TapUnderstanding the UK

There is a joke that says that Americans think that Scotland is part of England and is that anywhere near London? But it is true that most of the world doesn’t understand how the UK works—and come to think of it, many British don’t really understand it either.

Before I start, let’s be clear. I am talking about how things are for most administrative purposes, not how there were or how they should be. There are some anomalies and I will mention a few in passing.

  • First there are countries: like England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. These are roughly what you would call States in the USA or Provinces in Canada but we call them Countries. They don’t really exist in the international arena except for a few sporting competitions like cricket and rugby.
  • England includes the Isle of White and Lundy, a few other small islets but not the Isle of Man. It does not have its own parliament but hosts the seat of government for the whole union.
  • (The principality of) Wales includes Ynys Môn (Anglesey). It has its own language and is known as Cymru in that tongue. There is a Welsh Assembly which adopts some aspects of a parliament.
  • Scotland includes the Western Isles, the Shetlands and Orkney. Local banks issue their own banknotes but Sterling is also used (and to some extent vice-versa). There is a Gaelic language which is strong in some areas. There is a separate Scottish Parliament which makes local laws and the legal system is different to England and Wales.
  • Northern Ireland separated from the whole of Ireland in the 1920’s and forms the north-eastern counties (9 of them?). The remainder is an independent country called Eire which is part of the European Union. There is a Northern Ireland Assembly but it is currently dissolved pending some political discussion. I certainly will not be debating its status or the status of Northern Ireland here.
  • Cornwall (which includes the Isles of Scilly), for administrative purposes, is part of England. Whether it should be or not I won’t debate here. It has its own language which is growing but still not widely used.
  • For some purposes, England and Wales are treated as one unit—in particular the legal system.
  • Great Britain is the union of England, Wales and Scotland created in the C18th.
  • The United Kingdom is Great Britain plus Northern Ireland.
  • Then there are the satellites—I am not sure what the proper term is. These are separate countries for many purposes like economy but part of the UK for others like defence. These are the Isle of Man, the British Channel Islands which form two states—the States of Jersey (plural for some reason) and the Bailiwick of Guernsey which includes Alderney, Sark and Herm. They each have their own currency (but tied to Sterling), parliament and tax laws and are not part of the European Union. This creates no end of confusion with Customs and Excise when traveling. Their status is similar to the relationship between the Canary Islands and Spain. I have no idea what the status of Gibraltar and the Falkland Islands is, nor the few remaining colonies.

Some anomalies—the Pound Sterling (£) which is the currency for the whole of the UK has the designation GBP which is wrong. For some sporting purposes, Ireland competes as a whole, I think rugby is one.

References from other web pages (Pings and Trackbacks)

  1. Order of the Bath » Blog Archive » Once there was .com …

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