This short opinion piece will take a look at England and consider if it would be possible for it to succeed as an independent nation.
England with a population of 56,489,800 (Census 2021) is certainly big enough to be an independent nation.
The population of England is now the largest it has ever been. It has a population density of 434 people per square kilometre. Obviously this is an average and varies across England but is high compared to Wales which has 150 people per square kilometre and Scotland with a population density of 65 people per square kilometre.
England’s land covers 130,279 km2 or 50,301 sq miles and has a coastline of 4,422 km or 2,748 miles. Comparing this with its neighbour: Scotland whose land covers 77,900 km2 or 30,090 sq miles is smaller but makes up with it by having a coastline of 9,910 km or 6,160 miles. The result of this is that although England’s land mass is greater than for example Scotland, its territorial waters are far smaller.
England has a population that is ethnically diverse. In London over 40% of the resident population identifies as being from an Asian, Black, Mixed or Other ethnic group. This is a great strength of England which certainly in the past was where many people chose to move to from countries outside of Europe. The diversity of its population has resulted in an exceptionally gifted creative society. Migration has also provided England with a skilled and motivated workforce.
Most people in England (like Scotland) live in its urban areas. Some of the population figures for urban areas are staggering: Greater Manchester: 1,178,200 and London: 3,423,800.
This means that there are pressures of providing essential services in England. For instance in 1965 a valley in Wales, which included the village of Capel Celyn, was flooded in order to supply Liverpool and the Wirral with water. The provision of fresh water in England will be a problem with its independence.
Unlike in Scotland, water in England is not publicly owned but is provided by many different companies. It is further complicated because some are water only companies and some are water and waste water. This map includes Wales but it does give you an idea of the complexity of water companies all operating in England.
The recent easing of pollution regulations for England’s waste water means that effluent is being poured out into many of her rivers and coastal areas which then sweeps back onto the beaches.
Another problem for England is that fresh water scarcity is increasing. This means that if England was to become an independent nation it would have to buy in water from elsewhere – most likely Scotland where there are abundant resources of fresh water. Scotland has strict controls on the discharge of waste. So the water an independent England would buy in would at least be clean.
Back at the start of this article I pointed out that England’s coastline and territorial waters are a fraction of those of her neighbour Scotland. Even with the moving of the boundary line by the UK Government in 1999 (The Scottish Adjacent Waters Boundaries Order 1999) it would mean that England would have to negotiate with Scotland if she wished to fish in the extensive waters Scotland has. More importantly, as we are in an energy crisis, England would have lost any revenues from the oil and gas sector located in Scotland’s waters and be limited to the few in her own.
As Scotland is already a net exporter of clean green energy and is increasing the number of sources to generate electricity from renewable sources, England would be able to purchase energy from Scotland if she was unable to gear up her own home generating capacity enough for her increasing population.
The English language is truly an international one and this would be a great advantage to a newly independent England. A language that has reached every corner of the world through colonial expansion since the 16th Century. The use of English in former colonies coupled with campaigns to limit and eliminate the use of native languages has made it a world beater when it comes to communications. The language has also produced some of the greatest giants in the literary world and the genius that was William Shakespeare.
One of the big problems for England would be food security – especially as it would continue to be outside of the EU – based on the fact that the 3 main political parties in England: Tories, Labour and LibDems, have said that they accept Brexit. England’s farmers produce wheat, dairy and eggs almost sufficient for its population and meat production may also be able to cope. Many foods require to be imported and the country would struggle now it is out of the EU. It could certainly import fish from Scotland. Scottish farmed salmon is the UKs top food export with sales valued at £280million (for the first half of 2022). The profits from those sales, with English independence, would go to a Scottish Exchequer, but if England was to invest in its own aquaculture and fishing industry it might not need to import so much food. The stumbling block with that would of course be the lack of clean fresh water and the vastly reduced maritime waters.
An independent England could reduce the risk of food security with increased investment in agriculture and fisheries but it is threatened by “climate change and other environmental pressures like soil degradation, water quality and biodiversity. “
“Wheat yields dropped by 40% in 2020 due to heavy rainfall and droughts at bad times in the growing season. Although they have bounced back in 2021, this is an indicator of the effect that increasingly unreliable weather patterns may have on future production” DEFRA
Most importantly is the question – does England want to be independent?
Currently there are 650 Members of Parliament who sit in the UK’s House of Commons. Out of that 543 represent England, so it doesn’t matter what the MPs of Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland want, unless they can get the agreement of the English ones. In 2023 this number for England will be increasing – because the population is increasing. And the number of MPs for Scotland and Wales will be decreasing.
It is the voters of England who decide on the Government of the UK. It was the same with the advisory referendum to leave the European Union. The vote to Leave the EU in England came to 53.41% on a very good turnout of 73%. In contrast to that the Leave vote in Scotland was only 38%, and with a slightly lower turnout of 67.2%. Despite there being a Remain vote throughout the whole of Scotland – the UK Parliament went with the decision to Leave.
So perhaps England feels no need to risk being a normal independent country – the risk to its energy supply, its food security and its fresh water. Why risk all of that when you control what happens politically anyway and you have a Scotland abundant in natural resources at your disposal ?