Belfast Telegraph

Home Life Features

Scotland's verdict: The morning after the night before

In the past we thought remaining part of the UK was our decision but following the independence poll, we find it's in a state of flux... and that's just one of the psychological blows, says Malachi O'Doherty.

Scotland is now more sharply divided on the Union than Northern Ireland is. Polling last year showed that only 3% of people here would vote for a united Ireland in an immediate referendum. Larger numbers have long term aspirations for Irish unity but the decision has already been made, in the hearts of most notional nationalists, that things are best left as they are.

There are a number of motivations at work. One is simply to avoid a calamitous fissure and civil war. Many people who regard themselves as more Irish than British would rather have peace even at the cost of deferring an aspiration for unity.

Which perhaps indicates also that that aspiration is not very strong.

Life inside the UK has not been a grave burden on people here. They have had a welfare state with a National Health Service to cushion them.

And they would be less inclined to try for a united Ireland now when the economy in the Republic is so weak.

In Scotland they see things differently.

For a start, their nationalism is partitionist. Irish nationalists believe that Ireland is one country because it is an island. The Scots aren't into geographical determinism.

So, 45% of the Scottish population is ready to leave the Union right now, today.

That figure should resonate with history,

In drawing the parameters of Northern Ireland, a six county statelet, in 1921, a simple calculation was made around the numbers who wanted to be British and those who wanted Irish independence.

Within the whole province of Ulster, which some unionists wanted to draw the border round, 45% of the people were Irish nationalists. James Craig, who would be the first prime minister of Northern Ireland, reasoned that this was simply too large a disgruntled minority to govern.

Well, that is the figure that defines Scottish politics for now. Their sense that they are in the Union against their will is a problem that both Westminster and the devolved parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh will have to deal with.

They will have to manage a minority of a scale that James Craig baulked at.

Of course, there is a difference.

Craig was speaking at a time of war.

The IRA had made the south ungovernable. Not even the army had been able to contain it without the support of rabble militias like the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans.

Not a single shot has been fired in the assertion of Scottish independence.

That is something that modern Irish republicans should reflect on.

The Scottish nationalists have made the same journey that they have made, in roughly the same time span. And where many marvel at Sinn Fein being in government in the North and close to being an indispensable partner in the next Dublin coalition, their achievement is entirely belittled by that of other nationalists who thrived without violence.

Alex Salmond brought Scotland closer to leaving the Union than Gerry Adams brought NI in the same period. Salmond, however, has conceded that his job is done and it's time to go; Adams seems impervious to the thought that his party can manage without him. Salmond, of course, did it without the bombs and the killings, without confrontation with the British army and without exacerbating sectarian division. He did it without lining up with foreign tyrants, in Libya and Cuba, or with national freedom struggles in Colombia, Palestine and South Africa.

Students in future will be writing essays comparing and contrasting the paths taken by Sinn Fein and the Scottish nationalists and concluding, most likely, that Irish republicans had never needed the IRA, that it only got in their way.

The other big difference between Scottish and Northern Irish opposition to the Union is that for Scotland the passion was not even nationalistic let alone sectarian.

Where Yes campaigners gathered to sing Scottish folk songs to advertise their campaign, others in the No camp complained that this was an abuse of tradition by appropriating it for a political argument. No one here ever accuses the other side of stealing its music. The point, indeed, would hardly be understood here, because in Northern Ireland, the issue is almost entirely about ethnic or community allegiance.

In Scotland the core of the issue was the sense that the country was misgoverned by Westminster and could do the job better itself.

No one in Northern Ireland believes we could govern ourselves better than Westminster does.

The vote in Scotland is being celebrated as a victory for democracy because of the record turnout, 84%. That compares with the 81% here who voted in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

There are lessons for us and for Scotland from that experience.

The greater Scottish enthusiasm for their independence debate should be an indicator for those of us who remember '98, that this was even bigger for them than Good Friday was for us.

But the other side of that is that our referendum was a peak in the enthusiasm and it dimmed afterwards.

Successive elections, some with a prospect of saving the deal as it faltered, never realised such a turnout again.

So we might predict from our own experience that the current Scottish ardour around the demand for independence, and the rejection of London as the seat of power, may wane now.

Yet we had a decisive majority in our vote and still the issue did not go away.

Northern Ireland is, in a strange way, the region of the UK that is most comfortable with the Union and therefore most likely to be shaken up by the changes to come.

The first blows are cultural and psychological. In the past we thought of the Union as something we had to decide on ourselves. It was a static thing and we had to determine our relationship with it. Now we find that it is in flux, changeable.

One thing is for sure and that is that the Union can only be defended now on the terms that won the argument in Scotland, the economy, defence, being stronger together. Orangeism now looks like an expired argument. Ulster unionism as a badge of Protestant ethnicity is irrelevant to the strength of the Union.

Unionists have to make their case now and they have to make it primarily to their neighbours. That is a function of demographic shift inside Northern Ireland but also of the changing, possibly weakening Union.

Our party leaders may find themselves round tables in the coming years with the leaders of the other countries and will not impress them with ethnic arguments. To be fair to them, they probably already know that. If Scotland is to stay in the Union as a more autonomous country, shouldn't Edinburgh also be at the table with London and Dublin during the next round of negotiations too? After all, it will still be paying for us.

In future UK-wide talks, we will be at those tables, if at all, as a region and not as a country.

Scotland is important and has the prospect of leaving the Union; it has an alternative. We have no alternative and therefore nothing to barter with, at least nothing that would incline the rest of the Union to cherish us more dearly.

We appear to be entering a period in which the different parts of the United Kingdom will have less to do with each other, even as the Union has been affirmed, but they have still to hammer out how that is to be done. And we are the small guy, the one most easily crushed.

Either Cameron will meet his commitments to Scotland and devolve greater power there in tandem with similar arrangements in other devolved regions, or he will break his promise and create huge disaffection in Scotland and the North of England.

Either way, Scotland and England will have less to do with each other.

Can we be in a Union with Westminster and expect the other countries paying into this not to want a say in how we are governed?

The other countries in the Union becoming more autonomous is bound to make us look like the clinging runt of a grown litter.

We thought we were safe within the Union, but how safe will we feel when the major issues will be discussed by three First Ministers of similar standing, for Scotland Wales and England, while we still have to be nursed by Westminster, not least because we can't agree on much, but also because we never could hope to muster as much autonomy as those real countries can?

Otherwise we are a humble and scrawny half formed thing. Very soon we may be just a region among nations, all of them bigger and with more power, and none of them, perhaps, with a powerful longing to look after us or be in Union with us.

But could Northern Ireland not go through the same kind of transformation that Scotland has seen?

Could it ever adjust to discussing its options in practical terms, without reference to religion or to the Republican tropes of Imperialist oppression and occupation or the Unionist ones of Orange heritage and the legacy of the Somme?

Could we separate ideas about the Union from those of community and identity, the way Scotland has? And what answers might we come up with if we did?

That's what we have to do, or we will not just be the child at the big table but a particularly annoying one.

Flags, big speeches, friends and Hogwarts... the campaign that had it all

Whatever your view on the outcome of this week's referendum, there's no denying it's been one of the most invigorating electoral campaigns to have hit the UK in quite some time. And it certainly wasn't short of some memorable moments leading up to the day of destiny itself.

  • Failing flags – we know a thing or two about the anger that follows flags and emblems being taken down in these parts, but there were just titters all round when the raising of the Scottish Saltire above Downing Street as a gesture of solidarity fell victim to a few technical hitches as the flag didn't quite make it to the top of the pole before tumbling down again.
  • Gordon Brown makes his voice heard – let's be honest, Gordon Brown didn't exactly set the UK on fire during his three years at the helm of the Government, so it came as a pleasant surprise to the No campaigners and undecided voters alike when he delivered what was described by many as the political speech of his life as he urged voters to keep the Union together.
  • The three amigos – it's not often you see the leaders of the three main parties agreeing with one another, let alone showing their faces in public at the same time, but they did when Cameron, Clegg and Miliband crossed the border to rally support for the No vote. While they didn't physically stand side by side on the day, they nevertheless showed a rare flash of common agreement and interest that is often lacking in the rest of UK politics.
  • Celebrity endorsements – you name 'em, they all had an opinion, from fashion guru Vivienne Westwood, who pinned 'Yes' badges onto her models during London Fashion Week, to Harry Potter author JK Rowling, who famously took Edinburgh Castle as her inspiration for Hogwarts, and who was the largest single donor to the Better Together campaign.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph