Wednesday 29 February 2012

All Brits really

One of the Western Mail’s more regular letter writers is Sir Eric Howells, a former Welsh chair of the Conservative Party before he went out of favour for highlighting the takeover of the local conservative association by the hunting fraternity.  He’s also a die-hard anti-devolutionist, and although something of a persona non grata with his former party, he’s probably closer to the membership’s views on many things than many of those in leadership roles today.
His latest missive (in yesterday’s Western Mail) contained two passages which struck me in particular.  In referring to the possibility of Scotland’s independence, he suggested that they should go, but that “within a few years they will be knocking on the door of number 10 asking to come back to the union”, and turning his attention to Ireland, said, “Why not offer them to come back into the Union”.
Lest anyone think that I’m just picking on Sir Eric here, there was also a counter-factual future-history article in the Sunday Times late last year written by Professor Niall Ferguson which suggested that, in the light of the Euro crisis and the conversion of the EU into the USE, Ireland might choose within the next ten years to re-unite with the UK on the basis of a slogan “Better Brits than Brussels”.
Now, of course, no-one can be certain what will happen in the future, and we can all enjoy a bit of speculation and a thought-provoking counter-factual.  But the idea that either Ireland or Scotland (if it chooses independence, which is far from certain as yet) will return to London begging to be let back in is too far-fetched to be credible.  I’m open to be proved wrong on this, but I don’t believe that there’s a single example in modern history – or perhaps even all history – in which a nation secedes from a state and then asks to rejoin it.
The fact that others can, even fleetingly, consider it remotely possible suggests a belief that there is a natural order of things under which we are all British really, and any deviation from that is just a temporary aberration.
It reminds me of the fact-finding trip I and around 10 other members of Plaid took to Brussels in 1974 or 1975, prior to the referendum on remaining in the EEC.  One evening, a Tory MEP came to sit with a group of us, on the basis that we were all Brits together in a foreign place.  The idea that we might, as Welsh people, see ourselves as having more in common with mainstream European politicians than with a Tory who happened to be from the UK, and that we might see Wales as being more akin to other submerged nations in Europe than to the ‘regions’ of England was something that he simply could not understand.
Talk of Scotland and Ireland ‘returning to the fold’ in due course, merely confirms that those of a certain perspective still don’t get it.  They probably never will.


Unknown said...

The UK is a trillion pounds in debt and counting. By his logic the UK should hand all control over to the EU.

Emlyn Uwch Cych said...

Bore da, John: "I’m open to be proved wrong on this, but I don’t believe that there’s a single example in modern history – or perhaps even all history – in which a nation secedes from a state and then asks to rejoin it."

Newfoundland gained independence from Britain in 1907 as a Dominion (just like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), and further cemented this with the Statute of Westminster in 1931 (just like Canada, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa).

During the Great Depression, in 1934, it gave up this independent status, asking London to govern it again as a colony.

Finally, in 1949 it joined Canada as province.

So, to answer your question, within living memory an independent country has hightailed it back to mummy when independence got too much for it.

Adam Higgitt said...

"I don’t believe that there’s a single example in modern history – or perhaps even all history – in which a nation secedes from a state and then asks to rejoin it."

While in no way endorsing the utterly batty idea that Ireland would rejoin the UK, there are a few examples, if not of a state seceding and then rejoining, of states breaking up and later reunifying. Germany is the most obvious and nearest such example.

Efrogwr said...

I agree, John. Somehow I cannot see Scotland begging to be let back in. Sion Jobbins made the point very well in a recent article in Cambria that small nations are often told they are "too poor to be independent" and then go on to do very well, despite the predictions of woe:

Anonymous said...

Robert Llewellyn Tyler

John Dixon said...

Thanks for the feedback, particularly to Adam and Emlyn for providing some interesting examples.

I'm not sure that I'd describe Germany as an example of "states breaking up and later reunifying" - it was divided involuntarily by military conquest and then chose to re-unite after the outside power controlling the east relaxed its grip. It is, though, an example of two 'countries' voluntarily deciding to unite, and that makes it relevant up to a point. The Newfoundland example appears to be a better example of an independent country returning to the fold; so between you, I stand corrected.

The German example caused me to think of all sorts of interesting questions, about the relationship between country and nation, and how long it takes before a 'country' decides it's become a 'nation'. The idea of 'nationality' meant that, in this case, the people of two countries continued to regard themselves as being part of a single nation. Would they otherwise have decided to unite? I suspect not.

Thinking of Canada made me think about the US as well. Many of the states which now form the USA were 'independent' before they voluntarily united at different times in their history. Perhaps one could include the cantons of Switzerland as another example, and a multilingual one to boot. There were perhaps some economic issues underlying some of the decisions, but it also highlights the question of ‘nationality’ – to what extent did the populations of the merging units consider themselves already to be part of a single nation?

Welsh Agenda said...

There was (and may still be) an organisation doing the rounds a few years ago called the Federal Commonwealth Movement or something similar.

Basically it wanted the UK to leave the UK and for Australia, New Zealand and Canada to return to London rule under some sort of federal structure.

Needless to say that none of the commonwealth countries with non-white populations was even mentioned.

Despite their claims to support federalism thay also wanted to scrap the Welsh Assembly and Scottish parliament.

Britnot said...

Fifty plus states seceded from the British Empire so if only one, Newfoundland, made the mistake of re-applying then those are not bad odds. The fact is that once Countries sample the freedom to run their affairs themselves they rarely want to return to to the exploitation of Empire.

Empires do not exist to benefit their vassal states, they exist to exploit. That is the basis of the British Empire and the quicker we consign it like the Roman Empire, to the dustbin of history the better!

Cibwr said...

I am a fan of alternative history, but I have to admit I have never read one where Ireland rejoins the UK... I have read those where England leaves the UK (Decades of Darkness time line

Newfoundland is an interesting case, essentially the place went bankrupt and had a background of corruption - while it may have been a dominion I don't think it regarded its self as fully independent.

Anyway the idea that Ireland would give up its independence is simply absurd - but it shows the mind frame of some. They haven't given up the dreams of empire.

Bill Chapman said...

I've found a blog at from last month with the heading "Commemorating 1916 - let's admit it was a bad idea" Someone called Tom O' Connor said...

"I suppopse I'm the only one who thinks this, but ... How about Ireland joining up again with the United Kingdom? There is devolution in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and there would certainly be room for a self-governing Ireland within the United Kingdom. If the word "Kingdom" doesn't appeal, then it could be the United States of Britain and Ireland.

It would be good for Ireland to have the pound instead of the useless euro.

There. I've said it."

The idea of Ireland coming back into the U.K. seems reasonable to me.

John Dixon said...

Most things look reasonable to someone, somewhere. Doesn't mean that it isn't, as Adam put it in his comment, a 'batty' idea.