‘Brexit’ is the wrong word for Brexit. If Scotland left us, then as an un-United Kingdom we’d have to find a new name for the nation left behind.
Confession time: I am a Remainer with sympathies for the illogical, impractical notion we could effect an orderly exit. But if – if – the worst happens, and if – if – Scotland takes justifiable umbridge, then common sense dictates we’ll need a new way to describe what’s left of the United Kingdom.
A country’s name is important. If – if – Brexit happens, Scotland may leave us. What would we call the un-UK after that?
In Whitehall, this is quite possibly already the subject of a monthly meeting. We need a short and easy way to rename our nation if, post-Brexit, Scotland moves to disassociate itself from the United Kingdom. The bad news? We’ve fallen into the embarrassing habit of using the wrong names for what we have now. Brace yourselves. England and Scotland are not – technically – countries. The good news? There’s one name for a post-Brexit-un-UK that’s obvious.
A kingdom, but not united
The words ‘England’, ‘Wales’, ‘Scotland’, and ‘Northern Ireland’ are often used as the names of individual countries but that’s a mistake. They are in fact the official way of describing the four regional areas of the United Kingdom. They are regions, not countries.
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) curates the list of recognised countries, and “The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland” is the official country-level entry on that list. There are 162 places on planet Earth with official country status. England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales are not among them. This is a problem.
The problem arose as the Empire contracted: common parlance tried to make sense of confusion while all the pink bits still mattered. Look at any piece of writing connected to The Commonwealth and you’ll see the word ‘country’ used to describe the three mainland regions that make up a land mass somewhere north of France. But officially, they’re not countries. And with the exception of the BBC, nobody bothers to correct this mistake.
A nation, a region, a country – or what?
The ‘home countries’ is about as close as we should be allowed to get. Even then, that phrase refers to the unification of two Kingdoms (England and Scotland) and two Principalities (Wales and Northern Ireland). For all its foibles the BBC does set some standards here: the Corporation refers to its broadcasting as being operational ‘in the Nations and Regions’, not ‘in each country’. This is the official taxonomy:
- Three regions – England, Scotland, and Wales – make up Great Britain, the island.
- In turn the United Kingdom is a country that comprises Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
- And the British Islands – not the British Isles you note – tacks on the Isle of Man, Guernsey, and Jersey to its legal and geographical definition.
- The British Isles, on the other hand, includes Ireland as an individual island in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean and a legal state – a separate state entity to Northern Ireland.
In other words – SHOCK, HORROR! – if you work back a step or two then I’m sorry, but Brexit doesn’t actually mean Brexit. Actually, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the European Union en masse means BrNIexit – which is ridiculous. In every sense. That Clarkson-sized bombshell aside, the question is this:
What should happen to our naming conventions when, or if, Scotland decides to upset the current legal distinction of being an integral part of the United Kingdom?
If Scotland leaves, then we’ll have England, Wales, and Northern Ireland left as regions in the (barely) United Kingdom. For the morphemologists among you, that’s an E, a W, and an N and an I.
At a push, you could knock off the I from that list. If you push that far enough, we could have a NEWexit on the horizon if Scot-leave happened in the short term. More accurate, less catchy.
Irrespective of timing though, the United Kingdom without Scotland leaves us with a problem. On the surface – on the surface of the globe – we’re still a united land mass.
United we sit, on the map at least
As long as there’s no intent to start digging a trench from Marshall Meadows to Mossband, that land mass will still be the physical manifestation of a state known as Great Britain. But we WILL be obliged to acknowledge the fact that Scotland has left the United Kingdom.
Don’t hesitate to move rapidly away from the idea we could rename ourselves WINEland – it’s a nice idea but the UN would have a few reservations.
NIEWland might work, but it doesn’t have that sense of schwing to work with the G8. A Kingdom of any kind may not be favourable for many modern citizens – and now it’s a process of elimination.
Technically, we could be the United Kingdom of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. We’d have to be referred to as UKEWNI. That acronym would service the need for differentiating the old UK from the new UK without Scotland. UKEWNI. UKWENI. UKWINE – nope. Whichever order the letters are in, that simply doesn’t work. So here’s something that does.
Let’s call ourselves NEW Britannia.
NEW Britannia works – and we can justify it too. The three initial letters – N, E and W – are a nod to the inclusion of just three regions in our new world order. But the main term would reflect the fact Scotland was never part of ‘Britannia’ as it used to be, when the Romans coined the phrase.
(Okay, minor glitch: variations of the newbritannia domain name have already been registered by persons unknown, but I’m sure the Whitehall team can make plans for situations like that).
NEW Britannia. It’s got a certain something, it’s easy on the eye. As everybody knows, NEWBies have a good excuse for many things in the world, for quite some time … and, best of all, the logic behind it is so straightforward we wouldn’t need a referendum.