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25 September 2014

The devolution debate should be focused on fairness, not patriotism

Democracy shouldn't make you pick sides.

By Richard Morris

I have never really had a strong sense of national identity. At least not beyond the catch-all of “British”.

Having been born in England and lived here all my life I shouldn’t really have a issue with this. But with both my parents and three out of four grandparents being Welsh – my 101-year-old grandmother speaks Welsh as a first language – I have always felt as much Welsh as English.

This has never been a problem, though I do sometimes envy the certainty with which some folk can wrap themselves around a home nation flag. I support England at football, with Wales as my second team. I do the reverse in Rugby (you would too if you grew up in the Seventies and JJ Williams was the first autograph you ever secured). Unless of course England are about to win the rugby World Cup when I become instantly very Bristolian. I have long felt comfortable with this dichotomy of national character.

Now apparently, as the devolution debate spirals out of control, I am going to be asked to choose a nation. And I don’t want to.

Like any good Liberal Democrat , I am all for devolution of power. I do think its fundamentally unfair that Scots MPs get to vote through law in England and Wales which they would never support in their own nation. Just to make it clear that there’s no party political edge to this grumbling, backbench Scottish Lib Dem MPs who supported the tripling of tuition fees while railing against the whole principle of them at home make me especially cross – with friends like these eh?

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But it’s not through some sort of patriotic fervor that I rail against the system – it’s the general unfairness of the situation that I object to. Yet by making the case for English MPs voting for English matters, it seems I am being made to look like some little Englander, encased in the flag of St George, who suddenly wants the other home nations MPs to be treated like second class citizens; when in fact I’ve always had Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau on my Desert Island Discs list, even though I can’t sing a word of it myself.

So stop with your choruses of Jerusalem and exhortations to pursue the Bulldog spirit. This isn’t about expressions of national pride. It’s a simple matter of our representatives only voting on matters which affect their own constituents, because that’s the mandate they have been given.

It’s democracy I’m interested in defending; not patriotism. And I don’t have to choose a home nation to do it. So stop telling me to pick sides.

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