The Flight of the Gaels

Reviewing The Flight of the Gaels by Robert Whitford [pub. Austin Macauley] 2022.

Much of the discussion over the break-up of the United Kingdom is about states going their separate ways, free of the Westminster yoke, and more pro-European in the case of Scotland, and an Ireland unified and within the EU, with Wales still waiting in the wings. But what would happen if the public polling and referenda processes were now to give people in Scotland and Northern Ireland a choice of not just leaving or remaining in the UK but a third choice of joining a Scottish-Irish Federation, within the EU? And what would be the essential policy adjustments and guarantees of rights, and symbols such as flags, for the different communities which would have to be built in to any negotiated settlement?

These are questions which Robert Whitford addresses in The Flight of the Gaels. He goes further than the stock issues of winning the argument and timetabling which are now both extant and topical in public discourse in Northern Ireland and Scotland. This narrative plot spells out processes which would engage public interest – in the Irish Republic as well as in Northern Ireland and Scotland – across political divides and which would administer an accountable transition to the proposed outcome of a Gaelic Federation composed of a united Ireland and Scotland.

In this scenario ‘rUK’ is called the Kingdom of England and Wales. Although the status of Wales, and of the monarchy for Scotland and Northern Ireland are not discussed directly, the assessment and recording of public attitudes are accumulated by Delphi surveys. The latter is a series of questionnaires that allow experts to develop ideas about potential future developments around an issue, in relation to responses given by participants. Key public servants in Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scotland convene and network through their own chains of accountability, with polling returns producing acceptable figures to proceed with moves and demands through political parties for a federation. Guaranteeing continuing responsibilities for pensions, and EU subsidy packages for re-entry in the case of both Northern Ireland and Scotland, are to be part of the project of the Gaelic Alliance which will drive the transition to the Gaelic Federation. This is played out between 2022 and 2025, with a change of government in the UK, amidst the death throes of Brexit.

The putative result is a Federal Parliament, based in Stormont, Belfast, national parliaments in Dublin and Edinburgh, and an elected Federal president. Very few discussions, or reports, or indeed invented narratives, combine both a clear vision of a political alternative to the United Kingdom for the islands of Britain and Ireland with a credible, well worked out process of how that could be put in place. The Flight of the Gaels does just that and should be very timely reading for any who now contemplate what a positive political future without the UK and still part of Europe could look like.



Comments (6)

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  1. MacGilleRuadh says:

    Yes please! But can we just leave the Orangemen out of it. Methinks they might queer the pitch.

    1. Colin Kirkwood says:

      Sorry, no, we should not leave the orangemen out of it. What is needed here is what Paolo Freire called cultural action in depth. We need to revisit and reinterpret Scottish, Irish, Welsh and English history. And that includes the complex totality of the Reformation and its aftermaths (plural) throughout these islands. And that is one of the reasons why the European and indeed global dimensions are so important. How many of us for example realise that there was also a Catholic reformation? And the theme off semper reformandam?

      1. MacGilleRuadh says:

        I was being a bit facetious Colin, I have to admit. I also agree with your other comment, one of the glories of Scotland’s history is its diversity in the origins of the folk that came to identify with that Kingdom. You are right to resist the portrayal of the place as a ‘pure’ Gaelic or ‘pure’ anything else for that matter.
        That’s not to deny the important place Gaelic has in Scotland’s history though.
        Bruce had an early go at this pan-Gaelicism, in his letter to the Irish Chieftains:
        “We and our people and you and your people”, he proclaimed,” free since ancient times, share the same national ancestry and are urged to come together more eagerly and joyfully in friendship by a common language and by common custom. We have sent to you our beloved kinsman (Edward Bruce), the bearer of this letter, to negotiate with you in our name about permanently maintaining and strengthening the special friendship between us and you, so that with God’s will your nation may be able to recover her ancient liberty.”

        1. Colin Kirkwood says:

          I agree! Thanks for your message. Last night I was talking to a couple of guys from Iran, and we were discussing how we can find ways forward that are as far as possible non-violent. A third world war could finish off the whole fucking planet. And what we do in Scotland, Wales, Ireland and yes even England, and how we do it, is just of the essence. It is terribly important. Martin Luther King. Mahatma Gandhi. Paulo Freire. At this time of my wife’s terminal illness it is quite hard to think straight at times. But now is the time. A non-violent path must be taken as as possible. And we must be prepared to make alliances with people who we don’t entirely agree with… Thanks for your creative response. Colin.

  2. Colin Kirkwood says:

    I think this is a very interesting idea which is worth exploring further. My only point of difference, which again is for exploration, is the proposal to call it a Gaelic Federation. While I am a great admirer of the Gaelic contributions in Scotland and Ireland (I think of Sorley Maclean and the many other great writers in Gaelic), I want us to unequivocally acknowledge the importance of the contributions of Anglian, Norse/Viking and Saxon peoples have made, and the great contributions of people of colour in more recent years. We are a mixture of many peoples and cultures. My late friend Tom Leonard made great play with his attack on prescriptive Scots, and I would want us equally to resist prescriptive Gaelic and prescriptive English. We should adopt a position of positive pluralism on the linguistic and cultural fronts.

  3. Alasdair Macdonald says:

    It is important to make public that there is a range of plausible alternatives outside the United Kingdom. Ireland remains part of the EU and NI, which voted Remain (even several of the strongly unionist constituencies), remains in the Single Market. There has been travel between Scotland and Ireland for thousands of years – as was said of Greece, “The land divides us, but the sea unites us.” We do not have the steep Hellenic mountainousness, but, on any crossing between Ireland and Scotland, the proximity of the two is clear and the sea has facilitated movements of people.

    Anent the Orange Order: many of its members in the north of Ireland have dual citizenship – God Save the King, but if the Taigs can have free movement, so can we! This is a bit cynical. In my Glasgow childhood, I knew a number of ‘orange’ families and had pals in some of them. Our next door neighbour was the Grandmaster of the local Lodge. So, what I met were people first, who happened to have particular views about Roman Catholics which I found unpleasant. But, I could get on with most of them. During my long lifetime, the numbers of lodge members in Scotland has declined markedly. There is still sectarianism, but it is considerably less than it was. It is mainly the media with its portrayal of Scotland and Glasgow in particular as a violent nasty place that continues to use it as a divide-and-rule strategy.

    Being a Freirean, like Colin Kirkwood, I think ‘cultural action’ can change attitudes and has changed them in the West of Scotland.

    Three years ago my wife and I spent some time in Belfast. We had a flat near Hollywood Arches. We saw more orange than I saw in the fruit groves of Seville! We also saw the wall between Falls Road and Shankill Road. So the divisions are still there and far stronger than in Glasgow. However, as we went about Belfast outwith these enclaves we got a strong sense of a place which was enjoying the fruits of the peace process and much more at ease with itself. There is still a way to go. However, I think the Frierean concept of contientization is working on many traditional unionist supporters because of the venal conduct of the DUP and its association with the Tories.

    A change is gonna come!

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