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A Letter From Ireland – November 2014

Very disappointed…maybe you were too. I was hoping the Scottish national referendum would sustain Scotland’s quest for independence from the UK. Sure, the Scottish National Party and the YES [for independence] campaign waged a gallant effort. They seemingly surged ahead of the NO’s [for independence] in the last week, but on polling day failed to garner the votes needed to push them over the top. In fact, the final vote wasn’t as close as the pundits had predicted [NOs 55%; YESs 45%], but didn’t they have the Brits on the run! Tory [Conservative party] Prime Minister David Cameron [2010-date] and his coalition deputy in government Nick Clegg [leader of the Social Democrats] were flying back and forth between London and Edinburgh in the final days promising nearly everything but the kitchen sink. Then, in the closing hours before polling day, Cameron did an about-face and dropped the hammer, saying if Scotland votes to leave the Union, the divorce will be final; there’ll be no going back! I’m sure for many, this bullying tactic worked, especially among the undecided, but hasn’t that always been the case. If you can’t sweet talk ‘em then you bloody well better strike the fear of God in ‘em.
If Cameron’s threats weren’t enough to intimidate, Scotsman and former British Labour PM Gordon Brown [2007-2010] emerged from retirement and delivered a dynamic, impassioned speech urging the public to vote NO. He emphatically asserted that Scotland would be better off “together” [remaining within the UK] than out on its own. To quote the man: “Our future lies in cooperation and sharing, and not in separation and splitting apart.” [Listening to Brown’s fervent plea, many wondered why this former politico couldn’t have been as inspiring during his three years as British prime minister.]
Listening to Brown, you can imagine how conflicted the Scottish voter must have felt. Clearly, there were many uncertainties to consider prior to marking your ballot paper on the 18th. But at that decisive moment, I think the head takes over from the heart…the practical vs. the cerebral. Despite Scotland’s oil riches, all the talk of economic chaos with its departure from the UK may have put any romantic notions of independence on the back burner. As Dartmouth College political scientist Jason Sorens stated, “Voters tend to be risk-averse. It’s a very strong status-quo bias.”
Despite the loss though, Scotland was promised some major concessions including more control of taxes, national spending and increased self-governance. It failed, however, to make any gains on security and monetary policy issues. But the Scots’ disappointment did strike a hopeful note. Their initiative demonstrated to other nationalist groups around the world, especially in Northern Ireland, that they too might profit from their efforts. [As an aside, just days before the vote, 15,000 members of Ulster’s Orange Order made their way to Edinburgh in support of the pro-union Scottish enthusiasts. Though not endorsed by the NO crusade, the Northern Irish activists marched in demonstration, proudly showing their commitment to the cause of unionism and to the threat posed by the YES Scotland campaigners. Amazingly, the police reported no untoward incidents, but the huge Orange turnout served well as a warning to NI nationalists, who, like the Scots, have known English dominance and might someday seek their own independence.]
Now, it’s up to Cameron and his government to make good on their pre-election pledges. Though Scotland’s not a sovereign nation today, their breakaway efforts may spur on other global independence movements in places like Belgium, Spain, Canada, Italy and Denmark.
All this talk of an independent Scotland caused me to wonder anew. Reflecting on my past visits to Scotland, I was fascinated with what appeared to be a contradiction between the Scottish sense of national pride and their fondness for present-day British royalty. Upon querying Scots about it, most seemed quite satisfied with honouring the queen and maintaining their affection for her royal family…”Aye, they’re not so bad.” On the other hand, most were steadfast in their faithfulness to the ideals of a free, independent Scotland…a William Wallace legacy. Yes, it will be interesting to see what the future brings.
Lastly, I was impressed with the demeanour of NSP’s Alex Salmond, Scotland’s assembly leader. As the public head of the YES campaign, sadly, he felt it necessary to resign his position the following day, a loser in the political challenge for independence. Nevertheless, he seemed to take great pride in seeing an eighty-six percent national turnout with 1.6 million people opting for national autonomy. [This election marked the first time sixteen and seventeen-year-olds were able to vote.] Salmond seemed to relish Scotland’s adherence to the democratic process. He accepted the verdict of the people and now eagerly awaits the fulfilment of Britain’s election promises.
Coincidentally, on the same day as the Scottish vote, Irish Senator David Norris joined former Irish Taoiseach John Bruton in denouncing the leaders of 1916, calling them “…traitors to their own cause….”
Norris, who recently ran for the office of Ireland’s presidency, felt that some of the men and women of ’16 were “vainglorious,” twisting W.B. Yeats oft quoted word expressed in his poem, Easter, 1916, in which the famed poet labelled only Major John MacBride as vainglorious.
Rebuking Norris’s ill-advised comments, Senator Mary White called his statements “shocking” and full of his usual “gusto.”
Senator Ned O’Sullivan followed accusing Norris of driving “a coach and four through the whole history of 1916.”
Not dissuaded by these rebuffs, Norris had the audacity to call Pearse a traitor for ignoring Eoin MacNeill’s ill-advised order to call off the Rebellion. “They [the ’16 leaders] were traitors to the Empire.”
Well, you’re damn right they were Senator Norris, for wasn’t it ’The Empire’ they were calling out?
As an aside, anyone keeping company with John Bruton, who famously said, “The happiest day of my life was the day Prince Charles visited Ireland,” is suspect, to say the very least. Up ‘16, no Royals & Éire Abú. Cathal

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