Martin Mansergh is a splendid relic of an old Anglo-Irish tradition, a Tipperary landlord, one of a very rare breed of Fianna Fail intellectuals, an adviser on the North to successive Fianna Fail Taoisigh, a minster who never quite fulfilled his promise possibly due to his background, a historian and son of Nicholas, one of the most eminent historians of the Commonwealth and Ireland. In the Irish Times he seeks to sooth nerves being ruffled in the department of Foreign Affairs in Dublin and elsewhere at the prospect of Scottish independence and its possible effect on Northern stability.
He draws a contrast between Scotland today with the Sinn Fein demand before mid-1921.
What Scottish nationalism is looking for, by retaining Queen Elizabeth as head of state, is dominion status, very different from militant Irish republican separatism. That ought to lead to an amicable relationship between Edinburgh and London from the start.
And of course it was dominion status that was narrowly accepted, precipitating the split over the Treaty and the civil war and notably failing to create a good relationship with Britain. 3000 odd dead had just a little to do with it. It may be hard for people to appreciate the difference between republican separatism and dominion status when for example they look at Canada or Australia today. But for many in the south the difference seemed very clear in 1921, because of Ireland’s s closeness to Britain at the zenith of Empire. Alex Salmond is certainly a very different creature from Eamonn de Valera. Manergh sees very little problem for northern Unionists.
First Minister Peter Robinson has made it clear that if Scotland voted Yes, Northern Ireland would remain in the UK with England and Wales. While it might lead to some rethinking of Ulster-Scots as a pillar of unionist identity, it is unlikely republicanism would gain new traction, despite any initial flurry of excitement.
There’s little doubt though that Scottish independence would strike a blow at unionist self-confidence and give Sinn Fein a wonderful chance to wind them up over a crumbling union etc. etc. Masergh admits this is a temptation, even though it should be resisted.
Nationalist Ireland has until now maintained strict neutrality across the political spectrum, surprising though this might seem. Official Ireland has little enthusiasm for Scottish independence, attaching much more importance to the cordiality of British-Irish relations and the stability of the peace process; it also perhaps fears increased investment competition. In the light of our history, though, it would be incongruous to openly favour the status quo. To advocate publicly Scottish independence, on the other hand, could quite possibly damage that cause and create serious distrust in relations. In any case, the principled position is that it is for the Scottish people to decide.
That’s kind of you Martin!