Nothing cheers the nation like the birth of a royal baby who will one day be monarch. At such a moment, the hard-hearted and cynical among us say that a baby is just another baby, no matter how royal he or she is. But when the Duchess of Cambridge produced an heir, millions of Britons ignored the sceptics and took pleasure in the story of the renewal of the Windsor family. This year a great institution, which two decades ago was in deep trouble, has been infused once again with new life.
New Englanders: Immigrants like this woman (here seen receiving British citizenship from Boris Johnson) are transforming politics
A few weeks ago, four generations of one family were on display when the Queen was pictured with her son (Charles), her grandson (William) and her great-grandson (Prince George) at the latter's christening. The gathering was the philosopher Edmund Burke's idea of intergenerational connection, continuity, obligation and gradual constitutional evolution, made flesh. More simply, after the gloom of the financial crisis, the worst economic downturn in seven decades and the squeeze on living standards, this and the other images from that day were simply nice pictures taken at a moment when the country was in the mood to be cheered up. Newspapers rushed to produce commemorative supplements about the new arrival.
But when the moment comes, what kind of England will young Prince George inherit via his great-grandmother, his grandfather and his father? What kind of country will exist when he leaves school in 18 years' time, or when he ascends to the throne, perhaps five decades hence?
England is changing, dramatically and rapidly. Thanks to migration, a new England is being created before our eyes. I say England, rather than the United Kingdom or Great Britain, quite deliberately. It is England that is absorbing most of the enormous number of immigrants, as opposed to the rest of the UK. It is England that is experiencing a demographic and social revolution.
There has been immigration to Scotland, where it has long been fashionable among smug members of the dominant liberal elite to think in terms of moral superiority over the English, on the grounds that the Scots are supposedly somehow more tolerant (which is nonsense). Wander through Edinburgh or Glasgow and you will see more in the way of faces of different colour and hear more Eastern European voices than once would have been the case. But the inflow has been smaller than it has been in England.
This divergence may help explain the interest of some Scots in separation. This is not because the Scots fear an overspill across the border. On the contrary, the Scottish government, which is putting independence to the vote in a referendum in September 2014, wants to attract a larger share of the migrants who come to the UK. But England is becoming harder to recognise as a neighbour. Its politics is fragmenting and moving in curious and unsettling new directions. UKIP is on the rise in England, not in Scotland, on the back of concern about migration and the loss of sovereignty involved in membership of the European Union. In England, the Conservatives — long all but wiped from the map north of the border — are struggling to contain the threat of Nigel Farage. Viewed from Scotland, the new England can look strange, alien, other. Sometimes it can look that way from England too.
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