Quick thoughts on the future, if any, of the United Kingdom

Great Britain consists of England, Wales and Scotland; and the UK is “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”. This map shows nicely how it breaks down:

Scotland held an independence referendum three years ago and voted narrowly to remain in the UK (55%-45%). But post-Brexit, the choice for Scotland is to remain either in the UK or in the EU. So when the unavoidable 2nd referendum is held, it seems at least fairly likely that Scots will vote this time to leave the UK — so they can retain their larger trading partner and a more global vision.

The Irish situation I understand less well, but I will take a stab at explaining it, and hope someone will chip in if I make a mistake. Ireland is an island consisting of two countries: Northern Ireland is part of the UK and has close ties to Britain; and the Republic of Ireland (in the South; also known as Eire in its own language) is a separate country with its own government, part of the EU in its own right. (This is why financial companies are looking at relocating from London, England to Dublin, Ireland.)

The reason for Ireland being split is that the North was kept by the UK after the Easter Rising of 1916. While the Republic does not want to be part of the UK, there is ongoing disagreement in Northern Ireland between those who do and do not. But now that being in the UK means being out of Europe, there is less incentive for the North to want to remain in the UK and more reason for it to want reunification with the Republic. As the Irish population has aged, and older people have died, my sense is that a lot of the historical hostility between those in Northern Ireland who do and do not want to be part of the UK (Unionists and Republicans respectively) has decayed, so reunification had become more feasible a year ago than it was a decade or two ago — and then within the last year became much more feasible again than it was when we were all in Europe.

So there is a good chance (I would guess better then 50-50) that Scotland will leave the UK in the next few years — possibly as quickly as they can, so they can remain in Europe rather than having to go through the process of joining from the ground up. And there is a less predictable chance that Northern Ireland will also leave the UK — to go it alone, or join the EU on its own, or reunify with the Republic (which would bring it straight into the EU).

Putting it all together I would not be at all surprised if in a few years, “The United Kingdom” no longer exists at all (due to the loss of Northern Ireland) and “Great Britain” consists only of England and Wales.

(Oh, and that have been rumblings from the Welsh assembly about an independence referendum in Wales, too. So it’s possible that Great England, as it will inevitably rebrand itself, will be left alone — maybe the only country in the British Isles that is not part of the EU.)

Obviously all this is catastrophic for numerous reasons, and you would think the UK government would have considered all of it long and deep before making its move. And you would be wrong; May’s government has not only completely ignored the Scottish and Irish issues, it seems to have gone out of its way to actively antagonise particularly the Scots, denying them debating time in the brief discussion of the Article 50 bill, for example. It’s been so obvious that some people have theorised that Theresa May actively wants to force Scotland out of the UK. I think that is conspiracy-minded, though: following Hanlon’s razor, I think it’s more likely that she is just incompetent: tone-deaf to the implications of her own remarks.

Anyway, this is where it leaves us: with a historic union on the verge of break-up. Not the EU: the UK.

Note 1. This post is a modified version of a comment that I left on the last post.

Note 2. Thanks to Niall Hawthorne for corrections on the Irish background.

17 responses to “Quick thoughts on the future, if any, of the United Kingdom

  1. Ulster (where I am employed) voted solidly to Remain (as did Warwick and Leamington, where I live).

    P.S. The maps understandably leave the Scilly and Channel Isles out. Guess they’re used to it, though their niches may be a model for where we end up.

    So, welcome to the pseudo-independent fiefdom of West Wales.

  2. Totally agree.

    One thing I would say regarding Ireland, though: don’t call it “Eire” unless you’re talking Irish. You wouldn’t call Germany “Deutschland” when you’re writing in English.

    Oh, and to Simon, above: I think you mean East Wales.

  3. Scotland wouldn’t have a hope in hell of automatic entry to the EU. Eventually, maybe, assuming Spanish objections could be overridden (which, considering their situation, is doubtful) they might be admitted as a member, but it would be a very long way down the line. In the meantime they’ve got to go it on their own, with their own currency. It would be a very tough time for Scottish business and welfare. Their austerity program will make the one inflicted by the hated Westminster look like a lovely walk on a sunny day.

    That 45-55 split isn’t the whole story with the referendum. Polls are currently showing that a lot of Scots, even those who voted for independence, aren’t terribly keen on another fast-tracked referendum.

    But say they did leave the UK. Can Edinburgh apply to remain? If we’re taking the whole “my particular region/city/street voted remain/leave so our voice is super special” seriously then we should allow fragmentation down to the household level.

    Personally my street have voted to join the Mongol Empire. We want to see the world, and conquer it!

  4. I looked at the wikipedia page on reunification: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_Ireland#Public_opinion and it didn’t seem to show much of a shift by time, or by age.

  5. Oh, that is interesting! Thanks for the link.

    I would be really interested to know how it’s shifted in the last year, though.

  6. I would be leery of arguing that political economics would drive Irish unification: that not so different from arguing that the same would drive Remain. The historical tensions in Northern Ireland are still hugely relevant, and haven’t gone away: they are just well bandaged, in the hopes they will heal over time: which according to what I’ve read, is what’s been happening. But Brexit will likely tear that bandage off, with unfortunate and unforeseeable conseqeuences. See, for example https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jun/21/northern-ireland-fear-brexit-conflict-good-friday-agreement-eu, or http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-nireland-politics-idUSKBN15R0GL.

  7. The Irish republic has two official names, ‘Ireland’ and ‘Eire’, not ‘Republic of Ireland’. The split with Northern Ireland came after the war of Independence and the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922 (not the Easter Rising) leading to the creation of the Irish Free State. In 1937 a new constitution was adopted which led to the creation of ‘Ireland’, effectively a republic (finally officially declared a republic in 1947).

  8. Thanks for the precision, timring.

  9. The map’s inaccurate: the ‘Great Britain’ ring erroneously includes the Hebrides and the Orkneys, neither of which are part of Great Britain (the text on the linked page is correct, it’s just the graphic that’s wrong).

    I note that in Northern Ireland, Unionists voted decisively to Leave and Nationalists decisively to Remain; the overall narrow Remain vote was because Unionists, though more numerous, were more evenly split then Nationalists.

    Glad someone corrected the point about Partition, too.

    I don’t see Scotland leaving the Union, actually: four out of every ten Scots voted to Leave, including some who had voted Yes two years before; it’s not a given which way those votes would go, just as it’s not a given that many who voted No, and Remain, would now switch. Opinion polls show support for independence still within the margin of error from the actual referendum result.

    Northern Ireland will never leave the Union unless demographics shift, either because on community outbreeds the other, or due to migration from south to north.

  10. Well, I never knew that the Hebrides and Orkneys were not part of Great Britain! Learn something new every day. (For the record, though, Wikipedia disagrees.)

  11. Great Britain is just the island. They’re part of the British Isles, obvs.

  12. Again, not according to the Wikipedia entry: “Great Britain […] includes islands, such as the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, the Isles of Scilly, the Hebrides and the island groups of Orkney and Shetland.”

    Obviously Wikipedia can be wrong; but I’d like to see a more authoritative source cited against it before I just shrug and assume it is.

  13. The OED definition appears to contradict itself, first saying, “England, Wales, and Scotland considered as a unit,” which would include the smaller islands. And then saying, “Great Britain is the name for the island that comprises England, Scotland, and Wales, although the term is also used loosely to refer to the United Kingdom.”

    Those are very different. Indeed “he island that comprises England, Scotland, and Wales” doesn’t make much sense, since at least two of those countries (I’m not sure about Wales) also include islands off their coasts.

    So it’s surprisingly hard to get a definitive answer.

  14. OK, The Free Dictionary, which in turn cites Collins, suggests it’s a political term, and includes the smaller islands. I think I was misremembering: “Britain,” on its own, means just the main island.

  15. No, ‘Britain’ on its own is a synonym for ‘the United Kingdom’; ‘Great Britain’ means ‘the largest island of the British Isles’.

    Or… maybe it means the larger Britain, as opposed to the smaller Britain, ie, Brittany? In French, after all, ‘Great Britain’ is just ‘Big Brittany’…

  16. I don’t think I have heard before the idea that “Britain” means “The United Kingdom”. I suspect some Northern Irish people would have a thing or two to say about that.

  17. There are certainly a lot of Northern Irish people who would insist (strongly) that they are British, and that only makes sense if they are using ‘Britain’ as a synonym for ‘the United Kingdom’.

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