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Sturgeon at the Seanad

JS106094136The Seanad’s enthusiastic reaction to Sturgeon’s speech reflects a shift in Irish attitudes towards Scottish constitutional politics since the European referendum argues Jamie Maxwell.

Nicola Sturgeon’s speech to the Seanad yesterday was the first any foreign leader has given to the upper chamber of the Irish parliament. The Seanad is tucked away in a far corner of Leinster House, a complex of austere 18th century buildings on Kildare Street, just off St. Stephen’s Green, in central Dublin. Its press gallery can accommodate a grand total nine journalists, so, having travelled down from Belfast, I decamped to a small annex room with a wall-mounted TV and an unreliable internet connection.

The speech itself didn’t generate much advance coverage in the Irish media. The Irish Times dedicated a few short paragraphs on page five to Sturgeon’s Monday press conference with Charlie Flanagan, Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs. They should have paid more attention.

Sturgeon is functional speaker, not a flashy one. Unlike Alex Salmond, she doesn’t tend to improvise in formal settings, but her arguments are always rigorously constructed and clearly explained.

For the most part, the address wasn’t ground-breaking. As expected, the first minister reaffirmed her commitment to securing Scotland’s place in the European single market, even if it means staging a second independence referendum. She said Scotland and Ireland were “living examples” of what “small, open, outward-looking” countries could achieve, and – citing former Irish president Mary Robinson – she attributed the revival of traditional Irish culture to Ireland’s membership of the EU.

Her remarks only really began to gather pace towards the end, when she turned to the roots causes of Brexit. “There seems little doubt,” she said, “that Brexit was a product of inequality, of disillusionment with the established order; of a sense of alienation and disenfranchisement … If people don’t believe and feel they are benefiting from the status quo, we can’t be surprised if they choose not to vote for the status quo.”

“Brexit was a product of inequality, of disillusionment with the established order; of a sense of alienation and disenfranchisement … If people don’t believe and feel they are benefiting from the status quo, we can’t be surprised if they choose not to vote for the status quo.”

This statement carries radical implications. If Sturgeon is worried that Scotland and Ireland are susceptible to the kind of populist rightwing surge that has swept the US and parts of Europe, including England, recently, she is tacitly acknowledging that her own brand of liberal managerialism has reached its limit. If a “fair society” is the essential basis of an “open economy”, then tinkering at the edges of the UK welfare system – and stripping back what exists of the Irish one – will only accelerate the crisis of the “established order”. Above all, if Sturgeon’s analysis is correct, the SNP will soon have to decide whether it represents part of that order or an insurgent challenge to it.

After Sturgeon finished speaking, one senator after another rose to declare their support for Scottish independence. Fianna Fáil’s Catharine Ardagh told Sturgeon that “Scotland’s day will come.” Frances Black, an independent, wished Sturgeon “all the best in fighting for independence for your country.” And Irish Labour’s Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said he believed the break-up of Britain was now “inevitable.”

The Seanad’s enthusiastic reaction to Sturgeon’s speech reflects a shift in Irish attitudes towards Scottish constitutional politics since the European referendum.

Leinster House used to view Scotland as a potential economic competitor. Now it sees Scotland as a diplomatic ally; a liberal, pro-European counterweight to an English political class that has, in the words of one Irish journalist, “gone mad.” Any concerns the Irish might have had about Edinburgh poaching finance jobs from London – jobs that might otherwise have gone to Dublin – have been replaced by a more immediate fear: that of a second, Brexit-induced recession ruining Ireland’s tentative post-crash recovery.

Leinster House used to view Scotland as a potential economic competitor. Now it sees Scotland as a diplomatic ally; a liberal, pro-European counterweight to an English political class that has, in the words of one Irish journalist, “gone mad.”

Ireland’s chief goal is to keep its borders with Britain as open as possible. Its emerging partnership with Scotland is a response to the asymmetric shock of the Brexit vote, which, as Sturgeon correctly stated, represents “the greatest foreign policy challenge Ireland has faced since it joined the EU.” Against that backdrop, Scotland’s separation from England is at best a secondary consideration for the Irish political class.

However, it’s worth noting that Sturgeon’s positive reception in the Seanad sits awkwardly with the SNP’s approach to Ireland which – mirroring a broader Scottish ambivalence – has fluctuated over the years.

In the 1970s, at the height of the Troubles, the party vigorously discouraged comparisons between Scottish and Irish nationalism. It wanted to separate its own ‘democratic, constitutional’ politics from what it saw as the fascist violence of the IRA.

By the 1990s, that had changed. Alex Salmond was an advocate of the Celtic Tiger. He pitched Ireland’s blend of low corporate taxes and light-touch business ‘dynamism’ as a model of success for small independent countries competing in the global economy. Twenty years on, Sturgeon has shifted position again, ditching Salmond’s Arc of Prosperity in favour of a Celtic alliance aimed at countering the threat of Tory-imposed hard Brexit.

Nonetheless, at the official Irish level at least, Sturgeon is obviously well liked, and Ireland as a whole has never been more interested in or better informed about Scottish affairs.

Ostensibly, the visit – which was spearheaded by John Webster, who leads the Scottish ‘investment and innovation hub’ at the British embassy in Dublin – was aimed at boosting Scotland’s business presence in the Republic. Scottish exports to Ireland are worth upward of £1bn annually and support around 6000 jobs. The creation of the hub, in November 2015, signalled a deepening of formal ties; a recognition that the relationship between Scotland and Ireland has moved beyond the old cultural flash-points of sectarianism and emigration and onto a more modern pragmatic and commercial footing.

But there was a underlying domestic political agenda at work, too. The trip challenged the limits of devolution. On a string of major foreign controversies, from the war in Syrian to the future of the EU, the SNP has consciously positioned itself in opposition to Westminster. For nationalists, the last two days have reinforced the sense that Holyrood is an independent, or at least semi-autonomous, actor on the global stage. And without alienating Theresa May, Dublin seems quite happy to act as a platform for Scotland’s newfound international assertiveness.

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  1. Crubag says:

    Eire’s predicament illustrates the limitations of the Union. No doubt they would like to retain border arrangements with the UK, no doubt they would like to retain the common travel area that has existed in the British islands since the 1920s.

    But the final decisions on these Irish matters will be made on the continent, and Romania or Lithuania, or the European People’s Party for that matter, will have as much say as the whole of Eire. There can be no complaints about that, under the Lisbon Treaty all of these issues are under qualified majority voting. No veto.

    1. Graeme Purves says:

      It seems to me that it is the limitations of the United Kingdom that are being exposed. The European Union is quite capable of being flexible. The United Kingdom is looking decidedly brittle.

    2. Craig B says:

      Why “Eire”? Per wiki “The name Ireland is … used in the state’s diplomatic relations with foreign nations and at meetings of the United Nations, European Union, Council of Europe, International Monetary Fund, and Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.”

      1. Crubag says:

        To make clear I’m talking about the political entity that Sturgeon was addressing, not the whole island of Ireland. Northern Ireland, the other bit of the island, is also dependent on a larger union taking its interests into account in negotiating the EU exit.

        1. Josef O Luain says:

          What’s wrong with the straightforward, descriptive title The Republic of Ireland, as many of us have known it for years.

  2. Craig B says:

    Is it the case that Lithuania has as much power as the UK or the Republic of Ireland to make decisions on their Common Travel Area? That is not clear from the information in wiki, which states that these flow from provisions of Irish Law. Can anyone clarify that?

    “Under Irish law, all British citizens – including Manx people and Channel Islanders, who are not entitled to take advantage of the European Union’s freedom of movement provisions – are exempt from immigration control and immune from deportation. They are entitled to live in Ireland without any restrictions or conditions. They have, with limited exceptions, never been treated as foreigners under Irish law, having never been subject to the Aliens Act 1935 or to any orders made under that Act. British citizens can thus move to Ireland to live, work or retire and unlike other EU citizens, they are not required to demonstrate having sufficient resources or have private health insurance in order to retire. This is due to the fact that British citizens are also entitled to use Irish public services on the same basis as Irish citizens in Ireland.”

    1. Crubag says:

      The borders of the EU are a matter for EU member states and decided by majority vote. There’s a House of Commons briefing on this:

      “Outside the EU, the UK would be free to negotiate a special status for Irish citizens: Professor Dagmar Schiek, Jean Monnet Chair of EU Law and Policy at Queens University Belfast, told us that there is some latitude within the EU’s rules to allow some bilateral agreement between the Republic of Ireland and the UK over the border. However, she emphasised that it would require the remaining EU members to agree to this: “Under EU law, any future relation between the Republic of Ireland and the UK would be subject to agreement not only with the Republic of Ireland, but with the whole of the EU”.”

      http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/CBP-7661/CBP-7661.pdf

      1. Craig B says:

        Yes no doubt, but we’re not just talking about a border of the EU; we’re talking about a common travel area involving two EU states, or possibly in future one EU and one non EU state, formerly in political union. You write “no doubt they would like to retain the common travel area that has existed in the British islands since the 1920s. But the final decisions on these Irish matters will be made on the continent, and Romania or Lithuania, or the European People’s Party for that matter, will have as much say as the whole of Eire.” Is that the case as regards the CTA specifically? Example: Jersey is not fully in the EU, but has CTA with the UK. Is that a matter for the European People’s Party, rather than the governments of the UK and Jersey, to determine? Your response about the borders of the EU doesn’t fully answer my specific question.

        1. Crubag says:

          It is a political club, so who it so say how the rules might be bent (see also “euro”).

          But the CTA existed before Eire and UK joining the then EEC, and they came into membership at the same time, so avoided too much scrutiny. The position of the UK dependencies seems anomalous, though at EU level at least, they seem not to enjoy freedom of movement.

          It will be a different situation when the CTA has one EU and one non-EU member. The EU member states (and European Parliament, hence my reference to the EPP, the biggest party) will have the final say for the EU, not Eire. Eire is at least part of an island and outside Schengen, so may get cut a different deal than if it were Poland proposing to have a free movement area with Russia.

          1. Craig B says:

            In other words, you have no idea if what you have said here is factual or not:
            “But the final decisions on these Irish matters will be made on the continent, and Romania or Lithuania, or the European People’s Party for that matter, will have as much say as the whole of Eire. There can be no complaints about that, under the Lisbon Treaty all of these issues are under qualified majority voting. No veto.”

            Also you seem reluctant to use the official UK and EU name for that country, which is “Ireland” or “Republic of Ireland” in contexts where it needs to be distinguished from Northern Ireland. But you persistently call it “Eire” which is not its name, or even “the political entity that Sturgeon was addressing” which is not its name either. The word “Éire”, not “Eire”, is simply the Irish language name of the whole island. UK official practice since 1998 is outlined in wiki.

            “One example is the Disqualifications Act 2000 which refers, inter alia, to the ‘legislature of Ireland’, the ‘House of Representatives of Ireland’ and the ‘Senate of Ireland’. Similarly, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office do not use the term Republic of Ireland but rather apply the term Ireland when advising potential British Nationals choosing to live in Ireland.”

          2. Crubag says:

            That Eire will be able to establish it’s own border arrangements? That’s correct, it will be an EU-level decision. Borders are QMV, so Eire’s vote on an issue affecting its own immediate circumstances weighs the same as a country on the far side of the continent.

            QMV also has a population element, so to block something, you’d need not only four member states, but they would need to represent 35% of the EU population. So a grouping of small states wouldn’t have the weight to block a decision.

          3. Craig B says:

            We’re not discussing “Eire” ( I see you insist on using this incorrect designation. Perhaps you will explain why.) or establishing its own border arrangements, but a Common Travel Are agreement that the Republic of Ireland and its predecessor states have had with the UK since long before the EU was formed. You are stating that this arrangement, specifically, is to be revised and that “the political entity that Sturgeon addressed” has no more right to decide about this than Lithuania has. I am asking if that is in fact the case, but you seem to be answering questions that I’m not asking. Now it is possible for a country within and one outwith the EU to have a CTA, as we see in the case of UK – Jersey. That’s what I’m asking.

  3. Helen Yates says:

    I would think this more appropriate headline” First Minister at the Seanad”

  4. kimberley says:

    The SNP aren’t, and never have been, a liberal party (i.e. proponents of economic liberalism), they are and always have been a social democratic party (about a mixed economy, not liberal) so it’s very disingenuous of the author to pretend otherwise. Not being radical enough for a very small section of Scots is meaningless. What matters is what they’ve *managed to do* via their progressive politics, which – among other things – has been to prevent the same lurch to the right wing populism we’ve seen elsewhere, no small feat. Proof is in the pudding, much as it may pain some to accept, and I hope the SNP continue with their successful approach. I’m sure they will.

    1. Donny Campbell says:

      One could even suggest that if there was substantial hunger for a more radical alternative to the SNP’s considered approach, with all the limitations imposed by the Smith Commission, then the Greens would have been hoovering up these votes in much greater numbers than is evident.

    2. Frank says:

      Ideologically pigeonholing the SNP is problematic on the grounds that it is a popular nationalist party rather than a social democratic party. Yet, despite claims that it is ‘social democratic’, the realities of being in government, whether in Holyrood or the local council, mean that a compromise of sorts with neoliberalism is always on the table for the SNP – framed this way, it is the neoliberal practice of government which defines political parties rather than whatever ideological label its supporters seek to give them.

      This analysis helps to explain why social democratic and overtly socialistic parties the world over have collaborated with neoliberalism. In the case of the SNP collaboration with neoliberalism involves the administration of everyday austerity (which is different from believing in austerity), the acceptance of a legal framework which places the market beyond the reach of government – especially in relation to the EU/public ownership position, the rise of a culture of new managerialism across the public sector and their problematic record on criticising the fundamentals of the neoliberal economy. I was talking to an educationalist the other day who said, reflecting on the SNP’s approach to further education, that everything is about the economy, adding that adult education classes have been hollowed out and replaced with employability programmes.

      Neoliberalism is a practice first, before it is an ideology: didn’t Bourdieu once say something about neoliberalism’s greatest success was to be put into practice by people who call themselves socialist/social democrats?

  5. bringiton says:

    Brexit and more importantly,the complete failure of any subsequent policy from the Westminster government about how and where it is going have left a void into which the SG have stepped.
    Leaders around Europe and beyond are not going to forget this when indy2 comes around.
    No more veiled threats from outside Scotland (except HM government and press pack) about being left alone and friendless should we have the temerity to separate from England.
    We are being heard loud and clear on the global stage.

  6. florian albert says:

    Nicola Sturgeon ‘is tacitly acknowledging theat her own brand of liberal managerialism has reached its limit.’
    I don’t see much evidence of this.
    With regard to the SNP having to decide whether it backs the status quo or is an insurgent party, the party’s success in the past decade has been achieved by convincing voters it is both.
    As the old saying has it; ‘if you can’t ride two horses at once, you shouldn’t be in the circus.’

    Ultimately, the SNP’s double act will fail – that’s the nature of politics.
    There is no sign of it happening in the near future.
    Nicola Sturgeon’s cautious nature just about rules out the SNP becoming the radical party those on the left want to see.

    1. Alf Baird says:

      “I don’t see much evidence of this.”

      How about:
      1. the decline from SNP majority to minority government, and
      2. the fact one third of SNP voters voted for Brexit.

      SNP has passed its bland neoliberal ‘competent managerialism’ high point and the only way is doon wi that dopey strategy; the English want hard-brexit, the Scots want hard-indy.

  7. Mark says:

    “Nicola Sturgeon’s cautious nature just about rules out the SNP becoming the radical party those on the left want to see.”

    A tiny minority of Scots (RISE et al and their tiny numbers of supporters and voters) aren’t really in a position to claim ‘the left’ as their exclusive territory.

  8. bullykiller says:

    Crubag, call my Country by its proper name in English please! It´s Ireland not Eire. In English your country is referred to as Scotland not Alba.

    1. Craig B says:

      The names for the different parts of Ireland were in dispute between the two countries, but were resolved as part of the 1998 agreement. ” … dispute which existed between the Irish and British governments over the official names of their respective states: Ireland and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Following the Belfast Agreement of 1998 the dispute ended and each government now accepts the official name of the other state.”

      Crubag’s persistent use of the expression Eire probably indicates that he or she is not content with that agreement, and is not inclined to respect its terms, at least as far as this symbolic matter is concerned.

      1. Crubag says:

        I don’t particularly care, happy with whatever makes most sense to you, as long as we understand there is more than one people/polity/state on the island of Ireland.

        Though if you’re interested the Irish (look, I said it!) constitution refers, in English, to “we the people of Eire.”

        (Ireland itself is now very anglicised. An outside risk of Brexit is that Irish gets promoted to an EU working language and Irish politicians and civil servants obliged to use it. When they nominated it as their offical EU language they probably weren’t expecting that).

        1. Craig B says:

          You write “Though if you’re interested the Irish (look, I said it!) constitution refers, in English, to “we the people of Eire.”

          No it doesn’t. Here’s a paste of the text.

          “We, the people of Éire”

          I have already noted the difference in an earlier reply to you. It is further stated in commentary that

          “The Constitution declares that “[the] name of the State is Éire, or, in the English language, Ireland”.

      2. I don’t really understand what the problem is. ‘Eire’ in on the passport. It’s not mentioned anywhere in the text of the article, it was simply used as a tag in the article, that’s all. It would be great if people focused on the content of the article …

        1. Craig B says:

          Crubag is implying that continued Irish membership of the EU following a possible Brexit will jeopardise free travel between Ireland and the UK. This is a very strong message of opposition against any cooperation between Ireland and Scotland to maintain membership of the EU, if the UK leaves. As Crubag says “Eire’s predicament illustrates the limitations of the Union.” I’m not sure that’s true at all.

          The use of “Eire”, without the accent, as the name of the Republic in an English language text, is also less respectful than the term officially used both in the EU and in the UK, which refer to that country as “Ireland”. That’s why I mentioned it.

          1. Crubag says:

            “This is a very strong message of opposition against any cooperation between Ireland and Scotland to maintain membership of the EU, if the UK leaves.”

            That’s a whole different argument. Scotland will be leaving the EU with the rest of the UK including Ireland (north). The SNP has no appetite for a referendum fought without knowing what the border/trade/citizenship arrangements will be. I doubt indy2 is winnable with an automatic application to the EU, and will probably need a separate referendum.

            I don’t see Ireland (south) exiting when the UK leaves, plus it is tied into the euro so has even less room for manouver than the UK. EU may stagger on, but I think it will start to separate into its component parts as the powerlessness of the central institutions becomes evident.

            If you want an Ireland-specific problem to consider, look at the 13 billion Apple tax bill. The Irish government doesn’t want to collect, the European Commission is trying to make them… Who is in charge of Ireland’s tax affairs?

        2. Mark Rowantree says:

          And deprive some people of the opportunity to indulge their petty pet hobby horses which are of no real interest to the great mass or readers?

  9. bulykiller says:

    Thank you Graig B for clearing that up. I am much obliged.

  10. Crubag says:

    @CraigB – legally that’s right. EU borders and trade policy are an EU competence. Decisions by QMV.

    The CTA avoided any scrutiny because both parties became EEC members at the same time.

    I think the UK dependencies are anomalous. I’ve not looked at it in detail but the Manx seem to be excluded from EU freedom of movement as not EU citizens but are given preferential treatment by Ireland. I don’t see that going unchallenged with millions of people rather than thousands in play.

    The other border aspect is trade (another exclusive EU competence) and the dependencies seem to have harmonised with the EU. If the UK government is serious about entering into trade deals with non-EU countries then that too has implications for the movement of goods at the UK/Irish border.

  11. Calfal says:

    Eire is an insulting term used only by the British … For an entity that only existed before 1949….for my money the Scots should throw their lot in with us Irish and send Westminster packing after all they haven’t got a clue what they are doing

    1. Crubag says:

      I’d suggest you Google “Irish passport” and click on images….

      As the clickbait links might say: You Will Be Shocked At What the Irish Government Has Done!

  12. Willie says:

    Hate to say it but whilst Nicola Sturgeon grandstands about the rights of free movement and so on her government have introduced a requirement where ordinary folks are debarred from registering with an NHS doctor unless they provide photographic ID like a passport or a driving licence together with a utility bill.

    1. punklin says:

      Hate to say it…

      Then don’t!

    2. Jo says:

      @ Willie

      I moved home nearly seventeen years ago and had to register with a new Practice. I was required to provide ID and proof of residency. (I don’t think the SNP were in power in Scotland then.) : )

  13. Caroline Innes says:

    The point about Scotland needing to cooperate with Ireland on economic projects and not think we are in competition with them is so true. SDI used to think the IDA was a competitor but they ran rings round SDI which is now a seriously failing organisation – when was the last time a major new project was announced? Modern economic development theory says work together while protecting your own interests.

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