The question of identity has been around a long time and two hundred years ago the weaver poet Samuel Thomson (1766-1816), the Bard of Carngranny, wrote: 'I love my native land, no doubt, Attach’d to her thro’ thick and thin, Yet tho’ I’m Irish all without, I’m every item Scotch within.'
Who then are we? Are we Protestants, or are we British or are we Irish or are we unionists or are we Ulster folk or Ulster-Scots? Which one are we? The answer is that we can be some or all of these – we do not have to pick one – because identity is complex and it is multi-layered or multi-faceted.
For example, the Labour peer Baroness Valerie Amos, speaking at a seminar on 12 October 2000, said: 'My identity is defined in a number of different ways – I am British – have lived in this country for most of my life. (I also say it is what I know and understand as my home) but I am also Guyanese (that is where I was born), I am a product of the Caribbean and of Africa and I also see myself as a European. All these influences have shaped who I am, how I see myself.' Baroness Amos was quite comfortable with her identity and the elements that contributed to its complexity.
We can see therefore that Ulster Protestants are not unique in in having multi-layered identities. They are not abnormal and indeed their experience is perfectly normal because identity is multi-layered.
Gregory Campbell made that point when he addressed a meeting in the Bogside in Londonderry in August 2010. He said, 'I have inherited my identity and I have kept it by conscious choice. I am an Ulster Protestant who was born, reared and lived my entire life in Londonderry. I am British. I am an Ulster-Scot. I am a Unionist. I am a member of the Apprentice Boys.'
My own experience is that I have a national identity and I am British. I also have a regional identity in that I live in Northern Ireland and am an Ulsterman. My cultural identity is Ulster-Scots, my political identity is unionist and I have a religious identity as an evangelical Protestant, who adheres to Wesleyan theology. I also have a local identity as a Belfast man and I am an Orangeman. All of these aspects of identity and indeed others contribute to what I am.'
But not every unionist will share that set of identities. A person can be a unionist and also a Presbyterian or Roman Catholic. A person can even be British by nationality and have an Irish cultural identity. The important thing is to recognise that identity is important, that it is multi-layered or multi-faceted and that one of those layers or facets is a cultural identity.