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First a little note to set the stage: I have found that most people outside of Britain do not understand the difference between the British Isles, Great Britain and the United Kingdom.  The UK is the combination of 3 nations and 1 territory.  These are England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. (Great Britain is the above 3 nations, the British Isles is the 3 nations plus Northern Ireland plus the republic of Ireland).

This state of affairs has emerged over centuries but much is comparatively recent.

In 1707, the Scottish parliament voted to sign the Union with England Act – an agreement with England to merge the two parliaments in return for what can only be described as a bribe paid to selected Scottish nobles and various provisions (e.g. Scotland would have 45 MPs – less than 10% of the total, the Scottish church would remain independent, Scottish law would still hold sway in Scotland etc.).  It was violently opposed by the Scottish populace but as there was no universal suffrage at the time this protest was put down.  Almost 300 years later, In 1999, following a referendum, the Scottish parliament was reconvened with limited powers.

In 1921, an Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed that ended British control in Ireland and Irish independence followed in 1937. The northern Irish counties stayed under the control of Westminster however, a partition designed to appease Irish protestants.  The Good Friday agreement in 1998 modified things – this established a new, devolved government for Northern Ireland in which unionists and nationalists would share power. On the question of whether Northern Ireland should remain in the UK or become part of a united Ireland, it was agreed that there would be no change without the consent of the majority with a provision that such decision could be taken following a referendum.  There was a referendum in 1973 when the UK and NI were in the EU but this was boycotted by those in favour of reunification.

Wales was conquered by Edward I during the 13th century (at ruinous cost to the English treasury) and it was incorporated into the Kingdom of England by the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542. In 1999, following a referendum, a Welsh parliament came into being with limited powers.

That was then, this is now and now we have serious fractures in the union with independence support in Scotland and Wales and support for reunification of Ireland.  Why? and where will we be in 10 years or even sooner?

There has been a long-standing push for Scotland to regain its independence which has only grown over time.  Polls indicate that there is an overwhelming majority in favour of independence amongst younger voters while those 65 and above prefer the status quo.  At the moment its 50:50.

We have seen increasing support for Welsh independence too, since Scotland’s parliament became pro-independence (a majority of SNP and Greens), and in Wales it looks like they are where Scotland was perhaps 20 years ago. The call for reunification in Northern Ireland is growing.  A recent survey found that a majority favoured holding a referendum within the next five years, with 47% currently in favour of remaining in the UK but among the under-45s, reunification led by 47% to 46%.

COVID19 has also opened the eyes of many who, across the UK, generally think that the devolved Scotland and Wales governments have done a better job of managing the pandemic than Westminster and started some thinking that perhaps they’d be better off with full control over all levers.

Demographics appear to be signalling that Scotland at least will become independent as older voters die to be replaced by younger ones.  The continuing Brexit mess and likely future negative impact on NI also makes Irish unification at least a possible, if not probable outcome.  Wales will need more time, but if Scotland goes and prospers (as I believe it will given their natural resources, highly educated workforce and ability to rejoin the EU amongst other things), can Wales be far behind?  And last but not least, recent polls show that at least half of English voters would be unphased by a breakup of the union. 

As someone put it, why would you let an unelected parliament (Scotland rarely gets the party in power that it votes for) 500 miles away without your interest at heart, where you have a small minority of the seats, hold the purse strings?  It’s like you giving your salary to a cousin who lives in another country and letting him decide where to spend it (often on his own needs, not yours)?  Who in their right mind would do that? This thinking has only been compounded by the cronyism, corruption and lack of accountability shown by the current UK government.

The breakup of the UK is coming.  The only uncertainty is the timing.

The post A Fracturing Union ? first appeared on David Cairns of Finavon.

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