PM-elect Gordon Brown gave a speech at the weekend in which he proposed that Britain should have a "national day of patriotism to celebrate British history, achievements and culture." Hell, why not? A special British Day might well be a very good idea (especially if we all got an extra day off work to celebrate) just so long as the occasion wasn't hijacked by tedious political correctness. But which day to choose? Gordon, with mind-boggling stupidity, has picked Remembrance Sunday as his favoured national day. Wrong, Gordo. For a start Remembrance Sunday is the one day of the year when we remember the bravery and sacrifice of our ancestors, and to bring in even a note of jubilant celebration would be abhorrent. There's nothing especially British about remembering the Armistice, either - most of the other countries in Europe have just as much to commemorate on that day, if not more. And Remembrance Sunday is on a Sunday, for heaven's sake, and you can't have a bank holiday at the weekend. So no, Gordon, Remembrance Sunday just won't do.
So which day should be selected as 'British Day' instead? Here are some suggestions:
1) The day on which our nation was established (like 26th January in Australia and 1st July in Canada) Ah, but when exactly was 'Britain' founded? 19th March (1284): Wales became part of England in a statute signed at Rhuddlan Castle by King Edward I. But I can't see the Welsh wanting to celebrate their nation's crushing defeat. And 19th March is too near Easter. 24th March (1603): Unofficially the nations of England, Wales and Scotland were first brought together on the day Queen Elizabeth I died and King James of Scotland took to the throne. But again, 24th March is too near Easter. 1st May (1707): It took an Act of Parliament nearly a century later to officially unite the nation states of England, Wales and Scotland, forming the Kingdom of Great Britain. But 1st May is already a bank holiday. 1st January (1801): It was another century before Ireland joined in legislative union with the rest of the British Isles. But that was all of Ireland, both north and south. And 1st January is already a bank holiday. 6th December (1922): The United Kingdom in its present form has existed only since Eire declared independence in the early 20th century. But we might not want a national day to remind us of that. And 6th December is far too close to Christmas.
2) A day of enormous historic national importance (like 4th July in the US and 14th July in France) Except we don't really have any, do we? Not British ones. 14th October (1066): The one important date every schoolchild knows, except it predates the creation of Britain by several centuries, so it's no use. 21st October (1805): Ah but the Battle of Trafalgar isn't really that important, is it? We whopped the French but, like, so what? 8th May (1945): VE day, anyone? Er, no, for much the same reasons that Remembrance Sunday is no good either.
3) An important saint's day (like 1st March in Wales and 30th November in Scotland) Except that, unlike its four constituent nations, Britain doesn't have its own saint. Maybe it should. 23rd April: No no no. St George is the patron saint of England, not of Britain. This national patriotism stuff is so tricky to get right, isn't it? 13th October (1925): Some people might argue that Margaret Thatcher is a saint and that we should remember her birthday. But they'd be barking. 5th October (1951): Or how about St Geldof's Day? Except he's not British. 20th February (1951): Maybe we should beatify our noble Chancellor, St Gordon Brown, in honour of him giving us a new bank holiday. But who wants a day off in February?
4) A royal birthday (like 30th April in the Netherlands and 5th December in Thailand) Our Queen even has two birthdays, just to give us a choice. 21st April (1926): But HM's birthday isn't much to celebrate if you're a republican, is it? And it's far too close to Easter, St George's Day and May Day. The second Saturday in June: The Queen's official birthday is still far too close to various May holidays, and it's at the weekend too. So no. 14th November (1948): When Lizzie snuffs it we'd be lumbered with her son's miserable autumn birthday instead, which is another good reason to say no.
5) A made-up excuse for a day off 2nd January: How about 'Duvet Day'? The first day back at work in January is always really grim, so let's postpone it. 23rd April (1564): That's 'Shakespeare's Birthday', honest, and let's hope the Scots, Irish and Welsh don't realise why we English really want the day off. 22nd June (1948): I suspect 'Empire Windrush Day' would be too politically correct for the tabloids to stomach. And rightly so. The third Tuesday in July: For something more suited to tabloid tastes, how about 'National Paedophile Day' where suspected child abusers are burnt at the stake by baying mobs of ignorant bigots? The fourth Friday in October: 'Last Gasp Friday' would allow us an outdoor break just before the clocks go back, plus it would bisect that annoying four month gap between bank holidays we currently get in the autumn. The first Tuesday in December: 'Chancellor's Day' - a special day to go Christmas shopping and boost the economy.
So, sorry Gordon, but it looks like there's no perfect date to celebrate 'British Day'. Any date you pick is going to upset someone - maybe a religious group, maybe a political party, maybe a whole country. Britishness as a metaphor for tolerance and inclusion just doesn't have enough of a back history, yet. But if I had to pick a date I'd go back to 1st May 1707 - the date when England, Wales and Scotland officially united to first create this nation we call Britain. 'British Day' on May Day would do nicely, thank you, even if it's not an extra day off. And, by combining May Day's existing themes of morris dancing, worker solidarity and trips to B&Q, we even get a ready-made definition of Britishness into the bargain. Plus it would be perfect to launch this new bank holiday next year - the tricentenary of the Act of Union. Go on Gordon, how about it?