The United Kingdom is currently at more crossroads than a major M4 intersection.
Prime Minister Tony Blair's government is on the way to spinning off local powers to Scotland. It will soon be doing a lesser variation for Wales. Together with the government of Ireland, it is probing more urgently than ever to get the majority (58 percent) Protestants and minority (42 percent) Catholics of Northern Ireland to sit together and, however grudgingly, agree to a blueprint for a future together. And, it is nearing the moment when Mr. Blair will need to announce how soon he intends to join Europe's march toward a common money and common central bank.
In business conglomerate terms, London is partially spinning off subsidiaries, trying to nudge a troublesome offshore unit, and eyeing a transnational strategic merger - more or less all at once.
There is logic to looking at all these internal and external ventures together. A century from now, this period is likely to appear neither a splintering of the UK (or indeed Britain) nor an absorption into a bureaucratic new Europe.
Pundits who say Britain has exchanged one conservative government for another may be cynics, but they're also right. Blair's New Labour has absorbed (some might say embezzled) the Thatcher philosophy that brought prosperity by making British business world competitive. Now, it's seeking to let that prosperity be used effectively by individual Britons and localities that can best assess their own needs. Hence the logic of Scottish and Welsh devolution. It's also time to remind the factions of Northern Ireland that the prosperity blooming in Britain and Ireland could blossom for them, too, if they give trust a chance.
For all parts of the British Isles, the route to long-term prosperity lies through the European Union's markets. Ultimately, today's inward and outward crossroads merge to pair economies of scale with local use of the financial benefits.