The (Os) Bourne Identity


Distance can lend enhancement to the view. I suspect that most people here in Ireland were not in the least surprised at the demeanor of George Gideon Oliver Osborne when he told the Scots that the pound sterling wasn’t theirs. Unlike the North Britons post 1707, there were few native Irish who believed that the 1800 act of union was anything other than a piece of paper to rubber stamp England’s ownership of Ireland.

The 20th century on this island was dominated by the national question and the relationship of the people of Ireland with the Westminster state. The folk memory of an atrocity tends be about 90 years and there is no one alive in my father’s county who can emotionally remember what British state functionaries did in Mayo boreens to unsuspecting natives in 1920.

My Donegal trio have little knowledge of those times as I didn’t pass any onto them. It has no relevance to their lives as young Irish people in the 21st century. In the 26 counties we are no longer owned by the Westminster tribe and in the North we have a plan to work through the long process of reconciliation towards a shared future where Britishness and Irishness have parity of esteem.

A couple of weeks ago I was at the Sinn Féin Ard Fheis in Wexford town. The county itself has excellent republican credentials and will forever be in the wider Irish imagination associated with the 1798 rebellion. In my father’s county it was known as Bliain na bhFrancach – ‘The Year of the French’. It must have been a worrying time for Gideon’s ancestor Sir Thomas Osborne, 9th Baronet.

He sat as a Member of Parliament in the Irish House of Commons for Carysfort between 1776 and 1797 and served as High Sheriff of County Waterford in 1795. In November 1783 he succeeded his father in the baronetcy.

As a peasant army was raised across the island against British rule things didn’t look good for Gideon’s tribe for a few wonderful liberating months, but alas, in the age before the Flying Column and Mick Collins’ squad the Brits finally got the better of us.

With the rebels vanquished by a modern army, the King’s chaps carried out slaughter and torture on an industrial scale. The political response in Westminster was to bring in the Act of Union in 1800 and they thought the Irish problem was settled. It wasn’t.

My first Sinn Féin Ard Fheis was, as I recall, held in a large tent in Ballyfermot in Dublin, but this event in Wexford exuded on-message professionalism. These are changed days and in the tea room I was brushed aside by bright young Shinners on a mission. However, I spotted one familiar face from the 1970s. Intensely political all of his days, he immediately wanted to be briefed on the situation in Scotland. For him, 2014 belongs to Alba and he didn’t understand anyone in the room who didn’t get that.

In the week before Osborne delivered his pound sterling speech, my old comrade from County Cavan had storyboarded the entire movie scene for me. He reasoned that if the Yes vote continued to creep up then “the Brits will let them know who is boss”. By the “Brits” I knew to whom he was referring, and it wasn’t a person on benefits in Hull or a classroom assistant in Liverpool.

He was referring to the ruling tribe that has dominated this archipelago since the creation of the British polity.

From our vantage point we both fully expected that the Bullingdon chaps would bring the artillery to bear on the Scots and have a big grown up conversation with their tartan teenagers about the realities of the UK. This is the talk that the Westminster elite had to have with secessionist types in Ireland a century ago. The Etonians tasked with dealing with Paddy during the Home Rule crisis clearly did not think they were dealing with equals.

A vital component in the poxy resin of Britishness that glued the conquered countries of the ‘Celtic Fringe’ to mother England was a belief among some of the subjugated natives that they were partners in a collective enterprise. For the local elite in Scotland in the imperial age this certainly had some truth.

Osborne’s delivery, his voice dripping with the phonetics imprinted by a childhood defined by privilege, was pitch perfect in summing up that, for Scotland, it isn’t a level playing field in this UK thing. If this had been a fitba match Gideon was, in the middle of the second half, re-ordering the rules. Indeed he was bending them like Beckham.

It was Viceroy of the Rovers stuff. In telling the Scots that they can’t have the pound sterling revealed the sham nature of the union. This is no partnership being renegotiated or dissolved, this is a people, historically annexed, being reminded of their subordinate status. There isn’t anything in the least surprising to most Irish people by this stance from the Westminster clan.

Some people in Scotland, who had been labouring under the touchingly naïve assumption that they are partners in a union, may have been startled by this intervention. Here in Ireland it all looks very normal. It is how we expect the Westminster chaps to behave when they have issues in the Celtic Fringe.

One thing that Ireland can teach the people of Scotland is that the more reasonable Paddy was to his masters in London, the worse it got for people here. After a century dominated by the national question here in Ireland, it is only now that the Bullingdon boys know that there is a green line here that they daren’t step over.

The Queen honoured generations of patriot dead at the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin in 2011. However, the colonial gene is still sturdy among the Bullingdon chaps. When they speak to the Scots they actually can’t help themselves, especially if they perceive that they don’t know their place anymore.

‘Jock’ – always the dependable functionary – is now behaving rather like a Fenian. The means are, thankfully, different, but the desire for independence comes from the same place. That is why the response from Osborne is so instantly recognisable to many people in Ireland even with only a cursory knowledge of our British problems.

The 1798 rebellion gave the world the iconic ballad “Boolavogue”. It contains a line that seemed very appropriate to this power play by Gideon:

Look out for hirelings, King George of England; Search every kingdom where breathes a slave.”

Perhaps Gideon thought himself a little regal as he was telling the Jocks that they weren’t partners, but possessions. If he did, I doubt if anyone in Wexford would be surprised; he is, after all, heir apparent to the Osborne Baronetcy of Ballentaylor and Ballylemon in neighbouring County Waterford.

This is how they speak to lesser breeds and a key part of the Irish revolution a century ago was to realise that the union was a sham. I think Gideon may just have facilitated some learning in Scotland on that matter.

Whatever the technicalities of the pound sterling, it is clear from Ireland that Westminster has an issue with their devalued moral currency. But then, they always did.

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  1. Steven Grubb says:

    Sup up your beer and collect your fags…………………..

  2. Guest says:

    Fortunately the rest of us are living in the 21st Century.

  3. Enjoyed this article very much, thank you. It is clear that this is fight between those who want to modernise Scotland and bring her into a place of equality and empowerment, and those (sadly many within Scotland itself) who like to keep the people of Scotland in their place and perpetuate the eletist system we currently live in. Our mainstream media is firmly in the bettertogether camp, but word of mouth and the YES foot soldiers keep marching on, and hopefully we will win for a much better future.

  4. The subjugated man is the last to know he is a slave.I am not sure if I read that somewhere or made it up myself.I know the above piece is so much like a modern re-make of a classic film I can see the pictures before.

  5. Brian McGraw says:

    Powerful message my friend – and one taken to heart. Events of recent have only served also to reinforce my own concern about British Establishment attitudes to my Country, but this journey has begun and they won’t stop us.

  6. Steve Bowers says:

    Wow powerful stuff, now all we need to do is get the message to those deluded fools who actually believe they are in a union of equals !

  7. Dr JM Mackintosh says:

    thank you for your excellent article.

    We have a lot in common and I look forward to us working together with our Celtic cousins in the future once we join you as an independent country.

    I have always felt very at home and very welcome in Ireland and must return soon.

  8. setondene says:

    I agree with every word Phil. Readers might want to get their hands on a novel about the 1798 uprising in Ireland, ‘The Year of the French’ by Thomas Flanagan an American professor of literature. Very fine piece of writing. Published in the 1970s but well worth tracking down.

    1. It is on my bookshelf. The Mayo landscape and the people of the late 18th century are wonderfully drawn and evoked.

  9. deewal says:

    “Happy slaves are the bitterest enemies of freedom.”

  10. Phil Mac Giolla Bháin says:

    The world of Owen McCarthy is wonderfully evoked by Flanagan.
    I’m Mayo on my Father’s side and the Killala landscape is authentically drawn.
    The book is highly recommended.

  11. @gortchomhor says:

    I think the pound threat signalled something very sinister and profound. They are prepared to stoop to any level to thwart Scottish independence. Scottish people reading this should take note of the words above that suggest; the more reasonable you are, the worse it will get. Wise words.

    Irish people reading this should consider the following. The whole debate is rigged from top to bottom. The BBC in Scotland could not be more systematically biased and unscrupulous in terms of how they cover this. It’s actually so bad that the national news from London seems very even handed by comparison.

    Along with the BBC we have newspapers, big business, the upper classes generally, almost every major political party, and various other court jesters like Bowie entering the debate. They all sing from the same hymn sheet: “we love you and want you to stay part of the UK, but if you go there will be hell to pay.” And they all get guaranteed air time on TV and Radio every single day.

    I ask the world to forgive us now for the inevitable failure of the Yes to Scottish independence campaign, given the circumstances. Propaganda like advertising works — that’s why they spend so much on it, of course. If it doesn’t work, they’ll simply revert to whatever other means they deem necessary. If they don’t get really nasty, it’s because they don’t need to. And we don’t need to explain to the Irish or the world at large what British nastiness might entail.

    It’s very like the unraveling of a marriage involving a violent wife-beating drunk. I ask you to picture the wife in that relationship, cowering as she asks if they can have a chat after dinner about splitting up and how he feels about fairly dividing up the furniture and such. “The more reasonable you are, the worse it gets” over and over in her mind as she sits waiting to be seen at Accident & Emergency.

    The Irish shouted their loudest to the high heavens and anybody who would listen — “that drunken scumbag beat me up and I want him to leave!” The Scottish hid the black eyes and bruises beneath sunglasses and make-up and whispered “everything is fine, honest.”

    Violent relationships are like that, some people behave one way and others, well, they just leave. Hats off to the Irish, Egyptians, Indians, Americans, and many others around the world who succeeded where we so far seem to have failed.

    The referendum is a sham and the SNP should withdraw and do their best to cancel it. Why give credibility and legitimacy to it by taking part? There are alternative routes that do not involve pegging our hopes on “good will” and delusions. I can think of no subjugated country in all history that secured its independence through reasoned debate and negotiation. And no, that’s not to suggest any sort of violent uprising. The UN facilitates unilateral declarations of independence. Let’s take it from there.

  12. the bold Fenian Jocks lol great read and great to see Phil join in the indy debate .

  13. Tina Feedgie says:

    After asking almost everyone I know about the referendum the sad realization has dawned on me that many people don’t really think that much about the referendum and they carry out precious little research, if any, into the pros and cons. On the odd occasion that the referendum enters their lives they tend to rely on the mainstream media which feeds their fears and results in them leaning towards retaining the current status.

    A sad truth is that most people don’t want changes in their life. This is particularly true for people who have a relatively good life at present. Change is difficult, change means adjustments and the introduction of new things and the dissolution of existing things and things not being the way they were ….hassles. The people I’ve asked are, in general, comfortably middle class and the majority of those I’ve spoken with intend to vote NO for the following reasons:-

    1. Fear 1. Fear of losing everything they have and being in a country with a basket-case economy. (Explaining the current and recent economic situation, hardly a beacon of hope or decency, doesn’t seem to help).
    2. Fear 2. Fear of the unknown …..currency, EU membership, armed forces, passports, banks etc. (Explaining that these are minor issues that will be overcome and forgotten about within ten years doesn’t seem to help (and no, none have read the SNP white paper)).
    3. They dislike Alex Salmond and “The Nationalists”. (Explaining that this is not about Salmond/The Nationalists but is a bigger question about ideals and the society we live in doesn’t seem to help).
    4. “It’s pretty good as it is, why change?” (Explaining that the less fortunate in our society should benefit from a YES vote barely registers on their radar, they’re voting for themselves i.e. how will this affect me?)
    5. Though they haven’t always said this explicitly, the cringe factor comes into play i.e. they don’t believe that we Scots can successfully govern ourselves. This is beyond disappointing for any reasonable person to contemplate but there it is, the belief that we’re not as good as the chaps in London.

    Still. hope remains as there’s six and a half months left to convince them to vote YES and the recent Osborne/Cameron forays North have sown a seed of doubt in their minds.

  14. TCSWIM says:


    Ireland is like a half-starved rat that crosses the path of an elephant. What must the elephant do? Squelch it – by heavens – squelch it.
    – Thomas Carlyle, British essayist, 1840s

    The judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated. …The real evil with which we have to contend is not the physical evil of the Famine, but the moral evil of the selfish, perverse and turbulent character of the people.
    -Charles Trevelyan, head of administration for famine relief, 1840s

    [existing policies] will not kill more than one million Irish in 1848 and that will scarcely be enough to do much good.
    – Queen Victoria's economist, Nassau Senior

    A Celt will soon be as rare on the banks of the Shannon as the red man on the banks of Manhattan.
    – The Times, editorial, 1848

    I am haunted by the human chimpanzees I saw along that hundred miles of horrible country…to see white chimpanzees is dreadful; if they were black one would not see it so much, but their skins, except where tanned by exposure, are as white as ours.
    – Cambridge historian Charles Kingsley, letter to his wife from Ireland, 1860

    A creature manifestly between the Gorilla and the Negro is to be met with in some of the lowest districts of London and Liverpool by adventurous explorers. It comes from Ireland, whence it has contrived to migrate; it belongs in fact to a tribe of Irish savages: the lowest species of Irish Yahoo. When conversing with its kind it talks a sort of gibberish. It is, moreover, a climbing animal, and may sometimes be seen ascending a ladder laden with a hod of bricks.
    -Satire entitled "The Missing Link", from the British magazine Punch, 1862

  15. Thank you for an excellent article.

    I think that, since 2012, the ‘Rangers affair’ has shaken many scots’ faith in the mainstream media, while cementing the reputation of various blogs as a worthwhile source of news and expert analysis. This could be a crucial factor in the indy debate- and your blog is one of the most visible and (IMHO) best regarded.

    Would you consider publication of this article on your blog? I think that you could do some real good there, as well as preaching to the converted on Bella Caledonia.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      We don’t want to be preaching to the converted. If you have an article you can pic it to us at: [email protected]

      1. Some crossed wires. I don’t have either a well-written article or a high-profile blog I’m afraid. I was making a polite suggestion that Phil (who has created both) might bring them together to reach a new audience.

  16. Mark says:

    If the establishment wasn’t slightly perturbed at the prospect of a Yes would we wouldn’t have heard some of the rubbish that has so far dominated column inches or the airwaves.
    Unfortunately wearing my cold rational head I must admit to some doubts as to whether the majority is actually there for a Yes vote, yet. My analogy for independence is of the tide coming in and receding, it might fall back but every time it comes in it reaches a higher level. To be honest it is fairly astounding when one thinks of Scotland ‘s recent political history that we are where we are now.

  17. Abulhaq says:

    The Union was and is a sham. We were annexed, incorporated, absorbed and we thought we were in the game as co-equals and co-partners. The Brits have pulled this stunt everywhere they have gone, the Middle East (Egypt) and India in particular. We, along with the Irish and the Welsh,did our bit to keep Britannia ruling imagining we were on some noble cause. Even India started believing in the imperial myth sending its sons to fight in imperial wars. For the Irish, the Indians and many others the penny dropped a long time ago. The West Brits and Little Sahibs are history. We Scots, and I trust soon the Welsh, can hear the quickening, dissonant grind of the mechanism of shattered delusion and the recognition of our three hundred fruitless years of wily exploitation. Rage! Rage! against the theft of our light…

  18. Bill Kerr says:

    Phil, I have been and will remain a great admirer of your works since I first discovered you on the net round about that famous Valentines day when Ibrox imploded. I generally find myself in complete agreement with your views but I think you are way off the mark here for the following reasons;
    – I don’t think you can compare the plight of 21st century Scots to that of the Irish labourers in 17/18 centuries, I think you are over playing your hand with this. For a start The majority of Scots are and have consistently been against the Yes campaign and only the outer fringers would consider themselves downtrodden to the same degree as back then.
    – Osborne did not say we couldn’t have the pound only that the UK minus Scotland would not be bounced into a currency union which is demonstrably against their interests in the modern global economy. This view was backed by the labour and lib-dems in Westminster and the First Minister of Wales. An independant Scotland CAN use the pound if we want – the so called Panama option.
    – We have seen how the Scottish Govt legislation has been used to disproportionately target Celtic fans while the Klan continue up to their knees in you know what. The centralised Police force has aided and abetted this attack. You should read or listen to George Galloway’s thoughts on what an unfettered Scottish Govt would mean for the minority Roman Catholic / Irish population of Scotland! I am not saying I agree with him entirely but he is proud of his Irish roots and is Celtic FC through and through and he is not a stupid man.
    – finally, we should take no anti Tory lectures from the Tartan Torys who in a fit of peak against the then labour Govt in the wake of the 79 referendum were directly responsible for the rise of Thatcher and 18 years of Tory rule.
    Sorry for going on so much and I know I am going to get all sorts of mad mental Nats abuse upon myself but I felt that you should here at least one opposing view. Cheers.

    1. Alasdair Frew-Bell says:

      As an observant Catholic I resent the likes of the Unionist Galloway conjuring up sectarian spooks. Independence is about moving out of this foetid, divide and rule socio-cultural rut.

      1. Spot on Alasdair. Opposing independence on the grounds that there are unaddressed problems (social, economic or political, such as discrimination against catholics) in Scotland is a viewpoint that survives no scrutiny. Only constitutional liberation can address these issues because Westminster never will.

        George Galloway is a thoroughly discredited cynic and publicity addict, and a gleeful passenger on the Westminster gravy-go-round. His valueless anti-independence spiel is pure job preservation and it is shameful.

    2. Well put. The pro independence arguements so far are nothing more than a wish list. I can see no reason to break up the country. All the effort that re-organising the economy would entail would be better spent in getting rid of the Tories and making the U.K. a more effective economic unit.

  19. I had the good fortune as a child in Holyrood Secondary of being taught music by Peter Mallan. We spent a lot of time together as part of his lunchtime club and we talked politics often.

    Without brainwashing, not that I was aware of anyway, he explained pro’s & cons of our national union and independence. My father believes in the union and the monarchy, so we have many discussions on these views.

    I firmly believe in an independent Scotland, we’ve been robbed blind at the foot of the table for far too long to remain there.

    I’ve a good standard of living through working hard and have a lot to lose, I think the a free independent Scotland is worth that risk and more.

    Our elite ruling classes from London would do well to really look at the Scots psyche and see how we truly take to being constantly patronised. Assess our reaction to being lied to. Then re-evaluate their no campaign.

    Both Yes & No camps are going for the low hanging fruit of the electorate just now, it’s a sideshow.

    10-8 weeks before the referendum is when the crunch really comes. Answers to the tough questions from both sides are vital here.

    The yes camp need to *properly* knock down the straw men being used by the no campaign.

    EU membership
    Nuclear weapons
    Transfer of assets and liablities

    All these are hugely important and being skimmed over by headline grabbing nonsense.

    Underneath all this is fear. English fear.

    They fear if Scotland goes alone, it not only devalues the UK but destabalises it. Potentially calling the existence of a ‘UK’ into question and ergo that ‘uk’ membership in EU/NATO and vetos the UK currently holds.

    They’re terrified the position of importance held by the UK is being undermined here and could soon be a thing of the past.

    Of course the yes campaign can’t come right out & say this as it could have a potentially devastating effect on stock prices and market belief in sterling.

    I firmly believe that eventually Scots will see sense, reject tory rule from our lands forever more and vote yes.

    If not, I’ll be voting with my feet and moving my life and family somewhere else. I honestly don’t think I could stay in a land which thinks it’s unfit to self determine.

  20. tammcgarvey says:

    Re. George Osborne, Irish history and another guy with the title “Baronet”.

    Folk should check out Baronet Charles Trevelyan who oversaw the deliberate depopulation of Ireland through mass starvation in the mid 19th century, leading to over a million deaths and mass migrations through which hundreds of thousands more died. Skeletal Irish peasants living close to vast grain stores had to watch while it was imported to England knowing they would recieve none to relieve their plight.

    Things were so bad that the poverty ridden Choctaw native Americans sent an equivalent in todays money of £100,000 to the starving Irish. Whig/Liberal Trevelyan stated that it was the will of God that the Irish starved and slated the whole Celtic race for being backward and anti free trade.

    Now take a look at Baronet George Osborne and his cronies. Foodbanks, bedroom tax, theft of natural resources and assets by the fracking quick buck corporates who have London politicians in their pockets. Now tell me that the same old methodology is not rearing its ugly head. They take all the fat and expect the poor to be charitable to the suffering. They denigrate culture and heritage, commoditise and monetise nature and put a price on life itself. They and their middle men rip the arse out of all that is sacred, sell it back to us and call it progress.
    Sorry people of England, we love the best of you but its time to ditch these dinosaurs. They are never going to change.
    Long live the Choctaw and the good people of England.

  21. John Mac says:

    Both an article and a man hopelessly steeped in historical baggage. Its a real pity that this website chooses such diversional dubiety to try to enhance its “yes” message. The independence vote should be about what is best for a modern and vital Scotland. A tainted ancient history lesson adds nothing to the debate on the current and future prosperity of our beloved country.
    Well done Bella, another nail in the coffin of the yes vote.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      We completely disagree – we publish commentary from a range of perspectives, parties and theories but learning from history of cultural colonialism everywhere is telling and from British rule in Ireland also so. Know your history. Simple.

      1. andyshall says:

        British rule that Scots were magically separate from ?

    2. Abulhaq says:

      The history of the British Empire is very instructive. Scots could do with dusting down some tomes and refreshing their collective memory regarding the real nature of this particular imperium before the likes of Niall Campbell Douglas Ferguson (a proud Scot?) did their neo-imperialist, cosmetic rewrites. There is nothing extraordinary or unique in the manner in which the British state is responding to the “threat” of our independence. We are lucky that, so far, they haven’t sent in the troops; but could they trust the “Jock” element anymore?

  22. Starry plough says:

    Great piece once again Phil, we will never get independence with the establishment still here in Scotland the same people who tell us to go stay in Ireland when we support our roots ,they are the ones who should go stay with their English people and bow to an English queen .
    Scottish cowards one and all.

  23. tammcgarvey says:

    Some call it history. I call it previous convictions. Only, most of the time powerful vested interests of the London based establishment have gotten away with it. History reveals patterns of behaviour. Most if not all empires have relied on grand theft of resources, slavery and murder to feed their power lust. It’s still happening around the world and the UK, including Scotland, are among the guilty. We have a unique opportunity now to break off from the corrupt oligarchs and develop models of governance and economics to take us through the new century. Aye, it will be hard but I would take some blows to make that happen. The status quo is unrealistic, undesirable, out of date and rigged in favour of unworthy oligarchs. If the economic system was a car you would scrap it as unfit for purpose.
    Would it not be a good idea to have an alternative system north of the border to contrast and compare with the south for the benefit of Scots and the rest of the UK? There are other models out there, the time is ripe for a change though even if we get a YES we will still have to slap the odd politician.

  24. joseph O Luain says:

    On September eighteenth, in my opinion, we must seriously apply our energies to the building

    of a truly Scottish Civil Service. I am sure Phil could supply much more eloquently than I the

    many reasons why this rebuilding ought to be prioritised. Go Phil.

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