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Can you have the good without the bad?

ourKingdom editors
13 May 2008

Peter Facey (London, Unlock Democracy): There has been lots of discussion on this blog about nationalism, patriotism, identity and even how the centre left should become more nationalist.

I have always been interested in identity, nations and nationalism. I have a strong personal identity and am attracted to the way nation or community identity can bind people together across economic and religious divides.

You only have to look at the impact of Wales winning the Six Nations on the mood of the nation or England’s winning of the Ashes in 2005 to see how nationalism in the sporting arena can bind people together. Hopefully this summer will see the British Olympics Team doing well and the whole country (or at least the large part that is interested in sport) come together and celebrate.

However, there is a darker side that has always stopped me from considering myself a nationalist of any sort in the political sense. I am not talking here about forms of extreme nationalism such as Fascism or National Socialism. My qualm is with the apparent requirement to put the interest of the nation ahead of anything or anyone else and to see anyone else who challenges the nation (or their definition of it) as a threat. In a country like Sweden or Australia where there are no competing identities or nationalisms these may be a minor setback. But in country where there are competing national identities - British, Scottish, Irish, Ulster, Welsh and Cornish - it is a serious problem.

Most nationalists seem to require loyalty or at least primacy to one nation. On the web this seems to be worse where it seems to require people to put down others who aren't part of that nation or who don’t conform. So someone like me who has described himself as English but said I don’t support a English Parliament gets accused of being anti-English. The English Democrats made the extraordinary claim in their London election broadcast earlier this month that the sum contribution Scotland has made to the world is "Irn Bru and deep fried Mars Bars" - a claim that is as pig ignorant as it is offensive. Over the years I've heard plenty of Scottish nationalists give as good as they get. This isn’t just a big nation phenomenon. It can even be seen by some comments by Cornish nationalists talking about local identities in England as being “mere counties”.

While the SNP and Plaid Cymru continue to make claims from time to time which seem calculated to wind up anyone with English or British inclinations, their electoral success in recent years has gone hand in hand with self-conscious efforts to moderate their language. So my question to the nationalist community is this: does nationalism have to be focused so much on developing a sense of grievance and "them versus us"?

Is Britain breaking up?

With Scotland voting on Thursday in an election that could lead to a second independence referendum and increased talk of a 'border poll' in Northern Ireland, could the United Kingdom be on the verge of breaking up? And why? Where does England fit in this story?

Join us for this free live discussion at 5pm UK time, 6 May

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  • Sarah Creighton Writer and lawyer from Belfast
  • Matthew O'Toole Social Democratic and Labour Party MLA for South Belfast
  • Adam Ramsay openDemocracy main site editor
  • Richard Wyn Jones:Professor of Welsh Politics, Cardiff University
  • Chair: Peter Geoghegan openDemocracy UK investigations editor and author of 'The People's Referendum: Why Scotland Will Never be the Same Again'
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