The hastily-conceived notion of a day to celebrate Britishness trumpeted by the likes of Ruth Kelly last week, causes me some disquiet.
Whilst the nebulous notion of providing social cohesion in an increasingly disparate society is evidently a laudable one, the spectres of nationalism and grubby identity politics hang over this suggestion.
Rather than counter the reductionist regional nationalisms currently buoyant in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland with an alternative nationalism for citizens to cleave to, the emphasis should be on the multi-national, multi-ethnic, inclusive nature of the United Kingdom. These values are the antithesis of nationalism.
A shared sense of Britishness is desirable. But this sense should be based around values and not identity. One of the key strengths of the United Kingdom is that an ethnic identity is not the core around which society is built. Rather the UK is based on liberalism, tolerance, political and religious freedom, a shared history of state, empire, intellectual ideas grounded in the enlightenment and the use of the English language.
Any “Britain Day” must emphasise these values and not some quasi mystical attachment to a flag, some outmoded vision of bucolic ethnic roots or to a myth of shared national identity. We are a state of many cultures and many national heredities, and all the healthier for that.