At the height of last month’s riots, the BBC issued an edict. It told its staff that henceforth they were to describe the disturbances not as “British” but as “English”. Anyone familiar with the corporation’s nervous system will have instantly detected a response to Celtic whinges. Like so many reflections of the infirmity of the United Kingdom, there was nothing you could object to in this ruling: the riots really did happen in “English” cities. Perhaps they reflected a uniquely English malaise. But the urge to set themselves apart from the palsied political arrangement in which we live is increasingly instinctive in the Scots and the Welsh. Apart from over-representation in the Westminster parliament and a disproportionate share of public spending, the Welsh and Scots have a growing taste for asserting the identities they had before the United Kingdom was invented.
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Review by Jeremy Paxman