IT seems that within a few years it is entirely, and frighteningly, possible that I will be living in a non-EU state comprising England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the “dependencies” of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey.
I wonder what it would be called.
The appellations attached to these 8,000-year-old islands nestled off the north-west corner of the European continent are already problematic. Go into any high street on them and ask citizens passing by the question “what country is this?” and you will get a huge variety of answers. I know, I’ve done it with journalism students.
At the moment, depending on the high street’s precise location, you are likely to be told: Wales, Scotland, England or Ireland (not necessarily only in an Irish high street). Other provocative answers might include Yorkshire, Cornwall, the Isle of Man or the Channel Islands; fewer people will respond with Britain, Great Britain, the British Islands, the United Kingdom, the UK or just plain UK.
You can’t blame the citizenry for this diversity of response; some are still not quite sure why we (I’m British) are a kingdom without a king, do not have passport controls between us and neighbouring Ireland, allow the Isle of Man to be self-governing and run separate legal systems there and in Scotland. As for the West Lothian question, I’m not even going there.
And can someone remind me why Northern Ireland athletes competed under a GB banner when they do not live in Great Britain? Why wasn’t it Team UK?
All in all it’s a right mess and, if Scotland surprises the pollsters and Cameron’s pro-EU (weird or what) pitch fails in 2017, it could get worse.
If people overseas ask me where I’m from, I say UK (without the article). I must be because a) the internet says so and b) it’s cool. I’d never say the United Kingdom: that isn’t. Whether we like it or not our brand is now enshrined in a web domain suffix. It’s a bit like BP, UCL and GMB: it no longer matters what the initials used to stand for.
So I’m from UK and, if I need an adjective, I’m British. Probably because of my political age, I’m still uncomfortable with the term English (despite the best efforts of the excellent Billy Bragg) just as I dislike intensely the hubristic Great in GB. Actually, my preference is to describe myself as a Londoner, even though I don’t live or work there any more. And, for the record, I do think of myself as a European.
So what would the new little Britain be called if the Scots were to take the high road and leave England and Wales behind (apart from the Queen, the Bank, the language and some other bits and pieces)? Maybe the Great really would have to go and we’d officially become plain old britain.co.uk.
We’d be two thirds of an island condemned by its psephological make-up to be ruled by a eurosceptic Tory government in perpetuity; we’d also have an amended Union flag which, of course, we’d have to call something else (yes, I know there are tediously pedantic arguments why, technically, we might not need to, but they are ridiculous.)
The only good news is that, by my calculation, the new electoral imperatives would spell the end, finally, of the equally ridiculous Lib Dems.
But how absurd this little Britain would look to the rest of the world: a bizarre, slightly comical vestige of a mythical past, drowning not waving at the great trading blocs of the globe.