Let’s say you’re an American who woke this morning to the news that the people of the United Kingdom voted in favor of their nation leaving the European Union, and you’re unsure about what that means. Let’s say, hypothetically speaking, that you happened to be abroad, in a country within the UK, when the news came in. All the Britons around you seemed to understand what was going on perfectly, and you felt like the odd man out. You wondered: What does England have to do with Wales? Why no Southern Ireland? Is that a boy wearing a skirt?
Fear not, ignorant American, whomever you may be. Gawker is here to explain Brexit—and indeed the United Kingdom in general—in terms even you can understand.
The United Kingdom is a sovereign nation, composed of four countries: England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The latter three of these countries have their own local “devolved” governments, but are ultimately ruled by the government of the UK, which is based in England. (The name “Great Britain”—the large island on which sit England, Scotland, and Wales—is sometimes used informally to refer to the UK as a whole. Northern Ireland is on a different island.) In a neck-and-neck referendum this week, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, meaning all four UK countries are out.
What does that mean for you, though? Solely for the purposes of attaching a concrete example to these abstract concepts, let’s say that you own a piece of property in the UK somewhere. Let’s say—oh, I don’t know—let’s say that it’s a golf course, and let’s say that it’s a golf course in, to pick a location at random, South Ayrshire, Scotland. And let’s say you were in Scotland this week to attend the reopening of the golf course and also the five-star hotel you own. You might be expected to give a speech to mark the reopening, and thanks to the coincidental timing, you might be expected to address the Brexit vote in that speech. What should you say?
Let’s take our hypothetical a bit further and imagine that you are interested in politics, and you politics are of the reactionary and isolationist sort. You share the same fear of immigrants; the same yearning for your old country, an uncorrupted utopia that exists only in your memory; the same distrust of globalism; that seem to have driven many “leave” Brexit voters. In this scenario, you might be tempted to celebrate the Brexit vote in your golf course reopening speech. You might say, for instance, that the people of Scotland “took their country back.”
Hold it right there, mister!
Actually, the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly in favor of staying in the EU. However, thanks to the concepts we discussed above, their political fate is inextricably hinged to that of the UK at large—for now anyway—which voted in favor of leaving the EU. So, instead of saying that the people of Scotland took their country back, you might consider saying instead that they lost something about their country which they seem to hold dearly: Its membership in the EU.
I know just what you, the broad caricature of an ignorant American I’ve constructed for the sole purpose of imagining an audience for this explanation of very basic political ideas, must be thinking: That in order to truly take their country back, the people of Scotland might consider declaring their independence from the UK, not from the EU. Funny you should mention it, my fictitious countryman: The people of Scotland tried to do just that, not two years ago. The Scottish independence referendum, too, was a neck-and-neck vote, with “no” narrowly losing in the end. It’s still kind of a sore subject for the Scots, and you might consider avoiding this “taking your country back” business entirely.
But there’s some good news: This very wresting of Scotland away from the rest of Europe, that you, my fellow American, were about to erroneously declare a victory for the independence of the Scottish people, may ultimately lead to an independent Scotland after all. You see, the Scots are in fact so mad about this EU departure news that you may have initially thought made them happy—the world is full of misunderstandings, ha ha!—that they’ve decided they’ll probably hold a second vote to leave the UK, just so that they can get back into the EU. Whether you’re for Scottish independence or against it, you’ve got to admit the situation is pretty ironic—especially the “took their country back” comment that I concocted out of thin air for you, the boastful American steak salesman, who, just for a bit of comic relief, let’s say is also a former reality TV star, and is also running for some powerful public office. I swear, I crack myself up sometimes.
This concludes our UK explainer for ignorant Americans, wherever they reside, from sea to shining sea, from Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Sixth Street to Fifth Avenue and Fifty-Seventh Street.