Monday, 26 May 2014

Scottish Independence : How much is Ulster an English/Welsh problem ?

No politician or media outlet would dare publicise these issues as the Irish Peace process is still so delicate, but the following is something Scottish voters may wish to consider.

Put simply - Who picks up the bill for Sectarianism in the event of a Scottish vote for independence?

Just reading a history of Northern Ireland, something completely missing from my education at school and via the media. It seems quite shocking that a situation so stable (and yet unfair) in the 1960s should suddenly degenerate into decades of murder and violence. The fact that this was directly driven by issues we are all familiar with, such as gerrymandering, lack of housing and militant popular-ism, should be a cause of concern for us all. It is also quite revealing that some of those more recently lauded for bringing peace to Ulster and Northern Ireland were the sectarian lunatics responsible for stirring up the violence in the first place.

As there are a suspicious number of famous historical quotes* about the English failure to understand Ireland I'll pass on the potted history, but one thing on this subject struck me this year. There have been many debates recently about the possibility of Britain staying out of the First World War. As the British cabinet in 1914 was initially distracted from paying full attention to events in the Balkans by the Home Rule Act and the possibility of full civil war in  Ireland I doubt the alternative to WW1 in this country would have been peace.

What we now know as Northern Ireland began with Scottish settlers in the 17th century. With the Act of Union with England what had been effectively a Scottish colony became part of Great Britain and so the long slide towards 'Brits Out!" began.

This has been successfully masked for decades by the Protestant community in Northern Ireland who have for years cloaked themselves in a 'Unionism' which successfully implicates vast numbers of English and Welsh voters who have little or no sympathy for the their cause. (Ironically this is same Unionism which has supported many of the far right conservative policies that the Scottish nationalists claim to be reacting against in the London Parliament.)

'Unionism' has effectively lifted responsibility for the events in Northern Ireland from Scotland. The sectarian divide has far more in common with Glasgow than it has anywhere south of the border yet IRA bombs in Edinburgh or Glasgow, or the pubs of Aberdeen were conspicuous by their absence.

I love Scotland  and this line of thinking is, frankly, painful. I still find it difficult to consider myself an Englishman (rather than British, one of the quirks of English identity) but the prospect of Scottish Independence forces me to consider this. Since the Act of Union and the identification of England with Britain England has chosen to subsume itself to Britain (seen in the national anthem, Union Jacks waved in 1966 World Cup win) and has consequently accepted all the responsibility for all of Britain's ills. In the embarrassing and shameful aftermath of Empire the minority nations within the UK have (understandably) chose to paint themselves as victims of English Imperialism rather than co-conspirators. This has all been accepted as part of the rough and tumble of British identities.

Should this continue if the Scots vote for independence?  As a society created by, and modeled on, Scotland how much responsibility does England  and Wales have for the running of Northern Ireland?

The running cost of Northern Ireland is £20bn a year of which the residents of Northern Ireland contribute about £9bn in taxes.

Northern Ireland spending exceeds tax by 39.3% of its GDP

Scottish voters might ask themselves - if the funding for Northern Ireland dries up and (god forbid) the Troubles flare up again, how many English/Welsh troops will be prepared to die in a sectarian conflict that is as alien to them as the Sunni/Shia divide?

The English problem with Northern Ireland, as seen from its total lack of presence in our history books, is that it seems a hell of a long way from England.  Scotland should remember that Northern Ireland's deadly and expensive sectarian issues are right on it's doorstep.

Scottish Independence
So I don't have to visit this issue again.. 
If I was a Scot I would seriously consider voting Yes, and not  just because Alex Salmond is the best political operator of his era. Personally I think independence will be bad for Scotland in the short term, good in the medium term and a disaster in the long term. (Actually I suspect 99% of current politics will look very small when climate change takes hold)
I'm hoping for a No vote  but as an Englishman from the North West who has a house in the South West I think an overall improvement South of the border is quiet likely.
I will continue to stand by the Union Jack whatever happens  - but hope we get to hear a lot more 'Jerusalem' and a lot less of the godawful song 'God Save the Queen'

*Quotes - The best of them
"The English are not happy unless they are miserable, the Irish are not at peace unless they are at war, and the Scots are not at home unless they are abroad."
George Orwell (English Novelist and Essayist, 1903-1950)

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