I've waited a few days before commenting on the report entitled This Sceptred Isle by British Future, which came out on Monday, because I wanted to see the full polling data. This, for some questions at least, is now available here on the YouGov site.
The thing that struck me was the way that this report was headlined. For example the Western Mail said:
As it happens, the poll didn't ask any questions about national identity. The actual questions asked were:
Would you say you see yourself as ...
... English/Scottish/Welsh/None of these?
And which, if any, of the following best describes how you see yourself?
... Welsh not British/More Welsh than British/Equally Welsh and ... etc, etc.
I don't want in any way to dispute the figures in the YouGov survey. 37% of those in Wales who identified themselves as Welsh (or who did not identify themselves as Welsh, English or Scottish) said they saw themselves as "equally Welsh and British", and that's fair enough.
My point is about the conclusion to be drawn from this figure. To illustrate what I mean I would like people to consider what conclusion we would draw from a poll in Denmark in which 37% said that they saw themselves as "equally Danish and Scandinavian" or a poll in the Netherlands in which 37% saw themselves as "equally Dutch and European". It seems clear to me that Danes who answered in that way would certainly not be saying that they consider their nationality to be Scandinavian.
Yet from the headline David Williamson chose for his article in the Western Mail it seems clear that he has interpreted the finding as being about nationality; YouGov themselves refer to this poll on their website as "Nationality Perceptions"; and it is clear that the people behind British Future have been very quick to interpret this as a statement specifically about national identity rather than about identity in general.
I'm not particularly blaming anyone for this—least of all David, who is a thoroughly decent guy—but I am saying that this unspoken assumption needs to be challenged. I would suggest that it is not so very different from the unspoken assumption that being English and British are one and the same thing. That's what many people used to think, particularly in England, and it is still a fairly common assumption in most of the world. We can be glad that this perception has started to shift, and I think that our perception of what Britishness means needs to shift in a similar sort of way.
I fully accept that there are many nationalists for whom "Welsh not British" is a core conviction. In terms of nationality I fully agree ... but only in terms of nationality. I believe that the nations of Britain have plenty of things which we share and can celebrate, and for that reason I won't object to being called British any more than a Dane would object to being called Scandinavian or a Jamaican would object to being called Caribbean.
As we are seeing in the debate about Scotland, independence will not destroy the things which the nations of Britain have in common any more than Norway gaining its independence from Sweden, or Iceland gaining its independence from Denmark, have destroyed the common social, cultural, historic and economic ties between the Scandinavian nations.
Until someone digs a ditch and tows the rest of this island off into the middle of the North Sea, Wales will remain British and we can be proud to be British ... although I hope we will balance that with a proportionate sense of shame for what Britain has got wrong. But it is a mistake to jump to the conclusion that this must mean remaining part of the United Kingdom.