Damning comparison between Dev’s Ireland and Salmond’s Scottish Free State

Kevin Toolis, a Scot of born of Irish parents who wrote “Rebel Hearts”, one of the best books on the IRA on the ground, returns to a previous theme and makes this devastating comparison between an independent Scotland in prospect and post 1916 Ireland in the FT(£).

We do have one good historical model of what it is like to carve out a nationalist state from within the political union of the UK but it is not one the SNP is keen to cite.

For Ireland’s nationalist leaders Padraig Pearse and Eamon de Valera, nationhood could be hewed out in blood and rebellion. But the Irish Free State that arose in the 1920s was a parochial disaster – a backward step even from English rule, which was far from benign.

In creating its new Gaelic-Irish identity the Free State cremated its own twin British-Irish identity, constructed out of 400 years of colonisation and cultural exchange. Whole chapters of Irish history, such as the 200,000 Irish who fought in France in the first world war, just disappeared. And the Irish Free State turned in on itself, its politics reduced to a continual squabble over the lost battles of a civil war – who had betrayed whom; who was the faithful, who the traitorous.

Single-party misrule was to last for decades. Economic fortunes sank. Irish Taoiseachs – prime ministers – such as Charles Haughey almost openly looted the state’s treasuries. Far from being economically independent, the Irish punt was slave-pegged to the English pound. In all but name Ireland remained an economic vassal of the UK Treasury.

But that was not the worst. From the 1920s to the 1970s, millions of Irish were forced to flee – ironically to the UK, in search of work and social freedom. Amid that stream of exiles were Ireland’s greatest artists and writers, figures such as James Joyce, Samuel Beckett and Edna O’Brien, refugees from the suffocating social prohibitions of the new nationalist order. Rather than bloom, the shamrock withered.

A minor rebellion on the streets of Dublin in 1916 spawned a terrible beauty and an abysmal failed state. The Irish Free State did not make the Irish people free. It bound them in chains. It has taken nearly a century for Ireland to recover and for a real democracy to emerge from the ashes of the Easter rising.

For all his bluster and his mesmerising appeal, Mr Salmond is merely re-enacting the same empty farce in the would-be Scottish Free State.

For a Scot like me, born in Edinburgh of Irish parents, Mr Salmond’s version of “independence” is a truly frightening project. Like its Irish antecedents, an independent Scotland will be founded not on the future promised land but in the flames of the pro-union Scottish identity. Already under the SNP government there has been a heavily felt redefinition of Scottish culture.

The theme of a broader culture is a positive fruitful one for the No campaign to champion in the final stages of the campaign.

The Herald reports a survey showing that the greater commitment and enthusiasm in the Yest campaign is worth 2 or 3 percentage points..

The study has found the Yes ­supporters’ determination to cast their ballot is likely to add two percentage points to the independence campaign’s share of the final vote.

If the findings of the ScotCen social research centre are correct, the two sides appear to be effectively neck and neck, with 138 days to go to the referendum judging by one recent poll.

An ICM survey last month put support for Yes on 48% compared with 52% for No when don’t-knows were discounted – showing the pro-independence campaign would require a swing of two percentage points to draw level.

However, a YouGov poll for Channel 4 News last night showed a much wider 16-point gap between the two sides, with support for Yes on 42% and for No on 58% after the undecideds were stripped out.

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London