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The Earl of Mar and Kellie : My Lords, my position is that of a Stuart-style Unionist, looking for a more Nordic Scotland, and also that of a member of the Independence Convention. I am also grateful to my noble friend for bringing forward this debate and allowing us to tackle the difficult subject of British identity and British history in the Scottish context. I hope it will be permissible to look for solutions, rather than just revisionist positions. If this were just a geographer's question, it would be quite easy to answer. If British meant only the British Isles, it could be accepted by all those who live here in this archipelago, but it does not have only that meaning. If it were used in the cultural sense, that would make it easy, too.

It is in the political sense that "British" comes into some real difficulty. The historic political use of the word is where the difficulty lies. In 1503 it was a good move towards stability and security by King James IV to seek the hand in marriage of Margaret Tudor, thereby setting up the Union of the Crowns, which occurred some 400 years ago in 1603. I am content with the Stuart-style United Kingdom, which James VI hoped would last for ever. The resultant constitutional architecture—one Crown and three governments of international standing—is my choice for the United Kingdom's future. Perhaps my Welsh colleagues will want to modify that, and I will support them; unfortunately, their 1536 treaty with England pre-dated the Stuart era, or, at least the Stuart UK era.

The first people to find benefit in British identity were those involved in the Plantation of Ulster at the beginning of King James's reign. When challenged by the locals as to what they, as foreigners, were doing in the province, they were able to answer that they had every right to be there, being British subjects of King James. I am obviously indebted to the late Lord Russell for that insight. I also acknowledge that the Planters' argument did not win universal approval at the time, nor has it necessarily done so since.

It is also worth noting the resentment inherent in the Scottish psyche over the Hanoverian Settlement and the loss of statehood, enhanced by the accession of
 
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the 10 new EU members in 2004, most of whom are smaller, and all poorer, than Scotland. The current concept of the "civic Scot" is anyone who wants to live in Scotland. That civic concept could be usefully deployed in England, where the national identity still seems to be very muddled. Anyway, for the constitutional development I want to see, there is a need for clarity from the United Kingdom Government about how the necessary constitutional progress can be achieved.

I note that the populations of Northern Ireland, Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands have all been told that their sovereignty lies solely in a referendum. That is not the case for Scotland so far. Perhaps the noble and learned Lord the Attorney-General can tell us how a Scottish referendum for full autonomy can be inaugurated. In particular, could a referendum be triggered by a petition from the people? This was attempted in 1950 in the National Covenant, with more than 1 million signatories, but it was ignored. Would it be ignored today?

I know that my noble friend hoped that this would not become a constitutional debate, but I see no way of debating Britishness unless it can be pointed out that the concept needs to be changed before it can be accepted as neutral and wholly benevolent. The depoliticisation of Britishness will be essential. Among other things, Britishness currently means the submersion of Scotland into a United Kingdom state dominated by England itself, a medium superpower. I believe that this must come to an end. Scotland must cease to be a semi-autonomous British region with a sub-national parliament and return to being an internationally recognised state. That is quite a prescription and the medicine consequent on deciding to do it will be quite difficult, taking into account the new budget and the process of disaggregation, particularly that of the submarine base.

On a calmer note, the people of these islands are well intermarried and socially integrated. They have the benefit of a common language, and although the Irish were discriminated against, developments in Ireland since 1922 have reversed that. Today the Irish are as liable to be admired as anything else.

Finally, I suggest that "British" should be compared with "Scandinavian". Clearly that describes the many attributes of those who live in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Faroes, Iceland and, though not officially, Finland. Perhaps Scandinavia is linked by fairly similar languages. "Scandinavian" is a viable and neutral concept because no country is now dominated by another and all enjoy internationally recognised statehood—with the exception of the Faroe Islands, which have home rule. In conclusion, I believe that the Scandinavian model points out a viable route for the British as to how they might reorganise themselves and thus be at ease in the future.

3.43 pm

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, this fascinating debate has ranged far and wide, as one would expect given the breadth of knowledge in this
 
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House. It is a debate of contradictions in that its subject matter is at once current—we need to talk about identity and diversity in a post-7/7 world—while at the same time it has been agonised over by each generation in an ever-changing world for a very long time indeed. Many noble Lords have dwelt on the issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Massey, sees citizenship education as a collaborative approach for which the underlying purpose is to assist young people in becoming more complete humans. That is a very fine ambition indeed. The signposts towards identity suggested by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, were ones with which Members on these Benches would agree: parliamentary democracy, the rule of law, culture, language, history and, most recently, a new emphasis on faith. We need to look at all those issues in this context.

The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, spoke powerfully of how difficult it is to speak of Britishness as an abstract construct, and of the need to align British citizenship alongside a frank appraisal of our history as well as our ambitions for the future. My noble friend Lord Thomson brought out a long-standing commitment to the European Union, and juxtaposed it with the benefits of devolution and how that has been enriched by inward migration from abroad. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, reminded us that democracy is above all about participation and that we too often tend to treat people as spectators. He also reminded us that the history of empire must be explained in its particular, contextual setting, a point with which we agree.

My noble friend Lady Walmsley touched with great expertise on citizenship education. She sees it as a bit of an afterthought—I agree. What is needed, as she put it, is to roll it out across subjects—to mainstream it, as the jargon would have it. Again, active participation would be much enhanced with the reduction in the voting age. My noble friend Lord Smith of Clifton spoke of the diminution of that other side of democracy, accountability. That is much diminished, which ultimately results in disengagement, where the state becomes more and more distant from the citizen. The noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, brought a uniquely Scottish perspective to the debate. I should remind the House that, as Linda Colley said in her book, Britons, his ancestors were "active" Scottish citizens in the Jacobite rebellion.

The difference in this debate is that in our time, while the issues may not be new to us, the context in which we find ourselves is much changed. This country, as the Guardian observed in producing an atlas of multicultural Britain, is undergoing a second great wave of immigration. The figures are stark. In 1997 63,000 work-permit holders and their dependants came here. By 2003 it was almost double that. Between 1991 and 2001 the UK population increased by 2.2 million, of which 1.14 million were born abroad. This was before EU enlargement in 2004, which has seen large numbers of eastern Europeans come to these shores.
 
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I do not come to these figures with any sense of alarm. I think that globalisation has been a force for good. I see the movement of labour as a corollary to the movement of capital and of goods. But I can understand that there is a role for the state in managing the immediate effects of that level of diversity. I will not dwell on the provision of public services, although that is a significant part of the equation. I will dwell on the role of the state in the broader question of the compatibility of what some call intrinsically British values.

Some noble Lords will recall that only earlier this week we had a Question here in the Chamber about the fact that 20 per cent of mothers are now foreign-born. I should immediately confess that I am a mother who is foreign-born. But how foreign do you feel when you grow up with a father who fought for a British king in the Second World War, in the Indian army in distant Burma, and who was injured and mentioned in citations? How foreign do you feel when you think in the foreign language, because you learnt it at your mother's knee, or when you identify with people around you who may be racially different but are your friends and neighbours?

My answer is that you do not feel particularly foreign at all. I reassure noble Lords that the increase in foreign-born people should not necessarily be something to worry about. In looking around the Chamber, I reckon that I have spotted at least four foreign-born people just in the debate today. This illustrates, to pick up the points made so ably by the noble Lord, Lord Desai, that identity is a multi-faceted thing. It does not necessarily have definable characteristics that politicians should agree on and roll out as a construct that we as citizens need to sign up to.

In my first-hand experience of communities—and I have lived in seven or eight countries in the past 30 years—people evolve into their skin, in terms of character, in different ways and at different speeds. A lot of this is subliminal. Much of it can be acquired, but ultimately it comes down to belonging. Most of us seek to belong wherever we fetch up. I am not talking only of immigrants here, but of more established communities.

That brings me to the definition of Britishness used by the Chancellor in his Fabian speech a few weeks ago. We on these Benches agree with the prioritising of liberty on his list of British values but the problem is that, if liberty is to be the linchpin of a new identity, it must be respected by government as much as by citizens. Under this Government, alas, that ancient and historic right has come under repeated threat. The list is long: the assault on civil liberties through successive terrorism legislation and law and order Bills; the attempts at curtailment of free speech through Bills such as the Racial and Religious Hatred Bill; and the explosion of new law so recently criticised by Sir Roger Toulson, chairman of the Law Commission.

Fairness is another intrinsic value of Britishness with which we would not disagree, but, in new Labour-speak, fairness is often confused with equality—or
 
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egalitarianism, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, would have it. While egalitarianism is a value in itself, it is not a substitute for justice, an abiding human concern over history. In recent times that concept of justice has been somewhat tarnished in terms of our policy, where this country's record of proud internationalism has been diminished by neo-imperialistic undertakings, such as the Iraq war.

As a Briton who has worked around the world, I find that the concept of fair play is what most people abroad think of in terms of the UK—not necessarily egalitarianism, particularly where our society has considerable economic inequality. Where clear-cut rules are absent, fair play becomes all the more important, and people know when the right outcome has emerged. The words "fair play" are so much an English virtue that they have been incorporated into the German language, which has no comparable words. To Germans, the phrase describes decent behaviour while engaging in competition, be it in financial markets or on the sports ground.

While most of us would agree with many of the values described by the Chancellor, the central difficulty of this endeavour is that a sense of identity is something so nebulous that it cannot be defined by the state, beyond the wide parameters of a nationalistic discourse. As individuals, we are often the product of where we come from. Our identity evolves in subtle and complex ways, although we imbibe and retain values that are common, yet at the same time distinct from others. That is right, and, unless it conflicts with the rights of others, it is nothing we should seek to mould into a more uniform cultural construct. However, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Howell, so powerfully pointed out, the state should not stand by in the face of discrimination, which has been, and still is, the experience of some ethnic minority communities in this country.

To end on a positive note, that same Guardian atlas of multicultural Britain made the point that while we are absorbing more people from every part of the world, our attitudes to that have changed sufficiently, 50 years on, that this change is met with no outcry or rise in racism, but on the whole with a mature acceptance of a new context. This is the epitome of what self-confident societies should be, and what Britain can do when she is at her best.

3.54 pm


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