The United Kingdom (UK) comprises four Constituent countries: England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
Within United Kingdom, a unitary sovereign state, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have gained a degree of autonomy through the process of devolution. The UK Parliament and British Government deal with all reserved matters for Northern Ireland and Scotland and all non-transferred matters for Wales, but not in general matters that have been devolved to the Northern Ireland Assembly, Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales. Additionally, devolution in Northern Ireland is conditional on co-operation between the Northern Ireland Executive and the Government of Ireland (see North/South Ministerial Council) and the British Government consults with the Government of Ireland to reach agreement on some non-devolved matters for Northern Ireland (see British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference). England remains fully the responsibility of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which is centralised in London.
England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are not themselves listed in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) list of countries. However the ISO list of the subdivisions of the UK, compiled by British Standards and the UK's Office for National Statistics, uses "country" to describe England, Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland, in contrast, is described as a "province" in the same lists. Each have separate national governing bodies for sports and compete separately in many international sporting competitions, including the Commonwealth Games. Northern Ireland also forms joint All-Island sporting bodies with the Republic of Ireland for most sports, including rugby union.
The Channel Islands and the Isle of Man are dependencies of the Crown and are not part of the UK. Similarly, the British overseas territories, remnants of the British Empire, are not part of the UK.
Historically, from 1801, following the Acts of Union, until 1921 the whole island of Ireland was a country within the UK. Ireland was split into two separate jurisdictions in 1921: Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland. Southern Ireland left the United Kingdom under the Irish Free State Constitution Act 1922.
Various terms have been used to describe England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
Acts of Parliament
- The Laws in Wales Acts 1535â"1542 annexed the legal system of Wales to England to create the 3F single entity commonly known for centuries simply as England, but later officially renamed England and Wales. Wales was described (in varying combinations) as the "country", "principality", and "dominion" of Wales. Outside of Wales, England was not given a specific name or term. The Laws in Wales Acts have subsequently been repealed.
- The Acts of Union 1707 refer to both England and Scotland as a "part" of the United Kingdom
- The Acts of Union 1800 use "part" in the same way to refer to England and Scotland. However, they use the word "country" to describe Great Britain and Ireland respectively, when describing trade between them
- The Government of Ireland Act 1920 described Great Britain, Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland as "countries" in provisions relating to taxation.
- The Northern Ireland Act 1998, which repealed the Government of Ireland Act 1920, does not use any term to describe Northern Ireland.
Current legal terminology
The Interpretation Act 1978 provides statutory definitions of the terms "England", "Wales" and the "United Kingdom", but neither that Act nor any other current statute defines "Scotland" or "Northern Ireland". Use of the first three terms in other legislation is interpreted following the definitions in the 1978 Act. The definitions in the 1978 Act are listed below:
- "England" means, "subject to any alteration of boundaries under Part IV of the Local Government Act 1972, the area consisting of the counties established by section 1 of that Act, Greater London and the Isles of Scilly." This definition applies from 1 April 1974.
- "United Kingdom" means "Great Britain and Northern Ireland." This definition applies from 12 April 1927.
- "Wales" means the combined area of 13 historic counties, including Monmouthshire, re-formulated into 8 new counties under section 20 of the Local Government Act 1972, as originally enacted, but subject to any alteration made under section 73 of that Act (consequential alteration of boundary following alteration of watercourse). In 1996 these 8 new counties were redistributed into the current 22 unitary authorities.
In the Scotland Act 1998 there is no delineation of Scotland, with the definition in section 126 simply providing that Scotland includes "so much of the internal waters and territorial sea of the United Kingdom as are adjacent to Scotland".
The Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Act 2011 refers to England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as "parts" of the United Kingdom in the following clause: "Each constituency shall be wholly in one of the four parts of the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland)."
"Regions": For purposes of NUTS 1 collection of statistical data in a format that is compatible with similar data that is collected elsewhere in the European Union, the United Kingdom has been divided into twelve regions of approximately equal size. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are regions in their own right while England has been divided into nine regions.
The official term rest of the UK (RUK or rUK) is used in Scotland, for example in export statistics and in legislating for student funding. This term is also used in the context of potential Scottish independence to mean the UK without Scotland.
The alternative term Home Nations is sometimes used in sporting contexts and may include all of the island of Ireland.
Identity and nationality
According to the British Social Attitudes Survey, there are broadly two interpretations of British identity, with ethnic and civic dimensions:
The first group, which we term the ethnic dimension, contained the items about birthplace, ancestry, living in Britain, and sharing British customs and traditions. The second, or civic group, contained the items about feeling British, respecting laws and institutions, speaking English, and having British citizenship.
Of the two perspectives of British identity, the civic definition has become the dominant idea and in this capacity, Britishness is sometimes considered an institutional or overarching state identity. This has been used to explain why first-, second- and third-generation immigrants are more likely to describe themselves as British, rather than English, Scottish or Welsh, because it is an "institutional, inclusive" identity, that can be acquired through naturalisation and British nationality law; the vast majority of people in the United Kingdom who are from an ethnic minority feel British. However, this attitude is more common in England than in Scotland or Wales; "white English people perceived themselves as English first and as British second, and most people from ethnic minority backgrounds perceived themselves as British, but none identified as English, a label they associated exclusively with white people". Contrariwise, in Scotland and Wales "there was a much stronger identification with each country than with Britain. "
Studies and surveys have reported that the majority of the Scots and Welsh see themselves as both Scottish/Welsh and British though with some differences in emphasis. The Commission for Racial Equality found that with respect to notions of nationality in Britain, "the most basic, objective and uncontroversial conception of the British people is one that includes the English, the Scots and the Welsh". However, "English participants tended to think of themselves as indistinguishably English or British, while both Scottish and Welsh participants identified themselves much more readily as Scottish or Welsh than as British". Some people opted "to combine both identities" as "they felt Scottish or Welsh, but held a British passport and were therefore British", whereas others saw themselves as exclusively Scottish or exclusively Welsh and "felt quite divorced from the British, whom they saw as the English". Commentators have described this latter phenomenon as "nationalism", a rejection of British identity because some Scots and Welsh interpret it as "cultural imperialism imposed" upon the United Kingdom by "English ruling elites", or else a response to a historical misappropriation of equating the word "English" with "British", which has "brought about a desire among Scots, Welsh and Irish to learn more about their heritage and distinguish themselves from the broader British identity". The propensity for nationalistic feeling varies greatly across the UK, and can rise and fall over time.
The state-funded Northern Ireland Life and Times Survey, running since 1998 as part of a joint project between the University of Ulster and Queen's University Belfast, addressed the issue of identity in 2009. It reported that 35% of people identified as British, whilst 32% identified as Irish and 27% identified as Northern Irish. 2% opted to identify themselves as Ulster, whereas 4% stated other. Of the two main religious groups, 63% of Protestants identified as British as did 6% of Catholics; 66% of Catholics identified as Irish as did 3% of Protestants. 29% of Protestants and 23% of Catholics identified as Northern Irish.
Following devolution and the significant broadening of autonomous governance throughout the UK in the late 1990s, debate has taken place across the United Kingdom on the relative value of full independence.
England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales each have separate national governing bodies for sports and compete separately in many international sporting competitions. Each country of the United Kingdom has a national football team, and competes as a separate national team at the various disciplines in the Commonwealth Games. At the Olympic Games, the United Kingdom is represented by the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team, although athletes from Northern Ireland can choose to join the Republic of Ireland's Olympic team. Also in addition to Northern Ireland having its own national governing bodies for some sports such as Association football and Netball, for others, such as rugby union and cricket, Northern Ireland also participates with the Republic of Ireland in a joint All-Island team. England and Wales also field a joint cricket team.
The United Kingdom also competes in the Eurovision Song Contest.
- History of the formation of the United Kingdom
- Constituent country
- Scottish independence
- Welsh independence
- English independence
- Gallagher, Michael (2006). The United Kingdom Today. London: Franklin Watts. ISBNÂ 978-0-7496-6488-6.Â
- Park, Alison (2005), British Social Attitudes: The 21st Report, SAGE, ISBNÂ 978-0-7619-4278-8Â
- Commission for Racial Equality (November 2005), Citizenship and Belonging: What is Britishness? (PDF), Commission for Racial Equality, ISBNÂ 1-85442-573-0Â
- Ward, Paul (2004), Britishness Since 1870, Routledge, ISBNÂ 978-0-203-49472-1Â