By GB News Presenter and former MEP Alex Phillips.
The fight for identity goes way beyond the walls of Westminster, Holyrood, The Senedd and Stormont. It exists on the sports field, on television, in schools, in our very sense of self.
When filling out an address online sometimes it’s hard to know what country you are in when scrolling through the dropdown box. Are you looking under G, for Great Britain? Or U for United Kingdom?
Or perhaps England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland all boast their own billings. This confusion mirrors the strange circumstance we find ourselves in. The complex nature of our shared identity baffling foreign diplomats and world leaders, as well as us, ourselves.
This fractured and fragmented yet compressed composite formed over centuries through blood spilt on battlefields and strategic marriages between grand dynasties is held together by the geographic frontiers of the seas ringing our isles and bound by a modern consolidated international identity.
An identity constantly being pushed and pulled and recalibrated through contemporary political discussions.
The evolution of our United Kingdom has been thrown into reverse, quite literally, through devolution, raising the question of whether we are indeed one nation, one people, one scatter of chunks of land in an expanse of sea with a shared common purpose? Or are we four quite separate countries loosely held together economically?
Perhaps we are both, simultaneously, a constant contradiction. The fight for identity goes way beyond the walls of Westminster, Holyrood, The Senedd and Stormont. It exists on the sports field, on television, in schools, in our very sense of self. And yet we are not having a proper conversation about it. Who are we?
Dominating the discourse is one Nicola Sturgeon, restless in her quest to yank Scotland free from the Auld Enemy, but at what cost? The cynical politicking of the EU during Brexit has slashed open a barely closed wound and inflamed the yet to heal bruises of Northern Ireland. Wales, looking on, wondering perhaps when, and if, there will be a twist in the tale for her, too.
The English, meanwhile never asked what they want, wearying from her prosperity being exploited to prop up political trinkets over the border that her own people are denied, from free prescriptions to student grants, gifted to countries that all the while seem to resent and snipe.
If the UK sat around the dinner table, it would quickly regress into a bitter family feud.
With Indyref2 targeted within five years, bolstered by a marriage of convenience between the SNP and the Scottish Greens, and English Votes for English laws quietly abolished by Parliament last month before anyone could notice, the situation is further complicating in the shadows, with little resolution in sight.
The political fragility of the UK borne out through a series of annexations and treaties, clumsily darned under the absence of a written constitution, has created a complex legal patchwork few can navigate that threatens to easily shatter. The bitter battles of old largely no longer exist in living memory.
Every native citizen of the United Kingdom is now likely to have been born – and raised, within the current construct. But the buttress of shared historical identity that perhaps anchors its people within one nation is now battered by new conflicts dreamt up by those who want to break the Union apart.
The pandemic created a cover of crisis enabling the respective First Ministers to wilfully pursue conspicuous diversion.
While the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom gave nightly press conferences to his electorate, he was speaking, in truth, for England alone. The Euros rendered us into four competitors, with the most tightly fought matches traversing Hadrian’s Wall and Offa’s Dyke.
But the Olympics threw us back together, Team GB competing under the same Union Flag. Our country a clutter of memories and acts of parliament, conflicts, wars, jokes, dialects, accents and traditions.
The multi-monikered Royal Family, living remnants of two millennia of territorial flux. But what if the United Kingdom really were to break up? What then? Would England really soak up the wealth, leaving her segregated neighbours living hand to mouth? How would the rest of the world view us? Could an independent Scotland have its own seat on the WTO?
Would the UK lose its permanent seat as one of the Big Five on the UN security council? What will happen to the might of the Pound? Despite the superficial arguments appearing uncompromisingly empirical through the prism of political, fiscal, democratic and legal architecture, the true debate is even harder to quantify. It is one of the heart.
It is one of identity. But in a nation already constellated, and constellating further through asterisms of metro mayors and regional identities, where raging battles are fought within narrower and narrower borders, where visions of the future are polarised, the question is not, perhaps, can we, the United kingdom, ever be truly united, but more, to what extent? Is our centuries old Union worth fighting for?
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© 2021 Alex Phillips
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