The United Kingdom of... Mull

IssueFebruary - March 2022
A Japanese map of Taiwan published in Taiwan Daily News on 3 January 1928. Taiwan was ruled by Japan from 1895 – 1945. PUBLIC DOMAIN VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Feature by Milan Rai

What if... after finding out that he’d lost the July 1945 election, Winston Churchill had scooped up the royal family and a handful of aristocrats, quite a bit of the British armed forces (including a fair chunk of its military equipment), some financiers from the City of London, and much of Whitehall’s civil service – and then retreated to the Isle of Mull on the west coast of Scotland?

What if... Churchill had loaded all the gold reserves of the Bank of England into a military convoy up to Mull?

What if... Churchill had declared that his ‘government’ in Mull was the actual, real and legitimate government of ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ – despite the fact that he only controlled the 338 square miles of Mull and the handful of islands around it?

What if... the United States and most of the governments of the world had recognised Churchill’s Mull administration as ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’ and given him Britain’s seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council?

What if... in order to defend Churchill’s territory from being retaken, the US had sent ships from its Atlantic Fleet into the waters around Mull in 1946 – and regularly every year after that?

What if... for the first nine years, Churchill’s forces had passed supplies and weapons to Welsh and Cornish separatists fighting the London government – and had helped to arm the IRA?

What if... in the early years, Churchill’s forces kept launching naval and air attacks on Scotland and England as preparation for an invasion to ‘retake’ the UK?

What if... because the royal family had moved to Mull, the Labour party-dominated state based in London became known as ‘the People’s Republic of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’.

What if... the People’s Republic (what we would call ‘the real UK’) had been boycotted diplomatically, economically and financially by the non-Communist world for the next 20 years?

What if... the UN and the US had only recognised the reality of the London government (the People’s Republic) – established diplomatic relations with it – in the 1970s?

This is the opposite of secession, which is when a part of a country wants to leave to form a new state.

What if... Mull still continued to rule itself today, in 2022 and still called itself officially ‘the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’? What if, despite there being a minority of people who wanted to just be an independent island, Mull still had a constitution saying that its government is the only legitimate ruler of the entire territory of Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England – while recognising that others temporarily control ‘the mainland’?

Not withdrawal

To be clear, in the version of history we’ve just imagined, Mull, in 1945, did not withdraw from the United Kingdom by declaring itself an independent state (for argument’s sake, with the support of the overwhelming majority of people living on the island).

The situation we have constructed is one where the statelet set up by Churchill in Tobermory, the biggest town on Mull, has proclaimed since 1945 that it is the actual government of the entire, undivided United Kingdom.

This is the opposite of secession, which is when a part of a country wants to leave to form a new state.

In this weird version of history, both the Tobermory and London governments have agreed since 1945 that (a) there is only one United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, (b) that Mull is part of the UK, and 

(c) that there have been no territorial changes to the UK since Ireland was partitioned in 1921.

Both sides agree that there is only one UK, they just disagree over who is the legitimate government of that United Kingdom.

The point of this ‘What if...’ alternative history is to help us in Britain get a better perspective on the China-Taiwan issue. (When you compare Mull to the size of the UK as a whole, it’s roughly the same ratio as when you compare the surface area of Taiwan to China as a whole.)

Of course, there are lots of differences between Taiwan-in-reality and Mull-in-this-story.

Temporary retreat

When political change happened in China in 1949, it wasn’t the result of an election, it was a social revolution at the end of a long, bloody civil war.

The losers in China were the corrupt, right-wing Guomindang or Kuomintang (KMT) led by Chiang Kai-shek (in Taiwan, he is known as ‘Chiang Chung-cheng’).

When the KMT retreated to Taiwan in 1949, after losing the Chinese civil war, they still called their government ‘the Republic of China’.

In the eyes of the KMT in 1949, Taiwan was just a temporary staging post during a strategic retreat, a launchpad for a campaign by the legitimate government (the Republic of China) to reconquer its territories.

That constitution of ‘the Republic of China’ even today, after many revisions over the years, still says that it is the constitution of the whole of China. However, there are additions which recognise that it only applies to the ‘free area’ of China (in other words, Taiwan).

The KMT also brought to Taiwan around half a million soldiers, the entire Chinese air force, the entire Chinese navy, several universities and museums with all their precious artefacts, and over a million refugees.

It is said that Chiang Kai-shek personally oversaw the emptying of China’s state treasury in Shanghai. The KMT has admitted taking 64 tonnes of gold to Taiwan from the mainland. Other estimates more than double that figure, with a value of up to US$170 million at the time. (During the 1950s, the US gave the KMT government in Taiwan $170m in military aid every year, on top of $100m in aid every year.)

Imagine how the Scottish or UK governments would feel about Mull in the scenario we just described.

The mere existence of the Tobermory regime, its theft of UK resources, its sponsorship of terrorism in the UK, its claim to sovereignty over the whole of the UK – and the fact that for 20 years that sovereignty claim was the position of the world community – would be beyond infuriating.

Most British people would probably see it as an extraordinary act of restraint – if not cowardice – that no military action had ever been taken against Mull.

This is important context for understanding the international friction over Taiwan, and the determination of the Chinese government to assert its sovereignty over the island.