The demand that an identity depends on entirely unique characteristics is not one we would apply elsewhere. Could we, for example, talk about the London School of Economics having a distinctive ethos? Many students, staff and visitors may think it does. Many of you tonight could offer some ideas about its content. It would be very surprising if there were no overlap with the answers I might get from a similar audience at Oxford or Cambridge, Yale or Delhi, Edinburgh or King’s College, London. That would not prevent those who knew two or three of these institutions making distinctions between them which others would recognise. There is an ethic of service in both the NHS and the Army, with common and distinct features. Outsiders might well find the differences in ethos between the army, navy and air force narrower, and those between particular army regiments imperceptible. It would not be surprising to hear that these distinctions mattered rather more to those involved.
We inherit some identity commitments, and we choose others. Some have quite arbitrary origins, such as allegiances to a sporting team. Yet they can still provide meaningful lifelong allegiances because, in embracing them, we join communities of commitment and belonging, memory and allegiance. It would be a surprising idea that national identity cannot run more deeply than that.