Whether they realised it or not, the people of England and Wales may well have voted to end Britain as we know it.
I’m not talking about the economic impact of leaving the European Union resulting in the UK becoming a failed state. Nor am I suggesting that another Union – like the United States of America – would absorb Britain, transforming it into the 51st State. The problem isn’t anything about the UK in and of itself – the antiquated anachronistic institutions and the mind-bendingly incompetent chuckleheids currently running the place notwithstanding. I’m saying that the constitutional crisis which has now rocked the UK has made Scottish Independence inevitable.
The constitutional status of a United Kingdom without Scotland is complicated, and nobody is really very sure what it would look like. It could, I suppose, still call itself the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but that would simply compound the anachronism which led to this situation in the first place. A bit like someone calling themselves a parliamentarian long after they’ve left office. For one thing, the original Act of Union was between two kingdoms – the Kingdom of Scotland, and the Kingdom of England. In the event Scotland becomes independent, that Act must ultimately be dissolved – and thus, the Kingdom of Great Britain is no more. If that happens, where does that leave the Acts of Union 1800, where the Kingdom of Ireland is added – how could there be a United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland when there is no Kingdom of Great Britain to “unite” with Ireland?
This is compounded if, as has been suggested, Northern Ireland and the Republic unify by 2024 (or Northern Ireland goes independent, or we all just join the Union of Craic), leaving only England and Wales remaining. Not only would be there no Kingdom of Great Britain, but the loss of Ireland means it cannot be a United Kingdom any more. It is impossible to see how the Acts of Union could survive, and thus, even the very name of the former United Kingdom might not survive Brexit. What’s the solution? What will the future British Isles look like?
It seems reasonable to assume that retaining “United Kingdom” in some manner would be preferable: if nothing else, it doesn’t mean losing the .uk internet TLD, and changing all that stationary. But since Great Britain is gone, there would have to be two kingdoms to be united as one, right? Thus, the United Kingdom of England and Wales may be an option. The only way to do that would be to take Wales’ status as a nation considerably more seriously – not only making it a country, but a kingdom in its own right. This, naturally, opens up a whole new mess in regards to the Monarchy – does Charles now become King of Wales? – but, well, that isnae my problem. Unfortunately for Wales, I really don’t see Westminster or the Crown granting such a status to the country, which they forever view as a “part” of England ever since the conquest. It basically boils down to calling the remnants of the former UK as, simply, the Kingdom of England.
On the other hand, the name Britain has a lot of import: losing it might mean losing the UK’s ISO-3166 (GB). England & Wales make up the larger part of Great Britain, so granting them dibs on the use of “Britain” in a contest. Perhaps, then, United Kingdom of Greater Britain in that case? When Rome conquered that part of the island, they made it the Province of Britain (Provinca Britannia). Later the Romans divided the area roughly analogous to southern England as Britannia Superior, and the north as Britannia Inferior. I think we in Scotland would be perfectly happy to let England & Wales keep the name Britain, right? Even so, it means the infamous confusion over “Britain,” “Great Britain,” “the British Isles,” and “United Kingdom” is still confusing, and it seems bizarre that only part of Great Britain calls itself Great Britain. Still, there’s precedent: the United States of America doesn’t cover all the Americas, or even the North continent. I guess “United Kingdom of Great Britain” could end up remaining the name, even if it serves as a reminder that it no longer represents either a United Kingdom, or Great Britain, at all.
Or perhaps we go back even further, to the Proclamation of 1606?
Whereas some difference hath arisen between our subjects of South and North Britain, travelling by seas, about the bearing of their flags,—for the avoiding of all such contentions hereafter we have, with the advice of our Council, ordered that from henceforth all our subjects of this isle and kingdom of Greater Britain, and the members thereof, shall bear in their maintop the Red Cross, commonly called St. George’s Cross, and the White Cross, commonly called St. Andrew’s Cross, joined together, according to a form made by our Heralds, and sent by us to our Admiral to be published to our said subjects: and in their fore-top our subjects of South Britain shall wear the Red Cross only, as they were wont, and our subjects of North Britain in their fore-top the White Cross only, as they were accustomed. Wherefore we will and command all our subjects to be comparable and obedient to this our order, and that from henceforth they do not use or bear their flags in any other sort, as they will answer the contrary at their peril.
The United Kingdom of South Britain? It would be a nice counter to the infamous North Britain so beloved of some of our politicians and ex-politicians, who shall of course remain nameless.
This is all without going into the flag business: how could a flag without Scotland or, possibly, Northern Ireland fly without the crosses of Sts. Andrew or Patrick? The lack of Wales’ representation on the flag just brings us back to the Kingdom of England. Still, the UK might keep the flag, given it hasn’t changed in over 200 years: an argument could be made that the historical importance might trump exactitude. This seems to be the thinking behind New Zealanders retaining their flag, despite not being part of the UK any more.* On the other hand, the Union Flag has changed from its original 1707 iteration to include Ireland: it seems strange to change it to include new nations, but not to subtract ones that have left. (While it would be churlish of me to presume to design a new KOW flag, surely they could do something cool with the white and red dragons?)
Whatever the case, in the event of Scottish independence, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is done for. All the people wanting to “put the Great back into Britain” have, incredibly, just made it distinctly possible that “Great Britain” as a political entity would cease to exist. “Britain First” has ended up “Britain Last.” They’ve “Taken Their Country Back,” only to find they’ve let it slip from their butterfingers. They’ve “Taken Back Control” of the H.M.S. Britannia, and promptly steered it off a waterfall. But could it have been any other way? The great British=English misapprehension has been long and tired and tiring and tiresome, and perhaps this way, we can finally lay it to rest.
The island of Great Britain would remain, of course, as would the name – but Westminster could no longer claim exclusive sovereignty over it. Britain would remain – but it would not be a kingdom, nor would it be united, nor would it even be great.
*It would be impolite of me to comment on what another country decides in regards to their own nation’s heritage and iconography, but I would say that I would probably be sympathetic to the desire to acknowledge the indigenous New Zealanders. The current New Zealand flag is “only” a century old, after all, and isn’t really comparable to something like the saltire.