Scotland and its Irish-born residents are quietly pro-EU
The thousands of Irish-born people in Scotland are among the most ardent stayers
Edinburgh: from here the EU is often viewed as a particularly English issue. Photograph: Melanie stetson Freeman/Getty Images
Feargal Dalton grew up with European Union referendums. As a UCD electronic engineering student he voted in his first, in 1992, in favour of the Maastricht Treaty.
More than two decades later, Dalton, a Monaghan-born Scottish National Party councillor in Glasgow, is campaigning for his adopted homeland to remain in the EU next month.
“Growing up I had a real sense of being European. You learned about the European Union in school. You saw what Europe did to Ireland,” says Dalton (43), who wears a 1916 commemorative pin and a Scottish nationalist T-shirt that says “All Refugees Welcome”.
Unlike in England, the EU debate in Scotland has been a muted affair. The major parties in the Scottish Parliament are all Europhilic and polls suggest that Scots are likely to vote by about two to one in favour of remaining.
The thousands of Irish-born people living in Scotland appear to be among the most ardently pro-EU groups.
“First generation Irish are overwhelmingly in favour of staying in,” says Dalton, who left Ireland in 1993 to join the Royal Navy before settling in Scotland and joining the SNP.
Brendan Igoe agrees. “It would be lunacy to even consider leaving [the EU] for no economic gain; in fact it’s likely to have severe negative consequences,” says Igoe (36), who holds a masters’ degree from the university of Edinburgh, where he now lives with his young family, and works in investment management.
‘More committed to EU’“I think it better just let leave it as it is,” says Michelle Baird, a mother of three from Longford who lives in Aberdeen.
“Would people from Ireland need visas to come here to work? Could they study? What happens with Northern Ireland?” Baird says she hasn’t “heard anyone talk about it”, in stark contrast with the 2014 independence referendum.
Viewed from Scotland, the European Union can often seem a particularly English issue. Nationalists frequently adduce their pro-European position as evidence of the political divergence on both sides of the border.
“Scotland does like to see itself as more committed to the EU than the rest of the UK and in a sense this is a central plank of the nationalist argument that there are significant differences in political outlook between it and the rest of the UK,” says Mark Kennedy, who grew up in Dublin but now works in the voluntary sector in Edinburgh.
Kennedy will be voting to remain on June 23rd, but somewhat reluctantly.
“Like most Irish people who grew up after we entered the Common Market I had been an enthusiastic supporter of the European project. Over the last few years I have come to see it in a more negative light though,” he says. “The financial crisis in the so-called PIGS, particularly Greece, have been really badly handled and have been really damaging to the idea of a united Europe of equals.”
Adrian Moore, originally from Donegal, says he will be looking back to history when he votes to remain.
“We have not had a major war in Europe since the end of World War II. A big part of the reason for that is the European Union,” says the 29-year-old environmental scientist.
Moore sees strong parallels between the 2014 Scottish independence referendum and this vote. “The campaigns are incredibly polarised. I would love it if a politician said ‘we should stay but if we did leave the EU the country would still be here’. Rather than ‘the world’s going to end’.”
Glasgow GaelsMoore plays football for the Glasgow Gaels, a team that comprises recent emigrants as well as others who trace their ancestry to Ireland. As many as 800,000 Scots claim Irish descent. Few are animated by the forthcoming referendum, says Danny Boyle, an Irish former emigrant support worker in Glasgow. “The influx of European money, which Ireland saw . . . we didn’t, we didn’t experience that apart from going back to Ireland and seeing it there,” he says.
“There is just not the same awareness of [the EU] within the Irish community in Scotland. It’s not something we were taught about in school. It’s not something that is argued about across the dinner table, unlike Scottish or British politics.”
Most Scots of Irish descent will vote to remain, says Boyle, “but there is not the same in-depth discussion going on. The first generation voting to remain is much more indicative of the relationship between their country growing up and the European Union. The experience is very different here.”
The recently appointed Irish Consul to Scotland, Mark Hanniffy, is a strong advocate of Scotland – and the UK – remaining in Europe.
“We fully understand that the decision on June 23rd is one for the UK electorate. But the Irish Government’s view is clear – it is in Ireland’s best interests for Britain to remain a member of the EU.
“And as the UK’s closest neighbour and friend, it is important for us to articulate that view here.”