by David Jeffery
Monday, 1
February 2021

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.

Join the discussion

  • ‘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?

  • 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.

  • 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.

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