Is any of this important? I think it is, not only because the history of any state is important, but also because the story of the United Kingdom gave rise to much of the political terminology we still use today. For example the term “Unionist”, in party political terms, refers not to those wishing to preserve the Union between Scotland and England, but those who want to retain the Union between Great Britain and Ireland/Northern Ireland. When the Liberal Party split over Home Rule for Ireland in 1886, the party became two: Liberals and Liberal Unionists (the latter being opposed to Home Rule). Gradually, the Liberal Unionists merged with the Conservatives to form, in England, the Conservative and Unionist Party, and in Scotland – between 1912 and 1965 –the Scottish Unionist Party.
Yes, it could be argued that that the term “Unionist” has assumed a broader meaning in recent decades, but it’s still important to understand its origins. Judging by the pronouncements of many “Unionist” Conservatives, they do not. So if Scotland does vote for independence, it would not mean the end of the “United Kingdom”, as many Nationalists seem to believe: it would simply be seceding from that Union just as the Irish Free State did 90 years ago. The state might change its name, but the Union Jack would most likely remain unaltered, just as it did after 1922.
This brings me to Northern Ireland and Wales. If anyone’s been listening to Peter Robinson or Carwyn Jones recently, you might have got the impression they aren’t terribly thrilled at the prospect of Scottish independence, not least because it might weaken their status within the UK. Sensing this, Alex Salmond continues to cast “independence” purely in terms of England and Scotland, which is astonishingly simplistic. The United Kingdom comprises four nations, not two, and its history is a lot more complicated than many die-hard Nationalists, or indeed Unionists, seem to appreciate.