Unionism in the United Kingdom
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politics and government of
the United Kingdom
Unionism in the United Kingdom, also referred to as British unionism, is a political ideology favouring the continued union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland..
Unionism was historically a major issue in Ireland, where Irish nationalism was a significant force. Most of Ireland gained independence from the UK in the 1920s. In Northern Ireland, which remained part of the UK, unionism has continued to be a major issue and the main political divide is between unionists and Irish nationalists/republicans. This has led to violent conflict in Northern Ireland, most notably the Troubles.
Since the late 20th century support for the Union has become a bigger issue in Scotland and, to a lesser extent, Wales. Following the Scottish National Party's victory in Scotland's 2011 election, a referendum on Scottish independence took place on 18 September 2014: the result supported remaining within the United Kingdom, winning the vote by 55.3% No to 44.7% Yes to the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?".
Formation of the Union
|Treaty of Windsor||1175|
|Treaty of York||1237|
|Treaty of Perth||1266|
|Treaty of Montgomery||1267|
|Treaty of Aberconwy||1277|
|Statute of Rhuddlan||1284|
|Treaty of Edinburgh–N'hampton||1328|
|Treaty of Berwick||1357|
|Laws in Wales Acts||1535–1542|
|Crown of Ireland Act||1542|
|Treaty of Edinburgh||1560|
|Union of the Crowns||1603|
|Union of England and Scotland Act||1603|
|Act of Settlement||1701|
|Act of Security||1704|
|Treaty of Union||1706|
|Acts of Union||1707|
|Personal Union of 1714||1714|
|Wales and Berwick Act||1746|
|Acts of Union||1800|
|Government of Ireland Act||1920|
|Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act||1927|
|N. Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act||1972|
|Northern Ireland Assembly||1973|
|N. Ireland Constitution Act||1973|
|Northern Ireland Act||1998|
|Government of Wales Act||1998|
|Government of Wales Act||2006|
The Kingdom of Great Britain was formed on 1 May 1707 through the Acts of Union 1707, two simultaneous acts passed by the parliaments of England and Scotland. These created a political union between the Kingdom of England (consisting of England and Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland. This event was the result of the Treaty of Union that was agreed on 22 July 1706.
In 1801, the Acts of Union 1800 united the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland, through two similar independent acts of the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland. This created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on a similar basis to how England and Scotland had been united a century earlier.
A campaign to repeal the Union in Ireland began immediately. A series of efforts in the late 19th and early 20th century to establish Home Rule for Ireland within the union were unsuccessful and, following the Anglo-Irish War and subsequent Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, most of Ireland left the union as the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland remained part of the union and the United Kingdom became known formally as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927 (see: Partition of Ireland).
Prior to the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain, the three kingdoms had been separate states in personal union. When James VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin, Elizabeth I of England, as king of England, the crowns of England, Ireland and Scotland were united.
Before then, in 1542, the crowns of England and Ireland had been united through the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland under the Crown of Ireland Act 1542. Since the 12th century, the King of England had acted as Lord of Ireland, under papal overlordship. The act of 1542 created the title of King of Ireland for King Henry VIII of England and his successors, removing the role of the Pope as ultimate overlord of Ireland.
Support for the Union
Measuring support for the Union is complicated by the fact that it is the status quo in the United Kingdom. Unionism is not a single movement, and its support is often measured by being assumed to be that proportion of the population which does not support independence. However, this is not necessarily the case.
Support for the Union was historically highest in England and lowest in Ireland, with significant anti-Union minorities in Scotland and Wales. Today, polls consistently show that a majority of people in all four countries of the United Kingdom (after the partition of Ireland) support the continuation of the Union. This is despite the rise of pro-independence sentiment in Scotland, and to a lesser extent in Wales, where nationalist political parties have formed governments in the devolved bodies. Since the widespread devolution of the late 1990s, the electorate of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been more likely to vote for nationalist political parties for local or regional elections than in general elections for the House of Commons, where unionist parties dominate. In England, English nationalist parties have never won a seat in Parliament.
In 2014, the extent of UK-wide support for the Union came under considerable investigation as a result of the prospect of Scottish independence. The final result of the referendum saw a clear majority of the Scottish electorate vote to remain in the Union, with 55.3% voting against independence. Polls conducted in 2014 found that 70% of voters in England opposed Scottish independence, as did 83% of the Welsh population.
The Scottish referendum prompted an increase in political activity and vocalism across the United Kingdom. Several hundred celebrities, business leaders and political figures signed open letters to the national media supporting the Union and opposing Scottish independence, while large pro-Union rallies were held in several British cities, including in Trafalgar Square.
In Northern Ireland, support for the Union has been found to increase since the end of The Troubles, especially within the Roman Catholic population. In part, this is as a result of a decreasing association of the Union with radical or extremist political ideologies following the Good Friday Agreement.
Political parties and other groups
The following is a list of active political parties and organizations who support the union.
- Major, UK-wide parties
- Conservative and Unionist Party
- Labour Party
- Liberal Democrats
- UK Independence Party (UKIP)
- Northern Ireland parties
- Democratic Unionist Party (DUP)
- Progressive Unionist Party (PUP)
- Protestant Coalition
- Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV)
- Ulster Unionist Party (UUP)
- Minor parties
- Britain First
- British Freedom Party (BFP)
- British National Party (BNP)
- British People's Party (BPP)
- National Front (NF)
- Respect Party
- Scottish Unionist Party (SUP)
- Militant and other groups
- "Articles of Union with Scotland 1707". www.parliament.uk. Retrieved 19 October 2008.
- BBC News, 'Scotland Decides' (September 2014) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/events/scotland-decides
- Populus poll for the Daily Mail, reported on Georgia Newsday (09/12/2014) http://www.georgianewsday.com/news/regional/288603-7-in-10-english-want-scots-to-remain-part-of-the-uk,-reveals-mail-poll.html
- Sky News, Scot Vote Boosts Welsh Independence Support (15 September 2014) http://news.sky.com/story/1336172/scot-vote-boosts-welsh-independence-support
- Euro Weekly News, 'Scottish Independence Opposed by Celebrities' (7 August 2014) https://www.euroweeklynews.com/news/uk/item/121924-scottish-independence-opposed-by-celebrities
- Reuters, 'Business leaders urge Scots to vote against independence' (27 August 2014) http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/08/27/uk-scotland-independence-business-idUKKBN0GR04820140827
- 'Scottish independence: thousands attend Trafalgar Square rally urging Scots to vote 'No' in referendum', London Evening Standard (15 September 2014) http://www.standard.co.uk/news/london/trafalgar-square-rally-eddie-izzard-and-sir-bob-geldof-lead-pleas-for-scotland-to-stay-in-uk-9734619.html
- BBC News, 'Do more Northern Ireland Catholics now support the Union?' (29 November 2012) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-20547143
- Mark Aitken (2013-05-12). "UKIP leader Nigel Farage insists he will play a key role in the campaign against Scottish independence". Daily Record. Retrieved 18 October 2013.
- Britain First official website. Statement of Principles. "Britain First is a movement of British Unionism. We support the continued unity of the United Kingdom whilst recognising the individual identity and culture of the peoples of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We abhor and oppose all trends that threaten the integrity of the Union". Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- British National Party website. The SNP. A real nationalist party?. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- "Stand by Loyal Ulster!" – British People's Party leaflet. Official British People's Party website. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- British National Front website. What we stand for. "We stand for the continuation of the UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND - Four Countries, One Nation. Scotland, Ulster, England and Wales, united under our Union Flag - we will never allow the traitors to destroy our GREAT BRITAIN!". Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- Respect Party website. Scotland. "Respect officially passed a motion at its 2014 AGM backing a ‘No’ vote in Scotland’s Independence Referendum in September". Retrieved 8 July 2014.
- Armitage, David (2000). The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-78978-3.
- Brockliss, L. W. B. (1997). Brockliss, L. W. B.; Eastwood, David, eds. A Union of Multiple Identities: The British Isles, C1750-c1850 (illustrated ed.). Manchester University Press ND. ISBN 978-0-7190-5046-6.
- Cochrane, Feargal (2001). Unionist Politics and the Politics of Unionism Since the Anglo-Irish Agreement (2, revised ed.). Cork University Press. ISBN 978-1-85918-259-8.
- English, Richard (1996). English, Richard; Walker, Graham S., eds. Unionism in Modern Ireland: New Perspectives on Politics and Culture. Macmillan Press. ISBN 978-0-312-15979-5.
- Hazell, Robert (2006). Hazell, Robert, ed. The English Question. Devolution Series (illustrated, annotated ed.). Manchester University Press. ISBN 978-0-7190-7369-4.
- Jackson, Alvin (2011). The Two Unions: Ireland, Scotland, and the Survival of the United Kingdom, 1707–2007 (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-959399-6.
- Kanter, Douglas (2009). The making of British unionism, 1740–1848: politics, government, and the Anglo-Irish constitutional relationship. Four Courts Press. ISBN 978-1-84682-160-8.
- Kearney, Hugh F. (2006). The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (2, illustrated, revised, reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-84600-4.
- Kendle, John (1992). Walter Long, Ireland and the Union, 1905–1920. McGill-Queens. ISBN 978-0-7735-0908-5.
- Nicholls, Andrew D. (1999). The Jacobean Union: A Reconsideration of British Civil Policies Under the Early Stuarts. Greenwood Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-313-30835-2.
- O'Day, Alan; Boyce, David George (2001). Defenders of the Union: A Survey of British and Irish Unionism Since 1801. Psychology Press. ISBN 978-0-415-17421-3.
- Ward, Paul (2005). Unionism in the United Kingdom, 1918–1974. Palgrave MacMillan. ISBN 978-1-4039-3827-5.