The United Kingdom is a country in decline. This shouldn’t surprise anyone living in the country or who’s aware of it’s history. From the heights of power, where the British Isles, a gloomy archipelago just off the coast of the Eurasian peninsular, possessed an empire which spanned the world, it has sunk to be shadow of it’s former glory.
Every empire fades and will inevitably be absorbed into the sphere of a rising one, with that rising power learning from their erstwhile rival and discarding anything which doesn’t suit their interests.
This loss of imperial power is a traumatic event in a country’s history and calls for a redefining of that country's place in the world. Some nations adopt a ‘denial’ strategy by trying to resist the loss of their power and aggressively seek to claw back what influence they can, we can see this strategy playing out with modern-day Russia or France.
Other countries, however, follow a strategy of “acceptance and integration.” Instead of resisting the inevitable shifting of power, these regimes sell their support to the new empire in exchange for a favourable position in the new order.
This is the strategy that ancient Greece pursued with the rising Roman Empire, it is also what the United Kingdom has done when faced with the American-led world order.
Since the ‘Suez Crisis’ which marked the official end of the British empire, the United Kingdom has been caught between two power centres, the American empire to it’s west and a fledgling European empire to it’s south and east.
In many ways, the referendum in 2016 just formalised a fact that was always present.
The UK, and particularly England, would always choose America over Europe.
The United States is a child of the UK, the people of the British Isles are it’s founding stock, and it’s political and legal systems are an offshoot of that birthed in Britain. More than that, however, British elites have always judged that the UK benefits immensely from being a junior partner of American empire and have acted to strengthen imperial power at every opportunity.
The opposite is true for Europe. The truth is that the British have always regarded the prospect of a united Europe as a threat. Whether it be unified via military force, in the case of Napoleon or Hitler, by marriage in the case of the Hapsburgs, or in a process of slow integration into a central authority as is happening now. Ultimately the means of unification doesn’t matter, a strong and united Europe represents a power bloc which Britain would not be able to balance against.
Britain, therefore, pursued a policy of disruption from the inside, seeking to exploit European national divisions to prevent the EU from acting in a way which threatened British interests. However, this tactic, while slowing things down, was ineffective over the long-term as the British could not resist the slow march towards centralisation being pushed by a united front of European economic powers.
When the British public voted to leave it, they really only formally acknowledged something which had been under the surface of European geopolitics for decades. The British were not willing to fully integrate themselves, and the European system could not tolerate such a large economic and political power trying to disrupt their project.
This tension would have come to the surface eventually even if then-Prime Minister David Cameron had not called his referendum in the first place.
British power was always based on a coalition between the economic trade centre based around the Thames river and what is called the ‘Celtic Fringe’, the nations which inhibit the peripheral zones of the British Isles, including Scotland, Wales and the island of Ireland. These countries combined had a population less than that of England yet were important sites of British industrial output without which Britain would never have been able to invent industrial capitalism.
The British empire was a project shared between all of these countries, even Ireland which suffered terribly under the British played a role in populating British colonies and producing British goods, mostly via indentured servitude.
The Scots aswell, as much as they want to deny the role they played in imperial conquest, were just as instrumental as their English cousins.
Look at the names of the founders of the United States or Canada or the number of Scottish-inspired place names in Australia and New Zealand and you will see the significance Scotland had in British domination of it’s imperial holdings.
A little-noticed phenomenon shows that the Scottish, despite being a tiny population in the world, have a disproportionately outsized influence on science and technological development. Shown in the number of Nobel prize winners or recognised geniuses with Scottish heritage, this even extends to the number of American Presidents, with the majority having Scottish or Ulster-Scot genes, including the current incumbent of the White House.
This intellectual influence combined with English sea-power and population numbers proved a mighty force in the world.
However, now the Scots are looking at the declined power of the UK and have judged that they no longer benefit from the current system.
States are rentier systems in which the money is drawn into central coffers and then distributed throughout the lands to key allies and institutions of the state to ensure it’s functioning as a single entity on the world stage.
In multi-national states such as the United Kingdom, these rents are distributed in the manner judged best to keep the patchwork regime together. Small populations within a larger multi-national framework can do very well in such systems when their importance is believed to be significant by the state elites.
Chechnya in Russia, for instance, receives immense amounts of funds to ensure it’s co-operation with Moscow because Russian elites believe this tiny province is fundamental to their security.
For years, the Scottish enjoyed a similarly outsized influence within their own system, owing to the Barnett formula which guaranteed them suitable funding. This was an attempt by London to bribe the Scots into staying in exchange for key resources, not least of which was oil from the North Sea.
States are ruled by their self-interest,and this is true of population groups within larger states. When one group believes that separation is in their interest they will pursue it. The Scottish have now found that independence from the largest political system of the British Isles is in their benefit and will declare a new state for themselves.
The emergence of a new country in the British Isles is not a question of if, but when.
Imagine a wave spreading across the map of the British Isles; starting in London, it spreads to encompass all England and than all of the British Isles, submerging the various kingdoms and clans which had existed in those areas. Now, that wave is receding and new countries are revealing themselves. First, Ireland emerged to the surface and now Scotland will be revealed in the coming years.
An independent Scotland would be one of the most sparsely populated countries in Europe, and alongside that it is also one with one of the oldest populations. Unlike an overpopulated England, which will seek to shut it’s door, independent Scotland will pursue a rapid economic development which will include fast population growth by migration from the developing world.
Until the widespread adoption of AI allows infrastructure and production areas to be maintained with fewer people, Scotland will require newly imported younger people to sustain it’s pension system and keep it’s economy growing.
While North-Sea oil is becoming less and less valuable, Scotland is situated in an area which makes it well-suited to take advantage of the renewable energy revolution. As the technology for wind farms and water-power stations become cheaper and is further integrated into global energy grids, an independent Scotland will likely pursue a strategy quite similar modern-day Canada, namely it will act as a source of energy and natural resources for a hungry and populated neighbour to it’s south.
Geography has meant that Scotland and the rump United Kingdom of England and Wales will remain bound together but this will be in a similar manner to how the Visegrad Group countries are aligned with each other. It will not be based on a romantic love of their shared history but in economic links and location.
The New State of London
“London is not an English city anymore….”
An English actor said that recently and the British media was filled with exaggerated rage. This is the same British media which has reported with glee the changing demographics of England’s major cities. Urban areas, especially London, are witnessing major ethnic and religious changes. The capitol of the England is majority non ethnic English. As much as people may want to deny it, this does have an effect on the outlook and alignments of the city. It was, after all, the only part of the England to vote to remain within the European Union.
Modern London has more in common with New York or Singapore, in that it is defined not by the nation it just happens to be in but in it’s role within the global information economy.
The social divide between centres of financial concentration and the regions which had hosted industrial production centres before they were subjected to de-industrialisation has produced internal power struggles within Western countries.
The English scholar, David Goodhart, calls this the ‘Anywhere vs. Somewhere’ divide. Somewheres are defined by an attachment to their location and a social conservationism which prizes order and stability, in the UK such people are often dismissively referred to as ‘little Englanders’. Anywheres are a permanent migrant class with little attachments to their nations and a preference for social and economic liberty at the expense of communal stability.
The ‘culture war’ you may have heard of being fought between progressives and social conservatives throughout the West is really just a reflection of this deeper schism within the developed (and developing) world.
Expecting Londoners to submit to the cultural proclivities and economic interests of middle and north England is like expecting New Yorkers and Silicon valley nerds to be guided by people from the rust-belt of the United States. It’s not going to happen and would only generate civil strife if it did.
This is why London will begin to assert itself as a separate unit of the British Isles. The world is witnessing what I call the ‘Great Urbanisation’ where at the mid-century, cities will contain the majority of the human race. This is the first time in Earth’ s history that this shift has occurred and will lead to the rise of modern city-states.
London, being a key hub of global capitalism, will be at the front and centre of this phenomenon. Gradually, we will see the Greater London Assembly grow to take more powers until they rival the national state in their influence.
In the near-future, we could see London building international coalitions with other major global urban powers such as Sainghai, Dubhai and Singapore, to react against the global order of national governments, which includes what remains of the British state.
When the multi-national identity of ‘British’ first appeared among the elites of the British Isles, it was as much to repress Englishness as it was to subjugate Scotland.
When Scotland leaves, and London begins to think of it’s self as a free city, England will slowly emerge after it’s long time just beneath the surface of the British project.
It is unlikely that this will result in another parliament or an officially independent England, but rather one that leads a union with Wales. Likewise, an English version of the SNP (Scotland’s nationalist bloc) is not needed because the Conservative Party are willing to play that role.
The British Conservative Party (or ‘Tories’) are one of the oldest political coalitions anywhere in the world. Throughout their history they have gone through a long evolution that is designed to ruthlessly secure power.
The Conservatives are the British version of Russia’s United Russia Party, or even the Chinese Communist Party, meaning they are the national party of power. Their key strength is their lack of ideology and this has meant alter themselves to match the culture and economy of the times.
People often forget but the first ancestors of the modern Conservative Party were intensely hostile towards capitalism (viewing it as socially destabilising), that was until capitalism became the dominant force of societal organisation, then they became it’s chief cheerleaders. They were originally against mass democracy, then became the party to do the most to extend the franchise. They were originally against the loss of the British empire then became key architects of de-colonisation when it was obvious the empire couldn't be maintained.
As times change, the Tory party, like a lizard shedding it’s skin, will adjust itself. In a future rump UK, the Tories will adopt English nationalism as their guiding principle. While this won’t be officially announced, it will be an implicit fact in how they govern.
Demographics and Destiny
As eluded to briefly, the United Kingdom has underdone a demographic overhaul since it lost it’s empire.
Ironically, this increasingly diverse population will actually lead to increasing internal division. As stated, multi-national states depend on the redistribution of resources from the centre to loyal groups and nations within the state system. Increasing ethnic diversity will likely lead to more competition between these groups and which will reflect in the politics of the country.
In the US, African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for the US Democratic Party, and the Republicans have come to implicitly represent the white majority of America. This prominent ethnic schism has become more pronounced as Hispanic births have begun to outnumber white births. Similar dynamics of implicit racial blocs forming will likely play out in the British Isles and indeed are doing so already.
In Northern Ireland demographic projections indicate that the catholic-nationalist population will outnumber the unionist-aligned protestants. This small and diverse territory saw these two groups competing, often violently, for state resources. As the British mainland becomes increasingly diverse, we may see a similar political polarisation in which the Conservatives become the implicit party of the white English and whoever opposes them represents a coalition of various ethnic groups.
The 51st State
I wrote before that the world would continue to be dominated by the United States for long into the 21st Century. I also wrote that the European Union would experience regionalisation and eventual disintegration into different blocs. In many ways, this would be the best scenario for the British Isles, which will remain an economic prosperous part of the world and can act as a bridge between the United States and a divided European continent.
As the drift from Europe to North America is slowly completed, a rump UK will find itself faced with questions of identity and sovereignty once again. However, this time, the British state (or rather, what remains of it) will not consider it necessary to resist the gravitational pull of American pressure.
In many ways, when one considers the influence of the American economy and culture on the United Kingdom, alongside how bound up the UK is in American-led organisations like NATO, this has already happened.