The shadow of Northern Ireland looms over the last days of the referendum campaign

by Kevin Meagher

There’s a fascinating essay in the current Demos Quarterly that looks at the various ethnicities in modern Scotland and how these cultural identities may impact on next Thursday’s vote on independence.

The study, written by Richard Webber from the Department of Geography at Kings College London and former chair of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Philips, draws particular attention to the reaction of ethnically Irish Catholics in Scotland.

The authors reveal that it was much to their “surprise” that “the strongest majority support for independence was not among ‘pure’ historic Scots, but among people of Irish Catholic descent”.

Given Irish Catholic-heritage voters support Labour “more consistently than any other group in Scotland” why are many of them ignoring the party’s entreaties that we’re “Better Together” and opting for independence? As the authors point out:

“When one considers that electors from the same cultural heritage form the backbone of the Sinn Fein vote in West Belfast, this rejection of Labour’s position can be interpreted as a visceral opposition to the Union, to the Tory establishment and to Westminster. Thus ‘Yes’ voters among this group are likely to have very different motivations and to be expressing very different identities than the typical voter with an English or Welsh name; in fact they are supporting independence for the same reasons that they support Labour, a historic sense of oppression. What is significant is that the appeal of independence is driven more strongly by cultural and political considerations than socio-economic ones.”

Our middle class Westminster political and media elite, so utterly bewildered at the turn of events in recent days, simply don’t understand the power of identity and historical grievance in driving working class politics north of the border. (This is, of course, why none of them cares much about what goes on in Northern Ireland).

The concept of voting in favour of the Union is such anathema to many from the Irish Catholic tradition in Scotland that they are willing to break with Labour on the issue. (Of course, if anyone thinks a new royal birth or the Queen pleading to remain as monarch is going to shift heart and minds, then they need to take a reality check).

Which is why Labour’s Jim Murphy (of Irish descent himself) is trying to avert calamity on Saturday when 2,000 members of the Orange Order are set to take to the streets of Edinburgh.

The Orange march – a nakedly sectarian, triumphalist display – is nothing short of a provocation to what are now a key group of voters that Better Together – and especially Labour – desperately needs to convince to hold their noses and consider economic rather than political and cultural factors in arriving at their decision.

Murphy has said the march “shouldn’t go ahead,” but this is where David Cameron may have a use after all. He needs to stand up to the Orangemen and tell them that their presence is unwanted. And, as a Conservative, unionist politician, he needs to be unsubtle in saying it. He needs to make it clear that the backward-looking sectarianism they represent is the very last endorsement the No campaign can afford.

How ironic if the final nail in the Union is hammered in to the rhythm of a Lambeg drum?

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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10 Responses to “The shadow of Northern Ireland looms over the last days of the referendum campaign”

  1. Mike Stallard says:

    When Scottish politicians pull our country in half next week, the Labour Party will lose a lot of the support which it gets at the moment and will probably turn into a rump.
    If Scotland does not get put under the rule of the charlatan Alex Salmond, then Labour will probably win the next election.

    But, I am afraid – very afraid – that the people who live in Scotland (not the same as the Scots) will fall for the stampede which he has created by promising the world and appealing to the last refuge of the scoundrel – narrow Scottish nationalism.

    The other people who will be utterly delighted, of course, will be the EU. Divide et impera! Divide and conquer!

  2. 07052015 says:

    And you can bet northern irish catholics are watching with interest.Due to differences in birth rate the gap between protestants and catholics(as self declared) has declined from about 5 per cent in the 2001 census to 1 per cent in 2011.

    You know where that is headed .

  3. Ex labour says:

    I’m Scottish and I have spoken to members of my family back in Scotland who are voting mainly ‘yes’. For them its nothing to do with reality and whats best for Scotland its an emotional vote. They believe, or have been convinced, that somehow Scotland is a great country and will have a massive influence in Europe and the world at large. They didn’t take kindly to me pointing out that they must be on delusional drugs. What happens to the NHS funding? What happens to free prescriptions ? What happens to free care for the elderly ? What happens to university tution fees ? Scotland recieves a bigger cut of public spending per head than the rest of us, so unless the fat economist is going to put taxes up, what happens when the English pull the plug on the Barnett formula largesse ?

    Those of the yes camp were unmoved by logic and were clearly listening to their heart not their head.

    Labour or rather New Labour put the wheels in motion when they gave Scotland devolution and it was pretty obvious to everyone from constitutional historians to a hairy arsed builder that eventually it would come to full independance.

    As a Scot living in England for most of my life it sickens me to see the nasty, xenophobic side of the Scottish people come out on the Yes side, with reports of intimidation and violence towards people who disagree and even towards English people living in Scotland. The Orange march is a result of this antagonism towards all things British and English.

  4. John Jones says:

    All this article really says, with a particular green-tinged overlay, is that anti-Unionism appeals most to people who are most strongly anti-British.

    Well quelle surprise, as the Orange Lodge would doubtless say.

    That people with a visceral dislike of Britain, British patriotism and Brtitishness, to the extent that they’d support a cowardly rabble like the IRA in its campaign of bombing churches and shooting bus drivers in the head, will jump at the opportunity to no longer be part of Britain, is hardly news. Nor is the fact that their fellow-travellers among the hardcore Britain-haters have the same preferences. That’s why among my most enthusiastic Yes-voting associates are the two long-time SPGB types (a party normally notable for its extreme anti-nationalism, indeed even for its unusual wariness about supporting Irish nationalism, but when it comes to kicking at Britain by advocating Scottish secession they suddenly can’t get enough of it).

    The notion that Cameron could or should prevent an Orange march in order to pander to such people is ludicrous. It wouldn’t work with the voters we are talking about. And it’s wrong in principle anyway, especially when it’s one-sided (since I take it that the writer doesn’t want Cameron also to ban the IRA supporters’ demonstrations that one still sees periodically in Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee).

    The article is, however, unintentionally revealing about why Labour has been caught with its trousers down by Salmond. He understands and can use patriotism as a potent political weapon. Labour is utterly unable to respond in those terms because far too many of its activists and supporters are positively apologetic about Britain and Britishness. Hence, presumably the desire to see people actually banned for walking down the street waving the national flag and proclaiming their desire to remain Britain.

  5. paul barker says:

    Whatever the result, I worry that this could turn nasty, opning up all sorts of traditional divisions of Class, Religion & Region, as well as stoking feelings against any suspected of English tendencies. Traditionally, Scottish Nationalism has been anti-Irish & Anti-Catholic & the campaign itself is almost bound to renew traditional antagonisms. The willingness to bandy about words like “Traitor” does not bode well for a harmonious Country.

  6. Tafia says:

    The dynamics of Northern Ireland and Scotland are totally different. For example most Northern Irish protestants are Presbyterian and descended from immigrants. They made no effort to assimilate with the host population – quite the opposite, and remain in large part true to that position to this day. In Scotland both sides perceive themselves as Scot, in Northern Ireland one side perceives it’s self as ‘ Ulster British’ and the other as Irish. Nobody perceives themselves as Northern Irish.

    My daughters were born n Northern Ireland and have both Irish and UK passports – but one thing they aren’t the slightest bit interested in is being Northern Irish

  7. Stuart madewell says:

    Remember the words of the Irish socialist James Connolly against partition. ‘It will lead to a carnival of reaction north andsouth

  8. John Reid says:

    07052015′ your assuming the Norrthern Ireland Catholics want NI to not be part of the U.K ,even those who vote asDLP half don’t want NI to leave.

  9. Dave Roberts. says:

    Is the Stuart madewell above the same one who stood as a candidate for Lutfur Rahman’s Tower Hamlets First Islamist backed party in the recent elections in Tower Hamlets? Is he also so the same person who used to be in both the IMG and the Labour Party at the same time?

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