I'm becoming increasingly concerned about all this talk of Britishness. Gordon Brown was at it again today in the Telegraph, even if the issues were secondary. I rather agree with Lord Kenneth Baker's idea of a National Museum of British History - even if I'm not so sure about the Institute of Britishness that the Prime Minister is talking about. What I'm more bothered about is where all this discussion leads and what impact it will have on the devolution debate/process.
During the run up to the 1997 referendum, I was opposed to the devolution on offer at the time. I arranged several public meetings around Montgomeryshire to generate discussion and interest. The main reason for my opposition was that we had no idea where it would end - Alan William's 'magical mystery tour' arguement. I thought of it as a process rather than an event before Ron Davies coined the phrase. I said at the time that if we were to have an Assembly, it should be established on the same basis as Scotland. What was proposed would be constitutionally unstable. Regular readers of this blog will know that I still believe that to be the case. I also believe it to be inevitable - unless there is some cataclysmic event of course.
So what is all this 'Britishness' stuff about. The trouble is once you start asking a question, you lose control of the answer. And that's where we are now. I don't think many people ever questioned their Britishness. In Wales only about 15 % of people have wanted 'Independence' from the 'Union' for decades. If asked my nationality, I would always have said Welsh, but I'm as British as the next man. For me, being one has never ruled out being the other. But this debate is leading people to believing they have to make a choice. This is dangerous.
Already, I am hearing voices saying that the only way to save the Union is to abolish the Assembly. Well, I'm a 'unionist' and a 'devolutionist' in the sense that I accept devolution as a fact of life. I watch as the 'separatists' in Scotland use the Barnett Formula (which is skewed in their favour) to promote 'separatism' in England. Labour are playing politics with this issue in a cavalier way. Labour are demonising as a threat to the 'Union', David Cameron's entirely sensible consideration of what needs to change in England - simply because it threatens the built in advantage that the unanswered West Lothian Question bestows upon it. The English democratic deficit has to be addressed. And it needs to be done in a calm, reasoned and logical way. I'm not at all sure that this artificial, hyped up, supposed crisis of Britishness in the right climate for such a debate.