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1This issue of the Observatoire de la Société Britannique proposes a multi-faceted selection of complementary contributions on living together in the UK in the early 2020s, at a time when cohesion seems increasingly questioned and jeopardised. Since the 2016 EU referendum pre-existing divides (notably territorial, generational and social divides) have become even more blatant. The very future of the Union seems to be at stake, as the possibility of a new referendum on Scotland’s independence and the prospect of a reunited Ireland have been revived. Other cleavages have been brought to light since the EU referendum. Several reports such as those produced by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Social Metrics Commission have underlined, respectively, the persistence of racial discrimination and prejudice and the aggravation of poverty and social marginalisation, not least as a result of post-Brexit xenophobia and of the austerity policies deployed by successive governments in the past decades.

2In this volume, living together in the UK is first envisaged through the prism of migration and diversity. Quoc-Dung Dang’s article adds to the existing empirical and normative literature of multiculturalism by exploring the contrast in local and State-wide politics in terms of integration and multicultural policies in the UK. His contribution uses London’s Chinatown as an illustration of the relative resistance of British multiculturalism, as the British capital continues to resort to de facto multiculturalist policies in order to value its diversity. Catherine Puzzo’s article explores a different albeit complementary dimension of migration and diversity-related issues through a study of the role of the recent UK-wide “National Conversation” on immigration. In the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote, the organisers of the National Conversation travelled across the country to meet citizens and hear about their concerns and opinions on immigration and related issues. What emerged from the many discussions and debates was an overall challenge the government would have to address, namely the deep mistrust Britons had towards the ability of their political organisations to represent citizens properly and of their political leaders to rule the country and implement the agenda for which they had been elected. In her contribution, Stéphanie Bory ponders what she calls the Welsh “identity paradox”. She argues that although Wales has sought to promote equal opportunity and to spur the political participation of minority groups in recent decades, notably through a clear emphasis on civic nationalism, Wales’s diversity remains essentially “imagined”, rather than real.

3The four nations and their increasingly diverging agendas regarding the future of the Union constitute the second angle chosen by some of this volume’s contributors in order to illustrate current challenges to living together in the UK. Thus, Wafa El Fekih Said analyses post-Brexit migratory challenges in Scotland: not only have the EU referendum results revived the independence debate, but they have also led to calls for more devolved powers on immigration. In discussing the evolution and orientation of immigration policies in post-Brexit Scotland, her article also examines the way in which the debate over immigration is part and parcel of a wider nation-building project in Scotland. Annie Thiec’s contribution starts with an analysis of the SNP’s narrative of independence prior to the independence referendum, before exploring how the prospect of Brexit has led the Scottish Government to turn Europe into its new frame of reference, and finally discussing what this shift reveals about the party’s vision of Scotland’s place in Europe and in the world in the aftermath of the Brexit vote. Claire Breniaux’s article explores a different facet of the SNP, namely young SNP members’ views of Scotland and the United Kingdom. It is based on the analysis of the results of an online survey and interviews with young SNP members about their political engagement and their understanding of national identity, carried out from 2018 to 2020. This paper reflects upon the way in which these young people define Scottishness and Scottish society and discusses the role of national identity in their campaign for independence. In their vast majority, they seem to perceive the UK as a union of “un-equals”, which is exclusive, not progressive, and where Scotland’s voice is insufficiently heard.

4The third section envisages the impact of neoliberal policies on the UK’s social cohesion. Thus, Nicholas Sowels’s article offers a comprehensive, diachronic overview of economic inequalities and poverty in the United Kingdom, which, the author argues, “are both central issues in the ability of members of a society to live together”. In its more contemporary sections, this paper briefly presents the IFS Deaton Review of inequalities launched in 2019, which seeks to get a broader understanding of inequalities as social and political – and not just economic – phenomena, as well as some key policy prescriptions for how inequality and poverty could be tackled. David Fée’s article is grounded in a number of discussions with British officials about what the author calls “the UK housing conundrum”, i.e. the worsening housing conditions experienced by many households, the incapacity of a growing section of the population to house themselves at a reasonable price and the seeming powerlessness of national and local authorities to match supply and demand. With a clear emphasis on England, this paper first looks briefly at the housing context of and background to recent housing policies. It then examines the links between the planning system and socially balanced communities from a historical perspective, before looking at some recent changes in housing policy that make it harder for British people to live together and finally exploring the recent consequences of those policy choices. Anne Beauvallet’s contribution comes within the scope of curriculum research and is based on a case study, the No Outsiders project initiated in the Parkfield Community School in Birmingham, which started teaching Relationships Education (RE) before it became a compulsory subject in English primary schools in September 2020. No Outsiders partly covers the contents of RE with an explicit reference to same-sex relationships and LGBT issues. In a nutshell, the author suggests that the 2010 Equality Act falls short in its attempt to safeguard all the “protected characteristics” it lists.

5Finally, the new (or sometimes not so new) political divides brought about by the 2016 Brexit referendum and their consequences are analysed in the last section of this volume. Pauline Schnapper argues that the EU referendum of 23 June 2016 revealed new cleavages among British voters, based on age, values and geography rather than social class or centre/periphery. Her paper examines how the main parties responded to the challenge in the following general elections in 2017 and 2019, and whether a realignment has taken place along the Brexit faultlines. It argues that both Labour and the Conservatives managed to partially adjust to the challenge and made some electoral gains by reconfiguring their political strategy to adapt to the new electoral environment, although the Conservative party proved better able at attracting the pro-Brexit voters than Labour was with the - divided - Remain voters. Whether these developments will be short-lived or will endure remains to be seen. In his contribution, Gilles Leydier wonders whether the fractures between Leavers and Remainer and an increasingly fickle electorate have given rise to a new form of political identity. The conditions of the emergence of that new political identity are put into a broader historical perspective and the possibility that it could become a permanent trait of the UK’s political landscape is considered. In her paper largely based on original fieldwork data (qualitative interviews, notably) Marie Aouanes-Perrière investigates how the 2016 referendum on the European Union has led to the awakening of anti-Brexit activists campaigning to keep their country in the European Union. She argues that resisting Brexit has led the grassroots to (re)discover what it feels like to be European, leaving the question of the movement’s impact and durability open. Finally, in her article, Marie-Violaine Louvet wonders to what extent the rise and electoral gains of the far right in the British Isles over the last twelve years or so, and more specifically since the Brexit vote, have signalled the end of an exception that long prevailed in the Republic of Ireland, where several new far right parties have emerged in recent years. Although their success has been very limited until now, their emergence constitutes a novel element in the Irish Republic. The author nevertheless argues that the Eurosceptic, xenophobic and anti-Muslim rhetoric they have developed has hindered their popularity so far and has stimulated the frontal opposition displayed by the Irish anti-fascist Left.

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Nathalie Duclos et Vincent Latour, « Foreword », Observatoire de la société britannique, 26 | 2021, 9-12.

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Nathalie Duclos et Vincent Latour, « Foreword », Observatoire de la société britannique [En ligne], 26 | 2021, mis en ligne le 01 janvier 2022, consulté le 17 janvier 2022. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/osb/4964 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/osb.4964

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Auteurs

Nathalie Duclos

Professeure des Universités en civilisation britannique à l'Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès

Vincent Latour

Professeur des Universités en civilisation britannique à l'Université Toulouse Jean Jaurès

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Observatoire de la société britannique

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