Ireland can adapt to either referendum result

Opinion: What Scottish nationalism is looking for is effectively dominion status

Wed, Jul 16, 2014, 01:00

Happily, Ireland is no longer relevant to the argument. In this decade of centenaries, leading British figures can safely express respect for the achievements of Irish independence, without fearing a read-across to Scotland.

In truth, despite significant similarities, there are also important differences between Ireland and Scotland, in geographical situation, in historical experience, and between the world of 100 years ago and today. While Scottish history has many sad, traumatic and heroic episodes, on balance it benefited from the union and from empire, as the Scottish diaspora spread. Scotland was better integrated than Ireland ever was.

There was not the same centrality to religion, after Scotland did not quite succeed in imposing Presbyterianism as the State religion across these islands in the mid-17th century. Today’s push for independence is not propelled either by cultural nationalism or unrealistic aspirations for economic self-sufficiency.

What Scottish nationalism is looking for, by retaining Queen Elizabeth as head of state, is dominion status, very different from militant Irish republican separatism. That ought to lead to an amicable relationship between Edinburgh and London from the start.

Potential damage

The potential damage to Britain’s standing from Scottish independence is exaggerated. The UK would still be a country of 50 million people and a nuclear power, and it is not easy to see how it could be ejected from an expanded permanent membership of the UN Security Council.

The core of the debate is economic, though such an important decision should concern more than marginal changes in living standards, whichever way the vote goes. The union of 1707 between elites was accompanied by a bailout, following disastrous speculation in the Darien project that promised untold riches.

What has to be weighed up today is an independent Scotland’s greater vulnerability to global economic storms versus its desire to run a more communitarian economic policy in reaction to the destructive effects of Thatcherism on its industrial base.

Opinion polls suggest that Scotland’s voters will play for safety rather than opt for a more challenging future, though, as Zbigniew Brzezinski, former US president Jimmy Carter’s national security adviser, has noted, “the historically proven fact is that national statehood, once attained, is infectious and almost impossible to undo”. Ireland can surely work with either result. Martin Mansergh is a former Fianna Fáil TD and minister of state, and was centrally involved in negotiating the Northern peace process.

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