The Not-so-United Kingdom

Yesterday, Scotland voted 55/45 to remain within the United Kingdom rather than separating off into an independent state that hasn’t existed since 1707.

Friction on the matter has existed pretty much forever.  The Scottish see themselves as having a different culture than the English, although as someone living in the melting pot of America I have a hard time seeing it.

More importantly, the rhetoric has long been in terms of being under foreign rule, much like Ireland, which eventually gained its independence from Britain (except for the northern provinces, which voted to remain).

Ireland, however, was forcibly conquered.  Soldiers came in large numbers to take it over and keep control.  They imposed significant limitations on their way of life, and they bled the country dry of resources: during the Great Potato Famine, Britain insisted Ireland continue to meet its quota of exported potatoes even when it meant leaving literally nothing for the Irish farmers.

That didn’t happen in Scotland.  Yes, there have been times England has invaded, as well as meddling in its politics to make it more subservient to England.  That part of Braveheart is absolutely correct.  But that’s not how England and Scotland became united.

The monarchy became united in 1603 when the Scottish king became the English king, not the other way around.

The Question of Sccession

In 1603, Elizabeth I of England died without child, which was a habit of the Tudor family.  She named as her heir the person everyone hoped she would name: James VI of Scotland.  James was a distant cousin, but everyone agreed he was the closest relative, which was very nice considering England’s century-long history of not agreeing on who the hell should be king, which led to all sorts of shenanigans:

  • The War of the Roses
  • The execution of Jane Grey, the pretender queen
  • The execution of Mary Queen of Scots, an actual queen
  • Arguably the creation of the Anglican church, which happened in the wake of Henry VIII desperately seeking a male heir (and yet, the divorced wife’s daughter still became queen)
  • Arguably the execution of Anne Boleyn, for failing to provide said heir (and yet, her daughter also became queen)
  • The pope publicly calling for Elizabeth I’s assassination as a pretender queen

And so, James VI of Scotland also became James I of England, and every monarch since then descends from from James.

Edinburgh or London

Originally, the monarchs spent time traveling between the two kingdoms, which were still politically independent, each having their own parliaments, for example.  But, more and more, the kings ruled both kingdoms from London, and in 1707 they were officially merged into a single country, Great Britain, and Scotland and England both stopped existing as independent kingdoms.

Why would those kings, whose closest royal relative was Scottish, favor London over Edinburgh?  Sorry to break it to you, Scotland, but Edinburgh is kind of the middle of nowhere when you consider all of Europe.  Heck, London had long been seen as the backwater of Europe, but right about the time of Elizabeth I, England was becoming a major economic powerhouse.  It continued to grow in size, economy and military all the way into the 20th century as the British Empire.

Map of Europe with Scotland highlighted
At the same latitude as Denmark and Sweden, Scotland isn’t exactly central in the European scheme of things. No one sings the praises of the great Swedish Empire.  England at least comes within 25 miles of the continent (at the narrowest point of the English channel).

In the 19th century, London was the first city since Rome 2000 years ago to reach 1 million people.  Today, it’s home to 10 million, with its metropolitan area housing another 5 million.

Scotland today?  6 million.  Not Edinburgh.  Scotland.  All of it.  It’s one-third of the land-mass of Great Britain yet less than 10% of the total population of 64 million.

That is why (in a very simplified manner) the kings, even though of Scottish descent, chose to rule from London: bigger population, better economy, colonies, I imagine slightly better weather, geographic closeness to the continent.

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