The history of the United Kingdom as a unified sovereign state began with the political union of the kingdoms of England, which included Wales, andScotland on 1 May 1707 in accordance with theTreaty of Union, as ratified by the Acts of Union 1707. The Union created the United Kingdom of Great Britain, which shared a single constitutional monarch and a single parliament at Westminster. Prior to this, the kingdoms of England and Scotland had been separate states, though inpersonal union following the Union of the Crowns in 1603, with political, administrative and cultural institutions including representative governance, law systems, and distinguished contributions to the arts and sciences, upon which the United Kingdom was to be built. On the new, united kingdom, historian Simon Schama said "What began as a hostile merger would end in a full partnership in the most power fulgoing concern in the world... it was one of the most astonishing transformations in European history."A further Act of Union in 1800 added the Kingdom of Ireland to create the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The early years of the United Kingdom were marked by Jacobite risings which ended with defeat at Culloden in 1746. Later, victory in the Seven Years' War, in 1763, led to the dominance of the British Empire which was the foremost global power for over a century and grew to become the largest empire in history. By 1921, the British Empire held sway over a population of about 458 million people, approximately one-quarter of the world's population. and as a result, the culture of the United Kingdom, and its industrial, political and linguistic legacy, is widespread.
In 1922 and following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, Ireland seceded from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland to become the Irish Free State, a dominion of the British Empire but a day later,Northern Ireland seceded from the Free State and rejoined the United Kingdom. As a result, in 1927 the United Kingdom changed its formal title to the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland," usually shortened to the "United Kingdom", the "UK" or "Britain", but the Monarchremained "By the Grace of God,
of Great Britain, Ireland and the British Dominions beyond the Seas King/Queen, Defender of the Faith" until 1953.
Nationalist government in Scotland
2007 saw the first ever election victory for the pro-independence Scottish National Party (SNP) in the Scottish Parliament elections. They formed a minority government with plans to hold a referendum before 2011 to seek a mandate "to negotiate with the Government of the United Kingdom to achieve independence for Scotland."]Most opinion polls show minority support for independence, although support varies depending on the nature of the question. The response of the unionist parties was to establish the Calman Commission to examine furtherdevolution of powers, a position that had the support of the Prime Minister.
Responding to the findings of the review, the UK government announced on 25 November 2009, that new powers would be devolved to the Scottish Government, notably on how it can raise tax and carry out capital borrowing, and the running of Scottish Parliament elections. These proposals were detailed in a white paper setting out a new Scotland Bill, to become law before the 2015 Holyrood elections. The proposal was criticised by the UK parliament opposition parties for not proposing to implement any changes before the next general election. Scottish Constitution Minister Michael Russell criticised the white paper, calling it "flimsy" and stating that their proposed Referendum (Scotland) Bill, 2010, whose own white paper was to be published five days later, would be "more substantial". According to The Independent, the Calman Review white paper proposals fall short of what would normally be seen as requiring a referendum.
The 2011 election saw a decisive victory for the SNP which was able to form a majority government intent on delivering a referendum on independence. Within hours of the victory, Prime Minister David Cameron guaranteed that the UK government would not put any legal or political obstacles in the way of such a referendum. Some unionist politicians, including former Labour First Minister Henry McLeish, have responded to the situation by arguing that Scotland should be offered 'devo-max' as an alternative to independence, and First Minister Alex Salmond has signalled his willingness to include it on the referendum ballot paper.
The 2008 economic crisis
In the wake of the global economic crisis of 2008, the United Kingdom economy contracted, experiencing negative economic growth throughout 2009. The announcement in November 2008 that the economy had shrunk for the first time since late 1992 brought an end to 16 years of continuous economic growth. Causes included an end to the easy credit of the preceding years, reduction in consumption and substantial depreciation of sterling (which fell 25% against the euro between January 2008 and January 2009), leading to increased import costs, notably of oil.
On 8 October 2008, the British Government announced a bank rescue package of around £500 billion($850 billion at the time). The plan comprised three parts.: £200 billion to be made available to the banks in theBank of England's Special Liquidity Scheme; the Government was to increase the banks' market capitalization, through the Bank Recapitalization Fund, with an initial £25 billion and another £25 billion to be provided if needed; and the Government was to temporarily underwrite any eligible lending between British banks up to around £250 billion. With the UK officially coming out of recession in the fourth quarter of 2009—ending six consecutive quarters of economic decline—the Bank of England decided against further quantitative easing.
The 2010 coalition government
The United Kingdom General Election of 6 May 2010 resulted in the first hung parliament since 1974, with the Conservative Party winning the largest number of seats, but falling short of the 326 seats required for an overall majority. Following this, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats agreed to form the first coalition government for the UK since the end of the Second World War, with David Cameron becoming Prime Minister and Nick Clegg Deputy Prime Minister.
Under the coalition government, British military aircraft participated in the UN-mandated intervention in the 2011 Libyan civil war, flying a total of 3,000 air sorties against forces loyal to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafibetween March and October 2011. 2011 also saw England suffer unprecedented rioting in its major cities in early August, killing five people and causing over £200 million worth of property damage.