"This royal throne of kings, this sceptred isle,
This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,
This other Eden, demi-paradise,
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of war,
This happy breed of men, this little world,
This precious stone set in the silver sea,
Which serves it in the office of a wall
Or as a moat defensive to a house,
Against the envy of less happier lands,--
This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England."
These are the words that Shakespeare gives John of Gaunt to describe England.
Of course not strictly accurate, since England has always had to share the island with other lands and peoples. Yet now, 412 years after Richard II was first performed, the question of England is now recurring.
England seems to be nervous and defensive about changes in the British state. As Wales and especially Scotland, have asserted more individual identities, the English, who perhaps subsumed their national identity more completely in the idea of the United Kingdom, have felt more antagonistic to the idea of a multi-national United Kingdom.
Yet the UK has never been a nation state, but only a state of nations.
That there are now large and well organised groups in Scotland and wales that favour separation from England and the break-up of the United Kingdom has come as a shock to many people in England. That politicians, especially in the government seem to be disproportionately from Scotland has fueled a certain resentment.
On the eve of a weekend of St George's celebrations, the English too are celebrating their separate non-British identity. Many people, not just the English would say- "about time too".
After all at a time when the Scots may be about to vote in large numbers for a party that wishes to end the United Kingdom, the rediscovery of an English identity may seem overdue.
Firstly I do not believe that in a referendum the Scots would vote for separation, even were the SNP be able to form an administration at Holyrood.
Secondly I am mindful of the example of Czechoslovakia.
In the end Czech right wingers grew angry with the Slovak populists and although there was no referendum, the single Czechoslovak state broke into two. It was a cosy conspiracy between Slovak Nationalists, who feared losing in a referendum on independence and Czech conservatives who could not form a national government in the face of Slovak recalcitrance.
Could it be that the now overwhelmingly southern English Conservatives might seek to drive Scotland out of the Union, an an unholy alliance with the SNP?
Those of us who believe in the idea of the United Kingdom and the concept of "Britishness" are nervous about the intentions of Salmond and Cameron- two politicians of dubious integrity and uncertain identity.