True independence means liberating the entire British Isles from Westminster rule
Scottish and Welsh independence and the re-unification of Ireland are increasingly mainstream ideas. Could Irish independence one day be seen as the first step towards the liberation of all the nations - Ireland, Scotland, Wales and even England - from the shackles of Westminster rule?
A splendid spectacle, or an outdated tradition that doesn't belong in the 21st century?
Ireland gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1921, after years of struggle. At the time, it was a huge victory for Irish nationalism and an inspiration to resistance movements around the world. But the impending dissolution of the UK, most likely through Scottish independence, might well change the story.
Because if Scotland breaks away, to be followed by Irish re-unification, and possibly the independence of Wales, then Irish independence begins to look less like an isolated incident, and more like the first sign of the collapse of the UK itself.
I'm from Wales, but until 2016 I was a Unionist. I protested against Scottish independence in 2014. Brexit changed everything. With Theresa May and later Boris Johnson in command, I realised that the desire to escape the toxic politics of Westminster was in fact entirely rational. But I'm willing to go a step further than most other commentators - because I believe it's not just the Celtic nations that need to be set free from Westminster. It's also England.
Autocracy in the UK
The UK is a state topped by a medieval hereditary monarchy, with unelected lords and bishops in the upper chamber of Parliament. The country does not have a written constitution. Its system of rule ultimately stems back to the Norman conquest in 1066.
While Scotland and Wales may be the places where the tension with Westminster is most commonly raised and obvious, there have been allusions to the dissent within England itself as well - most notably when the idea of London independence briefly entered public consciousness during the uproar over Brexit. The hashtag "Scotland take us with you" which became popular in Northern England also hinted at the same.
A map of the Celtic nations. Ireland, Scotland and Wales are the best known, but Brittany, Cornwall and the Isle of Man also have significant Celtic heritage.
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland at least have a path out of the UK - they can vote in favour of independence parties, or for unification with the Irish Republic. But England - and particularly the parts of England that do not vote Conservative (such as the cities, London, and much of the North) - do not have such an option. Unlike Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, England does not have its own devolved Parliament.
The huge gulf between the politicians in Westminster, and the rest of the country, is part of the problem. Boris Johnson and his public school cronies don't represent England. Nor does the monarchy. Really, the process of independence for the nations of these isles will not be fully complete until all parts of the UK get free of Westminster's anti-democratic clutches.
Separatism even here: England
Perhaps that's why a number of separatist parties have been formed in recent years. The Northern Independence Party, founded in 2020, seeks to turn Northern England into a separate country called Northumbria, with progressive policies. The Yorkshire Party, founded in 2014, seeks to establish a devolved government in Yorkshire with strong local powers. Cornwall's independence party Mebyon Kernow has existed since 1951; it has also seen its membership rise recently.
Putting aside the practical considerations for a moment, let us imagine what could be if Westminster and the entire system of entrenched privilege was swept away. England could be re-invented as a modern, democratic country. No need for a feudal aristocracy, a medieval hereditary monarchy, nor the worst wealth inequality in Europe. Not to mention the lack of modern democracy (i.e. proportional representation and a free media).
A splendid spectacle, but do we really need the monarchy? It's outdated, anachronistic and - I used to think - fairly harmless. But actually, it really does matter, as the monarchy's failure to act over Brexit and the illegal proroguing of Parliament has shown. What we need is a constitution and an elected presidency, not a figurehead who is powerless to do anything in the country's hour of need.
England needs a constitutional revolution of its own. England could become a secular republic. Abolish the monarchy and the House of Lords, and move Parliament to Manchester to be more in touch with England's actual heartlands. Of course, it goes without saying that the unhealthy, toxic and divisive tabloid media also needs to lose its stranglehold over England's politics. Longer-term, England would ultimately be best served by re-joining the European Union.
War and revolution?
How these things could happen, is anyone's guess. History suggests that when peaceful change and the rights of the people are prevented, violent revolution by force of arms becomes increasingly likely. I fear the UK is sliding towards an authoritarian, ultra-nationalist one-party state, its democracy exposed as a hollow shell controlled by private donations and media propaganda. The rule of law is threatened, as are basic human rights.
Boris Johnson is fundamentally illegitimate. He is not the rightful Prime Minister of the UK. He is an imposter, a fraud and a scam, as the Cambridge Analytica scandal shows. Regardless of what form these isles take - whether several independent countries, a federation, or the status quo - there needs to be a change, in favour of real democracy. The powerful have never granted people their rights willingly; every advantage ordinary people have ever gained has had to be fought for, and those who advocated change have often been persecuted harshly for it, even at the cost of their lives.
This mural in Newport depicts the brave Chartist marchers who protested for their rights in the 19th century. To the right, soldiers open fire on these early pro-democracy activists.
Right now, the options for people in the UK who want a better future appear to be: vote for independence if you live in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland; and either wait, potentially for many years, or leave the country. But the longer those in power continue to hang on to morally indefensible systems of oppression, the closer the UK gets to strife. Sooner or later (if there is no reform), the whole rotten system will collapse under the weight of its own contradictions and failures.
Perhaps then, the people all across these islands will finally be free of a system that has endured since William the Conqueror. And when that happens, perhaps historians will look back and say "it began in Ireland".