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Scotland is now more sharply divided on the union than Northern Ireland is.

Polling last year showed that only 3 per cent of people here would vote for a united Ireland in an immediate referendum. Larger numbers have long term aspirations for Irish unity but the decision has already been made, in the hearts of most notional Nationalists, that things are best left as they are.

There are a number of motivations at work. One is simply to avoid a calamitous fissure and civil war. Many people who regard themselves as more Irish than British would rather have peace even at the the cost of deferring an aspiration for unity.

Which perhaps indicates also that that aspiration is not very strong.

Life inside the UK has not been a grave burden on people here. They have had a welfare state with a National Health Service to cushion them.

And they would be less inclined to try for a united Ireland now when the economy in the Republic is so weak.

In Scotland they see things differently.

For a start, their nationalism is partitionist. Irish nationalists believe that Ireland is one country because it is an island. The Scots aren’t into geographical determinism.

Forty five percent of the Scottish population is ready to leave the Union right now, today.

That figure should resonate with history,

In drawing the perameters of Northern Ireland, a six county statelet, in 1921, a simple calculation was made around the numbers who wanted to be British and those who wanted Irish independence.

Within the whole province of Ulster, which some unionists wanted to draw the border round, forty five percent of the people were Irish nationalists. James Craig, who would be the first prime minister of Northern Ireland, reasoned that this was simply too large a disgruntled minority to govern.

Well that is the figure that defines Scottish politics for now. Their sense that they are in the Union against their will is a problem that both Westminister and the devolved parliament at Holyrood in Edinburgh will have to deal with.

They will have to manage a minority of a scale that James Craig baulked at.

Of course, there is a difference.

Craig was speaking at a time of war.

The IRA had made the south ungovernable. Not even the army had been able to contain it without the support of rabble militias like the Auxiliaries and the Black and Tans.

Not a single shot has been fired in the assertion of Scottish independence.

That is something that modern Irish republicans should reflect on.

The Scottish nationalists have made the same journey that they have made, in roughly the same time span. And where many marvel at Sinn Fein being in government in the North and close to being an indispensable partner in the next Dublin coalition, their achievement is entirely belittled by that of other nationalists who thrived without violence.

Alex Salmond brought Scotland closer to leaving the Union than Gerry Adams brought NI in the same period. Salmond, however, has conceded that his job is done and it’s time to go; Adams seems inpervious to the thought that his party can manage without him.

And Salmond did it without the bombs and the killings, without confrontation with the British army and without exacerbating sectarian division. He did it without lining up with foreign tyrants, in Libya and Cuba, or with national freedom struggles in Colombia, Palestine and South Africa.

Students in future will be writing essays comparing and contrasting the paths taken by Sinn Fein and the Scottish nationalists and concluding, most likely, that Irish republicans had never needed the IRA, that it only got in their way.

The other big difference between Scottish and Northern Irish opposition to the Union is that for Scotland the passion was not even nationalistic let alone sectarian.

Where Yes campaigners gathered to sing Scottish folk songs to advertise their campaign, others in the No camp complained that this was an abuse of tradition by appropriating it for a political argument. No one here ever accuses the other side of stealing its music. The point, indeed, would hardly be understood here, because in Northern Ireland, the issue is almost entirely about ethnic or community allegiance.

In Scotland the core of the issue was the sense that the country was misgoverned by Westminster and could do the job better itself.

No one in Northern Ireland believes we could govern ourselves better than Westminster does.

The vote in Scotland is being celebrated as a victory for democracy because of the record turnout, 84 per cent. That compares with the 81 per cent here who voted in the referendum on the Good Friday Agreement.

There are lessons for us and for Scotland from that experience.

The greater Scottish enthusiasm for their independence debate should be an indicator for those of us who remember ’98, that this was even bigger for them than Good Friday was for us.

But the other side of that is that our referendum was a peak in the enthusiam and it dimmed afterwards.

Successive elections, some with a prospect of saving the deal as it faltered, never realised such a turnout again.

So we might predict from our own experience that the current Scottish ardour around the demand for independence, and the rejection of London as the seat of power, may wane now.

Yet we had a decisive majority in our vote and still the issue did not go away.

Northern Ireland is, in a strange way, the region of the UK that is most comfortable with the Union and therefore most likely to be shaken up by the changes to come.

The first blows are cultural and psychological. In the past we thought of the Union as something we had to decide on ourselves. It was a static thing and we had to determine our relationship with it. Now we find that it is in flux, changeable.

One thing is for sure and that is that the Union can only be defended now on the terms that won the argument in Scotland, the economy, defence, being stronger together. Orangeism now looks like an expired argument. Ulster unionism as a badge of Protestant ethnicity is irrelevant to the strength of the Union.

Unionists have to make their case now and they have to make it primarily to their neighbours. That is a function of demographic shift inside Northern Ireland but also of the changing, possibly weakening Union.

Our party leaders may find themselves round tables in the coming years with the leaders of the other countries and will not impress them with ethnic arguments. To be fair to them, they probably already know that.

If Scotland is to stay in the Union as a more automous country, shouldn’t Edinburgh also be at the table with London and Dublin during the next round of negotiations too? After all, it will still be paying for us.

In future UK wide talks, we will be at those tables, if at all, as a region and not as a country.

Scotland is important and has the prospect of leaving the union; it has an alternative. We have no alternative and therefore nothing to barter with, at least nothing that would incline the rest of the Union to cherish us more dearly.

We appear to be entering a period in which the different parts of the United Kingdom will have less to do with each other, even as the Union has been affirmed, but they have still to hammer out how that is to be done. And we are the small guy, the one most easily crushed.

Either Cameron will meet his commitments to Scotland and devolve greater power there in tandem with similar arrangements in other devolved regions, or he will break his promise and create huge dissaffection in Scotland and the North of England.

Either way, Scotland and England will have less to do with each other.

Can we be in a Union with Westminster and expect the other countries paying into this not to want a say in how we are governed?

The other countries in the Union becoming more autonomous is bound to make us look like the clinging runt of a grown litter.

We thought we were safe within the Union, but how safe will we feel when the major issues will be discussed by three First Ministers of similar standing, for Scotland Wales and England, while we still have to be nursed by Westminster, not least because we can’t agree on much, but also because we never could hope to muster as much autonomy as those real countries can?

Otherwise we are a humble and scrawny half formed thing. Very soon we may be just a region among nations all of them bigger and with more power, and none of them, perhaps, with a powerful longing to look after us or be in Union with us.

But could Northern Ireland not go through the same kind of transformation that Scotland has seen?

Could it ever adjust to discussing its options in practical terms, without reference to religion or to the Republican tropes of Imperialist oppression and occupation or the Unionist ones of Orange heritage and the legacy of the Somme?

Could we separate ideas about the Union from those of community and identity, the way Scotland has? And what answers might we come up with if we did?

That’s what we have to do, or we will not just be the child at the big table but a particularly annoying one.

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Sinead Morrissey DLThis is a recording of Sinead Morrissey reading her rewrite of a canto of Don Juan as a satire on the financial speculation and threatened the Euro and the machinations to save it, primarily at the expense of Greece.

The recording was made at the Mountains To Sea festival in Dun Laoghaire on September 13, 2014.

 

 

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This is a recording of a paper I gave to the Art of the Troubles Conference at the Ulster Museum today.

Gerry Adams has written two separate accounts of his attempt to escape from Long Kesh and I try to analyse why he may have told the story so differently at different times.

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I was invited today to sit on a panel discussing diversity and division at the DUP party conference. This was chaired by Sammy Douglas and also there were Fr Tim Bartlett, Jeffrey Donaldson and David Hume, for the Orange Order.
The first question is for Fr Tim.

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It is hard for Sinn Fein leaders to say plainly that those who can help catch the dissident should take their evidence to the police. They have, however, come as close to stating that baldly as they have ever done.
In the past their reactions to the dissidents have amounted to a call that they should come forward and explain themselves, as if the objective was to get them into talks rather than into jail.
Martin McGuinness has been better at the condemnatory language than the prescriptive. So the dissidents are ‘enemies’ and ‘traitors’ who should remove themselves from the scene.
We can’t doubt that he is bloody furious with them and it is hardly surprising.
The dissidents are using the strategy that worked for past generations of the IRA.
In January 1919, Dan Breen’s men shot dead two RIC officers and started a guerilla war that would lead to the total collapse of the British state in Ireland.
When Irish people were unwilling to join the police or be seen in their company, and huge numbers discarded their uniforms for their own safety, then Ireland became a problem for the army straggling back from Europe, a political problem to be resolved urgently.
In the 1970s and ’80s, the IRA attacks on the RUC helped deepen the rift between the police and the Catholic people. Few Catholics would join and the reality of a Protestant force made reform an essential part of political settlement.
The aim had been to make Northern ireland ungovernable and to put Irish unity on the table. That bit didn’t work.
Similarly, when the British tried to ease pressure on the police and replace the totally protestant B Specials in 1970, they created a local regiment, the Ulster Defence Regiment and urged Catholics to join.
The IRA bombed those Catholics in their cars and shot them and soon the UDR was almost exclusively Protestant and that brick in the new dispensation being attempted was invalidated.
Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness know that history better than most of us.
They therefore understand what the dissidents hope to achieve and have a sense of how realistic their target is.
If Catholics shrink back from joining the PSNI, in the context of the abolition of the 50/50 rule securing places for them, then Sinn Fein could find itself in partnership in government with an almost exclusively Protestant police force.
The party could not live with that.
All the reforms of policing, the ombudsman and the board and all the human rights legislation would not cover the indignity of Catholic republicans being pursued by Protestant police officers and of suspect, but often innocent, young Catholics being arested, searched and questioned.
McGuinness knows that policing is the loose brick in the peace wall because his own tradition in republicanism trained him to loosen that brick in the hopes that the wall would tumble.
That being the case, he has no choice but to defend the police and the Catholics who have joined and who might join. In doing so, he is defending his own position and his political legacy.
If we revert to Protestant policing, everything he has done will have been in vain.
A thought that should perhaps have occurred to Owen Paterson before he scrapped the 50/50 rule.
The collapse of Catholic policing must be McGuinness’ worst nightmare. It would amount to his own peace accord with the DUP being undermined by the same methods which he used himself against the old Stormont and Direct Rule.
There would be an elegant karmic symmetry to it that one might relish if it wasn’t such an appalling prospect for the rest of us too.
So Sinn fein must now signal to the Catholic community and to other republicans that touting is no longer a sin or a crime. They must encourage a flow of information to the police about the dissidents and help put them out of business.
And they must take a lead in that.
This is the hard part for republicans. Michael Collins in 1921 stormed his former comrades holed up in the Four Courts and blew them to oblivion. History is letting the Provos off lightly in not plunging them into their own civil war.
On balance, McGuinness must surely see that this is not as hard as facing into failure would be.
He is already being told that he is a hypocrite for condemning the murder of Ronan Kerr, having endorsed the murders of 301 other police officers, a policewoman shot in the back outside Derry Courthouse, men shot on their doorsteps, coming from church, visiting hospitals.
Hard too will be the challenge of preserving that memory as honorable while telling those who would use the same methods today that they are enemies and traitors.
Today Martin McGuinness says that the police must win. Now he must tell the dissidents that he was in the wrong too; that the best evidence that they can’t win is that the Provos didn’t win either.
And he must sit down with the Chief Constable, if he hasn’t done already, and tell him everything he knows that might help him nail the old diehards.

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A Reading

This was for the Blackbird Book Club at Queens.
The reading is from Under His Roof

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