Loading

Decline in Brand UK

Brexit, Covid19, the rise of regional leaders, and momentum behind devolution accelerate the decrease in support for brand UK and a sense of national identity.

The general view in many of our interviews was that, as a nation, the UK is facing a fundamental challenge to its national consciousness, and a reinterpretation of what it means to be British. This raises concerns about how the UK will be perceived on the international stage. “The UK currently faces quite a stark change in how it interacts with the world,” with the Armed Forces “intrinsically tied up in how the country sees itself.” Even without the added pressures from Brexit and the seismic impact of the pandemic, balancing the needs of the four nations has always been challenging. Thirty years on from Cool Britannia, and a decade after “the unifying effect of the 2012 London Olympics,” the 2020s may see brand UK experience a major period of flux. Although “the role that the Armed Forces play can still be unifying – even in the context of change,” those organisations that are closely coupled to a strong UK identity may well experience a corresponding change in public support.

Regional leaders are increasingly seen by many locally as those best able to manage the future. “Nationalists want more control and devolution; more fiscal responsibility.” Calls for another independence vote for Scotland may grow and, with the socio-political shifts underway, a border referendum on the reunification of Ireland is also considered a possibility in some quarters. This risks a potential fragmentation of the UK, which in turn could lead to rising “political uncertainty that will create challenges for the economy,” the government, and the nation as a whole. Add in the probable succession of the Queen by a less “universally popular” heir, and there may well even be “shifts in the role of the state over the next few years.”

At the same time, we heard that there is an increasing tendency for people to define themselves by their faith, gender, sexuality, or race, which for some is potentially undermining the sense of national cohesion in Britain. There is “an unprecedented change in the opinions of young people in a number of areas: they’ve moved to become more liberal, democratic, and leftwards across numerous issues.” Not everyone agreed; some consider that “the neo-liberal populist ideology has reached its peak and is passing.” However, whatever the perspective, there was general consensus that alongside a wider decline in trust of central governments that has been underway for some time, there is an accelerating decline in confidence in the UK identity that will have a growing impact over the decade. “Unless we have a proper, legitimate national conversation about what sort of society we want and need, and what we want to build out of this. Then we slip back into business as usual and we will be overwhelmed by the climate emergency and an atavistic state.”

Alongside these socio-political shifts, more practical challenges are emerging, as policy makers struggle to adapt to the practicalities of devolution. “People don’t understand that we have devolved services,” and preparation for “people coming out of a unionised UK space into a national space” needs to improve. For example, “Scotland has fewer larger employers compared to the UK as a whole. There is, however, a vast number of extremely small businesses, so the individual who is coming back into the Scottish economy is probably entering a market that is not the same as that which is perceived by the MOD.” Similar views were echoed in interviews with experts in Wales and Northern Ireland, and in particular with respect to local state service provision. As devolution deepens and hardens, service provision, for example social services and housing, will vary markedly from country to country and council to council.

An Implication: Transition support shifts from a UK focus to be more individual country and region specific.

 

Discussion

3 Comments

Anonymous

This is less about the UK brand but more about its identity and likely fragmentation.

Anonymous

The point is that people are transitioning to an increasingly devolved world.

Anonymous

Devolution will be a huge feature - we will see the UK break up which will have an impact on charities.