I TRIED to tune out the nonsense and the bile emanating from the National Conservative conference in London this week, but it wasn’t easy.

For a start, I had to walk past the venue on my way to and from work at Westminster every day and as well as seeing the assorted loons coming and going, inevitably some of their far-right Trumpian nonsense has cut through.

On Wednesday I read that, as he railed against devolution, Sir John Hayes MP claimed that the rise of “Welsh and Scottish identities” devalues British identity.

Sir John is a back-bench Tory MP who pulls the Home Secretary’s strings, has strong links with the Republican Party and thinks the Public Order Act is a “moral” piece of legislation in which the government is acting “justly and rightly in defence of law-abiding, decent patriotic people.”

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At least that’s what he claimed in his contribution to Tuesday’s SNP opposition-day debate in the Commons on repealing the Tories’ latest crack down on the right to protest.

He has also misguidedly claimed that the departure of Nicola Sturgeon together with the advent of the Windsor framework (Rishi Sunak’s renegotiation of the Northern Ireland Protocol) means that the UK is “more united now that it has been for years”.

Thank goodness he speaks from a position of ignorance.

Whatever the SNP’s temporary troubles, the polls show that support for Scottish independence is undiminished and in Northern Ireland the once-dominant force of Unionism lost its majority in the province’s political institutions in 2017, its majority at Westminster in 2019 and the office of first minister of Northern Ireland in 2022.

So, Sir John is out of touch with reality so far as events in Scotland and Northern Ireland are concerned.

Nevertheless, his claims about Welsh and Scottish identities devaluing British identity need to be challenged.

For a start it is not exactly on-message with the picture of a glorious Union of equal partners that the Tories seek to portray. But, more importantly, it betrays a very poor understanding of the way in which multiple identities can sit together, and why, for Scots at least, the identity they prefer is Scottish.

I was reminded of this when preparing for and participating in one of a series of Conversations about Britishness and Irishness in Dublin on Monday evening. The event was held at the Royal Irish Academy under the auspices of an initiative called Analysing and Researching Ireland North and South (ARINS).

Its purpose is to generate authoritative, independent and non-partisan research and analysis on a range of important issues for contemporary Ireland. The Conversations are designed to facilitate open and respectful discussion about cultural and political identities in and relating to Ireland.

The other people on the panel were Northern Irish politicians, Claire Hanna, the SDLP MP, and Doug Beattie, the Official Unionist MLA. I was invited to add a third dimension as a British politician of Irish descent who thinks Scotland should be an independent country.

We were asked whether we agreed with a leading Irish columnist that Irishness and Britishness currently sit together more comfortably than at any time in history.

Despite the provocation of Brexit, the wrangling over the Irish border and the Northern Ireland Protocol, thanks to the calm reaction of the Irish Government, the pragmatism of the EU and the advent of the Windsor Protocol, we all found ourselves in agreement with this statement.

Another factor is that emigration from Britain to Ireland now outstrips emigration the other way. This, of course, is partly a function of the easy availability of Irish passports for British people who like me are lucky enough to have an Irish parent, with the benefit of free movement enabling travel and work across the EU.

People are also choosing to be Irish because, with the fastest-growing GDP in the EU, Ireland is an economic success story.

It is also a vibrant, young nation that has modernised and secularised. Sure, it faces its problems particularly in housing and health, but it punches above its weight on the international stage, so why wouldn’t it feel confident?

When more British people are looking to Ireland for advancement than vice versa and when the British Government has learned that when it tries to push Ireland around the Irish will have the international community on their side, then no wonder Britishness no longer feels like a threat to the Irish.

At the same time Brexit has revealed Britain as backward-looking while Ireland looks thoroughly modern. Alert readers will notice that I have referred to myself as a British politician. I don’t have a problem with multiple identities, plus we are born into some identities, while for others we make a positive choice.

I was born and live on the island of Britain. I work and represent my constituents in the British Parliament. But, like most Scots, I primarily identify as Scottish (and in my case also Irish).

The social attitudes survey has shown that three in four Scots consider themselves Scottish rather than British.

People in Scotland are seven times more likely to feel more Scottish than British than the other way round. The ratio in Wales is just two to one and in England identification is almost equal, with half explicitly stating their identity to be equally English and British.

So why are the Scots so keen to claim our distinctive national identity and why does someone like Sir John Hayes find it such a threat? The reality that Sir John finds so hard to accept is that Britain is not a nation. It’s a state comprised of nations like Scotland and Wales who, in the absence of statehood create a cultural narrative for their people.

The devolution which Sir John loathes has given the people of Scotland a Parliament to express that cultural narrative and a tantalising taste of what statehood might have to offer, encouraging rather than diminishing the desire for self-determination.

Perhaps,even more importantly, just as Brexit has illustrated Ireland’s strengthened hand in the union of equals that is the European Union, it has highlighted Scotland’s subordinate position in a union that no-one can seriously describe as one of equals.

Scotland’s marginalisation within the United Kingdom would not happen in the European Union. If the European Union was taking a decision as drastic as Brexit and it had only four nations in it, all four nations would need to agree.

But, as we know, within the UK, Scotland’s voice can be ignored again and again without any constitutional consequences.

To make matters worse the Supreme Court appears to have acquiesced in the view that the Union is for now at least a hostage situation and even gone so far as to suggest Scots don’t enjoy the right to self-determination.

So, for Scots claiming our national identity as our primary identity is an act of defiance.

The challenge for the Yes movement and the pro-independence parties is to harness that defiance and channel it into the confidence we need to embrace statehood.