Well, the Olympics has got
all some of us feeling terribly British and flaggity-wavery all of a sudden, but one or two people apparently want to widdle on the flame. I’m not just talking about Alex Salmond and his Scolympians (which sounds to me like a species of alien mollusc), but also the head of the tourist body Visit Cornwall, who wants to avoid references to England in any promotional material for the county. Sorry, make that duchy – the word “county” is also verboten. Cornwall is just Cornwall, and that’s where people should go. The fact that they’ll have to go through Devon to get there is but a minor inconvenience.
This does help to remind us that the entity we define as the United Kingdom is a fairly recent invention, and in a political sense only really goes back to 1707, with the Act of Union between England and Scotland. Since then, Ireland has joined the party and then (mostly) left it again, so the current map of the United Kingdom is less than 100 years old; when UKIP’s tosspot-in-chief Nigel Farage dismissed Belgium as “an artificial construction” I wondered why he thinks that couldn’t be applied to the entity he so zealously seeks to release from the bonds of Euroserfdom. Even if we cleave to the notion that England – as distinct from the UK – is a valid concept, we have to accept that for plenty of people a regional or civic loyalty trumps any fealty to nation or country. This is true in Cornwall, Liverpool and also Yorkshire, where they’ve been calculating how many medals they’d have taken if the county had entered the Olympics as a separate entity. I now find that when I’m outside the UK and someone asks where I come from, my immediate response is usually “London”.
I’d guess that every country – barring a few small, relatively homogeneous island or city states – has areas that attract this sort of local loyalty, whether or not they’re actively yearning for independence. National citizenship is simply an administrative necessity, rather than an expression of an emotional bond. I’ve been to New York and Barcelona, for example, but I know damn well that doesn’t mean that I’ve been to the USA or Spain. Are there any real Italians, or are they at heart Venetians and Sicilians and so on? Home is not necessarily where your passport says it is.