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Bonds of Union

Isabelle Bour
Antoine Mioche


Isabelle Bour et Antoine Mioche

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1In 1707, after some hard bargaining on both sides and the exertion of a degree of English pressure which continues to fuel controversy today, England (with Wales) and Scotland were joined together by mutual agreement to form the United Kingdom of Great Britain under one sovereign (as had been the case since 1603) and one parliament at Westminster. In 1800 Ireland was added to this entity, which thereafter took on the clumsy, cumbersome and revealingly composite name of “United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland” (reduced to Northern Ireland since 1922). Understandably, it is known for short as the United Kingdom or, simply, the UK.

2Although these unions occurred at different times and in different circumstances, they share a trait—they were incorporations, by means of parliamentary representation, of outlying territories into a larger unit centring on England and the English (later British) crown and legislature, and they were designed to uphold the union of Church and State which took place there at the Reformation. Wales was thus united to England by English parliamentary statute between 1536 and 1543 to ensure that the bounds of King Henry VIII’s authority as head of the Church of England coincided with those of his authority as head of state. Scotland was later united to England and Wales in order to safeguard the English constitutional settlement of the three decades following on the Interregnum of 1649-60 (after England had lapsed into civil war and abolished its monarchy) and prevent Scotland’s status as an independent kingdom under the same monarch as England since 1603 from disjoining the two crowns and turning the northern kingdom into a base from which the Catholic line of the (Scottish) Stuart dynasty, which had been ousted from England in 1688-89, might mount an assault on the Protestant English Church-State. In 1800, against the backdrop of war with revolutionary France, Ireland, which had been restored to legislative autonomy in 1782-83, was likewise united to Great Britain so as to remove the possibility of the Irish parliament becoming a focus of Irish separatism in connivance with the enemies of Britain.

3It is this overarching need for England to guard against threats to the alliance of Church and State sealed in the sixteenth century and renewed in the seventeenth century, when the English parliament in 1688-89 and again 1701 settled the succession to the English throne in the Protestant line, which makes the UK constitutionally Anglo-centric. And it is the necessary emphasis on unity at the centre which accounts for the way in which the UK is commonly referred to as the Union. Although it is the product of multiple unions, the UK is emphatically a United Kingdom—in the singular. This is the source of some confusion between the process of union and the Union itself.

4Beyond the shores of the British Isles, it was again the unions in England of Church and State and of Crown and Parliament which dictated the constitutional structure of the empire that gradually took shape from the later decades of the sixteenth century. As an illustration of this, one of the principal issues in the decade or so leading up to the declaration of independence of thirteen of Britain’s continental American colonies was whether these were subject to the jurisdiction of the Crown-in-Parliament (the official British view) or to that of the King only (the view dominant among restive Americans)—a debate which was still raging in the 1920s.

5In the wider, as in the narrower, British world union thus occupies a central place, all the more central as the term “union” encapsulates several layers of meaning—“union” as “the Union” (Britain or the UK); “union” as the process whereby different territories, either specifically those of the Union or others, were joined together; “union” as the problematic union of imperial centre with imperial periphery; but also “union” as a practice (unions that did take shape) and “union” as an idea (projected unions that failed to materialise; “union” as often unspoken awareness of the constraints imposed by the metropolitan union on wider imperial unity; “union” as a form and a framework for national self-consciousness at home and in the Empire). It is with union thus understood that the present essays, originally presented in June 2003 at a conference hosted by the University of Tours, engage.

6Of course, the appearance and development of a “Four Nations” slant on British history over the last twenty years or so, largely as a result of the application of the interpretive paradigm of imperial retreat to the core of the now defunct British Empire, has already in many ways pointed up “the Union” as an essential component of the national history or histories of the British Isles. But in the essays which follow, an effort is made to correct the tendency inherent in this relatively new specialism and genre to marginalise the idea of union.

7In one of its guises at least, “Four Nations” history—with its exclusive focus on the core of a now bygone empire and on the process of state formation—has failed to heed J. G. A. Pocock’s well-known call in 1973, at a time when the UK was committing itself to an uncertain continental future, not to consign to oblivion the imperial dimension of British history. Instead, it has more or less explicitly approached union in terms reminiscent of J. R. Seeley’s “expansion of England” theory of imperial nationality, only from a reversed perspective of the “contraction” of England. The use of the imperial parallel by this new historiography posits, while it claims to demonstrate, the necessary unravelling of the Union, the making of which it interprets as an imperial expansion begun by England at times that vary, according to the author, between the twelfth and the sixteenth centuries. (“Four Nations” history of the kind that draws out the interconnectedness of the societies and political agendas of the British monarchies in the seventeenth century, being concerned with occurrences prior to the Union, is different in this regard.) The “Union-as-process” or “making-of-the-Union” school of historiography reduces the Union to just that—something that happened in certain ways, for certain reasons, under certain circumstances, which reflected and in turn created a complex set of interactions strictly within the British Isles, and not in the British Atlantic world, where union of the metropolitan kind between Britain and its colonies did not occur. As a process, union thus envisioned loses much of its explicatory force. Both the intimation of mortality inherent in this perspective and its relative indifference to legal-constitutional form, together with a correspondingly enhanced emphasis on the fruitful, yet rather loose concept of interaction, tend to dilute the idea of union and make it merely a manifestation of other things. Process wins over form. A dynastic state is dismissed as an anachronism and an anomaly in a world of nation states, in which history is invoked to account for its emergence, explain its puzzling endurance, and ultimately suggest its (historically, logically, and even morally) necessary and inevitable demise.

8It should be said that “Four Nations” history is, in this respect, very different from the history of the British peoples which Pocock called for. And it should be emphasized also that this does not diminish the real usefulness of the “Four Nations” perspective (truly illuminating in the best work of that kind) in overcoming historiographical Anglo-centrism. It should be clear, however, that such multi-contextual history, when it restricts its field of investigation to the British Isles, strips the Union of any shaping influence in the wider British world. It is about the Union, a political construct that, because it is historical (and it is historical as a process), is somehow doomed to ultimate extinction. This is Whig history gone into reverse. It is not about the idea or practice of union, nor about its influence on historical developments. It is about the historicisation of a legal-constitutional form in order that it may be de-constructed.

9For these reasons, then, it seemed appropriate to treat both the Union and union more generally as phenomena of wide and enduring relevance—not merely historical, political and constitutional, but, equally, cultural. It was with this objective in mind that the organisers decided to bring together scholars from the fields of literature as well as history, politics and law.

10It has, in this first decade of the twenty-first century, become a commonplace that in the last decades the UK started to come apart, as retreat from Empire and the country’s belated entry into what has become the European Union have eaten away at those swathes of imperial pink on maps of the world and the monarcho-parliamentary sovereignty of a multinational state without continental parallel since the end of the Second World War. Many have drawn from the signs of crisis, and in particular the rise or reinvigoration of peripheral UK nationalisms, the inference that the days of the Union are numbered. Literature allows us to move beyond the artificial historiographical and political alternatives of union and dis-union to apprehend what sense people made not just of their difference, but of the Union as a cultural as well as a constitutional construct. Indeed, in discussing unions, one should never lose sight of the fact that the greatest difficulty lies not in stressing (or advocating) separateness, as is so facilely done today, but in negotiating the relationship between that separateness and the unity of the whole. It is easier, in other words, to advocate division or separation than to conceptualise and to achieve union. This was as true of James VI and I after 1603 as it was to be of the American insurgents after 1775.

11A good example of a text at the crossroads of politics and literature is the collection of essays by Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison published in 1788 under the title of The Federalist Papers—an enduring landmark of political science, but also a monument to eighteenth-century English prose and polemical literature. In his keynote address to the Tours conference (here, the opening chapter), the English historian J. C. D. Clark draws out the implications of this dual status, stressing that The Federalist is “to be explained historically,” as a product of compromise and electoral politics, rather than presumed to be “a repository of timeless wisdom.”

12With characteristic incisiveness and a salutary gift for jolting his audiences and readers out of their certainties, Clark invites us to question the exemplarity of the American federal union on a number of grounds, neatly summed up by the observation that the terms of the Anglophone debate on federal unions in the twentieth century profoundly misunderstood American specificities, because “they were essentially non-historical [(...)] functional, democratic and secular”:

They were functional in that they were preoccupied with abstract, analytical matters like the defined division of powers between the federal authority and the component states. They were democratic in the assumption that majorities of voters, once established by the electoral machinery, would be submitted to by minorities. They were secular in ignoring the capacity of religious commitments to underpin political allegiances.

13As against such a tendency, which Clark sees as particularly acute in these days of increasingly tight political integration in the European Union (EU), historical analysis throws into relief the centralising impetus driving (not without controversy) the Federalist agenda, as well as the “totalitarian democracy” that emerges from the political necessity of bypassing state sovereignty by invoking the people—the latter, a classic of British critiques of the American constitution as in effect less truly liberal and democratic than the British constitution.

14Clark’s challenging analysis contrasts the federal union of the United States both with European dynastic unions and with twentieth-century attempts to replicate or emulate the US model. To him, federalism need not be seen as “an idea wholly different from or antithetical to the dynastic idea [of union]: in nineteenth-and twentieth-century Europe, federalism generally stood on the shoulders of the dynastic inheritance.” The misconception that federalism is antithetical to the type of “the composite monarchy and the multiple kingdom” is based on the view, contradicted by the existence of “totalitarian democracy,” that “federal union [is] inherently libertarian, [while] unitary sovereignty was inherently authoritarian.”

15Besides, by contrast with the deep rift in the American union which precipitated civil war in 1861-65, the British union has endured remarkably well, even when allowances are made for Ireland. Not so attempts to federalise, say, India, the British West Indies or Central Africa, among other possible instances. Without the fall of the continental empires after the First World War, Clark concludes, today’s intellectual debate would bear reference to dynastic unions and The Federalist would appear in its true light as “a propaganda exercise speaking mainly to the American case.”

16Not everyone, perhaps, will share these views on union, but those who would differ must squarely face the question, here raised, of a paradigm shift. The shift explains why the United Kingdom, regarded by a turn-of-the-nineteenth-century French Liberal like Benjamin Constant as an exemplar of freedom, which owed its love of liberty to the same monarcho-parliamentary alliance that produced the union of 1707, is now widely regarded as an anomaly in the context of European comparisons. The challenge, we would argue, is to explain why a model of constitutional flexibility and endurance should be held in contempt and a model not native to Europe’s shores contemplated instead.

17To move briefly beyond the scope of this collection of essays, the difficulty appears as analogous to that which nineteenth-century French Liberals confronted unsuccessfully—that of replicating on the continent the benefits derived from a British constitution that was by virtue of historical and political circumstances unique. Given that dynastic states belong to the past, rather than the future, of continental Europe, it may not be illegitimate for Europeans to grapple with the question of their unity aided by American democratic precedents. Clark makes a convincing, if implicit, case for British exceptionalism, but cannot in actuality offer the British dynastic state as a model for the European Union. The virtue of his remarkable essay, therefore, lies in correcting European misapprehensions of the nature of the American case; in providing a much-needed alternative reference to guide reflection on multinational unity; and, closer to the immediate preoccupations of this volume as a whole, the necessity of paying more attention to the nature and role, as well as to the idea and practice, of union in a British context.

18The impetus for the Tours conference was, it should by now be clear, a deeply held conviction that union as an instrument of multinational unity has to be approached as a process, an idea, and the locus of overlapping or conflicting national self-perceptions, as much as a constitutional fact. It seemed necessary to restore some cultural and historical depth and complexity into the debate surrounding the much-predicted demise of the Union by asking how the Union welds together England and the marches of the kingdom, what image it seeks to project to (and of) itself and to (and of) its component parts, and how union informed political debate in the British Isles and the British Empire. This is reflected in the essays of this volume.

19Union is here approached from three key directions: the Churches, the Nation and the Constitution, which have since the seventeenth century been central to the question of unity in the country, and continue to play a part in certain cultural representations of British as well as of regional/national identities.

20Linking the political and the cultural, literature (fiction, in particular) has set out to be at different times an agent of political change and an instrument of reconciliation within the Union; it has also been the reflection of shifting regional/national identities. In this respect, Scotland, Ireland and Wales—which found a literary “voice” only belatedly—provide interesting material for comparison and contrast.

21Stuart J. Brown’s essay on “The National Churches and the Union in Nineteenth-Century Britain and Ireland” throws into relief the central role played in the British Isles by religious denominations as a factor of national self-consciousness. It shows how, because the Union itself was conceived of as a nation, the national Churches inevitably became involved in its implementation and grappled with its contradictions. And it uncovers how attempts were made with mitigated success in the UK in the nineteenth century to rise above one of the fault lines in British societies across the world: denominational differences within the Protestant fold.

22“Among the most committed supporters of union in nineteenth-century Britain and Ireland,” notes Brown, “were the established Churches.” By focusing across time and borders on the personalities and some of the major writings of three high-profile figures—Robert Southey and The Book of the Church (1824), Thomas Chalmers and his Lectures on the Establishment and Extension of National Churches (1838), and Matthew Arnold and “The Church of England” (1876)—Brown traces the evolution whereby, from “major forces for the consolidation of the Union” until the 1830s, the established Churches, as the expression of “the religious aspect of the State,” gradually relinquished their hopes of tightening the bonds of Church and State at the level of the British (though not English, Scottish or Irish) nation.

23The difficulty which the national Churches faced was well illustrated by Southey, whose “effort to identify English national identity with the English church [...] had little to say about the Christian history of Scotland and Ireland, or at least little good to say.” As the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts (1828), Catholic emancipation (1829), the reform of the British Parliament (1832) and of municipal government in Scotland and England (1834-35) now made the United Kingdom more pluralist and inclusive, “[t]he prospect of consolidating the historic kingdoms of England, Ireland and Scotland into a United Kingdom through the religious and moral influence of the established Churches was no longer a realistic one.” With Chalmers and Arnold, therefore, what one encounters are attempts to entrust the Churches with social, rather than political, functions, as agents of social regeneration under the conditions of industrial revolution (Chalmers) or of ethical uplift (Arnold) propagating “a gospel of social liberation” as the basis for a culture that would unite social classes and nationalities in the UK—proof in both cases of the role which continued to be assigned to the Churches as agents of national cohesion, at the regional (Chalmers) or Union (Arnold) levels.

24The established Churches, in Brown’s essay on an unduly neglected topic, thus appear as “national institutions” in more than one sense—British, English and Scottish—and their newly found strength, after the abandonment from the 1830s of the dream of consolidation of the Union through the Churches, was clearly a factor in the continuance of the relation of Church and State in the UK, so that their revival was not incompatible with the strengthening of the British Union.

25Approaching the Union from a different angle, Cairns Craig adopts W. B. Yeats’s view that there is “no nationality without literature, no literature without nationality,” and asks: “if there was a literature, which nation [in the UK] did it attest to; if there was a nation, which literature did it demand?” Craig’s search for the answer to the question challenges the oft-repeated, peripheral-nationalist understanding of relationships within the British Isles as ultimately Anglo-centric. His interest is in the way in which Scotland and Ireland interacted in negotiating their relationship with England. This involves on his part the rejection, or perhaps merely the correction, of the “two models [that] dominate the way in which the history of the union has been narrated”:

In one an English core attempts to subdue its peripheral neighbours and, by coercion or imitation, incorporate them into an expanded English state with a unifying English culture. “Britishness” in this context is merely the ideological mask that makes acceptance of English cultural domination tolerable in those peripheries (Nairn, Kidd). In the other model, Britishness is an overarching new national identity which the peripheral nations help create in order to subdue the dominance of an English culture whose political and economic power they cannot resist. (Colley)

26“Either model,” Craig contends, “is too simple for a context in which the real power of ‘Britishness’ as a ‘national’ identity lay in its ability to be so differently inflected in each of the Union’s participating nations that it became a means not of subduing but of entrenching the national—and indeed, in the case of Ulster, the regional differences within the Union.” Scotland and Ireland could study “each other’s mode of resistance to English hegemony,” a process which involved Scoto-Irish rivalry over the “cultural ownership of the Ossianic material from 1760 to the mid-Victorian period.” Thus, Scots’ reappropriation from the 1960s of the Scottish Enlightenment, “once seen as crucial to the disastrous Anglicisation of Scotland,” must be seen as an attempt by Scots to emulate Irish success, in the wake of the Irish Revival, in creating “an authentic Anglophone culture with a distinct national identity.” Thus, through “the interaction of nationalist, unionist and imperial crosscurrents,” the Union can be seen to provide a national framework for the expression of locally-rooted nationalities bound together in a mesh of periphery-to-centre, but also periphery-to-periphery relations.

27Craig also examines the ideological uses of Celtic culture by Matthew Arnold and by several key literary histories of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. He agrees with some Scottish scholars who have claimed in the last decade that Scotland, though not Celtic Scotland, “invented” English literature.

28Craig’s essay, which is historical, literary-historical and meta-critical, and complexifies our picture of the relations among the members of the Union, by showing the dialectical interchanges and reversals among them, provides the theoretical background to three essays dealing with (Anglo-) Irish literature.

29In “Union displaced? The 1798 Rebellion in the National Tale (1809-1828),” Isabelle Bour examines the novels published before the Catholic Emancipation of 1829 which deal with the uprising as a more or less substantial part of their plot. Most of the authors of these novels, Maria Edgeworth, Charles Maturin, James McHenry, and Lady Morgan were Protestant; only Michael Banim was a Catholic and of native Irish stock. All, however, eschewed sectarianism, and none supported the rebellion, though some depicted the insurgents sympathetically. These novels evince the whole gamut of responses, from Maria Edgeworth’s angry dismissal of the uprising as some kind of disease which momentarily interfered with the legitimate rule of the Ascendancy, to the ambivalence and the sometimes confusing ambiguities of Michael Banim. While Maturin and Lady Morgan rely heavily on the conventions of the novel of sensibility and of romantic plotting, the other novelists are more demonstrative, indeed more didactic, and more dependent on documentary realism. Dealing as it does with the very recent past, often through the use of allegory and of metonymic displacement, because that past is still painful, the national tale problematises the relationship between myth and history; indeed, these tales dealing with the 1798 rebellion both insert it into world history by granting it the status of a historical event, and construct it as myth, be it by depicting protagonists of Homeric stature such as Connal O’Morvan in Maturin’s Milesian Chief or by showing the relativity of linear historical time as Lady Morgan does in The O’Briens and the O’Flahertys.

30In “Recolonising Irish Literature? Bringing Yeats back to Dublin,” Roy Foster shows how W. B. Yeats’s attitude to the Union was ambivalent and fluctuating, like that of the authors of romantic-period national tales. Just as Maria Edgeworth found the O’Connellite demonstrations of the 1820s incommensurate with any form of literary representation and deeply frightening, in the 1920s Yeats—for reasons which had to do not with mass agitation but with the restrictions imposed by the Irish Free State on civil liberties— called for the creation of a new conservative Irish Party, which was privately styled a Unionist party, and came to idealise the Ascendancy class of the late eighteenth century. Even before the 1920s, Yeats was a figure of the Union, living as he did between Ireland and England; and, during the 1890s, he embodied the Celtic Revival in Britain just as much as in Ireland. Going back even more, Yeats should also be seen as one of those many writers, journalists and theatrical people who swarmed to London in the latter half of the Victorian period, taking advantage of the opportunities offered by the Union.

31Foster charts the course of Yeats’s life, correcting and inflecting received views of Yeats’s relation to Ireland, his careful evaluation making irrelevant the accusation of “literary Unionism” levelled at Yeats. He shows that Yeats moved from Irish nationalist views at the time of the apex of the Celtic vogue in the 1890s to support for Home Rule (which coincided with his spending most of his time in England), then, in another swing of the pendulum, to endorsement of Sinn Féin, then Irish independence, before embracing ideas which harked back to the Hanoverian period. But Yeats could never be aligned with unambiguous partisan views: thus, in the very speech in which he expressed support for Sinn Fein, he called himself a Victorian!

32After discussions of the national tale, of the political commitment of a poet, the consideration of Irish literature in this collection ends with a study of very recent plays performed in Northern Ireland. In “Contemporary Northern Irish Theatre: Challenging the Union?,” Martine Pelletier studies the manner in which contemporary dramatists have tackled the fraught political situation of Ulster—though some exploit the more remote Irish past as a mirror of current events. As in the national tale, so here marriage is used as an allegory of the Union. In some of those tales—those of Maria Edgeworth, and The Wild Irish Girl by Sydney Owenson (later Lady Morgan)—such marriages are metaphors of the optimistic belief of the authors in a true union between Great Britain and Ireland (though in tales of the 1798 rebellion, the marriages between rival members of the Irish community do not indicate total support for, or faith in, the recent Union). In Pelletier’s essay the use of this allegory in contemporary Ulster theatre makes tangible the exacerbation of sectarian tensions: love across the sectarian divide is doomed, mixed marriages are fraught, unions are unhappy (and sometimes preceded by rape, which allegorises colonisation). Further, families may be torn apart by rival loyalties. Pelletier examines plays by Bill Morrison, Stewart Parker, Gary Mitchell, and Brenda Murphy and Christine Polard, besides one by several hands, that were all performed between 1984 and 2000. Two of those, Northern Star by Stewart Parker, and Tearing the Loom by Gary Mitchell, focus on the 1798 rebellion, but neither dramatist feels constrained by historical facts. Ultimately, the greatest challenge for all the plays considered is not to replicate on stage “the myths and divisions of society.”

33These contemporary plays exemplify how diffuse and tenuous has now become the idea of a nation, once relatively clear for Anglo-Irish novelists (who could combine what Craig calls “national commitment and unionist politics”) and even for W. B. Yeats. Northern Ireland appears as a periphery which can no longer be related to a centre.

34Taking his stand on the belief that union should be regarded as “the organising principle of a comprehensively British history, a history that would encompass both the British Isles and overseas communities of British descent,” Antoine Mioche seeks in contrast to revive interest in the constitutional connection between the imperial “centre” and the imperial “periphery,” which sociological discourse from the 1960s injected into British imperial studies, and sees in territorial partition in outlying territories a strategy of colonial administration that was complementary to the alternative of union—both being made possible, even necessary, by virtue of the nature of the metropolitan union.

35“If parliamentary sovereignty was indeed the organising principle of British history,” he argues, “and if legislative union was the privileged instrument of its preservation in the metropolitan centre, it may be expected that such a salient trait of British political culture will be found at work in the British Empire.” Resting his case on an examination of British territorial policies in North America at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Mioche sets out “to recapture some of the meaning of union in British political thought, and to emphasise the need for partition—at the moment a languishing and solitary off-shoot of Irish and Indian studies, which sees territorial division merely as a by-product of decolonisation and hardly ever as a deliberate government policy applied at home as well as overseas—to be brought back to centre stage, not as the antithesis of union, but as sometimes its corollary, sometimes an alternative strategy to the same end.”

36In “The United Kingdom between Unitary State and Union State: a Geopolitical Analysis,” and “Spectre at the Feast: Parliamentary Sovereignty and the Union Settlement of 1998,” Matthew Graves and Stephen Tierney respectively round off our survey of the British idea and practice of union by returning to the interrelated themes of the constitutional shape and political future of the United Kingdom, which J. C. D. Clark’s reminder of the historical prevalence of the dynastic model of union had merely pointed to.

37For Matthew Graves, contemporary studies of the nation-state and territorial politics in the UK reveal increasing ambivalence about the classification of the British union, which is alternatively defined as a highly centralised unitary state or a decentralised union of a contractual type. Because the debate on the future of the UK has therefore turned the definition of the state into a bone of constitutional contention between unionists, reformers and nationalists, Graves sets out to explore the politics of defining the Union and the geopolitical ramifications of competing definitions of state following the devolution reforms undertaken by the governments of Tony Blair after 1997, which saw the restoration to Scotland of a parliament and the setting up of executive assemblies in Wales and Northern Ireland.

38As a Scot by birth, and a lawyer by training, Stephen Tierney takes a somewhat different stand on the same issue. Noting the resilience in Scottish constitutional thought of a vision of the UK as a “union state,” he examines “whether the Treaty [of Union] is now a constitutional irrelevance following the devolution settlement embodied in the Scotland Act 1998, or whether in fact the ‘union state’ concept might be revived by the new devolution arrangements.” In Tierney’s carefully crafted and eminently readable legal argument, the answer to the question hinges on the fashion in which the challenge in Scotland to the orthodoxy of Westminster’s sovereignty has been articulated and may yet succeed.

39This has come from essentially two directions, he says. In the first, constitutional, avatar of the challenge, the Union is reemphasised in a more confederal sense than in England, the emphasis in the phrase “union state” being on “union” rather than on “state.” This approach questions both the notion “that the British constitution is ‘unwritten’” (for it is at least partly written, with the Scottish and English Acts of Union together providing its foundation) and the doctrine that “all Acts of the [UK] Parliament are of equal value and are ultimately open to repeal by the UK Parliament” (something akin to a basic law, though Tierney does not use that word).

40The second prong of the assault resorts to popular sovereignty and interprets the Scotland Act at once as the expression of Scots’ (right of) self-determination and as a Scottish reformulation of the 1707 settlement. In discussing this point, Tierney draws our attention to the important fact “that the unlimited sovereignty of Parliament [has] no counterpart in Scottish constitutional law does not necessarily offer definitive guidance as to where, alternatively, sovereignty may be found within the Scottish constitutional tradition.” He shows how, as a result, the “sovereignty of the people” argument may have found in this an opportunity to provide that locus.

41Developments in England, meanwhile, have also had implications, Tierney goes on to explain, for Scottish legal thinking on the Union. In England, the challenge to parliamentary sovereignty has come from the European Union and, somewhat paradoxically, has been met there by invoking the common law to explain both that the common law has modified parliamentary sovereignty so as to recognise as a constitutional statute the European Communities Act 1972, by which the UK joined what is now the EU, but also that parliamentary sovereignty remains otherwise a principle of the UK constitution. Quite apart from the mental agility required to reconcile the notion of the common law as superior to statutory law with the reassertion on that basis of parliamentary sovereignty (something that can be done by distinguishing between supremacy—here, an attribute of the common law—and sovereignty—here, an assertion of legislative independence), this English legal legerdemain raises the interesting question of “how the doctrine of parliamentary sovereignty might also be modified in Scots law.” Tierney, for his part, muses on the possibility of “a judicial declaration of quasi-federalism.”

42Taken together, Graves’s and Tierney’s contributions cast some doubt on the imminence of the demise of the Union, but suggest by what political and legal-constitutional paths it could indeed happen. In ways that are different from, and complementary to, the perspectives chosen in the rest of this volume, they underline what a living thing the Union remains.


Université François-Rabelais de Tours
Professor of English Literature and the History of ideas at the University of Tours. She has published widely on fiction from 1760 to 1825, focusing in recent years on the epistemology of the paradigm of sensibility. She recently contributed three chapters on the reception of Jane Austen in France to a collection of essays on the reception of Jane Austen in Europe edited by Brian Southam, to be published in 2006 by Continuum

Université de Versailles
Associate Professor in British Studies and former head of the English Department at the University of Versailles. His research bears on the British Empire and its interplay with political thought in the United Kingdom. He has written from a comparative perspective on Ireland, India, Canada, the Empire and the UK. His latest book is Les Grandes Dates de l'histoire britannique (2003). He is currently finishing a book on union and partition in British constitutional practice

© Presses universitaires François-Rabelais, 2005

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