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There seems to be a difference in attitude between Spain and the UK.

No one in the British Isles would deny that there are at least four nations within the UK. I think few would deny that Scotland, England and Wales have a right to self-determination. Even Mrs Thatcher accepted that if the Scots were determined to be independent, they were entitled to be.

Northern Ireland is problematic. Is it part of the Irish nation, as it was before partition, or a nation in itself? Does Northern Ireland have the right to be independent or is its self determination limited to choosing between a United Kingdom or a united Ireland? We may have that issue resolved during the next century.

There are arguably some other nations within the big historic ones. Cornwall has some historic claims to be a distinct nation, more akin to Wales than England. Its nationalist party, Mebyon Kernow, has never made much impact but who knows what will happen in the future. The Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru had little influence before the 1960s.

At the end of the day what is the point of trying to hold polities together when substantial bodies of people are determined to leave? The United Kingdom has not suffered significant harm because 26 Irish counties were no longer within its territory.

The only real problem is what to do with territory within the nation seeking self determination from the multi-national state, where there is a local majority opposed to independence (ie Northern Ireland). Nationalists tend to be quite resistant to solutions like partition and home rule within home rule, so there is scope for another round of core-periphery conflict within the proposed newly independent nation.

I suppose there are always tensions. There are processes in human societies which work to build up and to tear down nations and unions and federations. Where the boundaries are drawn at any given time is the result of politics. All we can try and do is resolve such tensions by peaceful not violent means.

by Gary J on Mon Feb 13th, 2006 at 03:30:09 PM EST

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