Guardian columnist Martin Kettle makes a bold comparison between the generational change in Ireland 1916 and the “energising “ impact of the Scottish independence referendum of 2014. He’s inspired by Roy Foster’s marvellous new book which I’m only just into: “Vivid Faces.” In his review Maurice Hayes quotes Holywood’s Bulmer Hobson who faced house arrest by his own compatriots who feared his dissent from the countermanding order.
Those who began the great adventure with high hopes for social and political change, for the liberation of women and the loosening of clerical control, were either dead or disillusioned, especially the women who had contributed so much in the struggle. They saw new conservatives move in to take the spoils and to reinforce the parental values they had rebelled against, and the reinforcement of the hold of right-wing Catholicism on every aspect of Irish life.
It is all sadly summarised by Bulmer Hobson, a Belfast Quaker who was a tireless worker in the cultural revival and in forming the Volunteers, but was brutally written out of the script for his opposition to the Rising in a memorable phrase: “The phoenix of our youth has fluttered to earth a miserable old hen. I have no heart for it.”
But he also wondered: “How many people nowadays get as much fun as we did?”
From Martin Kettle:
In Foster’s account, the revolutionary generation underwent a crucial change of mentality in the years before 1916. Foster calls it “the quiet revolution in the hearts and minds of young middle-class Irish people from the 1890s onwards.”
These young radicals were alienated not just from British rule but also from the values, lifestyles and ambitions of their parents. They disliked the forms of schooling, entertainment, writing and politics of the previous generation
Ask yourself nevertheless whether Britain today is marked by generational political ruptures that in small ways echo aspects of the Irish nationalist revolutionary experience of the last century as described by Foster and the broad answer, without pushing the parallels too far or too crudely, is surely yes. Those ruptures are particularly striking in the onward march of Scotland’s nationalist movement. In some very different ways, they are also discernible in England, in the rise of phenomena as apparently diverse as Ukip, Occupy and homegrown jihadism, and in the juvenile culture of Russell Brand’s narcissistic anti-politics.
No one who spent time in Scotland during the referendum campaign was in any doubt that they were witnessing something new..
Well possibly. Or is it too soon to tell? Note the fears of permanent splits in Scottish opinion as emotions surged. After Day One of the Smith of Kelvin talks yesterday, all was four square sweetness and light. But read the SNP’s document. . How can it be compatible with anything the pro-Union parties can agree on? The betting is that at some point over the next few weeks the SNP will walk out . Will public enthusiasm survive wrangling about taxation powers? Or will the SNP recover the initiative and blame the Brits if their bid for unaffordable devo max goes belly up? Some might call that idealism. I’d call it something else.
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