November 22, 2021 8.50 am This story is over 24 months old

Barry Turner: The Disunited Kingdom

‘It’s inevitable Scotland and Northern Ireland will leave the UK’

“And now the end is here, and so I face that final curtain” goes the opening line to the song immortalised by Frank Sinatra. They have now become the new national anthem of the United Kingdom as it slips inexorably towards dissolution.

In real time reality the United Kingdom has already gone. While it hangs on as a polity it has long ceased to be a nation, an anachronism at best and a relic of empire at its worst. Like many of the pluralistic democracies of the world it continues in its zombie state because of the fear of change and the mistaken belief that past glories offer a workable substitute to a promising future.

The four nation United Kingdom is on simple observation in the same condition that the old British empire was at the end of its decline, struggling against political corruption and facing populations who have lost all faith, not only in the political parties but in the political system itself. There is no solution ahead in maintaining the status quo, nothing short of a revolution will effect any change at all. This is not a matter of repair but of tearing down the ruin and building anew.

At the political party level we have two ossified and defunct entities both long dead in terms of ideas and integrity. To paraphrase the journalist Peter Hitchens the only reason either of them is still standing up is because it is leaning on the corpse of the other. Quite simply, the problems the UK is facing are not ever going to be resolved by a general election, or for that matter by some Farage style maverick with a set of tap room wisecracks.

The UK needs root and branch reform and that includes dissolution of the Union as it still stands. Time and time again we have heard politicians talking of what they will do when they are in power and time and time again they have let us down. Switching the current Conservative in name only government for a Labour in name only government will achieve nothing if they are elected into the current system.

And what about the system? The UK claims to be (one of) the oldest democracies in the world. We have in effect only been a democracy in the true sense of the word since 1928 when The Equal Franchise Act of that year gave women equal voting rights with men. Not quite a hundred years then. The UK as a political entity is also a lot younger than our colourful history suggests. The Act of Union 1707 post-dates many of the suggested ‘origins’ of Britain by some centuries.

It is however old enough to call time on it, time indeed to put it behind us and move on to a prosperous and fair future for all the nations that currently constitute the United Kingdom. It’s time to become nations of the 21st century not of the early 18th or for that matter the imperial power of the late 19th. A democracy where a citizens’ vote does count and where government is about governing for the benefits of the citizen, not the vested interest and certainly not for the benefit of the political elite.

Dissolution of the Union could bring this about. It is inevitable that both Scotland and Northern Ireland will leave the UK in the near future. It might be during the tenure of the current Prime Minister if his own party don’t stab him in the back first. It is a fact that one of that crowd of 650 MPs now sitting in the House of Commons will be the Prime Minister that presides over the dissolution of the UK. That is oddly something that most of them fear, they should embrace it instead.

This dissolution of the UK would bring great opportunities. The root and branch reforms our society needs cannot be delivered by the current system. Dissolution would give all four of the nations opportunities that the United Kingdom never can. England will not be a loser in this it will benefit in so many ways. The new independent England can be freed from the ossified historical theme park it currently inhabits.

The Bill of Rights of 1688 can at last be rewritten into a modern constitution. The monarchy can be abolished as a political entity, the House of Lords, perhaps the most preposterous institution that could ever exist in a country that calls itself a parliamentary democracy could be totally scrapped and replaced with an elected second chamber. Regional governments could be given executive power in a federation rather than governed as medieval fiefdoms from Westminster

Why wait for Scotland to declare independence and for the population of Ireland to vote to unite with the Republic? A UK government should take the initiative and go now.

The irony is that Brexit was the final call for the UK. Leaving the EU did not preserve the Union or strengthen Britain’s role in the world, it hastened its demise as a political entity giving Scottish nationalists and Northern Irish pragmatists all the encouragement they needed. The Brexiteers voted the UK not only out of the EU but very soon out of existence.

Barry Turner is a Senior Lecturer in War Reporting and Human Rights and a member of the Royal United Services Institute.