Are Wales and Scotland Countries?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
Countries of the UK

Does this graphic make things simpler? I didn’t think so.

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.

Sources:

Photo 1: A short history of England (1921) by CircaSassy

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constituent_country

Written by Abigail Young

I've had a passion for everything British my entire life, despite being raised as a small-town girl in the American Midwest, After years of dreaming, I got the chance to live and work in England for an entire year. Now I write about my favorite country, and hopefully inspire my fellow Britophiles to get over there and experience it for themselves.

This article has 45 comments

  1. John Evans Reply

    But the great thing is that once you’ve entered the United Kingdom (on a valid visa of course), you can visit all four countries – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – without having to show your passport at the borders. And citizens of the United Kingdom don’t need a passport to to enter the Republic of Ireland and vice versa.

    Then of course there are the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands, which have a different constitution status again, and have their own governments. I’m not sure whether visitors to those places who aren’t UK citizens but travel from England have to show their passports on entry. My, I find it confusing – and I’m a UK citizen!

    • J Wilson Reply

      of course we enter Republic of Ireland without a passport at the moment based on us all being EU citizens – that might change .. I really hope not !

      • T Glover Reply

        The UK is not part of the Schengen agreement and so British citizens require a passport to visit other EU countries.

        UK citizens can currently enter the Republic of Ireland without a passport because there is a Common Travel Agreement between the two countries.

  2. Mike Reply

    I agree that each one should count as its own country! I buy a flag of each country I’ve been to and was wondering if I should buy just a union jack, or separate welsh, Scottish and English flags- or all four? What would you say?

    • Rob Reply

      I reckon 5 flags Mike. England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and a Union flag. And do it soon, may well be changes coming soon that changes that Union flag!

  3. Sam Reply

    I’ll start off by saying I’m Australian with Scottish heritage.

    I look at it this way, who is represented at the United Nations and the Olympics? The answer to both is the United Kingdom.

    • Dan Reply

      I look at it this way, who is represented at the United Nations and the Olympics? The answer to both is the United Kingdom.

      Sorry, no it’s not. The United Kingdom (England, Scotland, Wales & N. Ireland) is represented at the UN but only Great Britain (i.e. only England. Scotland and Wales) is represented at the Olympics.

      The International Olympic Federation has agreed that athletes from Northern Ireland can elect whether they want to represent Great Britain or Ireland. I think it’s the only case where a competitor can choose which country he or she represents.

      • Tim Reply

        u should know buy know that its a union of countries with different peoples. Each is a country in its own right and its only represented as the UN as the UK because the main parliament for the country is the English, which holds most of Britain population and can therefore speak for the union.

        • AE Reply

          The author is right I’m afraid Tim, the UK is a country which is made up of smaller constituent countries. Basically, smaller countries (I suppose you could say nations if you want to be specific) within a sovereign country/state (country/sovereign state, they can both be used interchangeably). It’s not that it’s “only represented at the UN as the UK because the main parliament for the country is the English, which holds most of Britain population and can therefore speak for the union.” It would still be the UK if the parliament was in Wales for example, because it is the UK that is the country. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are the nations that make the country of the United Kingdom and also the British nation as a whole, up.

          https://simple.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Constituent_country

          http://geography.about.com/od/politicalgeography/a/englandnot.htm

          http://geography.about.com/od/politicalgeography/a/scotlandnot.htm

          • AS

            How then do you account for the fact that a person from the nation of Scotland has a British nationality according to their passport?

      • Lucas Caleb Todd Reply

        No. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are not countries. They don’t meet all the help criteria needed for a country. England is not represented in the Olympics because it’s not a country neither is anyone other of the REGIONS of the UK. The oblue reason that a few sports are played separate from the United Kingdom is because cricket rugby and football were all invented in Britain and the first ‘international’ game of football was played in Glasgow. They dicided to keep it like that which I totally disagree on. I am from Northern Ireland but if someone asks me what country Ian make from I will say the United Kingdom loke most like minded people. It’s like saying that California is a country. It may have its own sate laws like eg Wales but the most important level of government is the Queen folowed by British Parliament. We live in a country called the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and you cannot argue with that.

    • Gary Reply

      Not always the case , Team GB is a relatively new idea. It was formed following a rather dismal English performance in the Olympics.
      Personally it should go back to the individual countries imv.

  4. Mazza Reply

    Wales is a country as ‘the prince of Wales’ is not Welsh so there is NO Prince of Wales’ unless born in Wales of Welsh blood!!!!

  5. AE Reply

    Although you can call them countries still I suppose if you mean constituent country. The reason I said nations instead of countries is because I mean country as in a single sovereign state and none of the four nations (nation isn’t the same as country if anyone was wondering) are that, the UK however, is. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland may have their own Parliaments/Assemblies but the truth is that the Government can remove them again if it wants, it just chooses not to because of all the trouble it would cause.

    • AS Reply

      As my comment above, how come then the “nationality” of all of the 4 nations is British? Surely their should be 4 nationalities in the 1 country.

      • wideload Reply

        It’s not. The nationality of only the 3 countries in Britain is British. The people of Northern Ireland are still considered Irish.
        Personally, I think they should ditch the terms ‘Britain’, ‘Great Britain’ and ‘British’. It’s outdated and superseded by the UK in all ways. Our full address lists UK at the end, we have a UK passport, which is incorrectly referred to as a British passport, even though it allows free travel to NI. The only time those terms really come up are when filling in ‘nationality’ on a form. For that we can go back to the individual countries or use ‘UK’.

  6. AE Reply

    The easiest thing to say, is that the UK is a multinational-state/country and a nation-state/country. The reason for this is because you can be Northern Irish and British, Scottish and British or like me English and British. Hope this all helps a little. I don’t intend to offend anyone either with my replies by the way so sorry if you’re reading this and you are, I didn’t intend for you to be.

  7. AE Reply

    Oh and you can be Welsh and British too, sorry, I thought I’d already included you guys in my list, but looks like I didn’t :S, which is really bad seeing as I have as much Welsh in my family tree as English (I’m from the West Midlands, Shropshire specifically, so they tended to jump either side of the Border).

  8. Jose Alonso Reply

    Simple question. When a Welsh is granted a passport, who provides it? (Same goes to Scotland, England, and Northern Ireland.)

    • AE Reply

      HM Passport Office provides it (part or the Home Office), it issues passports to all British nationals.

  9. Paul Gabrielsen Reply

    I have been to 28 countries and if Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are considered countries…..I will visit them next time I go to europe & quickly add another 3 countries to my total…..possibly this fall

  10. Andrew Evans Reply

    The 3 country’s of Scotland wales and N Ireland are celtic country’s with there own languages . Welsh is the oldest spoken language in Briton . Cornwall is also celtic and have there own language . Wales is a country once it had kingdom’s and princes .The rightfully Prince of Wales( who was officially recognise by the king of England was killed and his crown stolen and then the king revoked there promises to self govern .

  11. Jerry Reply

    The primary subdivisions in the U.S. are called “states”. The primary subdivisions in Canada are called “provinces”. I’m troubled that the primary subdivisions in the country called the U.K. are also called “countries”. It seems like a sloppy nomenclature.

    • Abigail Young Reply

      It may be sloppy, Jerry, but The UK is a lot older than the US, and has a far richer history! These places are countries because they were once independent countries in their own right.

      • Ryan mardones Reply

        Then what about my place of birth, the great state of Texas? It was once an independent country (and shall be once again mwuah-ha-ha….)…

      • Peter Moss Reply

        Abigail, would it be fair to describe the UK as a country made up of confederated nations? If so, this helps me picture it in my mind better.

        I’m in Canada, and we often speak of the birth of Canada as confederation, although it’s slightly different because the regions in Canada were provinces, not nations.

  12. Mark Reply

    Poppycock…. I assume using this conveloted logic every region, province, canton, island or islands (Sicily, Sardinia, Venice, etc) in continental Europe all all countries as well. Ridiculous!!!

  13. Steve Sayers Reply

    The United Kingdom of Great Britain & Northern Ireland.

    The UK is a country and a unitary sovereign nation state with constituent parts and countries combined in a union with quasi federal aspects. UK law is supreme and parliament can pass laws that affect all of its parts and constituent countries. It is responsible for its citizens, defence and economy, as well as international relations and cooperation.

    No parts or constituent countries are recognised or represented in on and by international institutions and organisations.

    It is governed by the parliament of the UK with representation on an equitable population basis from all parts and constituent countries of the UK. The Parliament legislates on all UK law that affects the whole of the UK.

    England is a constituent country and the most populous part of the UK governed entirely at UK level by the parliament of the UK. Due to devolution and the “West Lothian Question” laws affecting England only are not voted on by the representatives of the the other parts and constituent countries of the UK.

    Scotland – A constituent country of the UK with a devolved parliament for matters not reserved to the UK parliament. Scottish law differs marginally from law in the rest of UK. Scots law is supreme in criminal law but defers to the UKSC for civil matters.

    Wales – A constituent country of the United Kingdom with predominately UK Law (deferring to the UKSC) and a devolved assembly. The assembly can implement Welsh Bills akin to laws for Wales only.

    Northern Ireland – A part (province) of the United Kingdom with a devolved assembly and predominately UK law. The assembly can pass local laws on devolved matters and defers to the UKSC

    Steve Sayers 8/11/16

  14. Gary Reply

    They most certainly are separate countries. I’m Scottish if you called me English then you have just given me the worse insult possible to a Scots man or woman.
    Also don’t refer to us as Scotch 🙂
    Each individual country is very proud of its own history and heritage so calling every one English , which sadly Americans seem to have the habit of doing in Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland will often result at best in the insult being returned or lead to fisticuffs.
    It really is taken seriously that you show the respect of being in a different country which belongs to what is a political union of the four.

  15. M.Gartshore Reply

    Do some research and you’ll discover such entries in the History books as ‘The Union of the Parliaments’ and ‘The Union of the Crowns.’ These refer to agreements made between the ancient countries of Scotland and England. Scotland is an ancient Nation which at one time had its own Kings and Parliaments. Neither Wales nor Northern Ireland are in the same category. Scotland is a Nation but not a State. It is significant that the sense of Nationhood in Scotland today is so much stronger than that found in Wales whose contiguity with England has somewhat eroded its political sense. Scotland will soon I predict leave the UK and assume its proper identity as a State. I doubt that Wales ever will.

  16. Phil Evans Reply

    Steve, an update for you. The Wales Bill ensures that the UK parliament can not undo devolution. The Assembly can call its self a Parliament if it wants to. laws passed in Wales are Acts rather than Bills. we now have the same system as Scotland (reserved powers) and income tax variant powers (soon). oh……..and lets not doubt. Wales, England & Scotland are proud countries in their own right. Perhaps difficult for the rest of the world to understand, but we have had a few thousand years to sort it between us!

  17. Phil Evans Reply

    I can not agree with M.Gartshore – Wales has an overpowering sense on Nationhood. Should have seen us yesterday on our National Day – St Davids!

  18. TOJO Reply

    No countries except the UK and Republic of Ireland technically.
    AT least the Scottish want their own set up. The Welsh are basically west England.. even followed them with the brexit vote. Northern Ireland has a choice.

    • Ruth Reply

      Wales uk is country with it own government in Cardiff south wales please don’t tell me that I don’t know what I am talking about wales uk I live in South Wales uk and I know about wales because I live there you don’t know anything about wales so please check your facts before comments on wales

  19. Eireen Reply

    How dare you Tojo – I’m Welsh and do not be so insulting as to call Wales West England. Why not call England East Wales?

  20. Hank Acker Reply

    I’m a Yank who has visit Scotland, both Ireland and Norther Ireland several times. I want to thank all of the contributors to this forum. I have learned a great lesson about how peoples of the UK and the countries that are parts of this union. My interest currently is to learn more about the Country of Wales, how it came about after the Roman’s departed. Again thanks to all contributors.

  21. Nick Reply

    It’s called the United Kingdom for a reason. Back in the Middle Ages England, Wales, etc. were known as Kingdoms. England is not separate nation from Wales, Scotland, etc. Since they formed one nation as four different Kingdoms, UK is a Country. The Middle Ages are over. No one calls them Kingdoms anymore so they call them individual countries since there isn’t a substitute for the word kingdom so they called them all countries. In truth, the UK is a Country and is made up of Kingdoms.

  22. John Reply

    There are so many lies peddled as truths and half truths in this comment section.

    For a start, Scotland, England and Wales are all countries with their own language, culture and history. Scotland and Wales are NOT a province of England, and if you have been told so, you have been seriously mislead. Only Northern Ireland is a province of the UK.

    Scotland has its own devolved government, where it as control over most aspects of the running of the country, but doesn’t have full tax raising powers. Scotland also has its own legal system, which is very different to England.

    Scotland is part of the EU through the UK, and has many standing MSP’s, voting on issues that directly involve Scotland.

    Scotland has a border with England, its own fishing waters and sea borders.

    The united Kingdom, is less about countries and more about the crown of each country. Hence the word ‘King’. This started in 1603 when James VI become the King and Scotland and England, which remain sovereign states up until 1707 when the Act of Union was passed.

    During the 17th century Scotland even had its own Union flag which was different to England, and this lasted up until the Acts of Union in 2017. At the time, the Scottish people were vehemently opposed to the union.

    Before I get someone saying that Scotland was poor because of the Darien Scheme, may I remind you it was the lords and lairds of the country that ruled the Scottish Parliament and it was they who lost their own personal money and the union was a way for them to get their money back. Because ‘they’ had a majority in the Scottish Parliament and were able to push through the union, against the wish of the Scottish People.

    As the saying goes: ‘We’re bought and sold for English Gold, Such a Parcel of Rogues in a Nation.’. £20,000 was sent to Scotland and the people of Scotland never received a penny of this money.

    Is Scotland a country, yes it is and Scotland is also part of the United Kingdom, a nation that has been formed by three countries and a province.

    You can call me anything you like, just never call me English!

  23. John Reply

    Correction: ‘and this lasted up until the Acts of Union in 2017’ That should have been ‘and this lasted up until the Acts of Union in 1707’.

  24. Wayne Reply

    I’m an American but to me the simplest explanation is through the military. Correct me if I am wrong, but don’t all enlistees from the various “areas” fight for one country? I have never heard of the Scottish Navy or the Welsh Air Force.

    Wayne

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