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Unionism in the United Kingdom

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Unionism in the United Kingdom

This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the United Kingdom

Unionism in the United Kingdom, also referred to as British unionism, is a political ideology favouring the continued union of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland..

Unionism was historically a major issue in Ireland, where Irish nationalism was a significant force. Most of Ireland gained independence from the UK in the 1920s. In Northern Ireland, which remained part of the UK, unionism has continued to be a major issue and the main political divide is between unionists and Irish nationalists/republicans. This has led to violent conflict in Northern Ireland, most notably the Troubles.

Since the late 20th century support for the Union has become a bigger issue in Scotland and, to a lesser extent, Wales. Following the Scottish National Party's victory in Scotland's 2011 election, a referendum on Scottish independence took place on 18 September 2014: the result supported remaining within the United Kingdom, winning the vote by 55.3% No to 44.7% Yes to the question "Should Scotland be an independent country?".


  • Formation of the Union 1
  • Support for the Union 2
  • Political parties and other groups 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6

Formation of the Union

Documents relevant to personal
and legislative unions of the
countries of the United Kingdom
Treaty of Windsor 1175
Treaty of York 1237
Treaty of Perth 1266
Treaty of Montgomery 1267
Treaty of Aberconwy 1277
Statute of Rhuddlan 1284
Treaty of Edinburgh–N'hampton 1328
Treaty of Berwick 1357
Poynings' Law 1495
Laws in Wales Acts 1535–1542
Crown of Ireland Act 1542
Treaty of Edinburgh 1560
Union of the Crowns 1603
Union of England and Scotland Act 1603
Act of Settlement 1701
Act of Security 1704
Alien Act 1705
Treaty of Union 1706
Acts of Union 1707
Personal Union of 1714 1714
Wales and Berwick Act 1746
Irish Constitution 1782
Acts of Union 1800
Government of Ireland Act 1920
Anglo-Irish Treaty 1921
Royal and Parliamentary Titles Act 1927
N. Ireland (Temporary Provisions) Act 1972
Northern Ireland Assembly 1973
N. Ireland Constitution Act 1973
Northern Ireland Act 1998
Government of Wales Act 1998
Scotland Act 1998
Government of Wales Act 2006
Scotland Act 2012
Edinburgh Agreement 2012

The Kingdom of Great Britain was formed on 1 May 1707 through the Acts of Union 1707, two simultaneous acts passed by the parliaments of England and Scotland. These created a political union between the Kingdom of England (consisting of England and Wales) and the Kingdom of Scotland. This event was the result of the Treaty of Union that was agreed on 22 July 1706.[1]

The Acts created a single Parliament of Great Britain at Westminster as well as a customs and monetary union. However, England and Scotland remained separate legal jurisdictions.

In 1801, the Acts of Union 1800 united the Kingdom of Great Britain with the Kingdom of Ireland, through two similar independent acts of the Parliament of Great Britain and the Parliament of Ireland. This created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on a similar basis to how England and Scotland had been united a century earlier.

A campaign to repeal the Union in Ireland began immediately. A series of efforts in the late 19th and early 20th century to establish Home Rule for Ireland within the union were unsuccessful and, following the Anglo-Irish War and subsequent Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1922, most of Ireland left the union as the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland remained part of the union and the United Kingdom became known formally as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in 1927 (see: Partition of Ireland).

Prior to the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain, the three kingdoms had been separate states in personal union. When James VI of Scotland succeeded his cousin, Elizabeth I of England, as king of England, the crowns of England, Ireland and Scotland were united.

Before then, in 1542, the crowns of England and Ireland had been united through the creation of the Kingdom of Ireland under the Crown of Ireland Act 1542. Since the 12th century, the King of England had acted as Lord of Ireland, under papal overlordship. The act of 1542 created the title of King of Ireland for King Henry VIII of England and his successors, removing the role of the Pope as ultimate overlord of Ireland.

Support for the Union

Measuring support for the Union is complicated by the fact that it is the status quo in the United Kingdom. Unionism is not a single movement, and its support is often measured by being assumed to be that proportion of the population which does not support independence. However, this is not necessarily the case.

Support for the Union was historically highest in England and lowest in Ireland, with significant anti-Union minorities in Scotland and Wales. Today, polls consistently show that a majority of people in all four countries of the United Kingdom (after the partition of Ireland) support the continuation of the Union. This is despite the rise of pro-independence sentiment in Scotland, and to a lesser extent in Wales, where nationalist political parties have formed governments in the devolved bodies. Since the widespread devolution of the late 1990s, the electorate of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have been more likely to vote for nationalist political parties for local or regional elections than in general elections for the House of Commons, where unionist parties dominate. In England, English nationalist parties have never won a seat in Parliament. In 2014, the extent of UK-wide support for the Union came under considerable investigation as a result of the prospect of Scottish independence. The final result of the referendum saw a clear majority of the Scottish electorate vote to remain in the Union, with 55.3% voting against independence.[2] Polls conducted in 2014 found that 70% of voters in England opposed Scottish independence,[3] as did 83% of the Welsh population.[4]

The Scottish referendum prompted an increase in political activity and vocalism across the United Kingdom. Several hundred celebrities, business leaders and political figures signed open letters to the national media supporting the Union and opposing Scottish independence,[5][6] while large pro-Union rallies were held in several British cities, including in Trafalgar Square.[7]

In Northern Ireland, support for the Union has been found to increase since the end of The Troubles, especially within the Roman Catholic population.[8] In part, this is as a result of a decreasing association of the Union with radical or extremist political ideologies following the Good Friday Agreement.

Political parties and other groups

The following is a list of active political parties and organizations who support the union.

Major, UK-wide parties
Northern Ireland parties
Minor parties
Militant and other groups

See also


  1. ^ "Articles of Union with Scotland 1707". Retrieved 19 October 2008. 
  2. ^ BBC News, 'Scotland Decides' (September 2014)
  3. ^ Populus poll for the Daily Mail, reported on Georgia Newsday (09/12/2014),-reveals-mail-poll.html
  4. ^ Sky News, Scot Vote Boosts Welsh Independence Support (15 September 2014)
  5. ^ Euro Weekly News, 'Scottish Independence Opposed by Celebrities' (7 August 2014)
  6. ^ Reuters, 'Business leaders urge Scots to vote against independence' (27 August 2014)
  7. ^ 'Scottish independence: thousands attend Trafalgar Square rally urging Scots to vote 'No' in referendum', London Evening Standard (15 September 2014)
  8. ^ BBC News, 'Do more Northern Ireland Catholics now support the Union?' (29 November 2012)
  9. ^ Mark Aitken (2013-05-12). "UKIP leader Nigel Farage insists he will play a key role in the campaign against Scottish independence". Daily Record. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  10. ^ Britain First official website. Statement of Principles. "Britain First is a movement of British Unionism. We support the continued unity of the United Kingdom whilst recognising the individual identity and culture of the peoples of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. We abhor and oppose all trends that threaten the integrity of the Union". Retrieved 8 July 2014.
  11. ^ British National Party website. The SNP. A real nationalist party?. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
  12. ^ "Stand by Loyal Ulster!" – British People's Party leaflet. Official British People's Party website. Retrieved 8 July 2014.
  13. ^ British National Front website. What we stand for. "We stand for the continuation of the UNITED KINGDOM OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NORTHERN IRELAND - Four Countries, One Nation. Scotland, Ulster, England and Wales, united under our Union Flag - we will never allow the traitors to destroy our GREAT BRITAIN!". Retrieved 8 July 2014.
  14. ^ Respect Party website. Scotland. "Respect officially passed a motion at its 2014 AGM backing a ‘No’ vote in Scotland’s Independence Referendum in September". Retrieved 8 July 2014.

Further reading

  • Armitage, David (2000). The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press.  
  • Brockliss, L. W. B. (1997). Brockliss, L. W. B.; Eastwood, David, eds. A Union of Multiple Identities: The British Isles, C1750-c1850 (illustrated ed.). Manchester University Press ND.  
  • Cochrane, Feargal (2001). Unionist Politics and the Politics of Unionism Since the Anglo-Irish Agreement (2, revised ed.). Cork University Press.  
  • English, Richard (1996). English, Richard; Walker, Graham S., eds. Unionism in Modern Ireland: New Perspectives on Politics and Culture. Macmillan Press.  
  • Hazell, Robert (2006). Hazell, Robert, ed. The English Question. Devolution Series (illustrated, annotated ed.). Manchester University Press.  
  • Jackson, Alvin (2011). The Two Unions: Ireland, Scotland, and the Survival of the United Kingdom, 1707–2007 (illustrated ed.). Oxford University Press.  
  • Kanter, Douglas (2009). The making of British unionism, 1740–1848: politics, government, and the Anglo-Irish constitutional relationship. Four Courts Press.  
  • Kearney, Hugh F. (2006). The British Isles: A History of Four Nations (2, illustrated, revised, reprint ed.). Cambridge University Press.  
  • Kendle, John (1992). Walter Long, Ireland and the Union, 1905–1920. McGill-Queens.  
  • Nicholls, Andrew D. (1999). The Jacobean Union: A Reconsideration of British Civil Policies Under the Early Stuarts. Greenwood Publishing Group.  
  • O'Day, Alan; Boyce, David George (2001). Defenders of the Union: A Survey of British and Irish Unionism Since 1801. Psychology Press.  
  • Ward, Paul (2005). Unionism in the United Kingdom, 1918–1974. Palgrave MacMillan.  
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