Scottish unionism is finding an idealistic voice. There are lessons for their “Ulster” cousins

This comment piece in the Guardian by  Chris Deerin, a former Daily Telegraph journalist who has moved back home to Scotland is just about the first I’ve come across that the celebrates  historic Britishness as an argument against separation. Amazing when you think about it that we’ve had to wait all this time.  I doubt if Ireland in any form entered his mind.  Even for committed unionists (small or large “u”), Northern Ireland doesn’t smoothly fit into the same celebration of British tradition; it needs it separate chapter. Nor are Irish themes easy to incorporate into the British story except as factors largely external to the domestic British experience.

For me, while that doesn’t automatically invalidate the unionist case, it exposes the wide gap between the aggressive and paranoid tendency in unionist politics in Northern Ireland and mainstream “unionism”- a word which is now being used for the No side in the Scottish debate.   Unionists here would be well advised to play their part in closing the gap and begin to acknowledge that the causes of paranoia are disappearing and that confident engagement is the theme of the future.

In this article, whether it’s to your taste or not, here we have an emotional expression of unionism as a modern mainstream, comfortable force.   As the Union is under challenge in Scotland there are lessons to be learned from the case made here by a modern Scottish unionist.

Britain allows us to plug ourselves into a vast network, to be citizens of a globally minded country that has always based much of its military, intellectual and economic success on Scots and their genius. The idea that it is rational or desirable to erect barriers between our nations seems both impractical and unpleasant to me. I find the suggestion that we’re anything other than one people utterly bizarre….

I will tell ( my children) that I think the argument for the continued existence of our United Kingdom is first and foremost a moral one: that our country embodies values that are unmatched anywhere else in the world; that it stands as a beacon to those who are struggling their way towards modernity, through civil wars and ethnic tensions, through tyranny towards democracy, through poverty and corruption and the oppression of the spirit; that it spends blood and treasure on protecting the world’s most vulnerable people – on stepping in – because it is the right thing to do. I will tell them that Britain is beautiful. “

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  • Droch_Bhuachaill

    Wow. A ‘beacon to those who are struggling…’ Isn’t it the case that the ‘values’ espoused by the British Empire are the reason for the legacy of civil wars, ethnic tensions, tyranny poverty and corruption of may of the world’s most vulnerable people?

  • Barney

    I read that piece in the Guardian yesterday, its republished from the Daily Mail. It’s is no surprise that these blinkered ahistorical views would be published in the Mail and they also seem to chime with the Guardian’s editorial policy regarding the English union with Scotland.

    “Ulster Cousins” what does this mean?

  • megatron

    That last paragraph is a bit much even for a comment piece.

    Thats obviously the guys opinion but it is at best total speculation and at worst illogical and out of step with the evidence. Even if you accept that he is correct with his analysis there is no attempt at persuading why separation would make things worse.

    I am sure the exact same paragraph could (probably was) written at the beginning of the end of the empire.

    I still think the whole debate for independence will come down to the “one people” argument – I honestly dont know hhow Scottish people feel on that one but we are about to find out.

    In an theoretical world where Ireland was voting to leave the Union this year, I am not sure I would pay much attention to the beacon argument for remaining in the UK…but thats just me.

  • streetlegal

    The only motivation the people of Scotland need to vote for independence from England is the appearance of the smug faces of David Cameron and George Osborne on their television screens.

  • sherdy

    The only reason Westminster wants to hang on to control of Scotland is to have control of their oil and gas.
    The greed of the Westminster millionaires knows no limits.

  • Mick Fealty

    Have you guys really scared off all the unionist commenters? Honestly, it’s not that hard to read a thoughtful piece you don’t agree with at least avoid the usual character assassination gambits, surely?

  • MartinMac

    I thought that last paragraph was a parody of a Col Blimp character and it is rather painful to think that the writer actually believes such guff. The best thing about the referendum debate in Scotland is not how it impacts on Northern Ireland unionism (small ‘u’ or otherwise) but the way in which it allows us to interrogate the whole concept of Britishness itself – especially the unthinking set of characteristics outlined in this piece. Britishness is not the same as Englishness – and certainly not the same as Scottishness, Welshness or Irishness – it is an historically specific assemblage/invention for imperial purposes and probably one that has long since ceased being relevant. The debate about Britishness that has been engendered in Scotland has so far failed to penetrate deeply into wider UK debate but it’s about time it did, if only to save us from the unthinking ahistorical nonsense expressed in this article.

  • Droch_Bhuachaill

    It is hard to take the piece seriously Mick with statements such as “I will tell them Britain is beautiful.” Would Scotland become a post-apocalypse wasteland if it cedes from the Union?

  • mac tire

    It seems that Chris Deerin is a dying breed.

    The 2011 Census results in England, Scotland and Wales doesn’t bear his vision out. In each country the figure who describe their national identity as British in any way is less than 30%.

    Instead, a large majority of people in all three countries think of their national identity as being Welsh, English or Scottish only.


  • Son of Strongbow

    I’ll set to one side my amusement of seeing those who deal in superlatives about Mother Ireland taking issue with someone from the mainland indulging in a modicum of saccharine prose.

    For those types any sharp points coming anywhere near their Perpetual Perfidious Albion ballon (you know the sort of thing, Britain and Britishness just about trumps Original Sin in the league of the World’s ills) must be fended off.

    The joy of Britishness is that you can be at one and the same time any of the nationalities that make up the UK and British as well. This hybrid identity is hardly unique. The USA for example is awash with hyphenated Americans.

    This is of course unsurprising given the history of these islands, not to mention the large scale immigration into the UK from across the planet.

    As Irish-British I’m a firm believer that we are indeed Better Together.

    Btw there is currently on Radio 4 an excellent series of essays on the UK entitled ‘Acts of Union and Disunion’ given by Linda Colley, Professor of History at Princeton University that addresses this subject. (They’ve been running for the last toe weeks and are no doubt available on the BBC iplayer.)

  • Mc Slaggart

    Son of Strongbow

    ” I’m a firm believer that we are indeed Better Together”

    The problem for “Britishness” is that we are all now europeans.

  • Son of Strongbow

    Why should being European be a problem for Britishness? Or Irishness for that matter?

    Ignore the little-islander within you, leave the xenophobia behind.

    Go on McS embrace your inner Hewitt. Value all aspects of your identity!

  • Mick Fealty

    Ditto the recommendation of Colley’s series, and one tonight on Radio Ulster called “Young Devolutionists”.

  • grandimarkey

    “that the celebrates historic Britishness as an argument against separation”

    Which means sweet feck all to most Scots on the matter. It’s about power, not identity, and whether remaining in the UK will have more positive or more negative an effect on their lives than forming an independent Scotland.

    Hence why the Yes campaign has largely stayed away from bleary-eyed nostalgia.

    I hope the No side adopt this as their latest strategy. It would certainly be less effective than Operation-Fear.

  • Gopher

    Don’t think that is much of a problem for “Britishness” because of the strength of the language and the richness of two thousand years of history it’s t kinda self perpetuating. Whilst countries become less French, less German and less Irish, Britain just gets more so with regards identity whatever is thrown at it. I think the secret is it’s not really contrived

  • John McDowell

    Surely the best solution would be the partition of Scotland into a free independent Scottish nation and a Southern Scotland still firmly linked to the UK.

    Problems could be overcome by a carefully designated border with financial assistance to those wishing to relocate to either country.

    indeed if Ireland were to become united then the Ulster Scots could be financially encouraged to repatriate to their original homeland incorporated into a new stronger, fully integrated and United Kingdom

  • Son of Strongbow

    “Hence why the Yes campaign has largely stayed away from bleary-eyed nostalgia.”

    Like picking the year of the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn you mean?

    We’ll paint my face blue and cry ‘freedom’!!

  • Tir Chonaill Gael

    “The greed of the Westminster millionaires knows no limits.”

    Yeah, if you ignore the extent to which England subsidises Scotland, Wales and the six counties to the tune of billions: and the fact that the Conservatives would be much more likely to win a majority of seats in a Disunited Kingdom.

  • grandimarkey

    ““Hence why the Yes campaign has largely stayed away from bleary-eyed nostalgia.”

    Like picking the year of the 700th anniversary of Bannockburn you mean?

    We’ll paint my face blue and cry ‘freedom’!!”

    I’ll just repeat what I said with a bit of emphasis for ya – Hence why the Yes campaign has largely stayed away from bleary-eyed nostalgia.

    The debate in Scotland has been predominately about power/money and not really about identity. A huge contrast to the debate in NI.

  • Mc Slaggart

    Son of Strongbow

    “Why should being European be a problem for Britishness?”

    Its not just Britishness but any European identity made up of sub-nationalities such as Spanish.

    If the Scottish knew they would be richer outside the UK then they would for independence.

  • Red Lion

    There are always lessons for NI unionism – they have never, ever heeded them though.

    The DUP fit somewhere around UKIP BNP on the political spectrum. UKIP-DUP-BNP sounds about right. Not attractive at all and the DUP remain an argument against unionism though they are utterly clueless about this.

    I detect the Scottish question is engaging minds in the UK as to how the current devolution constitutional arrangements are unsatisfactory, and a better UK governance should be studied – are the wheels being set in motion toward federalism?

  • Barney

    DAVID Cameron’s Government wants the backing of Russian President Vladimir Putin in the battle against Scottish independence, the former USSR’s leading news agency has reported.

    “Patrick Harvie MSP, the joint convener of the Scottish Greens, said: “If accurate, these extraordinary comments show a deeper sense of misjudgement than I thought the UK Government was capable of.

    “The one thing I thought even the Cameron government accepted was that the referendum is for the Scottish people to settle, so why they feel the need to court the support of Vladimir Putin’s brutal regime I cannot imagine.”

    The UK gov briefing against part of the UK!!!!

  • Iolaire

    “John McDowell – Surely the best solution would be the partition of Scotland into a free independent Scottish nation and a Southern Scotland still firmly linked to the UK.”

    Given the success of the partition of Ireland, I’d suggest this is a rather ill-considered notion.

    Also, the notion of ‘Ulster Scots’ leaving a united Ireland and returning to a country they left 400 years ago is similarly fanciful. The unavoidable fact is that, beyond a small minority in the West of Scotland (with small pockets elsewhere), most Scots have never heard of Ulster Scots, nor do they bother to differentiate between Northern Irish and Irish. This perceived kinship that unionism has cultivated with the Scots is more a form of self reassurance. The real relationship from a Scottish point of view, is with the whole island, not just a small section of the inhabitants.

    As for the nostalgia of the referendum taking place on the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Bannockburn, this has not been a cornerstone of the ‘yes’ argument, which has concentrated on politics and economics and trying to convince people it can work. It would be remiss to think that either campaign could avoid any historical nostalgia but I would like to think that, whatever way you’re inclinded to vote, the decision would be based on fact over daydreams of tartan, shortbread and victories long past.

    As far as I’m able to recall, and even before I had any remote interest in politics, being British has never come into my mind. I’ve always seen myself as Scottish in every way and have no intention changing this, regardless of the result of the referendum. I also consider myself free from the insular attitude which seems to infect many when it comes to involvement in Europe or anything that’s ‘not British’.

    It’s interesting to see the opinions, considered or otherwise, of those who are unlucky enough not to hail from Scotland…

  • Son of Strongbow

    Whereas I am not in the exalted position of being able to speak for “most Scots”, or indeed ‘most’ of anything: just little old me I’m afraid.

    Nor would I want to tell those in NI who involves themselves in ‘Ulster Scots culture’ the reasons why they do so.

    Those Scottish folks who wish to deny or distance themselves from ‘Britishness’ (which is of course their right) must be somewhat dismayed by the SNP’s decisions to hold onto ‘British’ institutions; the monarchy and the pound sterling for examples.

    Such people who also claim to voice Scotland’s “point of view” that Ireland is regarded in terms of the “whole island” may be equally dismayed when those on this side of the water return the serve and regard the identity of the inhabitants of the island of Britain as, inter alia, British.

  • Barney

    Son of Strongbow wrote

    “Those Scottish folks who wish to deny or distance themselves from ‘Britishness’ (which is of course their right) must be somewhat dismayed by the SNP’s decisions to hold onto ‘British’ institutions; the monarchy and the pound sterling for examples.”

    There is not really any cause for concern, the Scottish arguably have more right to claim the Monarch than the English and the BoE was founded in part by Scottish people. Retaining sterling is not such a problem as Scottish oil underpinned it for long enough helping to prop up the SE of England the most subsidised region of Britain.

  • sherdy

    How confident does David Cameron feel in the outcome of the referendum when he tries to get Vladimir Putin to take his side ‘for the sake of European unity’?
    Brass neck or what!
    What European leaders helped Russia to keep the Soviet Union intact when the Berlin Wall was coming down? For those with short memories, the answer is: none!
    Imagine the laugh Putin had when telling his mates in the Duma what the unbelievably stupid British PM had asked him to do.
    And we think our politicians are stupid!

  • Barnshee

    Ireland ( N&S)Scotland and other fringe areas are a pain in the arse for the SE– An option to cut them off– tow them out into the Atlantic– and sink them is attractive.

    Failing that allow them/encourage them to just fuck off- raise their own income and sink or swim on their own is a second best option

    PS The ain`t no such animal as “Scottish Oil” The Oil, the plant and equipment that produces said oil are owned by the Petroleum Giants -The oil can come ashore anywhere

  • IrelandNorth

    English academic in Ireland Dr Gerald Morgan, in one of his many missives to the quality broadsheet The Irish Times relatively recently, protested that he had spent most of his life teaching the difference between Englishness and Britishness in the context of imperialism, with varying degrees of success. Entertainingly, he argued that there was a case to answer that the English were now being abused by British iimperialism. But why perpetuate a constitutionality that has long since outlived its usefulness. Why not a new commonwealth of independent states of Wales, Ireland, Scotland and England (WISE). Or a federation of the British and/or Irish Isles.

  • streetlegal

    There is no such thing as a ‘British’ nationality. There is English nationality – and then there are the ‘other’ nationalities which are subject to the English crown.

  • sherdy

    Barnshee, – The petroleum giants get the profits from producing and selling the oil, whereas the Westminster govt sit on their asses and collect unbelievable taxes – none of it is actually earmarked for Scotland.
    IN, – Gerald Morgan doesn’t seem to be much of an academic. At least nobody in NI has learned anything from him.

  • ayeYerMa

    It isn’t paranoia when you are faced with a century of continuous and very real militant threat. Rather, it’s a difference in CIRCUMSTANCE.

  • I’m loath to get involved in this one: it’s too visceral to be an open debate.

    Even so, I’d like anyone who postulates a “nationality” as the basis of what goes for an argument to define precisely what is meant by “nationality” in her/his concept.

    Where I sit “British” and “English” are constructs. We might as well pontificate about “Anglian”, “Saxon”, “Cymru”, “Alban”, “Doric” – or further sub-divisions or prototypes thereof. Most would prove as brittle as the attempt to “prove” an identity by engendering “Lallans” or “Ullans” as a dialectical form — which the detractors of Hugh MacDiarmid (for whom, incidentally, I have a lot of time) defined as “plastic”.

    None of us have a convincing genetic purity.

    As for decrying “Britain is beautiful”, how else would one sum up sitting to watch the East Coast Main Line vistas between Newcastle and Dunbar, large stretches of the rail line between metropolitan Paddington and Cornwall? Or those rare, but sumptuous summer views from Skiddaw to Galloway, Arran, Snowdonia and the Mournes?

  • Street Legal[12.37] Another motivation for Scots to vote YES is to have DUP/UUP over in ScottishTV debates in Ref campaign with slogan ‘Scotties, Lie Down’

  • IrelandNorth

    Interested to read in teh northern nationalist quality tabloid The Irish News that that ever lovable bain of Britain’s New Labour George Galloway is surprisingly supporting a Scotland Says Nay vote in the independence referendum. Though somewhat oxymoronically, he’s expressed an interest in becoming a MSP or PM if Scotland Says Aye. Seems George wants to have his cake and eat it. Though he’s consistent in that supporters of a United Britain (UB can hardly support a partitoned Ireland (PI). Either you’re for unity or you’re not. Why not a united Scotland and Ireland?