For my money I think Gavin Falconer underestimates the sheer pragmatic force of John Bew’s latest argument in favour of the union. One of my late uncles by marriage was one of the few people I’ve ever known who had been an enthusiastic member of the AOH (by contrast I know lots of Orangemen).
I once asked him why the AOH had fallen on hard times. He answered quick as a flash, the 1947 Welfare Act. Up until then, he told me, the primary function of Hibernians had been self help for poor, mostly rural Catholic communities.
It’s an argument and a period which Bew (who’s been working on a book on Attlee over the last few years) digs into with evident aplomb:
…the Irish nationalist movement, which secured the independence of Ireland in 1922, contained one crucial ingredient that modern-day Scottish nationalism lacks. This was not violence (take note, Mr Adams) but the willingness of a huge majority of its people to accept a lower standard of living as the price of freedom from England.
Irish nationalist fortitude at the expense of self-interest – infused with a much more authentic sense of grievance and with anti-English feeling – was something that impressed even Winston Churchill, one of the fiercest opponents of Irish independence.
“As the price of autonomy the Free State has already accepted a lower standard of public expenditure than in this country,” he said as chancellor of the Exchequer in 1925, not without admiration. “They have lowered the salaries of their teachers, they have reduced their Old Age pay, they have not followed our later developments of unemployment insurance, or pensions for widows, or of pensions at 65 years of age. They have great difficulty balancing the budget.”
This is a part of the Irish story which has been obscured in Northern Ireland in the first place by partition and in the second by a northern republicanism which sense that just one more cold war heave until, as Falconer rather that acutely puts it:
Northern Ireland would continue to bob about for a while yet, increasingly unstable and unseaworthy, before, probably in the 2030s, sinking under the twin burdens of demographic change and cartographical aesthetics.
The truth for Scotland is that Ireland (ie that bit which exists to the south and the west of the Northern Irish border) is a better marker for Scotland than any projected future pathology for Northern Ireland.
But in the near term this morning’s Irish Times editorial in response to Gordon Brown’s speech in Glasgow yesterday probably nails the problem facing Salmond and a well funded and generally well led Yes campaign:
Scotland’s referendum on independence shares a singular feature with our recent poll on abolishing the Seanad, one that strongly favours their respective No campaigns – No voters in both cases could embrace a campaign against the imperfect Seanad/Union as it stood while demanding fundamental reform.
In Scotland home rulers, critics of the current insipid devolution, make the case for “devo max”, a rolling out of far more devolved powers to Edinburgh, while making common cause with out-and-out unionists and mild devolutionists, a have-your-cake-and-eat-it formula that is difficult for the SNP to defeat. [emphasis added]