Britain’s Historic Crossroads

James Denselow

Too often it is a cliché to describe a country at a crossroads or major point in its history but increasingly it seems that Great Britain is in exactly that place. The death of the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, just shy of his 100th birthday, has reminded the country that some of its seemingly most permanent figures exit the stage. His death follows a fraught year for the Royal Family who have had to batten down the hatches due to Covid as well as weather the storm from the departure of Harry and Megan, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, from being working royals.

A crisis of sorts within the royal family is just one of the factors that brings Britain to this historic crossroads. Although Brexit and the departure from the EU has got ‘done’, its legacy continues to shape the country. Such a divisive referendum split the country into two camps whose identities continues to shape politics today.

More dramatically the shockwaves of Brexit are being felt in Northern Ireland and Scotland leading to serious challenges for the maintenance of the Union itself. Indeed, Scottish elections in May are projected to be dominated by the Scottish Nationalist Party who are all primed to push for another Independence Referendum that their vote share would be it difficult to deny.

Number 10 has denied that it would be bounced into granting another vote and put out a statement that “calling for a referendum in this way in the middle of a pandemic is not right.” However, the pandemic won’t last forever and indeed the success of the UK’s vaccine campaign may be a uniting factor in any future argument for keeping Great Britain together. Nevertheless, it seems that the discord generated by Brexit will force the question of Scotland’s splitting from the Union to be put to the vote in some form or other in the years to follow.

Meanwhile in Northern Ireland successive nights of violence have seen over 55 police officers injured in a level of unrest “not seen in years”. The triggers of these events are myriad and linked to Republican leaders flouting Covid regulations to attend a funeral and feelings of being over policed, but the single biggest context change to what has been a period of peace in Northern Ireland, has been Brexit and the introduction of a border in the Irish Sea as part of the agreement made with the EU.

Whilst Wales remains the least likely to succeed from the United Kingdom, record-breaking numbers of people in Wales are in favour of independence, a new poll suggests. Conducted for ITV News Tonight by Savanta ComRes, the new survey found just under 40 per cent of Welsh citizens to be in favour of separating from the UK, representing the highest levels of support for Welsh independence ever recorded.

The 2019 UK election, won by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, promised the ‘levelling up’ of northern areas of the country previous dominated by the Labour Party. However, Covid and the massive amount of Government spending on the health service and furloughing the economy has meant that serious questions remain as to whether those promises can be kept in the post-Covid period, meaning that another large chunk of the country may feel that their expectations have been badly managed.

The mantra of the original Brexit advocates was that people should vote to ‘take back control’, it would seem that the nations of the UK, as well as the regions too, are increasingly feeling that way towards their own political future that may not involve the Union. However, that the Royal Family, the rock of so much of the country’s identity, is now morning the loss of the Duke of Edinburgh may be a catalyst towards a greater shared collective identity.

This would be moving against the headwinds described earlier in this article and sadly for those advocates of the Union the current Covid restrictions mean that there will not be a huge public turnout around the Duke’s funeral which will be a small family affair. Yet the polling in favour of Scottish independence declined recently supposedly linked to scandals within the Scottish Nationalist Party as well as the success of the Covid vaccination programme, a reminder that the depth of feeling towards these issues is perhaps somewhat shallow and open to influence meaning that the crossroads the country is facing is all to play for.

by: James Denselow

James Denselow,