We continue our series of views from round the rUK and Ireland – with Phil Mac Giolla Bháin writing from Ireland…
Two weeks ago I voted as a citizen of my Republic.
I was asked if I wanted our upper house, the Seanad (Senate), abolished.
I voted in agreement with the government’s proposition (a rare enough event for me I have to say), but mine was the minority opinion and the Seanad stays, although the clamour to reform it remains.
In Donegal we have a recent history of going against what the government wants us to do in these constitutional matters and this time was no different.
It was the 32nd constitutional referendum, but not all of the people of the 32 counties of this country got to vote.
There are Irish citizens across a cartographer’s line that separates this Ulster County from our neighbours in Derry, Tyrone and Fermanagh.
There was a time when the Irish constitution made claim to the land and territorial waters of all of the six northern and eastern counties of this island, but Articles 2 & 3 were given up as part of the Good Friday Agreement.
However, as part of the same all-island peace deal, people born in Northern Ireland can, if they so choose, be Irish citizens and, like me, travel on a passport issued by the state where I am resident.
I support the Good Friday Agreement and so I should – I voted for it.
It largely took the gun out of Irish politics and parked the constitutional question for the benefit of all of the people on this island.
The Dissident Republican micro groups remain although they are becoming increasingly difficult to disentangle from organised crime in the poor neighbourhoods that they prey upon.
Likewise in the Loyalist heartlands the current defenders of Ulster are a long road travelled from Carson and Craigavon.
TV viewers are currently enthralled every Sunday night when the crime drama “love/Hate” is screened. Now in its third series from the brilliant pen of Stuart Carolan it is an everyday tale of drug dealing folk in Dublin.
If a similar amorality play was to be set on the Shankill or Rathcoole then it could not avoid casting all of the villains as Loyalist paramilitaries.
The entire political conflict on the island Ireland throughout the 20th century could be viewed as an interlocking series of legitimation crises.
In the negotiations leading up to the signing of the peace deal in 1998, British Direct Ruler Mo Mowlam conceded in bi-laterals with Sinn Féin negotiators that Ireland was not partitioned on the consent principle.
With that point established the Republican delegation was willing to agree to the consent principle for the people of the Six Counties.
Northern Ireland, like Scotland, can leave the United Kingdom if the people so wish it.
The Orange statelet was set up on a sectarian headcount which is why my home in Donegal isn’t in the United Kingdom today.
For the avoidance of doubt I am personally quite content with that geo-political fact.
Quite simply, not all of this ancient Province could be in the NewCo Ulster in 1922 as it contained too many people from the nationalist tradition.
Northern Ireland had to have an in-built unionist majority or it could not fulfil its utility function to the British state, the local bourgeoisie in Belfast and their allies in the Orange working class.
That two-to-one tribal majority has changed over the generations and now the proportion of people from the Catholic tradition is over 45 per cent and, quite frankly, just too big to oppress anymore.
The ‘Equality Agenda’ is now the only show in town and the Orange State is something for the history books, it doesn’t exist anymore.
A Sinn Féin First Minister is, probably, only a matter of time.
The concept of equality appears to terrify the ‘Fleg’ underclass and it will take time, sadly rather a lot of it, to educate them into another way of viewing the world.
However, for now they are trapped in a post-imperial white trash angst about the appalling vista of people called Ciarán and Siobhán getting on in the world.
Similarly, I look at a Scotland that is also different from when I was born in in the late 1950s.
I sense a confidence among people to finally be themselves and not someone else’s trusty sidekick in an imperial adventure.
From my vantage point on the outside edge of the United Kingdom, the state that contains Scotland does look like a bit of a geopolitical mess.
It is difficult to discuss the London state without making reference to what that state did for most of its existence: conquest.
Any analysis of the future geo-political direction of these islands cannot start without an acknowledgement of the internal colonialism that underpinned the United Kingdom at the start of the 19th century.
The British imperial project could not really begin properly until the London state had dominated this entire archipelago.
The Irish Republican tradition mirrors the period of that project.
Irish Republicanism was created as a coherent ideology in the late 18th century.
It took the invective of the old native settler disputes and reformed them through the egalitarian ethos of Rousseau and, it must be conceded, the ruthlessness of Robespierre.
However, one without the other was largely useless.
‘Reasonable natives’ tended to be treated with contempt by the colonial overlords in London or in the big houses in Ireland built on stolen land.
The Fenian tradition was quite clear that until the island of Ireland became a liability rather than an asset, the British would maintain their illegal and immoral stranglehold on the country.
The machinations of the London state wrought the great demographic changes that created the Ireland my father was born into and my mother’s family emigrated from.
It is also the Ireland that I have reared my family in.
The campaign of the New Model Army in 1649-1650 and the ‘management’ of Famine relief in the late 1840s were the two genocides that were inflicted on the people of this island within two centuries.
Queen Victoria may be fondly remembered in Britain, but here she is, to anyone who has any historical memory, “the Famine Queen”.
The organised Scottish ‘Plantation’ of the Northern Province of this island has created a lasting legacy that still impacts upon the entire island.
The same polity created the conditions that saw the north and north-west of Scotland turned into what historian Eric Hobsbawm called “a beautiful desert”.
The Highland Clearances was a crime against humanity in the interests of the agribusiness of the day.
It also removed people from the island of Britain that had been the last to bend the knee to Westminster rule.
We are the closest of neighbours and out of the shared history of conquering and being conquered we can, in this century, edge towards a Scandinavian understanding.
The folk memory of an atrocity is about 90 years – three generations – and here in the Republic there isn’t anyone around that remembers British brutality.
Of course, in Northern Ireland that healing has just only started.
From my vantage point at this juncture, Scotland looks blessed.
The idea of a velvet divorce seems possible if the guid folk of Caledonia simply wish it.
No one has to get hurt and this seems such historical luck for the current residents of Scotland.
I believe that the re-ordering of the totality of relationships within these islands cannot happen if Scotland remains under the aegis of Westminster, but the decision rests with the people of Alba.
Looking in on it as an interested outsider, Scotland and England now seem very different places.
There appears to be a marked difference in the attitudes, for example, towards the National Health Service at both Holyrood and Westminster. There appears to be a very different value base within each political elite. I suspect that the chaps from the Bullingdon club don’t have many sleepless nights about size of the queue at food banks in Glasgow. However, I am fairly certain that hungry people depending on charity in Scotland’s largest city does trouble people at Holyrood and rightly so.
I live beside a state that has “United” in its title yet I am not sure that word is entirely appropriate anymore.
As I look in on this I have to be mindful that despite my physical proximity, my own civic experiences are very different.
In the last 20 years or so the celebrity feudalism of the British looks increasingly strange to me.
I can and do vote in elections where I get to choose my head of state.
The current incumbent, Michael D Higgins, was a member of long standing in my union, the NUJ, and we have mutual friends through that fraternal organisation.
I’m very proud that he is the first citizen of this Republic.
In my regular trips back to my native city I see how foreign the civic ethos of a monarchy is to me.
From my vantage point, the United Kingdom is a multinational state that remains dominated demographically and culturally by the nation (the biggest one, quelle surprise) that did the invading and conquering throughout the late medieval period.
The UK will always be about England and how the other nations cope with their absorption.
The written record of those times spins these conquests and annexations into a mere process of “unification”.
Scotland was absorbed, with the assent of a largely bribed all male elite, in an 18th century Anschluss.
In the same century that independent Scotland was closed down Jean-Jacques Rousseau outlined why sovereignty should reside with the people.
When his books were banned in his native Geneva and his house attacked he sought refuge in Britain with David Hume.
Now, finally, the people of fair Caledonia are being asked what they think about that arrangement whereby their lost their political independence in 1707.
If nothing else, the establishment of popular sovereignty over this matter is genuine human progress.
Indeed it could be argued that it could usher in a new Scottish enlightenment.
The power to remain, in what Tom Nairn famously dubbed “Ukania”, is finally in the hands of the people of Scotland.
Although I would wager that this prospect is not to the liking of the Bullingdon chaps I cannot envisage a scenario where the Westminster elite would refuse the settled will of the Scottish people as they did with Ireland a century ago.
In the lead up to the Great War, the London state was the centre of a vast empire and the first truly trans-global imperium.
Since then, Britain has inexorably slid down the league table of world powers.
However, this needn’t be a disaster.
David Cameron was clearly stung by Vladimir Putin’s recent “small island” jibe and observing the spat from the neighbouring land mass made me consider how better days could be in front of all of the people of Britain.
Although the UK is no longer a major power it can become a better place to live in.
Perhaps reforming the relationships between conquerors and conquered within this archipelago is part of that process.
When the British head of state laid a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance and bowed her head in 2011, she saluted generations of physical force Irish separatists.
I wrote at the time that it felt like closure.
It is no longer a nationalist fantasy that Scotland could be on a journey to full independence and that the British state is slowly disaggregating in a (mercifully) peaceful fashion.
However, as with the six counties of my country that are still under Westminster control, the main problem now is local deference rather than Albion’s Perfidiousness.
Since the creation of the Northern Statelet out of a Loyalist pogrom and threat of “immediate and terrible war” from Lloyd George, Scotland has carried far greater cultural weight in Northern Ireland than vice versa.
As I have written here before, an independent Scotland is viewed as an existential threat to the Loyalist worldview.
There are, of course, more than trace elements remaining in Scotland of that common subculture mainly based around the Orange Order and Ibrox stadium.
These are conjoined islands and we will remain the closest neighbours no matter what democratic decisions are taken in the years to come by the people of the UK.
Scotland and Ireland especially share much and that includes people within our respective countries who want to remain British and ipso facto under the aegis of Westminster.
A neighbour usually has a fair view of you for good or ill and from here the United Kingdom looks to me like a state that is in, well, a state of flux.
Rousseau would have approved.