The United Kingdom

What is the UK? One large country? A group of countries united under one flag?

In brief: It is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, Channel Islands and the Isle of Man.

This is quite a mix, it is a family in every sense. We argue, we have a long history, we know each other well, we rarely agree BUT we are family!

It is hard for those outside to understand this union. It began in 1707 with the union of Scotland and England to form Great Britan. It began as a hostile merger and became a full partnership, one of the most astonishing transformations in European history. The Act of Union in 1800 added Ireland creating the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Wales came in as part of the English legal system in 1535 but achieved devolution in 1998, as a country it has its own flag (the Welsh Dragon), its own language and an instense pride in its own history.

In 1922, following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom becoming the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland then seceded from the Irish State to become part of the United Kingdom. So in 1927 the United Kindom formally changed its name to “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland”.

After a history of internal risings, conflicts and defeats the United Kingdom settled to spread the British Empire and to become one of the largest global powers. Its culture, politics and language became widespread. However, after fighting in the second world war with the Allies, the cost, both physically and financially, had been high and Britain no longer had the wealth or inclination to maintain an empire. Independence was sought by most countries, many though went on to join the Commonwealth of Nations.

Each country is separate and exists in its own right but joins together under one flag, the ‘Union Jack’. Each country also has its own individual flag too. In fact there are countless flags, ensigns and standards for the Armed forces, Navy and Royalty, but the main flags of the United Kingdon are:

St Georges flag for England

The Red Dragon for Wales

St Andrews Cross for Scotland

St Patricks Saltire for Northern Ireland

Manx Triskelion for the Isle of Man.

The flag of Northern Ireland was probably the most controversial due to ‘the Troubles’. It started as the Ulster Banner but this ceased to be recognised after 1973 and was replaced with the less symbolic St Patricks Saltire.

Other regions of England feel separate. Some would like to be independent and run their own affairs as an independant country within the United Kingdom. Cornwall is a good example. It has its own language and its own flag and because of its position (the furthest south-westerly point of England), it has operated on its own for centuries. There are some Cornish now who would like to go back to being more separate or independent, others feel the word ‘back’ is appropriate here and it would be a backward step.

A big moment arrived for the UK in september last year when Scotland held its own referendum to decide whether it wanted to stay as part of the UK or become a fully independent country within Europe. It was a tense moment. Politicians were racing up and down across the border, discussing, promising, evaluating! Was this about loyalties, independence, resources (gas), finances, ancient animosities, Europe or simply wanting to ‘leave home’! The scotish people voted and, by a narrow majority, decided to stay as part of the UK.

Devolution movements in the United Kingdom mean that the degree of unity is constantly evolving and may continue to change. Whatever happens, political ideals of democracy and equality continue. It is certainly not perfect and there is much to do responding to new changes, but for the time being the union stands!

Vocabulary:

Hostile Merger: A business term used to describe the essential or agressive coming together of two parties.

Devolution: The process of gaining your own power within a larger country or state.

Secede: To decide to leave, to decide to not belong to something.

Internal risings: Conflicts or disagreements within a country or a region.

Referendum: A vote amongst the people to decide on something important.

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