2007 - 2021

The Threat of Independence


The threat of an independent Scotland to the Ulster Loyalist world view is difficult to overstate.

Quite simply Scottish independence is pretty close to an extinction level event for Ulster Loyalism.

Therefore, I was not surprised in the least by the recent story by Gerry Braiden in the Herald about the Progressive Unionist Party (PUP) (‘Ulster unionists head to Scotland for indyref protest after meeting Rangers fans’).

As the journalistic euphemism in Northern Ireland has it the PUP is ‘close to the thinking of the UVF’.

Back at the time of the Good Friday Agreement certain senior British colonial officials desperately hoped that the PUP would become a mirror image of Sinn Féin within loyalist communities.

However, that scenario simply did not materialise.

Why that should be is for another time and another place, but it is undeniable that the PUP has little chance of replicating the political success of Sinn Féin.

The party leadership tried to articulate the world view of their community through the lexicon of class politics.

The current leader Billy Hutchinson was convicted of the murder of Michael Loughran and Edward Morgan in October 1974.

These killings were claimed by the UVF and once inside prison Hutchinson was part of their structures.

In October 2011 Billy Hutchinson was elected party leader, taking over from Brian Ervine.

In December 2012 the PUP leader was central to organising the flag protests in Belfast.

This was a long way from the fine words on the steps of Stormont during the Good Friday Agreement talks.

It is important to point out that Scotland has always carried a far greater cultural weight in the North East of Ireland than vice versa.

Given that many Scots feel that they themselves are on the periphery of a London state that didn’t consider them then it is sometimes easy to forget that for many people in Ireland Scotland is seen as a source of heritage as well as a neighbour.

Generally speaking people of the nationalist tradition in Ireland, North and South, are favourable to Scottish independence.

It fits in with their world view that small countries should be autonomous and not some province of a larger neighbour.

Since the IndyRef became news here in the Republic of Ireland the general consensus that I have picked up is that if the Scots decide they’ve had enough of being in the United Kingdom then good on them and welcome to the family of free nations!

However within the Unionist tradition there is something approaching panic  at the possibility of Scotland being a separate country.

The conflict in Northern Ireland was always more about competing national identities as about a religious clash simpliciter.

The recent flag protests across Northern Ireland are clear evidence how powerful the symbols of the British state are in loyalist communities.

For places like Mount Vernon in Belfast the idea of Mount Vernon in Glasgow being in another state is nothing less than an existential threat to their Britishness.

It is even more perplexing that the advocates of this ethnic extinguishing are people that the Ulster Loyalist would see as being  their kith and kin.

Quite simply, in Shankill speak, Alex Salmond isn’t a Fenian and that compounds their problem.

In the simplistic world view of Ulster Loyalism a ‘Scotchman’ reared in the reformed faith should be an ardent British unionist and empire loyalist.

Clearly Scotland’s First Minister is not in favour of the United Kingdom remaining unchanged and he wants his country, Scotland, to have a seat at the United Nations.

If he succeeds then it will be, of course, the biggest geo-political change in these islands since 1922 when Northern Ireland was created after the secession of the 26 county area from London rule.

It is clear that when it comes to Scotland’s Claim of Right Ulster says “NO”!

The document signed on 30th March 1989 is my benchmark for this debate.

The people of Scotland have the right to national self-determination.

I am not surprised that the Ulster Loyalists have an issue with that despite their over-identification with the Scottish Lowland culture of their imagination.

Next year is the centenary of the Larne gun running and the arming of the original UVF.

Their raison d’être was to prevent national self-determination of the Irish people as a whole.

The UVF were willing to take up arms against the British crown even to prevent limited self-government being given to an all-island legislature in Dublin.

This treasonable stance was never punished and it authorised the increasing militarisation of Irish nationalism which culminated in the Easter Rising of 1916.

Attempted interventions in Scottish politics by Ulster Loyalists are not new.

The opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement in 1985 (which gave the Republic of Ireland a sort of consular role for Northern Ireland Catholics and a permanent base of civil servants at Hillsborough) was led by Ian Paisley’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

The Ulster unionist community saw the agreement as the first step on the way to a united Ireland and subsequently they wished to punish the ruling Tory Party.

The Scottish Unionist Party was established with the express aim of toppling Tory MPs in Scotland in targeted seats in the 1987 General Election.

In the end the party didn’t field any candidates the strength of the ground just wasn’t there.

The Scottish Unionist Party was a DUP creation and very much a Peter Robinson project.

This was when the First Minister of Northern Ireland was in his street warrior phase.

Peter Robinson in late 1984, on visit to Israel-Lebanon border


On 7 August 1986 Robinson led a mob of 500 loyalists to attack the unmanned Garda station at Clontibret County Monaghan

He pleaded guilty to unlawful assembly and was fined IR£17500 in a Drogheda court to escape a prison sentence

In November 1986 he spoke at the Ulster Hall and launched the ‘Ulster Resistance’.

Complete with red berets the paramilitary nature of the new movement was undeniable.

The Ulster Resistance with both the UDA and UVF to bring in arms from South Africa; this illegal importation was facilitated by MI5.

At a rally in Enniskillen, Peter Robinson announced;

“‘Thousands have already joined the movement and the task of shaping them into an effective force is continuing. The Resistance has indicated that drilling and training has already started. The officers of the nine divisions have taken up their duties.”

In Ulster’s hour of need it was cultural common sense that their brethren in Scotland would be steadfast in vouchsafing the Britishness of the Northern Irish Protestant.

The idea that Scots didn’t want to be part of the union is the stuff of nightmares for people like Robinson.

Now Scottish independence is a distinct possibility it is, once more, crisis time for Ulster Loyalism.

Around the same time  as Peter Robinson was  in Ulster Resistance I wrote a piece for the Herald and styled that in the extreme end of the Rangers support there was a potentially fatal pathogen in any push for Scottish freedom.

The piece “Clan Ibrox is Scotland’s Trojan horse” (Herald) looked to the day when the forces of unionism in Scotland were under threat and needed to mobilise foot soldiers.

The demise of Rangers last summer rather damaged that thesis as the Ibrox chaps completely failed to mobilise Manchester sized numbers to save their club.

The PUP itself is in crisis.

The tragic death of party leader David Ervine and then the resignation of Dawn Purvis  in June 2010 over the murder of Bobby Moffett have left the once small, but impressive loyalist party looking cut adrift from the mainstream.

The PUP’s aim in the Ervine days was always to replicate the success of Sinn Féin within their own community.

However they never did dislodge the influence of Orangeism and subsequently that of the DUP.

When Peter Robinson had his family troubles with ‘Irisgate’ it was the Alliance party and Naomi Long that unseated the First Minster from his Westminster seat and not the PUP.

Moreover, a Loyalist ‘super grass’ trial threatens to wreak havoc within the structure of the UVF.

So these are difficult times on several levels for the people engaged in erudite analysis with the Vanguard Bears chaps.

Ulster may still say ‘NO’, but it will matter little if Scotland says ‘YES’.

The PUP know that hence this recent play.

Despite attempts within the broader loyalist community to manufacture a somewhat ersatz ethnicity this is still a tradition thirled to institutions; the UK, the monarchy.

Scottish independence clearly changes the former if not the latter.

For Loyalism their union would be compromised.

A Sinn Féin mantra throughout the Good Friday Agreement negotiations was ‘parity of esteem’.

Republicans knew that if there was a level playing field apropos both traditions in terms of respect then loyalism-long term- was finished.

This lexicon has been for some time adopted by loyalism who style themselves unloved and disregarded within a new Northern Ireland where nationalists get preference.

What is certainly true is that the old Orange State that Michael Farrell wrote about at the start of the Civil Rights Movement is gone and it isn’t coming back.

There is a certain White Trash grieving going on about Uppity Fenians in Northern Ireland.

This isn’t felt by the middle class unionist.

However there is a perceived loss of status among working class loyalists.

The educational attainment, especially by young males, in these communities is among the lowest in the UK.

The days of guaranteed industrial employment is gone and a reappraisal of the value of education has not yet taken place within loyalist communities.

In a meritocratic knowledge based economy the descendants of triumphalist shipyard workers have social failure imprinted on them by their belief system.

It is here in these failing communities where the PUP have their meagre electoral strength.

The polls indicate that the loyalist people of Northern Ireland have little to worry about.

However, the very thought that it MIGHT happen is enough for the PUP to be engaging in a crisis think in with the erudite policy wonks at Vanguard Bears.

It is ironic that the people within these islands who make most of their Scottish ancestry are most alarmed at the idea of Scots being sovereign.

It really is beyond parody.

Phil Mac Giolla Bháin is an author, blogger and journalist in Ireland.  His latest book ‘Minority Reporter: Scotland’s bad attitude to her own Irish’ will be published in July by Frontline Noir.

Comments (49)

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  1. Charles Patrick O'Brien says:

    This is the result of not teaching the truth,and keeping many people down by only educating to servile level.Honesty is the enemy of imperialism.

  2. Mark Rowantree says:

    This article highlights the views that I have expressed for some considerable time. It highlights my belief that the main opposition to Scottish independence will at the end of the day emanate from that section of society whose self identity to a greater or lesser extent is bound up with traditional Unionlst concepts such as the monarchy, Rangers, etc. Whether there exists an effective political strategy to counter this time will tell. However, as a pro independence voter myself, I remain to be convinced, that such a strategy exists.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      I know quite a few Rangers fans who support independence, and there is even a “Rangers For Independence” group. And even if some Rangers fans (as well as the Directors of Celtic Football Club) should vote NO in the referendum, most of them will accept the YES majority as the settled will of the Scottish people. There will be very, very few actual diehard Unionists. Folk from an Irish Republican background tend to see Scotland in Irish terms. But this isn’t Ireland, and there is no chance of us repeating the troubled history of Ireland.

  3. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

    The problem with the diehard Unionist anti-nationalist position is that it appears not to be acquainted with the history of Ireland. From William of Orange being supported, for diplomatic reasons, by the then pope to the fact that the revolutionary United Irishmen and Wolf Tone came from the so-called Protestant ascendancy class seems to be unknown, or conveniently forgotten. Modern Irish nationalism, including the language movement, was effectively kick-started by them. Protestants in Ireland had as many grievances against the Brits as the Catholics. The familiar union or saltire flag waving Ulster loyalism is a product of the very forces the Brits are attempting to manipulate to divide the Scots. British empire or British state there is no dirty divide and rule tactic the system will not use to keep the old order happy. But as a papist I would think that, wouldn’t I….

    1. Kilsally says:

      err you must read much then add the Orange Order and various Ulster-Scots groups have mountains of info on the Presbyterian United Irishmen (which was before the Act of Union which prorogued the Dublin Parliament for Westminster) & William of Oranges involvement with the League of Augsburg against despotic French King.

  4. People in Scotland should be aware that several mainstream politicians from the British Unionist minority in the north-east of Ireland, including the UUP’s John Taylor, have been arguing for some time that if the Scots vote for independence then Scotland should be partioned (as Ireland was in the early 1920s), with a new border running roughly from Irvine to Dunbar or Berwick, with parts or the whole of Glasgow included. This “solution” been taken up by a number of Tory grandees in the House of Lords.

    The objective of the scheme for Unionists is to maintain direct communication routes between the North of Ireland and the “UK” as well as “saving” those parts of Scotland some Unionists in Ireland view as their ancestral homelands (somewhat like the Serbs viewed other parts of the former Yugoslavia during the 1990s and early 2000s). It also of course gives Unionists in Ireland access to the traditionally Unionist-supporting (and militant Protestant) urban centres of Glasgow and elsewhere. Or so they believe.

    If a majority of Scots vote for their freedom there could well be a violent backlash against that democratic decision from a separatist British Unionist minority, as happened in Ireland before and during the War of Independence despite our two island-wide votes for independence (80%+ majorities in both cases)..

    It is also worth noting that the PUP has returned to its Far Right roots in recent years after a brief flirtation with left-wing politics. Both BNP and EDL supporters are now a common sight at Unionist rallies in the north-east of the country, most recently at the centenary “celebrations” marking the Covenant and the founding of the UVF terror faction.

    1. Braco says:

      Ha Ha Ha. or was that supposed to be scary?

      1. No it was simply making people in Scotland aware of some of the crazier schemes that a few prominent politicians (and paramilitaries) in the north-east of Ireland are trying to push to their supporters in relation to any possible Yes vote for Scottish independence. The idea is laughable but that does not mean those who believe in it are anything but deadly serious.

    2. Braco says:

      It simply won’t fly in Scotland. There just is not the constituency.

    3. Kilsally says:

      The 1912 UVF was an Army with transport Corp & Nursing corps which were subsumed in to the British Army and flight at the Somme – nothing to do with the latter terrorist group formed by Gusty Spencer in the 60’s

    4. Dave Coull says:

      The idea that Scotland could be partitioned is nonsense which could only be floated by somebody who is ignorant where Scotland is concerned. It was possible to partition Ireland for three reasons. (1) it was not unreasonable for protestants to fear that an independent Ireland would be a Catholic state. That this was not unreasonable was proved when the prime minister of Ireland had to himself denounce, in the Dail, the baleful influence which the Catholic Church had exercised for many years; (2) there was a stark division of opinion in Ireland along sectarian lines; and (3) there was a bloc of six adjacent counties where it was possible to construct a Unionist entity. None of these apply in the case of Scotland, for the following three reasons. (A) In Scotland, those of us from a protestant background form the vast majority of the population, with Catholics barely one seventh of the population, and, while most of us don’t attend the kirk regularly, we certainly wouldn’t stand for anything remotely like a Catholic state. (B) although a majority of independence supporters are from a protestant background, this simply reflects the demographics of Scotland. Both the independence movement and the unionists draw support from both protestants and catholics. There is not the division along sectarian lines which you find in Ireland. and (C) there is no region of Scotland where you could find a bloc of six adjacent “Unionist” counties from which to construct a statelet. No Six Counties, no Five Counties, no Four Counties, no Three Counties, no Two Counties, no, not even One County. There is simply no substantial bloc of territory in Scotland with a diehard Unionist majority. Brigton and Larkhall and maybe some Ayrshire village is simply not a viable entity. It won’t happen. The great majority of NO voters will just shrug their shoulders when the majority vote YES, and accept the democratic will of the people of Scotland. They will be our valued fellow citizens. Diehard Unionists will be very, very few and far between. Anybody who thinks otherwise simply doesn’t understand Scotland.

      1. bellacaledonia says:

        “In Scotland, those of us from a protestant background form the vast majority of the population” – really?! I think you’ll find that Scotland is a secular society where those of us from a don’t give a hit background form the vast majority.

      2. Braco says:

        oh dear. A secular society with no history apparently. Re read what Dave Coull has written. It’s a thoughtful and intellegent response to what is a quite rediculous and to my mind irellevant article. He has artfully dealt with the over ripe scare issues (I just couldn’t have been bothered myself, so thanks for that Dave) whilst deftly avoiding the sectarian mantraps, not so subtly, scattered throughout.

        Frankly, I would have expected this kind of FUD article in LabourHame or similar, certainly not Bella. Why not just post a copy of ‘Scotch on the Rocks’ and be done with it?

        Was this article commissioned?

      3. Josh Gribben says:


        I live in a town called Stevenston, thirty miles from Glasgow. I agree that on the whole loyalist sympathisers in this area (three towns of Ardrossan, Saltcoats and Stevenston and Kilwinning) are quite low in number, however the people who make up the small group are very much dissenfranchised . As you are probably aware one of the Shankhills most infamous sons currently resides within the three towns and courts something similar to a pop star status. This demonstrates that the sub culture of the Shankhill commands a powerful currency and could be dangerous should the Scots vote yes to independance .

        The underclass of disadvantage is alive and kicking in the west coast of Scotland and with that comes vulnerabilities. I believe terrorism is a distinct possibility when the Scots gain freedom from the union

        1. Dave Coull says:

          You can find disadvantage in plenty of areas of Scotland. Indeed, some of us consider winning the support of the disadvantaged, particularly the huge numbers of working class folk who didn’t vote for ANYBODY at the last election, the “secret weapon” which will win the referendum for us. YES winning will be a tremendous psychological boost for many disadvantaged folk, it will make people feel there is some reason for hope.

          Also, correct me if I’ve got this wrong, Josh, but isn’t “one of the Shankill’s most infamous sons” in your area as a political refugee, because a lot of his fellow Loyalists in Belfast were after his blood? He should be grateful to Scotland for saving his life. For the reasons I have already given, after the YES win, diehards who refuse to accept that democratic decision will be few and far between. If some of them do cause problems, Scotland won’t be a good place for them. Where will they go as refugees next? Back to Belfast?

          1. Josh Gribben says:

            Hi Dave,

            Yes you are indeed correct regarding the Shankhills infamous son, he currently resides on our shores due to the fact that he can’t return home.

            I truly hope we achieve independence, however the loyalist sub culture is alive and kicking in the west coast of Scotland. These individuals are indeed a small but dangerous minority.

            I do think that some people will see independence as being a strength builder for those that are opressed in our communities of disadvantage , however I am looking forward to the SNPs publication with regard to how we are going to make an independent Scotland a viable option.

            If its is indees viable we then have a real chance of ridding the communities of Scotland of poverty and diadvantage as these communities are the breeding ground that provides loyalists with the life blood that they need to remain alive.

            Thanks for your comment.

    5. Dave Coull says:

      Personally, I have been aware for a long time of the looney-tunes fantasies of some Northern Irish politicians who know little about Scotland. The appropriate response to such nonsense is to laugh at it. Really not worth taking seriously.

  5. The flag is a powerful symbol to loyalists because they have no other symbol, and as for the idea that a ‘Scotchman’ of reformed faith should be, like themselves, a loyalist, indicates how insular and mediaeval their world view is. They should get out more, or at least go and see another country or two.
    Don’t forget, the ‘Unionists’ in ‘Scottish Conservative and Unionists,’ were Liberals who debunked from the Liberal Party because of their opposition to Home Rule, way back before WW1. That’s the Liberal Pary that is now in coalition with the Tories.
    I want to see a Scotland where all this sectarian nonsense is actually in history, not a history that haunts us in the present.

  6. bellacaledonia says:

    Well said

  7. andyshall says:

    Is it just me or do others find it ironic that this article is by someone born and bred in Scotland who chose to reject the country of his birth to embrace both the residence and nationality of a foreign country.

  8. vronsky says:

    I suspect it’s just you. You can embrace more than one national identity quite easily – I’m Irish and Scottish, quite happily. Try to think of it as a three in the bed sort of thing – disgusting fun, tut tut tut.

    1. What on earth is a “Greater Éire”?

      Ireland and Scotland are Gaelic nations and many people in both countries respect and celebrate our shared linguistic and cultural heritage. That is reflected in several inter-governmental initiatives such as Iomairt Cholm Cille which is jointly run by Ireland’s Foras na Gaeilge and Scotland’s Bòrd na Gàidhlig.

      Yes, some “Gaels” in both nations would like to foster closer co-operation between our countries (and are working towards that objective, myself included) but they wish that to be done on the basis of mutual esteem and equality. Which is why so many Irish Nationalists and Republicans support Scotland’s democratic bid for freedom.

      While Phil Mac Giolla Bháin has expressed repeated concerns about the aberration of anti-Irish and anti-Catholic sentiment in Scotland I don’t think anyone seriously doubts his respect and affection for his country of birth, and Glasgow in particular. There are tens of thousands of Scots living in Ireland and tens of thousands of Irish living in Scotland, not to mention the many people in both nations of mixed Irish and Scottish parentage or ancestry. Just as between the Scandinavian nations I think most ordinary people see that the line between our Gaelic nations is no real line at all. Nor should it be.

    2. david says:

      No , its not just Andyshall.
      Why should anyone take any notice of a proven sectarian bigot, proven liar and terrorist supporter is beyond me.

  9. Braco says:

    This article seems to have little relevance to Scots and the movement for self determination that is underway, here and now. It just seems like the Irish/NorthernIrish equivalent of the UK political class’s inability to see anything from outwith their own prism.

    This unfortunately leads them into completely misreading the motivations and political realities behind such a movement, preferring instead to fall back on the comfortable stereotyped reasoning propagated by themselves for decades.

    Reasoning that is only around to this day by purposely insuring it remained untested. It will now be tested.

    It also seems to have encouraged some old fashioned ‘Scotch on the Rocks’ flights of fancy. Not something that was considered helpful to the debate in 1979 (for goodness sake) so what value has it now?

    Mind you, as the Unionists seem intent on dragging up every old tactic from the past, no matter how discredited, I really shouldn’t be surprised at this particular angle being ‘explored’ again. (Sigh)

  10. Kilsally says:

    Somewhat inaccurate article – First Minister Peter Robinson & other Unionists have all backed Scotland remaining in the Union but that the ultimately the decision is for Scots to make. You failed to mention that Irish independence resulted in the the Catholic Church being written into the constitution, one of the major reasons for unionist opposition to home rule. You also fail to mention that the United Irishmen rebellion of 1798 led by Presbyterians many a few years later supporting the Union & that Ulster-Scots Presbyterians were discriminated against as much as Catholics or that they were involved with the Scottish Covenanters. Nor do you mention that as far back as the 1930’s ‘Unionist’ politicians like W F McCoy advocated Independence for Northern Ireland with dominion status, the UDA produced a paper on it in the 70/80’s, indeed meet with recently deceased Sinn Fein IRA (later RSF) Ruairi O Bradagh on compatibility with their Eire Nua 4 province federal Ireland

  11. Alan Day says:

    Not quite sure the author denigrating the Scots language as used in Ulster strengthens the article (Scots language being recognised by the EU & British & Irish governments as well as the NI assembly & Scots Parliament – books written in Scots from the 1800`s and before have recently been republished.

  12. Dave Coull says:

    “The polls indicate that the loyalist people of Northern Ireland have little to worry about.” – but the polls are wrong, quite ridiculously wrong. A former Prime Minister of Canada, concerned about possible Unionist complacency, recently pointed out that in Quebec, just two weeks before a referendum there, the so-called “polls” said 63 percent NO, and only 37 percent YES. The actual result was 50 and a fraction NO to 49 and a fraction YES. All so-called “polling” firms use “weighting” in the small “samples” which they take. This means that they take things like social class, and the likelihood of voting, into account. Kinda works for UK elections, in which half the electorate don’t vote. Useless for referendums. During the run-up to the 1997 referendum on a Scottish Parliament, the so-called “polls” were pretty negative. I predicted a decisive YES vote, with every region of Scotland returning a Yes majority. I was right. I’m making the same prediction again.

  13. Bob Mckay says:

    Its always amusing to read that as a brainwashed unionist Scottish protestant I simply need to be enlightened from such luminaries as Phil from Glasgow..who isnt sure which name is his never mind which country is his. Thats ok because identity is complex and layered…at least most folks identity is- i am immensely proud to be Scottish; unconquered, reformed and enlightened. A free society that rejected theocracy and monarchy over 300 years ago. We have a situation now as Prof Tom Devine clairified in slapping down the strange Mr Peter Kierney, that our minority catholic population now has 100% equality across our social, political and economic spectrum: what other country has achieved this level of fairness with an immigrant population?
    There are individuals such as Phil from Glasgow, who are in the business of division; he is helping create a Sectarian industry…when there is already equality in Scotland.
    We are stronger and better together; in union with the UK and the EU. Scotland alone would be riven by people like Phil. Thats why the vote will be decisively to remain a Scotland united with our neighbours. The republic of Ireland should join us in a Brittanic Isles Union.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      “I am immensely proud to be Scottish, unconquered, reformed and enlightened” – fair enough, I can identify with that. And I can also understand the view that Phil from Glasgow (“who isn’t sure which name is his never mind which country is his”) contributes to sectarianism. However, neither of these things amount to reasons for voting against independence. If we look at the YES campaign, and at the NO campaign, it is on the NO side that you will find an unholy alliance of the Directors of Celtic Football Club with the Grand Masters of the Orange Order. It is the Union which fosters sectarianism, which will wither away in an independent Scotland.

  14. John Taylor, former deputy leader UUP, January 2012::

    “AS AN Ulster Scot I know there would be concern in Northern Ireland should Scotland vote to leave the United Kingdom.

    Northern Ireland is not only geographically close to Scotland but shares more with Scotland than with any other country. When the majority in Ireland voted for independence from the UK…

    Northern Ireland remained within the UK as was the desire of most people in that part of Ireland. Should there ever be a majority in Scotland for independence it should not be binding on all the people of Scotland.

    If, say, Strathclyde or the Lowlands prefer to remain in the UK then that decision should be honoured by a partition of Scotland.

    (Lord) John Kilclooney

    House of Lords


    1. Dave Coull says:

      John Taylor is as ignorant where Scotland is concerned as some of the folk on the other side of the Irish sectarian divide. It was possible to partition Ireland for three reasons. (1) it was not unreasonable for protestants to fear that an independent Ireland would be a Catholic state. That this was not unreasonable was proved when the prime minister of Ireland had to himself denounce, in the Dail, the baleful influence which the Catholic Church had exercised for many years; (2) there was a stark division of opinion in Ireland along sectarian lines; and (3) there was a bloc of six adjacent counties where it was possible to construct a Unionist entity. None of these apply in the case of Scotland, for the following three reasons. (A) In Scotland, those of us from a protestant background form the vast majority of the population, with Catholics barely one seventh of the population, and, while most of us don’t attend the kirk regularly, we certainly wouldn’t stand for anything remotely like a Catholic state. (B) although a majority of independence supporters are from a protestant background, this simply reflects the demographics of Scotland. Both the independence movement and the unionists draw support from both protestants and catholics. There is not the division along sectarian lines which you find in Ireland. and (C) there is no region of Scotland where you could find a bloc of six adjacent “Unionist” counties from which to construct a statelet. No Six Counties, no Five Counties, no Four Counties, no Three Counties, no Two Counties, no, not even One County. There is simply no substantial bloc of territory in Scotland with a diehard Unionist majority. Brigton and Larkhall and maybe some Ayrshire village is simply not a viable entity. It won’t happen. The great majority of NO voters will just shrug their shoulders when the majority vote YES, and accept the democratic will of the people of Scotland. They will be our valued fellow citizens. Diehard Unionists will be very, very few and far between. Anybody who thinks otherwise simply doesn’t understand Scotland.

      1. There was no block of “six Unionist counties” in Ireland at the start of the 20th century. There were two counties where the British Unionist minority were in a local majority. They and the British state through violence and the threat of violence forced the division of Ireland with the creation of a six county apartheid state in the north-east of the country. And that was against the democratic wishes of the overwhelming majority of the island’s voting population expressed in two general elections and several local ones.

        1. Dave Coull says:

          I’m interested in history. It’s my hobby. For about sixty years, I’ve been studying the history of the world, or at least some of it. The book I’m reading at present is “The Early Slavs: Eastern Europe from first settlement to the Kievan Rus”. And yes, I’ve read quite few of books on the history of Ireland. Which is long, and complicated, and very different from the history of Scotland. Yes, there was considerable violence involved in the creation of the six county statelet. That violence was led by a Dubliner, Edward Carson. Here in Scotland, regardless of what may be said by the High Heid Yins of the Orange Order, I know Orangemen who will (quietly) be voting YES in our referendum. You simply don’t have the same sectarian division here. There are Directors of Celtic Football Club who sing “Up the IRA” type songs and have made it clear that they intend to vote NO, and there are members of the Orange Lodge who intend to say Yes to independence. At one time, Dublin had no fewer than SIXTY Orange Lodges. There’s just one nowadays. It wasn’t just Carson, but quite a lot of other Dublin orangemen, who ended up in the North. However, the attempt to say something similar could happen in Scotland is nonsense. The reason it is nonsense is because nearly everybody in Scotland, whether they are nationalist or unionist or somewhere in between (unlike Ireland, we do have a lot who are “somewhere in between”) identifies strongly with the idea of Scotland. In Ireland, that wasn’t the case. You had a minority in the north east of the country, some of whom may have defined themselves as “Ulster-Scots”, or whatever, but anyway, they didn’t feel very Irish. In Scotland, you can travel from Gretna Green to John O’ Groats, and folk will tell you emphatically that they are Scottish. Because of that, when the majority votes YES, the great majority of those who had voted No will just shrug their shoulders, and accept the democratic decision of the people of Scotland of which they are a part. Diehard unionist fanatics like you get in Northern Ireland will be few and far between. So even if some diehards were tempted to try some sort of “Six County” nonsense, there simply wouldn’t be the basis for it. Those who see everything through green (or orange) tinted spectacles are simply not seeing Scotland as it actually is.

  15. Dave Coull says:

    “Ireland and Scotland are Gaelic nations” is a propaganda statement. It is certainly true that the Gaelic element is a very important part of our identity. But only part. Irish Nationalists, when they think of Scotland, tend to think in terms of the West of Scotland, or the South-West. But in some ways the most vibrant part of Scotland nowadays is the North East. The North East of Scotland has a population of around one million people, about one fifth of the entire population. And you will find, in the North East, a lot of folk who are proud of their Pictish identity. The early kingdom of Alba was a Pictish kingdom and remained so until the reign of Constantine the Second. He was Pictish himself, of course, but he had to flee to Ireland as a young boy to escape Giric. In Ireland he was welcomed by his (Pictish) auntie who had married an important Irish chieftain. By the time he returned to Scotland as an adult and claimed the throne, he had picked up the Gaelic language and a lot of Gaelic culture, and it was under Constantine II and his successors that the gaelicisation of Scotland proceeded. So yes, Gaelic is part of our identity. But, especially here in the North East, only part.

    1. andyshall says:

      Excellent post.

  16. Dave Coull says:

    Since the Scandinavian nations have been mentioned, it is worth pointing out that both the President and the Prime MInister of Iceland have said that they would welcome Scotland joining the Nordic group of countries. Folk who are obsessed with Ireland often forget about our links with the countries to our north and east. And, in some ways, economically speaking, the closest parallel to Scotland is Norway. Both Orkney and Shetland are very proud of their Nordic heritage of course, but it isn’t just those northern isles that have links to the Scandinavian nations, there are also plenty of connections in the North East, as well as in the Hebrides. Gaelic is part of who we are, but so is Pictish, and so is Nordic. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is Ireland. Take a look at the map. It isn’t.

    1. Is Pictish (a hybrid language made up of a P-Celtic tongue related to Welsh over an original substratum Q-Celtic language related to Irish and Scottish) still spoken in Scotland? Is any Scandinavian language still spoken in Scotland?

      The Scottish language (or Scottish Gaelic if you prefer) is the only surviving indigenous language in Scotland and was the majority language for centuries. It and the culture associated with it shaped Scotland and it is not unreasonable to regard the nation as a Gaelic one, whether historically or otherwise.

      Gaelic speakers in Ireland and Scotland can, with some effort, understand each other and read each others languages. Could a Gaelic-speaking or English-speaking Scot understand an Icelandic or Norwegian speaker or read their languages?

      Scotland is not Ireland but it is most certainly not Iceland or Norway. The Irish and Scottish languages, cultures and traditions are closely intertwined and it is disingenuous to say the least to claim that there is some superior or equal association with any of the Scandinavian nations.

      Folk are “obsessed” with Ireland for the obvious reason that many see simple kinship. That is not an unreasonable position and harms no one or no cause.

      1. Dave Coull says:

        Your question about whether Pictish, or any Scandinavian language, is spoken anywhere in Scotland today, is irrelevant. These elements have contributed to what we are today. It’s a statement of fact that many folk in the North East of Scotland are proud of their Pictish heritage. Whether you think folk in the North East of Scotland should be proud of their Pictish heritage or not is irrelevant. It’s a simple statement of fact that quite a lot are. It’s a statement of fact that many folk in Shetland, and in Orkney, are proud of their Nordic heritage. Whether you think they should be or not is irrelevant. Fact is, they are. Refusal to recognise these simple facts, in an attempt to enforce a restrictive view of what it means to be Scottish, is divisive. Sure, Gaelic is an important element of who we are. But only an element. Stating “Scotland is a Gaelic country like Ireland” is not only propaganda, it is propaganda of a type which tends, in practice, to divide the people of Scotland.

        As for links with the Nordic countries, never mind language, the ECONOMIC case for such links is extremely strong, and it’s a fact they have indicated they would welcome us.

  17. Dave Coull says:

    For those fantasists, of both the Unionist persuasion and the Pan-Celtic persuasion, who think there is no difference between Scotland and Ireland, I would point out a few simple facts. The Union of 1707 abolished the Scottish Parliament, but it did NOT abolish Scottish Law. The Scottish legal system remained separate from that of England. In England (and in the USA, which followed English practice) a jury meant 12 people, in Scotland it meant 15. In England there were two possible verdicts in a criminal trial, in Scotland it was 3. Scottish contract law remained completely different, so, if you were buying a house in Scotland, you needed a solicitor trained in Scottish, not English, Law. The reason you sometimes got English teenagers “running away to Scotland” was because, in Scotland, they could get married at 16 without parental consent. For these any hundreds of other reasons, the Border always remained a real border, a legal border.

    Scottish law ends at that Border. And, in a south westerly direction, it ends in the middle of the North Channel. Scottish Law doesm’t apply in Northern Ireland, and it never has.

    The SNP and all of the other organisations which campaign for independence for Scotland all have one thing in common: the Scotland for which all of them are seeking independence is the land where Scottish Law applies. ALL of the land where Scottish Law applies, and not a single inch of territory outside of that.

    Some folk in Northern Ireland might hate the idea of an independent Scotland, while other folk in Northern Ireland might welcome the idea. But whether they like it or hate it, the decision is nothing to do with them. The referendum will be held in the territory where Scottish Law applies, only folk who live within that territory will have a vote, and, whether folk in Northern Ireland like the result or not, they will just have to get used to it.

  18. Dave Coull says:

    Completely agree, andyshall

  19. Lochside says:

    Northern Irish Protestants should learn from their own history: the Scottish protestant ‘planters’ driven out of their homes in the Borders and Lowlands by King James V1(once he’d got the clout of the English troops) to go and oppress the native Irish. Only for them to be still the poor white trash living under English domination. Remember, back then ‘dissenter’ meant Presbyterian and second class citizen. King Billy let the apprentice boys starve and die in large numbers at Derry’s seige as he kept the English fleet back to let the dumb Celts fight it out. Life was so good for these Ulster Scots under the British crown that they left in their tens of thousands for the America to eventually (almost universally) fight to crush the British in the War of Independence. This war was acknowledged by American historians to have been won by the ‘Scotch Irish’ as they became known. The ones left at home formed the United Irishmen with the Catholics and guess what?…the English played the orange card and divided and conquered…..and they’ve done so ever since.
    The Ulster Protestant displays the same twisted pride as his Scottish counterpart…pride in blood sacrifice in British Wars e.g. the Somme….pride in being tougher than the effete English…..proud of their bigoted ‘religion’ and paper thin ‘culture’ and proud of their English flag dominated by a bloody distorted hand…a grotesque parody of the real ‘Ulster’ of nine counties, not the artificial gerrymandered British tuppeny-halfpenny, six county state set up to prevent a Protestant rebellion.
    The sooner they realise that the real enemy has been their fawning, colonial cargo cult idolatory of Britain and its ruling class and their pavlovian slavering over its fabricated monarchy, the better. The United Irishmen of Northern Ireland would be a ‘Better Together’ aim for the 21st century . But it would require the Protestants of the North with their ‘Loyalism’ to realise that they are as meaningful to the British and the British State as Bushmen of the Kalahari .

  20. I think the difficulty in comparing Scotland and Ireland is that we share many of the same ingredients of history and nationhood but they have been, and are, put together quite differently and have produced very different results.

  21. Tom says:

    Bob Mackay wrote: “that our minority catholic population now has 100% equality across our social, political and economic spectrum: what other country has achieved this level of fairness with an immigrant population?”

    I would take issue with that and thus with Profesor Tom Devine, that Scotland had no pre-existing catholic population, outside of that who immigrated from Ireland? That simply cannot be true. More than being simplistic, it is entirely false, given not least that that Scotland for a long time was nominally a catholic country, just a few generation ago and the protestant population were largely converts to that protestant religion from cathlicism, from other or from no religion at all. Your comment is wilfully divisive, and inflammatory miscategorising all of Scotland’s catholics as immigrants. Such notions of any population having some imagined religious ‘purity’ at some time, is a wedge, a myth that fuels ugly supremacism. Go easy on the self-congratulation and rosy imagining of 100% equality too, sectarianism, or more correctly – as it is the predominant manifestation – protestant religious supremacism isn’t called Scotland’s shame for nothing.

    It is bad enough that some useful idiots fall for divide and rule tactics, but for divide and rule to gain traction on the most specious, intangible and arbitrary grounds, is fundamental limbic brain tribalism that evolution will probably never overcome. The British state is a failed rogue state long engaged in outright fascism/corporatism,the symbolic myths that once excused that in the minds of many are weak and ineffectual, these ahistorical, imagined and inculcated identity constructs no longer restrain Scotland’s growing embrace of true self-determination, of a fresh start and a new beginning, they underline the good that will result from it and the necessity, urgency of it. Scotland no longer takes (so much) drugs in psychic defence, it wants and will vote a firm Yes as a constructive psychic defence alternative.

    1. Dave Coull says:

      It’s not true Scotland has no Catholic population other than those descended from immigrants from Ireland, Poland, etc. However, it’s a fact the Catholic population of Scotland today is well over 95 percent descended from such immigrants. Scotland ceased to be a Catholic country in the year 1560, four hundred and sixty three years ago. The very rapid transformation of Scotland which began in that year was so far reaching the term “revolution” might, in some ways, be more appropriate; and, certainly, the protestant reformation of Scotland went further and faster than in any other country. Scotland became over 99 percent protestant. It’s true pockets of Catholicism remained in a few remote areas with small populations, for instance, the island of Barra. But Scotland became a protestant country nearly half a millenium ago now, and it is pointless trying to deny this.

      Note that the type of protestantism which became dominant in Scotland was extremely different from the type of protestantism which became dominant in England. In England, the monarch is the Head of the Church. In Scotland, the monarch is a mere member of the Kirk. This is one of two factors which have done most to preserve a sense of “Scottishness”, distinct from England. The other factor being the separate legal system.

      Yes, the British state does use divide and rule tactics. But it’s silly to try to pretend it’s only protestants who ever fall for these. The board of directors of Celtic football club is stuffed with folk of Irish catholic descent, who delight in singing “rebel” songs, and yet who, so far as independence for Scotland is concerned, advocate voting NO!

      As for the suggestion that we have something to learn from Ireland’s experience of becoming partially independent, there is really only one thing to learn from that. How NOT to do it.

  22. Scotland is not wholly a Gaelic nation. In 1018 king Malcolm the second captured the Anglian province of Lothian from the kingdom of Northumbria at the battle of Carham. Many place names in Lothians and the Scottish borders demonstate that the English language was firmly in use in the region in the 6th century onwards.
    In the reign of King David 1 of Scotland people living in Lothian are refurred to as ” the English subjects of the king”. Lothian was one of the few places in mainland Scotland where the Gaelic language was never dominant. Over time the language of the Lothians and Northumbria replaced Gaelic as the language of all of lowland Scotland.

  23. Pingback: Newco Britain? «
  24. Thanks for finally talking about >The Threat of Independence « <Loved it!

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