Today concern about the potential break-up of Britain – in light of the planned referendum on independence for Scotland – will be raised in a debate in the House of Lords. This is a subject about which I care deeply and while I accept that the people of Scotland certainly have a right to vote on it it is equally true that what they decide will affect all of us wherever we live in the UK. For a start, as a Northumbrian and a Geordie, living close to the border, I might suddenly find that I have an international frontier on my doorstep! And in England many of us may find that our identity is forced to become increasingly “English” rather than “British”. After a summer of Britishness – with the success of the Olympics and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee such a change would be very great.
For my part I do not want to celebrate the battles of the past – whether it be Bannockburn or Flodden. They were miserable times of war and of fighting and slaying each other. I would much rather celebrate the achievements for democracy and progress we have made together since the Crowns were united in 1603 and the Act of Union in 1707. It was people across Britain campaigning together who achieved shorter working hours, better working conditions, votes for women, education for all and equal rights. And, for example, our National Health Service was established during the premiership of an Englishman, Clement Attlee, by a Welsh Health Secretary, Aneurin Bevan, under a party founded by a Scot, Keir Hardie.
Many of us too have mixed heritage with Scottish, Welsh and English forbears. In our increasingly diverse world let us celebrate our common bonds by arguing persuasively – and yes, passionately – the case for the Union in the coming months.
Do you feel British?
What future would you like for the UK?