My first instinct is to quote Doctor Johnson though no doubt the newly populist Matthew Syed, writing in The Times today, would reject his aphorism about patriotism being the “last resort of the scoundrel” as too Metropolitan smart. But the reality is that a much more internationalist world, and much better educated populations, should be rejecting simplistic appeals to “national identity” like his. The other reality is the trend towards devolved decision-making which gives cities and regions more power to govern themselves.
Britain is three nations plus a bit of post colonial carryover which gives us a presence on what was once “John Bull’s other island” (which we need to shred). Wales and Scotland and to a lesser extent Northern Ireland have the identity of nation states that make them credible. So, on the sports fields of the world, does England. I’m more than happy to cheer on English sporting teams whose identity is clear. But Britain (the Olympics aside) does not give me the same opportunity and Britain’s collaborative alliance with the Celts has surely seen its day. How can you wave the flag of a nation which doesn’t even play in the Football, Cricket and Rugby World Cups?
The United Kingdom’s time is running out. I am no English Nationalist but the move towards Scots and Welsh independence and Irish unity looks unstoppable. And what’s left, the coherent and historic nation of England, will have the opportunity to rise again. The Union Flag can be consigned to the dustbin of history.
England will need to find a role. The anachronistic membership of the UN Security Council as a permanent member will disappear as the U.K. breaks up. But otherwise England is large enough to inherit some of the international status which Britain currently has. It has every opportunity to prosper as a viable large/medium-sized european nation – more so if we re-embrace our fellow Europeans, put our toys back in the pram and rejoin the European Union. The Irish are already there and will be boosted by their return to the colours of the lost province. The Scots and the Welsh will also no doubt quickly join the Union and be welcomed. The U.K. may have left the EU but there should be few hurdles in the way of Scotland, Wales and England joining it as independent “nation states”.
I doubt that the “patriotic” working class will worry much about the break-up of Britain – the reality is that their patriotism is far more English than British and many of them have adopted the flag of St George already. For most of the last two Millennia it was England not Britain of which my ancestors were citizens. Normality will be returned.
History cannot be abandoned but our new national identities as English, Welsh, Scots and Irish would give us an opportunity to draw a line under the past. The “British Empire” would join the Roman, Russian, Soviet and Ottoman empires in history – and Britain would also be in the history books, and nowhere else. No more “Rule Britannia” – Hooray !