Does a trip from London to Glasgow or Cardiff count as a foray into another country?
Seems a basic question, but there is real confusion over the issue of whether or not England, Scotland, and Wales are really countries, or states, or principalities, or something totally different. They are part of the United Kingdom, but not part of each other.
And this is a very important issue because it means I’ve either visited six countries in my life, or seven. And that’s a big difference.
So let’s take a look at this country conundrum.
Believe it or not, there are direct contradictions to be found all over the web. Here’s a brief sampling:
- “Scotland, England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are not independent countries but are four somewhat autonomous regions which are part of the country known as the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland or just United Kingdom for short” – geography.about.com
- “ENGLAND is one of the countries of Britain. SCOTLAND is one of the countries of Britain. WALES is one of the countries of Britain. NORTHERN IRELAND is a jurisdiction having approximately the same status as England, Scotland, and Wales, but on a different island.” – columbia.edu
- “All of them can be described as countries, or nations, as can the UK in its entirety. None of them are independent states, however. As you say, Wales is a principality, but that doesn’t stop it being a country, a nation (and perhaps a region) at the same time.” – theguardian.com
- “Wales is not a Principality. Although we are joined with England by land, and we are part of Great Britain, Wales is a country in its own right.” – wales.com
Something like this shouldn’t be a matter of opinion.
Certainly, this is no clearcut matter. Who would have thought that we’d have to digress to the point of looking up the dictionary definition of “country”?
“country, \ˈkən-trē\ noun: an area of land that is controlled by its own government” – Merriam-Webster Dictionary
I believe that this is where the confusion lies. What does Mr. Webster mean exactly when he says “its own government”? Every city has its own form of government, but does that make it a country? Does that mean that the area must be totally autonomous? What does a devolved national legislature entail?
We could go through all the hows, why, and wherefores, and write an entire book on the subject, but I’m going to be merciful and just give you my final answer.
Did you know that there is a term for a country that is part of a larger country? It’s called a constituent country. Greenland, for example, is part of Denmark but is also a country in its own right, as are the Faroe Islands.
I’d say that is the best term to use for Scotland and Wales. They are technically countries because they have their own governments, though these governments ultimately answer to the British government. England is a bit funkier, because it doesn’t have a government apart from the overall United Kingdom government. Still, it is considered a country in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) list of countries. And I guess that’s a pretty good authority. So if you’re keeping track of how many countries you’ve visited (To be honest, who isn’t?), then by all means count England, Wales, and Scotland as separate countries.
Now, if you disagree with me in any particular, feel free to battle it out in the comments! I’m looking forward to your response.
Photo 2: By JW1805 at en.wikipedia. Later version(s) were uploaded by Daicaregos at en.wikipedia. (Transferred from en.wikipedia) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons