'The End of Great Britain'? Who Cares?

As a confirmed non-Anglophile, I must admit I don’t much care one way or the other what happens to Great Britain, Britain, or Little England. But, as I tweeted after the British elections, it’s clear Scotland has already seceded, and the rest of the breakup is now just a matter of time. Anne Applebaum ponders:


This election will be remembered as the one that rescued the career of David Cameron, the British prime minister, who was publicly contemplating his own exit from politics only two months ago. It will also be remembered as the election that abruptly ended the career of the Labor Party leader, Ed Miliband, who had confidently carved his electoral promises onto a large piece of limestone only last week. Above all, it will be remembered as the election that every single major pollster got wrong: All the dire talk of hung parliaments, minority coalitions and the intervention, even, of the queen has vanished with the emergence of a solid Conservative majority. But long after these various dramas are forgotten, it might also be remembered as the election that marked the beginning of the end of Great Britain, at least in the form that we now know it.

Certainly it could literally mark the beginning of the end of the United Kingdom, that union of four nations — Welsh, English, Northern Irish and Scottish — whose stability hasn’t seriously been challenged for quite some time. For one, the Scottish National Party, which calls openly for Scottish secession, has just won 56 of 59 Scottish parliamentary seats, wiping out both Labor and the Liberal Democrats and in some places achieving a 30 percent or even 40 percent electoral swing. More to the point, it’s now clear that not everybody in London is terribly upset by this news. “I never really felt ‘British’ anyway,” a friend told me very late on election night. “I feel English.”

I don’t think he was alone. Suddenly, a vision of a different future has opened up, especially for a certain kind of English Tory: Without dour, difficult, left-wing Scotland, maybe they could rule the rest of what used to be Great Britain, indefinitely. For U.S. readers who find the significance of this hard to understand: Imagine that a Texan secessionist party had, after years of campaigning, just taken every Texan seat in Congress. And now imagine that quite a few people in the rest of the country — perhaps in the Democratic Party — had, after years of arguing back, finally begun to think that Texan secession really might not be so bad and were beginning to calculate the electoral advantages accordingly.


The imaginary — what? country? province? occupied territory? — of “Northern Ireland” is sure to join the Republic, especially now that only two of the Six Counties under British control still have Protestant majorities. The other Celtic nations, Wales and Cornwall, are less restive, but may eventually swing with the tide as well. Ms. Applebaum tries to put a brave face on things:

The voters have spoken, and to English Tories, the message has come through loud and clear: Without Scotland, without the outside world, they will do just fine. They’ll always have London, with one of the world’s most lucrative financial sectors; they’ll always have England, with some of the world’s greenest countryside; and they’ll always have the memory of a grander history — and maybe that’s enough.

But given the Muslim birthrate in what used to be English cities — maybe not.


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