Without doubt, the greatest display of Welsh patriotism comes when belting out ‘Gwlad, Gwlad!’.

Although lacking formal legal status as an official anthem, Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau tugs at the heartstrings more than any other lyric, whether it’s sung at rugby or during official ceremonies for opening the Senedd. It speaks of a magnificent land filled to the brim with poets and singers – great people, of tremendous stature – where an old language flourishes.

It is a remarkable piece of music, made completely by its writing. One dear friend, an Anglo-Welsh monoglot, read the lyrics in English for the first time last month with awe, inspired to continue his gradual but long-anticipated assimilation as a Cymrophile. “What an amazing, patriotic nation I am part of,” he said, almost surprised. There is nothing quite like an anthem, in God’s own tongue, to elegantly assert the national story of Wales in a few verses.

As the story goes, long ago, in December 1905, came the first proper trial of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau at Cardiff Arms Park. By then God Bless the Prince of Wales was more likely to be sung at rugby grounds and official functions. But when the Welsh cried out its tribute to the Land of My Fathers as a response to the New Zealand Haka, a new pillar for expressing Welshness was erected. The All Blacks captain, Dave Gallaher, wrote that he had never experienced something so impressive from the Celtic heart.

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was sung alongside God Save the Queen at sporting events for several decades afterwards, with the latter infamously booed by the Welsh fans ahead of a rugby match with France in 1968, before being dropped in favour of the anthem written by father and son duo Evan and James James in the 1970s. The somewhat tedious debate of what to sing at the footy or rugger was, finally, settled in an amicable and respectable way, according to the popular will of the Welsh. Until now.

The debate of what to sing before a ball is kicked or thrown has unsurprisingly re-emerged this week, as tensions simmer between the four nations of the UK. Politicians, commentators, and academics have sought to formulate a strategy to bring the peoples of Britain and Northern Ireland together.

English nationalists disguised as British patriots suggest a more unitary structure, and identity, across all four nations would bring greater harmony. Devolutionists want more responsibilities for running their own affairs; ‘power devolved is power retained’, after all. All the while nationalists across Scotland and Wales – bar the disorganisation and infighting plaguing YesCymru – stand ready to pounce when the time is right.

The Archbishop of York, Stephen Cottrell, is the latest actor to enter the fray. With Justin Welby on sabbatical, his number two in the Church of England has joined a long line of experts who call for a redefined concept of Englishness. It was time for the nation to recognise that “our strong regional identities going back centuries”, he wrote for The Daily Telegraph. “What we need is an expansive vision of what it means to be English as part of the UK. This will help us rediscover a national unity more fractured than I have ever known it in my lifetime.”

Plenty of what he said is sensible, if not impossible to imagine: the calls for a strong regional government for our neighbour, for example. But where his Grace is out-of-step with current sentiment is in his assertion that when home nations face each other in sport, God Save the Queen should be played alongside the individual anthems. Such a suggestion risks the scenes against France 60 years ago – causing reputational damage inadvertently to the royal family which does more than any politician or institution to unite the country – and fails to understand that for many, the anthem is not synonymous with Britain alone, but England too.

Ructions over anthems go a long way back, and the Welsh have always been particularly troublesome on the issue. I remember the row over whether Welsh footballers playing for Team GB should sing the UK’s anthem ahead of their games at London 2012. The historian, Professor Martin Johnes, captured the predicament perfectly: “It’s not about whether the players are British or not, it’s about the anthem and the fact it’s the same for England and Britain.”

A slightly trivial concern, perhaps. But Archbishop Stephen’s proposal reflects a broader carelessness in the attempt to unite all four nations. It is no good pretending the Welsh and the Scots will sit on their hands while an English Archbishop tells them what to sing in the ‘national interest’, and that such a venture would be endorsed by the public-at-large. Craig Bellamy, of all people, was right a decade ago while wearing the blue, red and white of Great Britain, to say that fans shouldn’t boo any anthem; respect it, but don’t sing if you don’t want to.

Too often, the attitude of Archbishop Stephen has found its way into Whitehall’s Union Unit – both in its legislative plans to override the devolved nations but also in its blasé approach to Britishness. I feel British and Welsh, like the Olympic hockey star Sarah Jones proclaimed this week, but only because I am free to choose on my own terms. The UK is different, a tired political entity that needs reform or to be thrown on the scrap heap, but being British is an entirely natural feeling for the Welsh, nationalists and unionists included.

The imposition of symbols and songs to bring us together only does the opposite. More constructive would be tackling the great task of separating politics and identity in Downing Street’s approach to saving the Union: to respect the political, cultural, and social nuances that make-up Britain. Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau is our anthem – now and forever – and any attempt to circumvent its significance will only catalyse the forces that pull us apart.

For the UK to survive, and indeed for England to come to terms with its own identity, there is no good in attempting to re-assimilate the constituent parts of the UK into one common identity. Britishness already does that, albeit subtlety, with institutions and traditions that make us who we are. But Wales is not England, I must repeat. When it comes to politics, God, and songs.

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