There I was, listening to Simon Hart proclaim Mark Drakeford’s unionism as “independence by another name”.  In the strange tranquillity of his grand office at Gwydyr House – with views of the Cenotaph and Downing Street’s gates – it soon became apparent that our secretary of state is just as bullish as our first minister.

More than I had realised, in fact, as his extensive monologues showed.

“Levelling-up”, “separatists” and our “great union” were peppered throughout our discussion. And taken together, such phrases are emblematic of a curious blend of British nationalism, selective 'devoscepticism' and populist point scoring.

Published on this site tomorrow, the interview offers a glimpse into the UK Government’s strategy to be a unilateral and aggressive force when dealing with the Celtic nations. Westminster’s Man in Wales rolled out some niceties about how the UK was steeped in culture and not based entirely on money.

Union Jacks were dismissed as a badge of loyalty to the British state also, while Hart was aware of current divisions – imploring that the debate move away from categorising people as ‘unionists’ or ‘patriots’.

All sensible, I thought. Indeed, ‘twas very different to the actions of his Cabinet colleagues over recent months. This, of course, is the central problem: too often there has been a gulf between rhetoric and action from unionists, ruthless and reckless in their approach to save the ‘fab four’.

Though the Welsh Secretary may not want his nation to be split in two, that is the binary choice many feel forced to make. “Us” and “them” – a peculiar phrase to describe the Cardiff Bay club – was an off-the-cuff comment that summed up nicely the sentiment in Whitehall. Nevertheless, I was still willing to listen.

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When Hart said Wales is not entirely defined by the Welsh Government, I nodded. But he should remember the spirit of Britishness should not be channelled via a political administration in SW1 either. It’s common sense that has yet to gain traction through Whitehall, even though Hart insists otherwise.

Instead, the strategy clearly remains the same: extending the reach of London over Cardiff and Edinburgh, pouring gasoline on an already blazing debate about the future of the UK.

Hart was unrepentant: Mark Drakeford’s claim about stolen money and power was deemed “profoundly wrong”. By that logic, the Welsh government is only interested in its own responsibilities; not jobs and investment. What about allegations that he is undermining the Senedd? Rubbish.

And that’s not to mention how Plaid Cymru’s version of independence would bring “horrors” to Wales. All the while he and his fellow ministers simply want to level-up and make devolution work. (Without defining either concepts, of course.)

“It’s quite interesting,” the Welsh Secretary quipped at one point. ‘This is devolution on my terms’, Mark Drakeford would say, and that ‘I want to be a unionist but on my terms’. I’m saying: nuh-uh.”

So it’s devolution and unionism on his terms? Not at all, he shrugged, reiterating that Westminster politicians aren’t obsessed with powers. Ah. But days after we meet, he is being quite fiddly about them.

The matter was Wales’ defining political issue: tarmacked concrete. An M4 relief road is something Hart is adamant to build – it’s not just a Welsh road either, reporters were told, after commenting earlier this year that he would “keep chipping away” at Cardiff Bay so that it is delivered.

The whole saga reminds me that Hart’s boss once said he would “lie down in front of those bulldozers” who wanted to build a third runway at Heathrow. At this rate, it looks as if the Secretary of State would do the opposite and drive one of them to help “provide the Vicks Inhaler to the nostrils of the Welsh dragon”, as so eloquently put by the prime minister.

Muscular unionism is not embodied by one politician, but in Wales its chief communicator is Simon Hart. Rather surprisingly, blame for the “One Britain, One Nation” anthem cannot be laid at the Wales Office’s door. Nor can the campaign to put a snap of Her Majesty across our homes.

They are, however, part of the same cultural and political phenomenon that has engulfed Westminster politicians. Take the remarks of David Davies, Hart’s junior minister, this week. He seemed to imply on BBC Radio Cymru that he wanted to have the “right” to know what the Welsh Government was doing.

A suspicion of anything devolved has engulfed thinking across Offa’s Dyke. And, conversely, it all plays into the hands of Mark Drakeford and the Welsh nationalist movement.

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Wales remains a steadfast believer in the union, less interested in constitutional tinkering than the Scots. But in muscular unionism the first minister has a longstanding stick to beat the UK Government, boosting his popularity and authority.

He can ‘stand up for Wales’ again and again, while articulating a rather appealing but impractical alternative arrangement to the status quo: more powers for the Senedd and radical federalism, delivering greater autonomy for Wales. Something that the polls will tell you is embraced by most of the public.

Those who adopt a unilateral approach to unionism are only pushing the Scots further away from Westminster and making the Welsh ask whether the union really works in its current form. Even those who aren’t “instinctive nationalists” have risen to defend Welsh autonomy, Mark Drakeford told me a few weeks ago. I felt he was speaking from personal experience.

This is despite the case for the union being strong in Wales, especially in an economic and cultural sense, something which is recognised by voters across the political spectrum.

But just as muscular unionists are steadily losing the debate in Scotland by their own bullishness, they are creating a destabilising and unpredictable political situation in Wales. Unionists, I think, recognise the danger that brings but seem to have none of the answers or political will to produce a considered and sensitive remedy.

Having spoken to Drakeford and Hart in recent weeks, the greatest irony is that they insist that the other is the biggest threat to the same union that they both want to prolong. Hart is suspicious of the first minister.

Cardiff Bay is stubborn in its challenge to Westminster in response. It makes for an almost impossible situation for Wales’ two most senior leaders to manage relations on the big issues.

But crucially, it is made even worse by those who seek to skew the political framework in favour of the “great union” as they define it. Such a strategy is destined to fan the flames of soft and hard Welsh nationalism, the same forces muscular unionists are hellbent on fighting against. When, if ever, will they realise?