The United Kingdom is a dishonest name for the English Empire. For that is what the United Kingdom is – and has been since the Act of Union. With support for independence at about half in Scotland, growing rapidly in Wales and with the possibility of a Republican victory in Stormont perhaps it is time to start asking the hard questions – like why all three of those groups are probably in the right.
First, some history. Wales was forced under the English crown by Edward I from 1277-83 after which the Welsh were marginalised to benefit English settlers, lords, and merchants. This went so far as the abolition of the Kingdom of Wales by 1542, and Wales wasn’t defined as not part of England until 1967.
Throughout all that period, Wales was treated as a tool for England to use, perhaps most infamously with the drowning of Capel Celyn where Liverpool Council used the UK Parliament to get around nigh-universal Welsh opposition to the plan. 46 people left their homes, and one of the few remaining Welsh-only speaking communities was destroyed to improve the quality of white-water sports.
It might not be shocking to learn that the poor treatment of Wales has been consistent with classism from certain parts of the English establishment – Wales is largely working class and Labour voting, with the steel collapse having hit it particularly hard. Until 2018, it was the poorest region of the UK, before overtaking North-East England.
The deliberate suppression of the Welsh culture, language and identity have left Wales desperately poor, which has been used as an excuse for further suppression and dependence on England, which has benefitted from imports of Welsh energy and water for decades.
Scotland’s treatment has hardly been better. England forced the Act of Union through after a series of disastrous colonial regions left Scotland mostly bankrupt and, therefore, unable to stand up to England as they had done for over a hundred years while under the crown.
England’s oppression of Scotland can be traced even further back than that, as in 1635 the technically Scottish but thoroughly English Charles I attempted to force an English holy book on the Kirk and in doing so began the English Civil War.
Even besides England’s historical treatment of Scotland, the latter is linguistically, culturally, and religiously different from the former. Although Gaelic is rarely spoken now – largely due to the actions of the English crown – broad Scots is spoken by over 1.5 million Scots and is often accepted as a separate language now, having diverged from “British” English around 600 years ago. The Church of England is also unpopular in Scotland, where most Christians belong to the presbyterian Kirk.
Despite England’s actions towards both nations, they remain distinct and noticeably non-English. Yet England rules them – they are represented by ninety-nine MPs. England has over five hundred. England has the population, money, and resources to force its own goals on the constituent nations – like it did with Scotland during Brexit, or Wales back in 1962. The argument for these nations is simple, then – independence is moral to avoid continued English domination over their politics.
These nations cannot be democracies whilst they are effectively ruled from the outside. Not only does Westminster ultimately decide the power of the Senedd and Holyrood, but the current government has continuously tried to undermine those powers over the last three years, like attempting to give ministers powers in the devolved administrations without having to ask the elected bodies their permission – Cofiwch Dryweryn indeed.
Northern Ireland is different and therefore difficult. Unlike the other two, where the English government attempted to pretend it was building off pre-existing states rather than replacing them, Northern Ireland is built on genocides. The most infamous of these, and important for these concerns, is that of Oliver Cromwell where in reply to atrocities committed by the Catholic population of Ireland in 1641-2, Cromwell functionally remade Ireland in England’s image.
Most estimates place the cost of his four-year campaign at around half of the Irish population though some range as high as eighty-three percent of it thanks to outbreaks of famine and plague caused by the invasion. 50,000 Irish were shipped off into indentured servitude in the Americas, especially to work plantations in the Caribbean.
Of the five traditional counties of Ireland, the Irish were allowed to live in one of them, Connacht, while the others were granted to British protestants. This was not the first nor the last British genocide in Ireland, but it was the most important in causing the sectarian divisions that rock Ulster to this day.
As such, it gets very hard to defend the existence of Northern Ireland. Many unionist arguments began to sound along the lines of “What if they do it to us?” rather than reasonable defences. The foundation of British ownership of Ireland is blood-soaked. Perhaps a red hand is rather appropriate after all.
The United Kingdom is a lie. Instead, we should call it what is – the rump of the English Empire. And perhaps we should consider why so many of us seem to find that state of affairs acceptable – or, more than that, desirable.
Perhaps it is worth noting that most unionist areas are the ones most colonised by English settlers, and then ask yourself how many of their criticisms boil down to the usual tripe – “These primitives couldn’t rule by themselves!” or “What if they try and do it back?”
And then perhaps it is worth considering the case for dissolution.