"Britishness" no longer attractive for "Britons".

qatari
By qatari

Here's a question. What has existed for 400 years but is no longer quite sure what it is? The answer, according to a new survey, may be Britain.

A poll in the Daily Telegraph newspaper yesterday showed that only 37 per cent of English people would describe themselves as British if asked for their nationality abroad.

What's more, 78pc said England would be "better off" or "no different" without Scotland - the country to which it was joined by King James I in 1603 to create Great Britain.

Yet at the same time, six out of 10 of the 869 surveyed said it would be a good idea to create a British football team - rather than having separate English, Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish ones.

Clearly there's something of an identity crisis going on.

Since coming to power in June, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, a Scot, has worked hard to promote the idea of "Britishness" - the pooling of England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales under one banner - in an attempt at inclusiveness.

Yet as much as he's tried to talk it up, others have been pulling at the ties that bind the nations together.

One of the more recent assaults was on the flag - usually dubbed the "Union Jack" - which combines the banners of England, Scotland and Ireland, but not Wales.

Piqued, an MP from a Welsh constituency pointed out that it might be more inclusive if Wales had some representation - the Welsh dragon or leek emblem.

Yet legally Wales is a principality of England and so does not get its own symbol in the Union flag. There may be a Welsh national parliament, but it has only limited autonomy.

Autonomy

The Scottish parliament, on the other hand, has grown increasingly self-confident since its founding in 1999 and now makes all sorts of decisions on national issues ranging from health care to education, although not taxation.

The ruling party is now the Scottish National Party, which has made independence from Britain one of its stated aims as it rides on a wave of nationalist feeling.

That has raised the hackles of Brown, who while a proud Scotsman, is equally if not more proud to call himself British.

"Brown is a unionist and wants to see the Union flag flying much more often over government buildings in England, Scotland and everywhere else," said chief vexilloligist at Britain's Flag Institute Graham Bartram.

"The problem is, the Scots are thinking of themselves more and more as Scots and you're unlikely to see the Union flag anywhere in Scotland these days."

One thing to emerge from the tensions over Britishness is that leaders of both Britain's major political parties support it as a concept - both Brown and the Conservative leader David Cameron.

In fact, they seem to be trying to outdo one another over who is the most committed.

Yesterday, Cameron travelled to Edinburgh in Scotland to promote the issue, and derided "coarse and narrow" nationalism.

"English and British, Scottish and British, British and proud of it. We must confront and defeat the ugly stain of separatism that is seeping through the Union flag."

Better an imperfect union, he said, than a broken one.

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