In this country, you can barely walk anywhere at the moment without hearing the debate concerning whether Scotland should leave the United Kingdom and become its own entity. It’s being discussed in pubs, and bars…(actually the only places I go to are pubs and bars so that’s where I hear the discussions). Aside from the obvious answer that we would cease to be a United Kingdom, I don’t see why Scotland should leave. I prefer to have them there for reasons to be expanded upon in a moment, but something I overheard the other day has stuck with me since. One person said: “Why can’t we hold a resolution about getting rid of Scotland, rather than their leaving”, which made me chuckle happily into my pint of loveliness. But it made me think…
This argument is all the more poignant when you remember that today, in 1800, the Act of Union was passed and the Kingdoms of Great Britain and the Kingdom of Ireland were merged into the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Scotland and Britain had shared a monarch since James VI of Scotland and I of England crossed the border and took up the vacant throne left after Elizabeth I’s death in 1603. This duality was finally made official with the Act of Union 1707 where Queen Anne finally bonded England and Scotland into Great Britain politically, as well as monarchically.
The Act of Union 1800 was the ultimate display of unity. The act had to pass in the parliament of Great Britain as well as the parliament of Ireland, which it did eventually. The importance of the Act lay in the defensive nature of its creation on the European scene. The French Revolution had galvanized Irish Rebels and, following the Irish Rebellion of 1798, Britain was determined to safeguard its boarders and not allow Ireland to become a bigger thorn in its side as it had been for previous monarchs. The Act was simply Great Britain putting its arm around little Ireland and crushing her to its side – a friendly action but dripping with underlying importance.
The act allowed Ireland to have 100 representatives at the parliament of Westminster and seats in the House of Lords. Representatives now became established in Ecclesiastical matters and Ireland became a beneficiary of British trade and visa versa. It was profitable agreement for all parties involved and passed with a majority.
The King who signed the Act, and officially created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, was King George III. George has been famously remembered for his bouts of madness, prowess in the bedroom (he had 15 Children with his wife, Queen Charlotte) and, most notably, for his failed attempts during the American War of Independence and losing the Colonies across the pond.
However, perhaps the best outcome of the Act of Union 1800 is the flag that was created: The Union Flag. For me, there isn’t a sight more stirring than seeing the symbol of unity and strength fluttering in the breeze, or snapping wildly during a storm. I always thought that the Union itself would be like the flag; dignified in times of peace, resilient and strong in times of tumult and disorder. I can only hope that Scotland, who have put up with us (and vice versa) for so long, might find it in their hearts to Vote NO on their resolution, if only to spare me the heartache of not seeing the Union Flag dancing in the wind on my way to work in the mornings.
Oh, and one final note: it’s not the Union Jack unless it’s at sea… ok? Glad we’ve cleared that one up!