This section focuses on the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish minorities of the United Kingdom, with regional populations of about 5.5 million, 3 million and 1.9 million, respectively. While there is growing recognition of the Cornish minority in the southwest of England, its population is too small to be considered here.
1. FEDERAL OR QUASI-FEDERAL TERRITORIAL AUTONOMY
|Territorial Autonomy Scores|
- Even though the UK has a unitary system of government, sub-state institutions have been in place for decades in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. However, until 1999, "the UK Parliament at Westminster had absolute legislative authority with respect to all matters, including all aspects of public policy that could impact on Britain's minority linguistic communities" (Dunbar 2003, 5). Sub-state institutions consisted mainly of administrative offices which still permitted some degree of autonomy (Mitchell 2006).
- Unprecedented reforms to the structure of the UK have been carried out since 1997. The UK set up a series of new institutions such as the Scottish Parliament, the National Assembly for Wales and the Northern Ireland Assembly.
- The Scotland Act (1998), the Government of Wales Act (1998) and the Northern Ireland Act (1998) created the positions of first minister in each sub-state nation as well as governmental bodies to take on the devolved powers. The Cornwall Devolution Deal (2015) gives the administrative county of Cornwall a greater say over public sector funding and promotes local decision-making in many public services.
- Mooney et al. (2006) emphasize that devolution, while a UK-wide process, has been uneven across nations. The Scottish Parliament has the most extensive autonomy, which was broadened and further guaranteed by the Scotland Act 2016 in the wake of the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Welsh autonomy was deepened with the addition of an executive and additional competencies by the Government of Wales Act 2006, and most recently with the Wales Act 2017, which devolves further powers including the ability to change the name of the Welsh National Assembly (now the Senedd Cymru / Welsh Parliament since May 2020). The Northern Ireland Assembly has been suspended on several occasions, leading to intermittent direct rule, most recently from 2017–20.
- Devolution is different from a federal system of government in that it is reversible, and the devolved institutions are subordinate to the UK Parliament (Leeke, Sear and Oonagh 2003). However, while the UK government is still sovereign and can legislate in matters that have been reserved to the sub-state nations, it will not normally do so without the consent of the devolved institutions.
- In June 2016 the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in the ‘Brexit’ referendum. Since then, some formerly EU powers have been transferred to the central government and others to the devolved governments, and on some issues new UK-wide ‘common frameworks’ have been or will be created to ensure consistency or co-ordination across certain policies. According to the Institute for Government, the “UK and devolved governments also agreed that the overall effect will deliver ‘a significant increase in decision-making powers for the devolved administrations’, and that no existing devolved policy power will be taken away” (2020).
2. OFFICIAL LANGUAGE STATUS, EITHER IN THE REGION OR NATIONALLY
|Official Language Status Scores|
- English is the official language of the United Kingdom, but minority languages have been granted some level of recognition regionally.
- The United Kingdom ratified various sections of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages with respect to Welsh (Wales), Gaelic (Scotland), Scots (Scotland and Northern Ireland) and Irish (Northern Ireland) in 2001, and to Cornish in 2002.
- According to the 2011 census, 19 percent of the population of Wales is able to speak Welsh (Welsh Government 2020). The major piece of legislation with regard to the Welsh language is the Welsh Language Act 1993, which establishes the equality of Welsh and English in Wales. It places an obligation on the public sector to treat Welsh and English equally when providing public services in Wales. A Welsh Language Commissioner has been responsible for promoting and facilitating the use of the Welsh language in Wales since 2012, and the National Assembly for Wales (Official Languages) Act 2012 amended the Government of Wales Act 2006 to make Welsh and English the two official and equal languages of the National Assembly for Wales.
- Only 1.1 percent of the Scottish population aged three or older is able to speak, read or write Gaelic. Since the mid-1980s, and particularly since devolution and the creation of the Scottish Parliament in 1998, the Gaelic language has gained some recognition and support (Dunbar 2003). The Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act of 2005 establishes the Bord na Gaidhlig (Gaelic development body) "with a view to securing the status of the Gaelic language as an official language of Scotland commanding equal respect to the English language" (Gaelic Language Act, 2005, Section 1 (3)).
- The 2011 census reports 3.7 that percent of the Northern Irish population is able to speak, write, and understand Irish. Irish received recognition in Northern Ireland for the first time under the Belfast Agreement of 1998, which also established Foras na Gaeilge, a cross-border body promoting the Irish language. The New Decade, New Approach agreement struck in January 2020 includes provisions for new legislation on Irish and Ulster-Scots to be implemented by amending the Northern Ireland Act 1998.
3. GUARANTEES OF REPRESENTATION IN THE CENTRAL GOVERNMENT OR ON CONSTITUTIONAL COURTS
|Guaranteed Representation Scores|
- The UK House of Commons consists of 650 elected members of which 40 represent constituencies in Wales, 59 in Scotland and 18 in Northern Ireland. According to the Parliamentary Constituencies Act (1986), constituency boundaries are reviewed by four permanent "boundary commissions" (i.e., boundary commissions for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland). Members of those commissions must include representatives from the national minorities. Moreover, the act states that a minimum number of constituencies are guaranteed for each region (e.g., a minimum of 16 constituencies in Northern Ireland and of 35 for Wales).
- The House of Lords does not guarantee representation for members of sub-state nations. Most lords are appointed by the Crown (on the advice of the prime minister), and some are hereditary members elected by their party or by the House.
- There also exists a system of territorial ministers whose task is to coordinate central policy with the peripheral nations and to represent these regions in the central government. The secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland historically headed a substantial administration. Since devolution in 1999, the role of the secretaries of state has diminished, and most contact between the UK government and the devolved institutions is taking place between the individual government departments that are dealing with specific matters (Torrance 2020).
- Before 2005, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council was the final judicial authority on devolution matters. This jurisdiction was transferred to the Supreme Court under the Constitutional Reform Act, 2005, which also made this institution the final court of appeal in the UK. The Supreme Court decides whether devolved sub-state authorities have acted within their powers or failed to comply with their duties (Supreme Court 2021).
- There is no provision in the Constitutional Reform Act, 2005, guaranteeing Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish representation on the Supreme Court, but section 27 states that the first minister in Scotland, the assembly first secretary in Wales and the secretary of state for Northern Ireland must be consulted as part of the selection process. There are currently two Justices from Scotland, one from Northern Ireland, and one from Wales (Supreme Court n.d.).
- Overall, effective representation of the different national minorities within the central institutions of the UK seems to have weakened since devolution and the implementation of regional representative mechanisms. For example, the clause guaranteeing 71 seats for Scotland in the House of Commons was cancelled in the Scottish Act (1998).
4. PUBLIC FUNDING OF MINORITY-LANGUAGE UNIVERSITIES / SCHOOLS / MEDIA
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Minority language policy in the UK has historically been the preserve of the central government and has been, in Dunbar's words, "uncoordinated, unprincipled and largely reactive" (2003, 55). It began to change with devolution in 1999.
- While Welsh-medium education (i.e., schools where all subjects are taught in Welsh) dates from the 1940s in Wales, the Education Reform Act of 1988 and the Welsh Language Act of 1993 have favoured the spread of bilingual education at the primary and secondary levels.
- Both Welsh-medium education and the teaching of Welsh as a subject are state-funded in Wales. There are no primary or secondary schools where no Welsh is taught (Dunbar 2003). Since 2000, the teaching of Welsh is compulsory for all children until they are 16 years old.
- Welsh universities teach primarily in English, but all offer some courses in Welsh.
- Gaelic education has been a national priority since 2000, and the Scottish government has provided considerable (and increasing) financial support for it. Core funding from the Scottish Funding Council supports a series of colleges and universities where students can study Gaelic and conduct research in Gaelic. The Education (Scotland) Act 2016 supports Gaelic education in a number of ways, including the requirement that every education authority in Scotland must promote the potential provision of Gaelic medium education and support any existing Gaelic education provision in the authority area (Scottish Government n.d.).
- In 2015 the Scottish Government introduced a Scots Language Policy to promote and support Scots and encourage its respect and recognition in education and media “in order that what for many is the language of the home can be used in other areas of Scottish life” (Scottish Government 2015).
- In Northern Ireland, provisions in the Education Order 1998 placed a duty on the Department of Education to facilitate Irish-medium education, and enabled it to fund Irish-medium schools. The Comhairle na Gaelscolafochta was established in 2000 as an advisory body on that matter.
- While a few Irish-medium primary schools have been funded since the 1980s, most were established after 2000, and the only two post-primary (college) Irish language institutions date from 2000 and 2002.
- Broadcasting is not a devolved matter. However, the UK's 2003 Communications Act is the first piece of media legislation that recognizes devolved institutions. It recognizes the role of the Welsh Authority and of the Scottish government in providing public broadcast, and states that a substantial proportion of the programs shall be in Welsh and in Gaelic, respectively.
- Wales is the only nation in the UK that has two publicly funded public broadcasters. BBC Wales Cymru broadcasts TV services, two radio stations (one in Welsh), as well as online services in English and Welsh. Sianel Pedwar Cymru (S4C) broadcasts Welsh-language programming in peak-time and runs an all-Welsh-language digital station available on satellite since 1998 (Andrews 2003).
- The Gaelic Broadcasting Committee (renamed Gaelic Media Service in 2003) was set up under the Broadcasting Act 1990 to fund the production of Gaelic-medium programming. All television and radio companies have access to the fund.
- Progress has been made with regard to Gaelic broadcasting. Additional support from the Scottish government has permitted the launching of MG Alba in 2008 in order to establish a new digital Gaelic channel, now supported with approximately £11.8 million of core funding each year (Scottish Government n.d).
- Most of the Irish language media are funded by, and broadcast in, the Republic of Ireland but can be tuned into from Northern Ireland. BBC Northern Ireland broadcasts a very limited number of hours in Irish (Dunbar 2003).
- The Irish Language Broadcast Fund was created in 2005 to develop and foster a publicly funded Irish language television production sector in Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Screen 2021).
5. CONSTITUTIONAL OR PARLIAMENTARY AFFIRMATION OF "MULTINATIONALISM"
|Affirmation of Multinationalism Scores|
- The United Kingdom has historically been very generous in recognizing the plurality of its constituents and the national character of its sub-units (Keating 2001). For McEwen and Lecours, "this has taken the form of symbolic rather than constitutional recognition, but one that has been so taken for granted that the issue of constitutional recognition has never arisen" (2008, 238).
- The term "nation," according to McRoberts (2001), is regularly used by the UK's political leadership in Westminster, and the term "national" has long been attached to Scotland's institutions (Keating 2001).
- This multinational political culture can be observed, for example, in the practices of "maintaining distinct sporting teams for Wales and Scotland, organizing the British military along national lines, or issuing Scottish notes through the Bank of Scotland" (McRoberts 2001, 712).
- The process of devolution and the establishment of the Scottish Parliament and of the Welsh National Assembly has been described as a new way of giving voice to minority nations within the UK (McEwen and Lecours 2008).
6. ACCORDED INTERNATIONAL PERSONALITY
(E.G., ALLOWING THE SUB-STATE REGION TO SIT ON INTERNATIONAL BODIES, SIGN TREATIES, OR HAVE THEIR OWN OLYMPIC TEAM)
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- International relations and relations with the European Union remain the prerogative of the UK government and parliament. Since devolution, the latter, however, recognizes the interests of sub-state institutions in international policy-making in relation to devolved matters, and wishes to involve them "as directly and fully as possible" in discussions and in decision-making (Memorandum of Understanding 2001, 17).
- According to the Concordat on International Relations of the Memorandum of Understanding (2001), the devolved administrations can be represented overseas on issues related to devolved matters.
- The devolved administrations are also members of the British-Irish Inter-Parliamentary Body (Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body 2007) and the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK 2021).
- In most international competitions, England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are represented by separate teams that are collectively referred to as the "Home Nations". This excludes the Olympics, however, where the UK is represented by the Great Britain team.