Did you know that Scotland ceased to exist as a nation after the so-called Act of Union between the Kingdoms of Scotland and England in 1707 that formed the United Kingdom of Great Britain? Maybe, yes, though people’s views differ but did you know that England continued to exist as a nation? In fact, England as a national and territorial unit simply became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and the “Union” was nothing more than the annexation of a neighbouring (and rival) territory on the island of Britain by the Kingdom of England making it another region of the English state.
This is a claim that would incense most Scottish nationalists and even irritate quite a few pro-Union Scots. Yet, remarkably, this very claim is implied in a document released by the British government yesterday putting forward its case for the continued existence of the UK and its opposition to Scottish independence. From “Scotland analysis: Devolution and the implications of Scottish independence” comes this constitutional, legal and political analysis on page 73, Part IV “The status of Scotland and the remainder of the UK in international law”:
“26. From 1603, when the Stuart King James VI of Scotland inherited the English throne, Scotland and England (and its colony Ireland) shared the same monarch.
27. There is little reason to doubt that between that date and 1707, England and Scotland remained separate states.
(a) Whether the union of 1707 created a new state
35. An alternative view is that as a matter of international law England continued, albeit under a new name and regardless of the position in domestic law, and was simply enlarged to incorporate Scotland. In support of this view, among other things:
35.1 Scottish members joined Parliament at Westminster, but there was no new election of its English members. This was in accordance with the Acts of Union Article XXII.
35.2 Treaties concluded by England appear to have survived to bind Great Britain.
35.3 England’s diplomatic representation in the rest of Europe continued uninterrupted. The Acts of Union Article XXIV appears to acknowledge this in retaining the Great Seal of England for transitional purposes.
36. We note that the incorporation… of Ireland, previously a colony, under the Union with Ireland Act 1801 (GB) and the Act of Union 1800 (Ireland) did not affect state continuity. Despite its similarity to the union of 1707, Scottish and English writers unite in seeing the incorporation of Ireland not as the creation of a new state but as an accretion without any consequences in international law.
37. For the purpose of this advice, it is not necessary to decide between these two views of the union of 1707. Whether or not England was also extinguished by the union, Scotland certainly was extinguished as a matter of international law, by merger either into an enlarged and renamed England or into an entirely new state.
43. The same result follows from the alternative possibility, discussed above, that Great Britain was the continuator of England rather than a new state.”
While it is welcome to see the British government formally recognise Ireland’s incorporation into the so-called UK as a case of colonisation and annexation, it is bizarre to see such an explicit acknowledgement by the British state of the belief held by most observers: that Britain equals England and British equals English. Has the British English prime minister David Cameron just handed Alex Salmond and the SNP another propaganda victory in the Scottish referendum war?