Today is the tenth anniversary of the creation of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments. The indefatigable Mark Perryman is marking the occasion with the launch of a new anthology of essays Breaking Up Britain : Four Nations after a Union.
Perryman's opening chapter is available online:
Most Observer readers would probably feel a little uncomfortable holding up bits of paper to form a flag of St George at a gig. Kitty Empire, Observer
Billy Bragg opened the second half of his 2008 St George’s Day celebration at London’s Barbican theatre with Jerusalem. And, as Kitty Empire put it in her review, the audience responded ‘coyly’ when Billy invited them to join in by holding above their heads the carefully laid out sheets of red and white paper distributed on the auditorium’s seats to form one huge St George Cross. Hardly an exercise of Leni Riefenstahl proportions, but more than enough, apparently, to get Observer readers searching for any excuse not to join in.(A Jigsaw State (pdf))
In a previous collection of essays, 2008's Imagined Nation, Perryman explored the possibilities for English national identity in the wake of devolution. A session on English nationalism at last year's Compass conference provided the inspiration for the new volume, which broadens the debate to look at the prospects for all of the nations in the UK.
There is plenty of Irish interest with contributions from Arthur Aughey, Gerry Adams, Inez McCormack and Peadar Kirby. Adams' contribution is largely based on his speech to February's Sinn Féin Ard Fheis
, but it's interesting to see it set in this context, not least because Sinn Féin has often been wary of drawing parallels with nationalist movements in the various nations of Britain.
Kirby calls for a revival of the civil society activism that shaped modern Ireland, a suggestion that has interesting parellels with the emergence of civil society as a theme in post-credit crunch debates on both the left and the right in Britain.
Like Imagined Nation, Breaking up Britain includes some strong contributions on the implications of debates about national identity for ethnic minorities. Salma Yaqoob argues that the anti-war movement has done more to cement the place of Muslim communities in British society than official narratives of Britishness. Charlotte Williams worries that homogenous Scottish and Welsh nationalisms way simply replicate old problems.
Several contributions reflect on the challenges that the post-devolution UK presents for the democratic collectivism of the labour movement. Guy Lodge and Michael Kenny suggest that engaging with the English question may be an important starting-point for Labour Party renewal. John Harris looks at the prospects for an English realignment in the event of Scottish independence.
The left must engage with the dynamic unleashed by devolution if it is to build the alliances with which to confront the prospect of a resurgent Conservatism at Westminster in the years ahead. This book is an important step in that process.