It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that we are witnessing the last days of the United Kingdom. The forces holding it shakily together are far weaker than those pulling it apart. “My country right or wrong” was in the past only the slogan of a tiny minority of flag-waving loons in Britain. When “my country” is wrong, as it has been a few times in my baby boomer lifetime especially recently, it is intellectually and morally bankrupt still to fly the flag as if all was well. When you nave no confidence in, nor respect for, your national leaders you seek alternative identities.
The United Kingdom as an alliance of distinct and different countries survived when the times were “good”. But the English dominance of it always made it problematic for the Celts, or many of them. In truth the Union Flag was an English flag and God was an Englishman not a Briton.
The alternative identity for the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish was obviously their legitimacy as authentic countries, if not nation states. John Bull’s other island rebelled first and booted John Bull back across the Irish sea. Sadly the conservative sectarianism of six counties in the North meant that the job was incomplete creating the tinder box that it still is.
It is the Scots who will disassemble the Kingdom and complete the task that the Irish kicked off a hundred plus years ago. They will become confident and proud – a “nation again” – and one with an identity far more solid and united than the divided nation to their south they have rejected. The Welsh will follow suit.
The United Kingdom will soon be dead. Largely unmourned I think. The creation of Little England to replace Great Britain is less significant than on the surface it might seem. Unscrambling the U.K. takes us back to the England of God for Harry and St George without the irritation of having to remember to mention the Celts.(I’m being ironic !).
Having spent a lot of time in Scotland and lived there on and off for many years I was a strong supporter of the Union at the referendum in 2014. No more. An independent Scotland in Europe is an appealing prospect and I look forward to it happening. The reunification of Ireland will be more problematic but I hope that even the antediluvian loyalists will find a way to accept it. I can’t see the Welsh wanting to be far behind in the big Celtic takeaway.
England is a concept needing renewal and coherent emotional investment. To unite north and south, rich and poor, city dweller and country yokel will be no easy task. But on the sporting fields we do have a proud English identity and that is a start. It will take an effort to be more than a “land of embarrassment and Breakfast” (as Julian Barnes put it). But once we’ve put the Union Flag away for good it shouldn’t be beyond us.