AT times, identity politics feels like it underpins more and more of our turbulent democratic life. Who we think we are in relation to others increasingly informs our opinions and electoral choices; and often causes passions to run very high.

Identity politics is at the heart of the battle that tragically continues to rage in Ukraine and also the continuing row over Brexit and, most topically, the Northern Ireland Protocol.

It lies, of course, behind the constitutional row that has dominated Scottish politics for decades; before, during and even more so after the 2014 independence referendum, which was supposed to settle matters for a generation.

The SNP’s electoral rise has put Scottishness at the heart of the democratic debate with claims and counter-claims about what it means to be Scottish or British or, for some, both.

In the 2011 Scotland census, 62.4% of the 5.3m population, some 3.3m people, said they were “Scottish only,” 18.3%, 969,000, said they had a mixture of Scottish and British identities while 8.4%, 443,000, said they were “British only”. Data from the 2022 census, delayed for a year because of the pandemic, is due to be released this year.

Last November, an ONS survey for England on national identity showed a remarkable shift. Those describing themselves as British rose from 19.1% in 2011 to 54.8% while those who said they were “English only” fell from 57.7% 12 years ago to just to 14.9% in 2021.

Now it could be that in just 10 years people south of the border decided they were more British than English. But I doubt it.

It seems the first question on the 2021 form was about being British whereas 10 years earlier it had been about being English. The reason given for the change was “to make it easier for people to respond to the question”. Unconvincing.

Indeed, the ONS itself urged people to “take care when interpreting results for these groups”. What it shows is that the ordering and nature of questions are very important.

Some people feel their identities are not comprised of one single element. At one turn they might be variously Glaswegian, Scottish, British and European or have farther flung associations and ancestries that form part of who they believe they are. At another turn, their identity might be just as much defined by who they feel they’re not.

But, as the 2011 census showed, being Scottish is, for six out of 10 Scots, their only identity while others might just consider it their primary one. For many people living south of the border, who regard themselves first and foremost as British, they may also feel, as such, that Scotland is part of their identity.

There are Unionists, who argue, socially, all parts of the Union are roughly the same; that the good people of Edinburgh or Dundee, for instance, essentially share the same values and sensibilities as the good folk of Liverpool or Cardiff.

It’s only the Scottish Nationalists, they claim, who, for political reasons, like to present England and the English as fundamentally different to enhance a sense of otherness, that helps underpin their political cause for separation.

The Austrian neurologist Sigmund Freud, who founded psychoanalysis, came up with the rather intriguing proposition that neighbouring nations often projected the “narcissism of small differences,” that is, what they saw reflected in the world were the smaller things that differentiated them from others rather than the greater similarities that actually bound them together.

And yet, of course, the creation of the devolved settlement is proof there are some pretty big cross-border differences.

The Holyrood Parliament exists because Scots, by and large, repeatedly voted differently to their English neighbours; generally, they didn’t vote Conservative yet ended up, time and again, with Tory governments.

Labour, under Tony Blair, concluded this was simply unsustainable and, to save the Union, believed a devolved parliament was needed to ensure a majority of Scots got what they voted for.

The creation of the devolved settlement was defined in the 1998 Scotland Act, which the SNP readily agreed to.

However, the Nationalists don’t intrinsically believe in devolution, certainly not in the Westminster sense, because it involves London handing down power and money; what Nicola Sturgeon and her colleagues want is for Scotland to have all the power, which can only come with independence.

It took many blue Unionists, whose party initially strongly opposed devolution, a long time to come round to supporting it. Indeed privately, some may still long for those pre-Holyrood days.

One SNP MP once told me all his party really wanted was “full devolution,” which is a contradiction in terms; devolution is about sharing power, not having all of it.

So, one of the arguments made by the Tories in response to Keir Starmer’s big constitutional policy for 2024, is that all Labour is doing by offering more powers is appeasing the SNP because however many extra ones are given to Edinburgh, they will never be enough.

In recent times, identity and politics have taken on a new dimension with the row over gender, which, because the UK Government has blocked Holyrood’s gender reform bill, has now become conflated with Scotland’s perennial constitutional ding-dong.

While some regard their identity as fixed, for others it might become somewhat fluid depending on political events.

It’s no surprise when the UK Government is under the cosh for some policy or other, support for Scottish independence rises in the opinion polls and is seized upon with alacrity by Nationalists.

Equally, when the boot is on the other foot - as is currently the case with the gender row and the divisions thrown up by the SNP leadership race - then support for independence falls as Scottish Government ministers hide behind the sofa to avoid the incoming political fire from their opponents.

As the war in Ukraine enters its second year the visceral need to fight to save your country is, I’m sure, something, which, given our own not-too-distant history, we can all identify with.