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INSIDE TRACK: Nationalism spreads length and breadth of UK

ARE we all Nationalists now?

The question popped into my head after the Battle for St George's Day when Alex Salmond made the canny decision to venture a few miles south to hug the English on their national day with a brotherly homily in the precincts of Carlisle Cathedral.

It was known well in advance David Cameron would deliver a St George's Day message and use it to eulogise about the "union of nations"; so the First Minister could not let the occasion slip by allowing the Prime Minister a free run to hog the headlines.

As before, Mr Salmond used his speech to become the Obi-Wan Kenobe of referendum politics, saying how London was the "dark star", sucking in jobs and investment at the expense of others, and that an independent Scotland would be the northern light, helping to rebalance the economy of the British Isles away from the Darth Vaders of Downing Street and the Square Mile. Indeed, brandishing his political light sabre, the SNP champion suggested high-speed rail might begin not in London but in Edinburgh or Glasgow.

He adopted what has been dubbed the independence-lite approach - nothing will change but everything will change.

Describing England as Scotland's bestest chum, the FM explained how there was so much the two nations shared - family, friends, the Queen, the pound - and would continue to share if Scots broke free from Britain.

Indeed, he insisted an independent Scotland was not the problem but the solution as far as northern England was concerned and that it was Westminster which was the brake on progress. Perhaps at this point, there was a crack of thunder.

The message was clear: the Scots are on England's side; London isn't.

But Mr Cameron - the flag of St George's flapping proudly on the No. 10 roof - used his message to beat his own Nationalist drum, insisting that for too long England's patron saint had been overlooked and gushed about Newcastle Brown Ale, Cornish pasties, Downton Abbey and the Beatles.

To this Englishman, talk of Englishness feels, how can I put it, unEnglish. Nationalism has, for me, never been a feature of being English. This is probably down to the fact that the identity of England, being the largest and thus most dominant nation of the UK, has not been a focus for debate in the same way as the identity of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland has. Indeed, given this, the identity of being English has for many become synonymous with the broader identity of being British.

This, of course, would change with Scottish independence as, culturally, being British would have little meaning if Scotland left the Union; the English would have to get used to identifying themselves as - English.

Just to add to the debate about identity and nationhood, the Highland Minister Danny Alexander this week dropped in on Cornwall - home, coincidentally, to a number of LibDem seats - to pronounce that it would gain protection as a national minority under EU rules just like the Scots, Welsh and Irish. (Yorkshire could be next.)

Hugh MacDiarmid, the late Nationalist poet, once supposedly suggested Scotland "did not end at the Cheviots but that Lancashire was its rightful boundary". I can feel another referendum coming on.

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Local government

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