The United Kingdom provides a peculiar conundrum for nationalists, because majority populations in each of the constituent countries actually wish to remain part of the kingdom and are quite comfortable with the plurality of identity which that implies. I have taken the liberty of cutting and pasting part of a comment left on O’Neill’s blog about Welsh nationalists’ campaign to have Land of My Fathers played before the FA Cup Final in deference to Cardiff City’s involvement, in order to illustrate my point.
Fakey (of the teeth-grindingly irritating Fake Empire blog – why does he add a ‘y’ to the word like for god’s sake?) views the Union in the following terms,
“My perspective is the devolution genie has thrown up a question UK-Neo Unionism hasn't been able - either by choice or by denial - to deal with: is the UK a United Kingdom of distinct but interlocked Nations or United Kingdom of 'Regions'. To suggest the UK is made up of Nations is to admit the arbitrary nature of the Union - that secession is a valid and democratic expression of that nation’s citizenry. The 'Regional' argument is that within a United Kingdom a sense of nationhood is reduced to a secondary inferior inherently emotional status when placed beside Neo-Unionism's preferred default superior identity setting of 'Simply British'.”
Leaving aside the pejorative implication that unionism is not part of a continuous tradition; this paragraph belies the manner in which nationalists’ minds tend to short-circuit when the boundaries of a state do not cleave neatly to their conception of what comprises a ‘nation’. Like a child failing to grasp the possibilities of his toy, Fakey simply keeps attempting to force a round peg into a square hole.
Unionists (civic unionists certainly) do not accept that a sense of cultural or national identity is the default mechanism by which to order a state. Civic unionists are therefore uninterested in prescribing the limits of people’s felt or perceived national identity. Northern Ireland, Scotland, England and Wales are nations if people within them feel them to be such. They exhibit characteristics of nations in so far as they have acquired much of the cultural apparatus which allows people to cleave their felt national identity to them. That does not preclude them from also being regions of the United Kingdom and nor does it make their inclusion in that state any more arbitrary than states which are ordered along nationalist lines. Nations are indeed themselves invented and arbitrary units.
Fakey clearly sees a flourishing sense of regional, or indeed not primarily British national, identity as inimical to the Union. He refers to “how people within the UK's Nations see themselves and the inability of Unionism to process this new truth”. The wish to express regional or national identity other than Britishness, is of itself enough for Fakey to infer a lack of cleavage to the Union. Clearly this argument is a non-sequitur. It is manifestly possible to simultaneously feel two aspects to one’s cultural or national identity. It is similarly manifestly possible to separate a sense of cultural nationality from a sense of political nationality. Such nuance does not relegate ‘nationhood’ to “a secondary inferior inherently emotional status”. Rather it allows that aspect of identity to flourish without lumbering it with prescriptive ethno-nationalist baggage.
The more dogmatic forms of nationalism posit a view of history in which the nation is self-evident, almost primordial. By definition it is not possible for this nationalism to countenance the existence of unionism as rational political discourse. Nationalism in its essence dismisses the possibility of unionism’s existence, because nationalism believes that all political alternatives are merely disingenuous reinterpretations of its own central premise. It is unionism’s strength that it can rationalise and encompass nationalism, whilst the reverse by definition cannot be the case.