The Union Jack - flag of the United Kingdom
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Great Britain and the United Kingdom

What is the difference between great Britain and the United Kingdom? The London 2012 Olympics are taking place in London, England but they are also in Great Britain and or the United Kingdom. How come? Where are all these places and what's the difference?

How come Andy Murray is British one minute and Scottish the next: often depending on who you are speaking to and whether he is winning or not? Why do the same people who wave the white flag with the red cross of St. George on at football matches  swap it for the red, white and blue of the union flag when the Olympics come along or when they are celebrating the Queen's Diamond Jubilee?

Flags of the United Kingdom
Credit: Guilherme Pavla - Wikimedia Commons

How the flags of the United Kingdom come together to make the Union flag.


England is one of the three countries that make up Great Britain: England, Scotland and Wales. Britain's politicians, speech writers  and headline writers love to talk about what made Britain 'Great'. Well Great Britain is great in much the same way that Great Yarmouth is great. What made Britain 'great' is geography. The British Isles consist of two main islands: Great Britain and Ireland.

Great Britain is the bigger of the two islands, the one with England, Scotland and Wales on.  Ireland is the smaller of the two islands, divided into the Irish Republic and the six counties of Northern Ireland, also known as Ulster.

Northern Ireland, together with England, Scotland and Wales forms the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Are you still with me?

 The Northern Irish are divided between a majority, protestant population who are fiercely protective of their British identity and a minority catholic population who see themselves as Irish and would support a united Ireland.

The Scots and the Welsh now have their own parliaments and manage to enjoy free prescriptions and free university education, denied to the English without paying any extra taxes. Once the English would cheer any of the other countries so long as they weren't playing England but the Scots and the Welsh were more likely to cheer whoever was playing against England. These days the English are beginning to adopt a similar attitude although for the Olympics that will all be forgotten and we will all get behind Britain.



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England's Flag - the Cross of St. George


England, the larger of the four countries that make up the United Kingdom of Great Britain is easily the largest of the four 'home countries'. The term 'home countries' should not  be confused with the 'home counties' which usually means south east England.

The population of London, England's capital is  bigger than the populations of Scotland and Wales put together. Over 80% of Britons are English but the other 20%: the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish do not appreciate being thought of as English. They are Scots, Welsh and Irish first and British second but never ever English.

The English, by  contrast would until recently use the terms British or English almost interchangeably. At the 1966 World Cup, won by England, English supporters happily waved Britain's flag the union jack. You don't find that any more. The aspirations for  Scottish, and less so, Welsh nationalism have driven a new sense of Englishness, These days English supporters wave the red cross of St. George at England matches.