsense. As a scouser born and bred I can say most of this article is absolute rubbish. Liverpool is a complicated city with a real mix of culture. The huge Irish influence declined years ago and whilst there is a large Irish community it is no bigger than that found in London or Birmingham. The Scouse not English sentiment is 100% real and is probably due to the fact a Tory Government approved a policy of allowing the city to decline. Clearly the people of the city didn’t feel a part of England as there was no outcry. Anyone growing up in the 80’s knows exactly how bad things were and it was the spirit of the locals that kept the city going (remember the dockers strike). This is also linked to Hillsborough and the lies that were spread about LFC supporters and scousers in general and are still sung about by football fans in London and Birmingham as recent as the last few weeks. To survey a few hundred people (clearly with a conclusion already in mind) is a joke. To write off the feelings over decades of thousands in arrogant in the extreme. To down play the complicated political and sociological views of scousers is incompetent. Our identity as scousers means a lot to us and I for one do not really think of myself as English at all. The sheer amount of abuse scousers get doesn’t exactly make me feel part of the union and I have never really had any love for the Royal Family who are more a Southern thing!

Fraser Bailey
Fraser Bailey
1 year ago

‘the Irish influence has declined (although not in organised crime where it thrives!) and people move on.’

Is this the same organised crime that the recently arrested Mayor of Liverpool may or may not be associated with?

G Matthews
G Matthews
1 year ago
Reply to  Fraser Bailey

Have a look through the online version of the Liverpool Echo, its widely known who controls the drug trade in and passing through Liverpool.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

Wales is far worse. Welsh flags in many gardens. I think the point is that people, the silent majority, are coming out of the comatose state and looking for something to fire their imagination, something to believe in, a club to join. A bit like UnHerd, in fact.

Jonathan Edwards
Jonathan Edwards
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Wales worse at what? Being a Nation? Being Welsh I have thought about Indy a lot. Here’s how it applies to Liverpool, where I now actually work. Liverpool is different. It is partly (but only partly) because its got a lot of Irish +Scots+Welsh connections. I think the real reason is that it is a port. For example, Liverpool people understand the USA very well, and always have. I live near the Baltic Fleet and “Baltic” is the clue. Liverpool is great port and is in touch with the Baltic ports. US ports and everywhere ports. In Germany, Hamburg and Bremen are each an independent “Land” within the Federal Republic. This would suit Liverpool down to the ground as a Port City-State.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago

In my opinion Wales has never been a nation except for sport.

Some commentators who want sympathy call Wales a ‘Colony of England’.

Wales is part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Look on your passport if you don’t believe me.

Wales has a population of 3 million and is smaller in size than Yorkshire with a population of 5 million.

Tell me how Wales is a nation.

Frederick B
Frederick B
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Define “nation”. Do you mean a country? Or an independent country? Or an ethnicity? Or something else? On the first and third of the above, of course Wales is a nation. If the lack of independence disqualifies, then England too is disqualified from being a “nation”.

The reality is that Wales is distinctive in language, culture, history and awareness of itself. If that isn’t a “nation, I don’t know what is.

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Frederick B

If you have to define things first you must be right. If you go abroad, people in other countries would not agree with you – excluding sports crowds again.

There is a huge chasm between North Wales and South Wales. They are so different that few Welsh speakers are comfortable with both languages. My wife can speak both well because she has a large family in Anglesey and in Glamorgan. I can speak Welsh if I want to but why? How many books, TV programmes, internet sites are in Welsh? The speaking of Welsh of 20% of the population does not make a nation.

The culture of the North and the South is like two separate nations by your definition.

Don’t get me wrong – I fight every day for Wales, I have a business in Wales, I have attended industrial meetings to ‘sell’ Wales but I am against the dreamy idea that all we need is a language and everything will be good. My wife is constantly telling the world that she lives in Wales, our daughter teaches in the medium of Welsh. But we need action to get out of the poverty, not a language.

George Lake
George Lake
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

It is a ‘construct’, as we know say!

G Matthews
G Matthews
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

Wales is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word for “foreigners”. Why do we still allow this extraordinary slur on the native people of these islands, to still refer to them as foreigners in their own land? Why do the Welsh put up with it?

George Lake
George Lake
1 year ago
Reply to  G Matthews

Because, as you well know, they were crushed by Edward I, whose magnificent castles still bear witness to this fact.

Colin Haller
Colin Haller
1 year ago

Aren’t ALL “collective” identities myths?

Frederick B
Frederick B
1 year ago
Reply to  Colin Haller

No.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

Eric Heffer MP made a good point. Liverpool had considerable mercantile wealth andf unskilled labout associated with the docks but little skilled/craft labour. The decline in shipping, cotton and insurance meant it lost wealthy people and upper middle class professionals. It used to be said Lancashire Lads, Manchester Men and Liverpool Gentlemen. The days when Eton and Harrow were full of sons of the wealthy( Gladstone for example) are long gone.

Many Liverpudlians went to sea as ratings, officers and ship owners; this is long gone. The closure of the Liverpool Institute and Quarry Bank Grammar Schools speeded up decline. Liverpool no longer has an equivalent to Manchester Grammar School to retain the wealthy and upper middle class professionals.

Tommy Fisher
Tommy Fisher
4 months ago
Reply to  Charles Hedges

Again, uninformed nonsense – Merchant Taylors school in Crosby Liverpool. Did Liverpool lose trade and port usage yes, did it adversely effect the city yes. Does this mean there is no middle class in Liverpool anymore….No!

tony benson
tony benson
2 months ago

It’s kopites that use this term as Liverpool fc has lost its identity you hear it with
Boss night boss this
Boss that
And the classic Scouse not English t shirts
And let’s not forget the shame Liverpool fans have brought to football