The United Kingdom came into existence as a result of two parliamentary unions, the union with Scotland in 1707 and the union with Ireland in 1801. They were the product of crisis rather than popular pressure, and were achieved through corrupt means. Neither was accompanied by any vision of what the future of a united kingdom might be like. The union with Scotland, however, survived, while that with Ireland did not, except in the six counties now comprising Northern Ireland. The remaining twenty-six counties broke away from Britain when Ireland secured her independence in 1921.
Gladstone, who tried unsuccessfully to secure Home Rule for Ireland (or, as we would now call it, devolution), declared that there had been ‘a Union in Scotland and a Union in Ireland, just as there was a river in Monmouth and a river in Macedon’.