Whilst Scotland moves towards its big national debate, we’ve already had our political ‘big bang’…

James Maxwell alludes to an interesting aspect of the burgeoning of the Scottish nationalist cause, and it’s likely runners off in Northern Ireland. Whilst Irish nationalism has become synonymous with Republicanism, the SNP is and remains a soft monarchist party.

These difference are as much historical as geographical. Since James VI took up the English title of James I the British monarchy has been as much a possession of the Scottish estate as the English. The siting of the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood is a furtive nod in the direction of that long heritage.

There is no such analogue for Irish nationalists. For the most part, and certainly since the 1916 Rising, they experienced the British state more as an occupying power than as a co-progenitor of legitimate state power.

In Northern Ireland there is currently little or no public discourse on the implications of any of the various possible outcomes of the Scottish debate. In fact both the deputy First Minister and former First Minister (Ian Paisley, in case you’d forgotten already) virtually laid down separate interdictions on anyone interfering therein.

What little talk there has been has focused largely on taking up business where the Belfast Agreement left off. In other words it’s been surprisingly limited, and ideological and rather negative compared to the more open fields of the Scotland debate.

Indeed the limited powers invested in the Stormont institutions provide a useful foil for Sinn Fein’s Dublin representatives when confronted with the reality that their northern counterparts are indeed administering Tory cuts.

There may be real questions for our politicians to answer if the Scots can successfully craft and manage a devo max package that takes substantial powers north of the border that vests further in the hands of Scottish voters for the first time since the first Act of Union and the abolition of the Three Estates.

It’s a question that will face both nationalists and unionists. If, as Barry McElduff tells Maxwell “Scotland breaks away from the Union, then the Union is no longer what it was”, what will it become, and what will be Northern Ireland’s role within it? How prepared is Northern Ireland to chart its own route(s) forward?

As Mr McElduff notes, “the destination of this new journey is completely unknown”. But it’s far from obvious to me that that this generation of unionists are “suffering greatly” as he also asserts. Nor is it clear that Nationalists have begun to do any serious work, a la Salmond, to make an alternative union with Dublin a more attractive alternative.

Integrationism was an important and formative idea for a previous generation of Unionists, most notably that cadre for whom Enoch Powell was an often numinous cipher. But this generation of unionists, led by an unapologetically devolutionist DUP, is not quite so encumbered with traditional thinking on this matter.

From the long before Salmond’s velvet revolution, the DUP have been watching movements in the Scottish game with intense interest. But their considered view has been that it is best to keep out of it. That like Ulstermen, Scots don’t like being told what’s best for them by others.

They also make the point that for Blair, devolution was the new integration. The fact that the political establishment in London is struggling to catch with the reality of how the actual union has moved on without them is less a sign of crisis in the union so much as indicative of a democratic centre that has lost touch with its own edge.

If the Union transforms into a Salmondian social union, with the Queen as joint sovereign, I would not anticipate any rush for the exit but, perhaps, a new set of negotiations for drawing down further fiscal powers from Whitehall.

The question is: does anyone in Northern Ireland have any real stomach for such powers in an Executive that already has to achieve consensus amongst five different parties merely to get legislation onto the floor of the Assembly?

One thing is sure, whatever happens in Scotland, in Northern Ireland we’ve already had our political big bang. The ‘repatriation’ of powers to Northern Ireland will be done (as air passenger transport tax has already been), piecemeal and bit by bit.

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  • Im not so sure that SNP is “soft” monarchist. Over the past thirty years I have got to know a lot of Scottish nationalists as we share a common interest.
    Now I should say that most would be in and around the “Jacobite” heartland. Most of them while retaining affection for 250 odd years ago would be “republican”.

    I think its fair to say that these are hard core nationalists and while I dont think nationalism itself has changed that much, its appeal is certainly wider.
    This would mean that SOME supporters are probably soft monarchist but the lesson I take is that the current leadership have been pretty clever over the past decade or so…..and the embarrassing (and on occasions counter productive) “celtic mist” types have been kept well hidden. And a certain ambiguity in public on the monarchy is more “political” and giving into their natural instincts on the monarchy in general and the House of Windsor in particular would be counter productive.
    Clearly supporters of SNP and nationalism (such as myself) outside Scotland wish them well……..and unionist supporters outside Scotland should see the monarchy issue as a potential fault line to be exploited.
    Soft monrchist? No.
    Trying to build a broad church by ignoring/covering up potential division? Absolutely.

  • “They also make the point that for Blair, devolution was the new integration.”

    Some might argue that Tony Blair’s UK regionalisation strategy was designed to be part of a process that would lead to a ‘Europe of the Regions’, as distinct from nation states, a strategy that was stymied by Gordon Blair.

    The 1998 Agreement also elevated Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast in relation to London and Dublin and the present Scottish debate could speed-up the development of Strand 3.

  • Mick Fealty


    Let me try to clarify. ‘Soft’, as in not hard wired into party ideology, and ‘monarchist’ because its plan to retain a shared head of state is relatively uncontested within the party.

  • Barnshee

    These whole sad sagas are paid for by that milch cow –the English taxpayer. Just how much is she/he supposed to put up with from the whingers moaners and beggars?– or as the late Harold W put it

    ” people who spend their lives sponging on Westminster and British democracy and then systematically assault democratic methods. Who do these people think they are”

  • Yep….its about pragmatism.
    But also about nationalists and unionists being reconcilatory in public and having a lot of animosity in private.
    At this very minute the “monarch” is in Glasgow and BBC Radio Scotland waxing lyrical about her service…..effectively a unionist broadcast. Indeed the supporters of the union would be remiss not to grab every opportunity.
    . We will get a lot of that …from both sides

  • Mick Fealty

    Or, alternatively, a soft monarchist nationalist one? I Absolutely take your point though… It’s going to be a tougher fight the closer it gets to the wire…

    One thing it will tell us in NI is how easy/difficult it is to convert party support to supporting a change in the constitution..

  • OneNI

    I wonder is the low level of interest/comment on the possibility/impact of Scottish separation in NI and the Republic due to the fact that unlike commentators in Scotland and London we dont have to pretend that it is in anyway likely to happen?
    Salmond is gradually being discovered to have to clothes – opinion poll after opinion poll forcing him to try to find new fudges – on sterling, on the Monarchy, etc

  • The word that SNP have airbrushed from their political vocabulary is ‘separation’. I believe that this word, rather than the words ‘independence’ or ‘nationalist’ would more honestly describe their political objectives.

    I agree with FJH that there is a hardcore of SNP support which is republican and that that republicanism has been muzzled in order to make a stronger case for the priority objective, which is sovereign independence.

  • Dewi

    “The word that SNP have airbrushed from their political vocabulary is ‘separation’.”

    Suprisingly enough Seymour “separation” has never been in the SNP’s political vocabularly…

  • ayeYerMa

    “There is no such analogue for Irish Nationalists”

    How about the fact that Ireland has only ever been a single political unit under a British monarch? The position of the original UVF stood up for Ulster self-determination and rejected imposed British imperial divisions such as Ireland.

  • Mick Fealty

    Well, no.

  • Here I read the nationalist cause is ‘burgeoning’ and in a previous post we’re told the whole devo-max question has put Unionists on the back foot, rather than describing it for what it actually is – a proposed job-creation scheme for failed nationalists? An interesting aspect of this whole debate is: why is there such a chasm between what the commentariat are saying about this and what is actually happening?

  • veryoldgit

    As a devout English nationalist I find all this talk of devo max etc. very depressing. I long for the day when England is independent of the celtic nations.