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?
- The State of the Union (bellacaledonia.org.uk)
- Curtain Call for “The United Kingdom”? (daliennation.wordpress.com)
Few Scots will be surprised by this though, as you say, a great many of us will be incensed. The conflation of Britain with England has been proceding apace during the last few years on BBC and ITV. Commercial channels like Ch5 and Sky are just following the precedent. Last night we had ITV describe the English leader of the Roman Catholic Church as ‘the leader of Britain’s catholics’, which is nonsense since Scotland and England are separate RC provinces and Scotland’s RC leader is Cardinal O’Brian.
Like many Scots I was taught at school and by my parents that Scotland and England were partners in the Union established under the Treaty of October 1706 and ratified by acts of both states’ parliaments. As I grew up, travelled and met English people it became obvious that they not only believed that my country had been absorbed into England but had been taught a different version of history. The one thing they never wanted to talk about was the battle of Bannockburn which they see as a very short footnote in history books if mentioned at all. I guess that Scots are now being given a glimpse of the iron fist inside the velvet English glove.
Congratulations on this blogsite. I’ve been interested in the restoration of the Irish language ever since I lived in Dublin in 1976.
Hi David, I agree. There’s no huge surprise here for most Scottish nationalists in terms of the British government’s reasoning. And quite a few might agree with it – the Act of Union as a straightforward annexation and creation of a Greater England.
The real surprise is that the London authorities would leave this sort of legalistic speculating in their official rebuttal of the SNP’s drive for independence. Did no one read the document before its release? Or is it simply case of Whitehall being so used to thinking in these terms that they haven’t a clue of how certain passages and sentences will be viewed north of the border? I suspect the latter.
Of course there is always the conspiracy theory that certain Whitehall mandarins and like-minded Tories would quite happily wave goodbye to Scotland – and the North of Ireland too. They are doing a damn fine job so far 😉
Nice to see the Tories and Lib-Dems squirming over the UK debt liabilities faux pas included in the document and now one of the experts named in it is disagreeing with some of its conclusions.
Thanks for the good words. It’s a one-man affair but I try my best 😉
i dunno it was the scottish king james VI who united the crowns as James I of England. Totally inaccurate to call it ‘greater england’ nationalism, its a nationalism constructed on a identity which never existed before. granted I Accept the english are the superiors but not the way you think. Its mainly the elites, not ordinary common folk, besides the media always think of england only when it comes to soccer and there have been a few scottish prime ministers , brown, blair come to mind.
Fair points, Mark.
You are doing great with the blog and I support it 100%.. I read it frequently and as a Scot I am very thankful of the support that you give to us both culturally but also with our drive to recover our nationhood.
I had the same thought when I read those paragraphs, not the kind of wording one would suspect from a government trying to stop Scotland breaking away.
Thanks for the kind words. I agree with you about the document. Whatever about legal pondering and offering different legal interpretations it certainly shows bad judgement that it wasn’t redacted. All grist to the Yes campaign’s mill though 😉
As a Welshman, this is depressing reading. It’s as if we don’t exist. But I always knew that was the case in most English minds having spoken to so many of them.
Yes, the formula “England and Wales” does tend to run to just England. As seen in the recent media flurry over Polish being the second most spoken language in England on the basis of the census results – when they meant England and Wales. And even then they got it wrong, ignoring the fact that Welsh remains the second language.
I don’t think this will come as a surprise to anyone who has ever asked why the current monarch is Queen Elizabeth II.
Thanks for posting this info – I’ve linked to you.
I think we all have grounds to complain about this – we English are also sick and tired of being referred to as ‘Britain’ or as ‘Regions’. England is being demolished County by County while the msm present statistics purporting to be British that, when you look into it, refer only to England and Wales. At least you Scots are awake; half of England is still down the chippie.
Good luck to you.
Actually I’m Irish but I do agree with you. One of the stranger aspects of modern England (and Wales) is the constant tinkering with municipal and local government boundaries regardless of history or regional identities. Its almost as if any sense of identity within England and across England were being erased through constant redrawing and reconfigurations, like erasing a hardrive by repeated overwriting.
Very sad and lacking in respect. As I said below I know a number of left-wing English nationalists, though some might believe such a being to be an impossibility. In Britain it seems that English nationalism is indelibly associated with the Right and conservatism when in fact England contains a strong left-wing and social-democratic vein to its identity. A friend of mine dates that back to the folkmote and fyrd and such like and traces it all the way through the Levellers, Chartists, etc. to the present day.
It would be good to see that given a positive expression in political terms.
Believe me we English hold this treaty in as much distaste as you do. It’s not like we need or needed you after all, only the British seem to think it’s necessary and trust me, few English think of themselves as British any more.
I have several friends who are progressive, centre-left English nationalists and they support freedom for Scotland, Wales and Cornwall. And England too, of course. If the EU has shown anything over the last 50 odd years it has proved that European nations can peacefully co-exist and co-operate with each other. There is no reason why an independent England would not be a friend to its neighbours – and vice-versa. On the contrary a renewed sense of English civil identity might bring the very best aspects of Englishness to the fore – to the benefit of all the peoples of Europe.
Thanks for Commenting.
Does this mean that we in England should be able to vote on Scottish independence and say whether we want to keep them or make them go away 🙂
A “velvet divorce” seems the best option for all concerned 😉