Unionism has always been a ‘fragile concept’, English literature expert argues
Unionism has always been a “fragile concept”, an expert in English literature has argued.
Alex Niven, a lecturer in English literature at Newcastle University, suggested that the union has always been “underpinned by confused, overly broad notions of Englishness”.
The author of New Model Island, said since its formation “there was often the pretence of an equal partnership”, and that England’s “fellow nations” were only awarded “partial gains”.
He also said that the UK is “probably doomed” and that not many people have a clear idea of “what should replace the dying dream of unionism”.
In a column for The Guardian, he said: “Many think the UK in its current form is probably doomed, and that the break up of the union is inevitable.
“But outside the various nationalist causes, few people seem to have a clear idea about what should replace the dying dream of unionism.
“With a pro-independence majority installed in the Holyrood parliament, it seems almost certain that Scotland will achieve independence in the near-ish future.
“Meanwhile, spurred on by Brexit and the destabilising impact of Covid-19, Northern Ireland’s place in the union looks increasingly precarious — with a majority of its citizens expecting Irish reunification in the next 25 years.
“Even in Wales, where opposition to the UK is modest by comparison, calls for independence are growing louder by the year.
He added: “In stark contrast, the unionist cause is beleaguered. While Scottish, Irish and Welsh nationalist movements have gained in strength, underlined by the SNP’s decisive breakthrough in the May elections, the union has become a hazy, marginal idea that is rarely articulated with much confidence or sense of belief.
“Part of the problem is that British unionism has always been a fragile concept, underpinned by confused, overly broad notions of Englishness.
“The series of conquests and treaties that paved the way for the formation of the UK were almost all led by England (even if, as with the 1707 Act of Union that joined Scotland with England and Wales, there was often the pretence of an equal partnership).
“Throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, the rise of an ‘Anglo-British’ state benefited English interests enormously, while more partial gains were awarded to its fellow nations.”
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