LETTERS: A cluster of islands which could make common cause

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Much as I welcome being mentioned in Neal Ascherson's thought-provoking article on Irish-British relations, I would like to correct one or two misconceptions about my position.I do not "loathe nation-states". In fact, my recent pamphlet makes a distinction between the exclusive ideology of "nationalism" and the inclusive, multi-national nature of the British state at its best. I therefore make a case for not devolving government on "national" lines to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, which I believe will stir up national divisions. I make no mention of "Caledonia", nor do I want to "abolish England".

My idea of a "Bretanic cluster" proposes accepting the Irish Republic and the United Kingdom as they stand, but suggests that each state should be transformed internally through devolving substantial power to "small regions", while both states would be linked via a Bretanic council. In this way all the historic nations of these islands would be provided with a form of local government in keeping with our global/local times; creating a series of "mini-lands" within each state, yet connected by a cross- islands council reflecting the "elements of a common culture"which Mr Ascherson so rightly identifies. In these circumstances, the British tendency towards an imperial posture to southern Ireland should be reduced. But so should the southern Irish tendency to confuse their state with the whole island of Ireland, which is not just a figure of speech but inscribed in the Irish Republic's constitution - a delusion Mr Ascherson ignores.

His solution seems to depend on the development of a benign European Union in which "all nation states will have surrendered much of their power". But why do the Irish and the British have to wait for Europe to solve their mutual delusions? The Joint Framework Document, by enshrining the principle of "consent", recognises that the division between the two major identities in these islands, runs not down the eastern coast of Ireland, as Irish Republicans insist, but through the north-east of Ireland? The British must stop thinking of themselves as the "mainland", but so must the Irish stop thinking of themselves as the "island", and revise their constitution.

Simon Partridge

London N2

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